Rev. Mr. Roger J. Landry
Domus Sancta Mariae Guadalupensis, Rome
Tuesday of the 34th Week of Ordinary Time, Year II
November 24, 1998
Rev 14:14-19; Lk 21:5-11
“When will this occur, Teacher, and what will be the sign it is going to happen?”
It is so easy to distract ourselves from the things that really matter. We pile on questions and considerations that seem intelligent, wise and pertinent, but in the final analysis they’re often just excuses to keep us from focusing on the things that are essential.
Let’s take a look at the Gospel. As the people were marveling at the precious stones and votive offerings in the Temple, Jesus reminded them clearly that one day all of it would disappear, that all would be torn down. That’s quite a sobering reality. Yet, rather than focusing on the fact that would would happen, they asked incidental questions about when it would occur and what would be the signs.
At first glance, these queries seem logical. We might easily have been the ones to ask them were we there. But notice the Lord’s answer. He doesn’t respond directly to their question coming out of curiosity, because the answer to that question, in the final analysis, really doesn’t matter. Instead he warns them not to be misled by their desire for details such as these. What’s the risk: their curiosity for such things makes them prone to falling for the false prophets who claim to come in his name, that they speak for Him, saying the Time is at hand. And, frankly, these false prophets are most likely doing the devil’s work.
C.S. Lewis, in his famous Screwtape Letters, described this phenomenon of the Devil and questions of time very well. In this great book, Lewis tried to get into the mind of two devils who were exchanging letters about their work of trying to steal souls from Christ and win souls for the evil one. At one point, one of the devils rejoices over a major victory, namely that he was able to distract a soul into thinking about time and put off converting entirely to the Lord now. The joke, the devil responds, is that the man’s days were running out quickly and it would be too late, just as the Lord castigates the idiot in the Gospel who stores up a silo full of grain “for the future” only to be called home that very night! Oftentimes I worry about just how familiar the face of that idiot is.
The point is, sisters, that we have no time to lose. Death will come to us all. Concerns about the actual timing of the parousia, of the Last Things, about the Final Judgment, are in some ways supremely irrelevant. Why? Because we know that these events will come to each of us within the next 60 years or so maximum — and could come as early as today.
The Church hence does us a great favor during this month of November and the last few weeks of the Liturgical Year. It keeps us focused on the FACT that each of us will die, and many of us at a time we weren’t expecting. It doesn’t do so principally to scare us — although some of us may need to be scared into doing what we should — but to get us to make those choices right now that we would make if we knew that today the Lord was coming. As St. Thomas said in the context of his commentary on the death penalty, one beneficial side effect of such end is that one knows with certainty that one will die on the morrow and MUST make peace with God now or risk forever holding it in Hell. Well, since the Fall, each member of the human race lives under a death sentence — and it should help us to focus as well.
This last week of the Liturgical Year has us focus on Christ as King, his Kingdom and the realities of the last things. The first two weeks of Advent are dedicated to meditation on “making straight the paths” for his second coming, making straight the paths for him to come into our lives and reign. We pray every day countless times, “Thy Kingdom come!” Well, in a few minutes, on this new and beautiful altar, we’re going to behold our king. And it’s TIME to stop being misled by countless curiosities and distractions and give him the worship he deserves, not just at Mass but every moment of this day, every moment of tomorrow and every moment of the rest of our lives. It’s time for each of us to say by the Gospel we proclaim by our lips and by our lives, long live the king!