Waiting in Joyful Hope for the Lord’s Coming, Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (B), November 19, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
33rd Sunday of OT, Year B
November 19, 2006
Dan 12:1-3; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mk 13:24-32

1) It is very common for the passages from Sacred Scripture that we have at Mass to begin, “at that time,” or “in those days” as the first reading and the Gospel do today. But on most Sundays, these words refer to PAST — e.g., “at that time, Jesus came to Capernaum in Galilee.” Today, however, we’re speaking not about the past, but about the future: the end of the world, when the Archangel Michael will arise (first reading) and Jesus, the Son of Man, will “come on the clouds with great power and glory” along with his angels (Gospel). “Those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,” the first reading tell us, “some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” When this will occur, the Gospel says, “no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

2) Many people, when they hear this truth that we proclaim every Sunday in our profession of faith — “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” — look at it with some fear and dread. If these hundreds of angelic statues in this Church came to life right now and said that the end of the world was coming at noon today, most people, rather than rejoicing, would be screaming in fear. But that’s not the reaction the Lord wants from us, for it shows a lack of faith and love. When the early Christians reflected on this reality of Jesus’ second coming, they used to cry out “Marana tha,” “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20). They LOOKED FORWARD to this event with great expectation, because it would lead to their full unity in love with the Lord forever. Our attitude is supposed to be similar. We pray in every Mass, after the Our Father, “In your mercy, keep us free from sin … as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ!” The attitude we’re called to have versus Jesus’ second coming is “joyful hope.”

3) I remember once when I was preaching a retreat in Los Angeles, an elderly woman came to me, asking. “Father, is it sinful for me to look forward to my death so that I can, God-willing, be with Jesus forever in heaven?” I said to her an emphatic and tender “no!” Then she said to me, “Then why doesn’t anyone else in the Church seem to have this longing?” The reason, I think, has to do with the first part of that prayer from the Mass, and the link between our being “free from sin” and our ability to wait in “joyful hope” for the coming of the Lord. I can illustrate this truth with a story from my childhood. When I was a young boy, most days I would wait with eager expectation for the return of my father from work. It would take place about 4:15 pm. At about four, our dog would start pacing around the house with its tail wagging. Each of the four kids would take regular glances at the clock. Eventually we would hear the shutting of the heavy steel door of my father’s van and we would all hustle toward the back door through which he would come and hug each of us as our dog was jumping up and down between and around us. They were very joyous and beautiful moments. We loved our dad and couldn’t wait for him to return so that we could be with him. But I said that “MOST days” I would wait with this eager expectation. Some days I would actually dread his return — precisely on those days when I had done something WRONG and I knew that my mother would soon tell him of my malefactions and I would suffer the just consequences of my misdeeds. I think that experience at home is a parable for our disposition in front of the return of the Lord. If we really love our Lord, we should be impatient for his return, so that we can be with him. If we’re ready to greet him, it is a time of “joyful hope” and “expectation.” For those of us who have “done something wrong,” however, who have not been “free from sin,” who haven’t been doing what we ought to have been doing with the gift of life from the Lord, then it’s something to which we do not look forward — something even that we can dread.

4) How do those of us who do dread the coming of the Lord — either at the end of time or at the end of our lives, whichever comes first (and either may come in a matter of minutes) — become those who can await his coming with “joyful hope”? The great saints have told us the secret to this transition: it’s by living each moment as if it is our last, by being ready at all times to meet the Lord so that we will never really be caught off guard when he comes. Jesus uses the parable of the ten virgins to illustrate the point (cf. Mt 25:1-13). The five “wise” virgins have enough oil in their lamps as they await the Bridegroom’s arrival no matter what time of night he should come. The five “foolish” virgins let the oil in their lamps run dry and hence fear his arrival lest they not be ready.We’re called to be like those “wise virgins,” with the lamps of our hearts perpetually burning the oil of love in expectation for the Lord. The light that is lit symbolically for us in our baptism — when our baptismal candle is lit from the Paschal or Easter candle symbolizing Christ the Light of the World — is meant to be “kept burning brightly” like a tabernacle lamp for the Lord.

5) How we do keep it burning? The Church gives us two great ways. Unsurprisingly, they are the two sacraments Jesus instituted that we can and should receive over and over again. The first way to maintain the flame is by preventing its being extinguished by sin. And if we know that the Lord’s coming may always be imminent — even in a matter of minutes — it will help us to avoid sin, because few of us, thanks be to God, would choose to sin if we were conscious that the Lord were about to appear and catch us “in the act.” The saints have taught and shown us by their example that if we keep the oil of love in the tabernacle lamp of our heart fully stocked in vigilant, longing expectation, it is much harder for us to give in to temptations and for the flame to be extinguished. But if IS blown out by sin, the way we get it lit again is by the sacrament of confession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the sacrament of confession is like an anticipated “second coming of the Lord” (CCC 1470): “In this sacrament, the sinner, placing himself before the merciful judgment of God, ANTICIPATES in a certain way the judgment to which he will be subjected at the end of his earthly life. For it is now, in this life, that we are offered the choice between life and death, and it is only by the road of conversion that we can enter the Kingdom, from which one is excluded by grave sin. In converting to Christ through penance and faith, the sinner PASSES FROM DEATH TO LIFE [in THIS life] and does not come into judgment.” By going to be forgiven now in the tribunal of God’s mercy, we have nothing to fear later in the tribunal of God’s justice.

6) The second means we keep the oil in our lamp burning and prepare for Jesus’ coming with “joyful hope” is to LIVE the Mass. In the Mass, we meet the Lord Jesus who comes for us in his word and in his body, blood, soul and divinity. The better we prepare for Mass, the more eagerly we look forward to it, the more we arrive at Mass “free from sin” through the sacrament of confession, the better our preparation for meeting Christ at the end of time. The reason for this is simple: for we encounter in the Eucharist the same Christ who will come on the clouds surrounded by all his angels. There is an intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and Christ’s second coming, which we can see in a couple of the options of the “mystery of faith” that come right after the words of consecration. In one prayer, we acclaim, “When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, UNTIL YOU COME IN GLORY.” In another we profess, “Dying you destroyed our death, rising your restored our life, LORD, JESUS, COME IN GLORY!” Receiving Jesus with ardent love in Holy Communion is the best way to ensure we are ready and expectant for his return. The more we enter into and emulate the mystery of self-giving love we receive in the Mass, the better prepared we will be to meet Christ disguised in others(Mt 25:31-46) and the better prepared we will be to meet him when he comes again. Simply put, the Mass IS the prayer of “Marana tha,” “Come, Lord Jesus!,” and the fulfillment of that prayer as we welcome within Christ himself.

7) During the celebration of the first Mass, Jesus spoke to us about his second coming. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he said. “You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (Jn 14:1-3). Jesus has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us and promised that he will return for us to take us to be with him forever — to take us home. This is truly great news. This is truly an event that we should await with joyful hope! As we prepare to receive now the eternal Bridegroom in Holy Communion, we ask him to give us the help he knows we need to be like the wise virgins in the parable, eagerly awaiting his return, so that with burning love, we will always be ready to embrace him when he comes and enter with him into the eternal happiness of His Father’s House! Come, Lord Jesus!