Monday, November 18, 2013

The End of the World, The Cross, and Eternal Life

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C 2013         Deacon John William McMullen

 
My mother asked me what I was going to preach about today and I told her “the end of the world.” She replied, “We’ll I’m not going.”  I’m not sure if she meant she wasn’t going to attend Mass or not going to attend the end of the world. I’ll wait and see.
 
You know they say Irish diplomacy is having the ability to tell someone to go to hell and they will go away looking forward to the trip. Oscar Wilde said, “If you must tell someone the truth, make him laugh—or else he’ll kill you.” I pray I have such mirthful diplomacy today.

The readings today remind us that there will be an end to this world as we know it.

The first reading today (tonight) is from Malachi.  The people complained that being faithful to God had never really paid off. In their lack of faith, they failed to practice justice… they defrauded widows and orphans, ignored the plight of the stranger in their midst, and the poor and defenseless were trampled down, while the wealthy extorted the poor.

The religious practice of many of the priests, religious leaders, and the people had become a pretense, a false religiosity whereby they merely went through the motions of worship, but their hearts were far from God and love of neighbor.

Marital infidelity and social injustice was the rule of the day as the people had abandoned their covenant with God. Malachi emphasized that the right relationship with God depended upon a right relationship with our neighbor.

Malachi harshly criticized the Jewish priests for their abuse of religious ritual and toleration of injustice.

Malachi even dared make the dramatic claim that it would be best to shut the temple down, better to close its doors rather than offer the Lord false worship.

[“Oh, that one among you would shut the temple gates to keep you from kindling fire on my altar in vain!” (Mal. 1.10).]

Malachi raised the question: Why have a Temple – no matter how magnificent – if true worship is not taking place within it?

[Malachi went so far to point out that the pagans and gentiles were honoring the LORD, while the Jewish priests were profaning God’s holy name by giving poor and worthless offerings.]

There will be an end. There will be a judgment day. The day is coming, says the Lord, when this world, this life as we know it will come to an end. God will set things right. The good will receive their reward; the evil will receive theirs. All evil will be overturned.


Malachi’s dramatic claim that it would be best to shut the temple down was still reverberating some 500 years later, when Jesus observed some people excitedly pointing out the beauty of the temple.

But Jesus responded with shocking words: “The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another.”

The people in today’s gospel looked on the grand fa├žade of the Temple and proclaim its greatness.  They were beginning to think that this world is really all that matters. 
 
We too like to be comfortable. 

We can fall for the lie that this world is all that there is.  We can get caught up in our own narrow, narcissistic worlds where our cause is the only cause. We can become so narrow-minded and self-absorbed that we cannot see beyond the grave.

But have we deceived ourselves?

Like the rich fool who lived as if there was no tomorrow, yet he died that very night in bed planning to build bigger barns to secure his life;

Like the rich man who wore purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously while ignoring the poor man Lazarus;

Like the near-sighted Pharisee who could only pray to himself and look down on others.

Yes, even Christians are tempted by the lure of this world’s values.  

If we carve out a nice worldly existence for ourselves and close in upon ourselves thinking that pleasure, popularity, power, and possessions will fulfill us in this life, we will one day awaken to the reality that we have been duped, sadly mistaken – that our eternal thirst cannot be quenched with finite earthly pleasures and joys – no matter how noble.

Our eyes must be focused on Christ who is forever leading us over the horizon of this world into the light of His kingdom.

The disciples of the Lord wanted to avoid the Cross.

But our call is to take up the cross.

It’s all about the Cross; it always was and always will be.

Christ always calls us beyond our worldly happiness to eternal life.

Here we have no lasting city. Our citizenship is in heaven.

We see beyond this brief life; and we see even beyond death.

Jesus says to his disciples – and to us - no matter what happens, God will be with us.

We cannot get hung up on elaborate buildings or anything or anyone else or any one.

Christ must be the cornerstone.

Christ is the narrow gate. 

Christ is our true Temple.

So no matter how many wars, natural disasters, earthquakes, sinkholes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or typhoons we hear of or experience; no matter the strange meteors or comets or celestial signs, including satellites falling from orbit, our focus should be on proclaiming the gospel, the good news of Christ’s redemptive love; disasters and cataclysmic events, political unrest, social upheaval, violence and war cannot separate us from the love of God.
 
Oh, yes, some of us may suffer martyrdom – perhaps not as our brothers and sisters in the faith are experiencing elsewhere in the world where it is illegal to do what we are doing here this morning/evening – but some of us may be ridiculed by our peers, even by our family members and fellow Catholics for our faith… defending the poor, taking a stand for justice, celebrating the sacrament of marriage or proclaiming the dignity of the life of the unborn. While at the same time we may be condemned for our ministry among those who have been marginalized by society—or even by some members of the Church.]
 
We may be misunderstood and be put to death socially. We may suffer a bloodless martyrdom of gossip all because we have remained true to our faith.
 
 
St. Paul reminds us that there are people who have their nose in other people’s business – and then there are others who have their business in your nose.  
 
Suffice it to say that there are too many people who are too busy trying to remove splinters from their neighbors’ eyes while they have wooden beams in their own eyes.
 
There are some Christians who are awfully proud of their holiness and seem to make it their aim to know their neighbors’ sins.
 
But we can’t worry about all that.
 
In fact, there is no time to worry.
 
Today is the day of salvation.
 
And we must persevere to the end.
 
For the same God who has counted the hairs on our heads will not abandon us.
 
We are all sinners journeying to the Kingdom together, broken members of the Body of Christ, nourished by His Grace, His Word, the Eucharist, and encouraged by one another.
 

This is the Good News.

God raises up fallen humanity and calls us to reach for the heights of the kingdom; a kingdom where we are to bring God’s kingdom to the present world: on earth as it is in heaven.

We need to have faith and trust in God in the difficult times when the walls seem to be caving in upon us, when we are in a fog of uncertainty, when the Cross is oh so heavy.
 
None of us is going to get out of this world unscathed.  But death is not the end; we will rise again.

The temples of our bodies might be destroyed, but we will remain the Temple of God, the People of God, the Body of Christ.

And no one can destroy that.

They may try.            

But we will rise with Christ on the Last Day.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What are you willing to live for?

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C

If you were arrested for being a Christian,
would there be enough evidence to convict you?
Deacon John William McMullen

This past summer our family went to a wedding Mass in a church where there was no air-conditioning. The church was sweltering hot – so hot that I had to remove my suit jacket. Many of the other men also removed their jackets as well. And when it came time for the gospel reading, when I went to stand up, my shirt was stuck to the hot wooden pew – as were the other men's shirts – and it was so hot that the varnish on the pews had become gooey and stuck to our shirts. Don’t get me wrong, I love Mass and I love to sing, but even I must admit that this wedding mass was a grueling experience given the extreme heat.
But then I thought what a small problem to have compared to being persecuted or suffering death for our faith!
Imagine being arrested for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?
When we consider all that the saints and martyrs before us sacrificed and risked to practice their faith, we must admit that ours is a comfortable Christianity. Most of us can openly go to  church any Saturday or Sunday that we want.  Yet many skip church if the Mass conflicts with a sporting event or concert. 
Those who have gone before us were willing to give everything, including their lives, for the sake of the gospel!
Why were they willing to lay down their lives for Christ?
What is it that gave them hope that their deaths would not be the end?
Imagine a world where it is illegal to be a Catholic or Christian. Imagine that it was illegal to go to Mass. Imagine it being illegal to gather for community worship.
Unfortunately, we do not have to imagine this. It is happening right now in parts of the world.
Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith have risked their lives to fulfill their Sunday obligation by attending Mass today! And it seems every weekend a different set of Catholics has been attacked and put to death in Pakistan, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mauritania, Mali, Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, or other parts of the world.
In North Korea Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered; subject to public execution. 70,000 Christians are believed to be incarcerated in various prison camps in North Korea, veritable concentration camps.
And off the coast of the Red Sea in the Eritrean Desert there is a Military Prison camp where the authorities use the metal shipping containers to hold prisoners.
100,000,000 Christians today face interrogation, arrest, torture or even murder because of their faith.

Others face public executions by hangings, firing squads, torture, beatings, whippings, beheadings, stoning to death.* (The Global War on Christians by John Allen).

It is stories like these cause each of us to question ourselves: Would I be willing to die for my faith in Jesus Christ?
Therefore while our brother and sister Christians risk their lives to worship as a community on Sunday, what is our excuse?
For some it’s too much to drive an extra five minutes to Mass
Others have to shop on the weekends.
Still others have sporting events on the weekend.
Or Sunday is their only day to sleep in.
Others are more honest. One person flat out told me:  I really don’t have time for it anymore.
On any given Sunday only about 30% of all Catholics in the U.S. will go to Mass. 
This is astonishing, especially when we look to our ancestors in the faith who were willing to suffer martyrdom – in order to give witness to their faith – and the number of Christians being persecuted and being martyred today. Ours is a faith that millions are and have been willing to die for. 
 
The religious persecution of today is similar to what the Jewish people were experiencing in today’s first reading from Second Maccabees. A family of the Jewish faithful are being tortured to death for their belief in the Lord God, but the Jews died for their faith rather than disobeying God’s Commandments.
And despite the fact that they were suffering injustice, they believed that they would rise again.
Then in today’s gospel, the Sadducees – who did not believe in the existence of the human soul or the resurrection of the dead – come to Jesus and engage him in a ridiculous argument.
The Sadducees had a “what you see is what you get” mentality; they believed that this earthly existence is all there is, all that matters.
So in a very real way, the belief in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting clashes with the belief that this life is all there is.
“You’re born, you live, then you die.” Isn’t that what many people say today?
But Jesus points to the age to come, of the resurrected life.
So what is this resurrection of the dead that we believe in, that we profess every Sunday?
I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
 
Do we really look forward to this?
Our fervent hope as Catholic Christians is that we will rise on the last day when Christ will come again.
Our Baptism unites us with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ; and so in a mysterious way we already participate in the heavenly life. Our eternal life begins at our baptism!
And at the Second Coming of Christ, our bodies will be raised in a way that goes beyond our imagination and understanding. Our resurrected bodies will be made incorrupt and they will be rejoined to our souls. All people, the good and the evil, will be raised from the dead on the last day. This will be "the hour when all who are in the tombs will hear [the voice of the Son of Man] and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment" (John 5:29).
St. John of the Cross said that before the believer is really ready to undertake the spiritual journey he or she must be “deeply struck by the shortness of life…and the need for profound repentance from sin and wholehearted surrender to God” (The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 1;1).
The reality of death gives an urgency to our lives.
So then how should we live—especially in the face of persecution and the threat of death?
“…Our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies: so our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection” (CCC 997).
 
The second century theologian Tertullian wrote: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
What is it that gave them hope that their deaths would not be the end?
It was and is because of the hope in the Resurrection of the Dead, the resurrection of Jesus Christ; this is what gave them the courage to risk their lives, to die for their faith and this is what gives us the courage to live for Christ.
If we were to die for our friendship with Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict us?
 
Or would we abandon Him as soon as we learn that the church doesn’t have air-conditioning?