Homily: Lo, The Day Is Coming
The Church has traditionally and pointedly directed us to reflect on an end-of-the-world gospel passage as we approach the end of the liturgical year. It also offers a similar gospel passage on the First Sunday of Advent. It is important to note this because, from a biblical perspective, the end of one world is not such a tragic event since it also announces the beginning of a new one. A sorrowful Goodbye must sometimes be accepted before there can be a joyous Hello!
We should note that in today’s gospel the end of the world is presented on various levels. The immediate end is the chaotic and painful experience that came when the Romans destroyed the Jewish temple in the year 70 AD, less than forty years after the Resurrection. For Christians at least, this represented the end of the Old Testament era. There are hints in this Gospel also of the final, cosmic end of our world with falling stars and dimming of the sun and moon. And, in both of these endings we see the elements of the end of our own earthly world in the event we call death. As the coming of Winter prefigures the inevitable arrival of death, so the anticipation of Spring is the reminder that New Life is not far behind.
The phenomena that accompany the final, cosmic end are surprisingly similar to the experiences that often come with our own last days. The failure of the sun and moon and the erratic behavior of the stars are replicated among us when we lose the security represented by these usually reliable heavenly bodies. For instance, when we grow old we sometimes find it hard to remember what time of the day it is. But this is only the end of a world that was never meant to last. We hate to see it go, but God knows what is best for us.
The gospel passages about the end of the world, are reminiscent of the birth of an infant. For the infant being born it is a completely traumatic experience. In fact, if the baby were able to choose, I suspect that it would opt for a continued existence in the warm, safe womb of its mother. The infant does not yet know how tragic it would be to miss all the possibilities of independent human life.
We too live in this world in a kind of womb that is meant to prepare us for birth into a new and better existence. Unlike the infant, however, we can resist that birth and we may even see it as a kind of personal tragedy. If our faith were as strong and vital as it should be it would be a very different experience. Instead, we would embrace our present life with gratitude and still be ready to leave it with grace and peace, as we welcome the homecoming that God keeps in store for his beloved children.
But we don’t have to wait until death to begin living by the wisdom of the Bible. In our lives there are little worlds ending all the time—little deaths, – not so little to us, of course, but smaller in comparison to the grand event of human death. The end of childhood, of education, of employment, of strength. And there are the more painful deaths – of illness, of our own and of those we love; of broken relationships; of financial disasters. The courage and generosity and trust with which we deal with these endings will prepare us for the final ending. And our faith in resurrection, gleaned from the Resurrection of Jesus, will bring us the strength of knowing that Life always goes on, changed, but not ended.
It is also true that every time we love unselfishly we die a little bit to our own precious plans and preferences. If we die daily in these small ways of unselfish living, we will have little difficulty with the final dying as our plans are once again revised and we offer our lives, once and for all, to a merciful and loving God.
A very intelligent friend once confided in me that he felt that it didn’t seem fair for God to give him life without consulting him about that decision and then have God allow him to make a mess of it. I found that very profound and I thought about that a lot. I finally decided that we always have a say – not in the beginning of our life, but in the living out of it, if not always to keep from making a mess of it, then to share in the decision to change it. As you begin to see the implications of where your life is going and has gone, there is always that incredible opportunity to agree with your Creator-God, that life is always a wonderful gift and we should be saying continuously: “Thank you, dear Lord! I will live it generously, and, by continually dying a little to myself, prepare myself each day for the great event of death into New Life.” (Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.)