For us Catholics and Christians there is a mysterious cohesion between ourselves and creation around us: all given life or brought into being by the One true God, with what is material and temporal serving and supporting all spiritual degrees, and our own supreme spirit polarized towards God and eternity. As a result of this, things of earth and temporal events can help our spiritual awareness, our understanding and appreciation, of God’s mysterious presence for us in our experience of the world, and contact with us in our spiritual life.
This year of 2012 is coming to its end and that fact leads Mother Church to call upon her children to think appropriately about the end of this world, the ‘great and final end’ which we prepare for individually by the way we face up to all the little ‘ends’ we experience throughout life, and for which God’s People have been gradually prepared over many centuries by God’s grace at decisive junctures of their history. The readings Mother Church has given us for today sound very strange to our ears for we cannot understand much of them; and yet they surely make a deep impression with words both awesome and majestic, concerning events great and even cataclysmic, and yet for all that, most wonderfully full of hope for all who know and love the Lord Jesus.
Those descriptions of ultimate, cosmic, disturbance:
In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken;
had been used earlier in the Old Testament predicting the ruin of nations hostile to Israel; as we find in the prophesy of Isaiah (13:10) foretelling the ruin of Babylon:
For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; the sun will be dark when it rises, and the moon will not shed its light;
and again when the same prophet speaks of the downfall of Edom (Isaiah 34:4):
And all the host of heaven will wear away, and the sky will be rolled up like a scroll; all their hosts will also wither away as a leaf withers from the vine, or from the fig tree.
After Isaiah, the great prophet Ezekiel (32:7-8) spoke in similar tones of the then forthcoming destruction of Egypt:
‘And when I extinguish you I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land’ declares the Lord God.
Like words were also used by one of the later prophets, Joel (2:28-32), to evoke the latter times when God’s Spirit would be poured out upon mankind:
And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth; blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD will be delivered; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be those who escape, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
And now, we hear Our Lord using similar words to foreshadow God’s final purifying of His People when the evil that was in her would be purged away and God’s true servants shown forth:
And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
From the beginning of His ministry Jesus had used the title Son of Man, and now, in those words He identified Himself, for the first time, with the One seen in a vision by the prophet Daniel (7:13-14):
I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him. And to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language, might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.
In Daniel the Son of Man heads the Kingdom of the Saints which is to supersede the heathen empires of the Four Beasts (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome?); and now Jesus, showing Himself to be the Son of Man, allows us to appreciate that, in Him, humankind finds its supreme glory and God’s People its supreme Head, while God’s Kingdom knows the irresistible beginning of its definitive establishment:
And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.
This process is now going on before our very eyes, so to speak; for the Church is being purged of evil-doers whose secret sins are now being both made manifest and publicly rejected; while former hangers-on, members not by virtue of their love for and faith in Jesus but for reasons of social acceptability and personal advantage, are freely abandoning her for those very same reasons. Indeed, even at this very moment, we ourselves gathered here are all part of it, for God the Father has called us here today as the Body of Christ to celebrate and acclaim the glorified Lord as our Head: He brings us together from all corners of the globe as the Church of Christ, called to become ever more truly the fruitful Spouse of Christ for the glory of the Father and the salvation of souls.
People of God, recognize where we find ourselves at this moment: the process for the purification of God’s People and the establishment of His Kingdom has begun, since Jesus has risen from the dead; He is to be seen and heard, known and received, by those who love Him in His Church; and all this is leading to a final dénouement in which Jesus will be seen by all mankind whether they love Him or not. He will appear, not humbly as Bread and Wine totally given over to our service, but in all His glory as the Son of God, our Redeemer, and the Judge of mankind. At present the words of the second reading from the letter to the Hebrews are being fulfilled:
He offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God; now He waits until His enemies are made His footstool;
and we all , in the bosom of Mother Church, are being led to justice, as the first reading put it, being instructed in virtue and wisdom as we learn to lead our lives in conformity to Jesus’ teaching, that we might truly know something of the beauty and goodness of God our Father.
It is a fact today that we see all around us ‘the wicked proving themselves wicked’: we find that wisdom and understanding, far from being valued and sought after, are mocked and disregarded, while the most abominable practices are openly flaunted and accepted; indeed, they can even be found covering themselves over with a cloak of pseudo-respectability, to such an extent that some simple Christians and even some Catholics, are troubled, as Jesus foretold:
False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect.
In our Gospel reading Jesus again mentions “the elect” as you heard:
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and then He will send out the angels, and gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Who are these “elect”? Daniel told us in those words: many shall be refined, purified, and tested, because the elect are those faithful disciples who are being formed into a likeness of their Lord through their experience of life under God’s Providence, by the sacraments of Mother Church, and by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, whereby they are encouraged and enabled to walk perseveringly and faithfully along the way of Jesus. A notable part of the purging and purifying of the faithful elect is accomplished by the sufferings they have to endure in order to remain true to Jesus despite the allurements and trials of life; and today mockery is one of the great trials Christians have to endure for Jesus, especially mockery of Jesus’ teaching about a future judgement.
Now Jesus speaks of the coming of that judgement day when He says:
After that tribulation (the appearance of false messiahs performing their signs and wonders), the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
We can imagine something of the calamitous nature of such pre-judgement events, for today we are not unaware of the primeval powers at work in our own sun and Milky Way, and in the astounding galaxies above and beyond us: galaxies that defy counting; involving powers and occupying space beyond human imagining. In fact, we have learnt and are still in the process of learning so much from the heavens that some scientists regard the heavens as the source of the knowledge of all times, past and future.
For the psalmists of old, however, the heavens spoke resoundingly of the glory of God. In those days, though there were few facts available other than what our human senses could immediately discern, the psalmists however, being filled with the gifts of humility and wisdom, were able to understand and interpret aright what facts were known to them. Today, on the other hand, for many moderns, the facts are so multitudinous and often so tenuous that their mind is overwhelmed as it seeks to co-relate and then co-ordinate them into a comprehensible whole; and, where faith has been lost or rejected, and pride acknowledged as an acceptable guide, many falsely interpret what they have correctly but only partially observed, with the result that their reading of the heavens proclaims not the Glory and the Goodness of God, but rather power for no purpose, majesty without meaning, and beauty alien in its cold irrelevance.
Therefore, dear People of God, do not let yourselves be troubled by scoffers who ignore the teaching of truth, who walk, indeed run, merrily, along ways that lead to destruction. Let Mother Church guide you, let the Spirit of Jesus lead you, to righteousness and insight; for then you will come to know, even here on earth, something of the plenitude of peace and fullness of joy promised by Our Lord, before ultimately sharing in His transcendent glory and most sublime joy:
When all things are subjected to Him (and) the Son Himself (is) subject to Him Who put all things in subjection under Him, that God may be All in all. (! Cor. 15:8)