33rd. Sunday (Year B) (Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32)
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in the Scripture readings today we are encouraged to consider something the world wants to ignore, indeed, something the world fears to such an extent that it will not even entertain the possibility of it: namely, God’s coming Judgement of our human actions, intentions, and aspirations, not in some abstract and derisory inquisition with detailed, pernickety, proof and resulting condemnation, but in an immediately present and incontrovertible human awareness of personal failure: personal rejection of and alienation from the eternal glory and merciful goodness of God.
Jesus came among us some 2000 years ago and spoke as did people of His time using a vocabulary built up from the thoughts and experiences of ordinary human beings in ordinary human circumstances and with normal human aspirations and cares. However, the message He brought was from God, His Father, and He spoke not only for His own time but also for humanity to come even to our 21st. century and beyond. His words, therefore, are not scientific words but they are sublimely truthful words for human beings with a divine purpose and destiny to fulfil; they alone can give, convey to, human awareness a truthful apprehension of what, by its very nature, is both unimaginable because totally unique and inconceivable because sublimely spiritual.
We Catholic and Christian disciples of Jesus, being well aware that He once said:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away,
are today not only reminded of the eternal truth of Christian teaching concerning the fact of judgement to come, but are also re-assured that the righteous will be rewarded and fulfilled in that judgement.
The prophet Daniel, continuing our first reading (cf. Daniel 12:10), spoke words which we find verified by our own experience and that of Mother Church in our world today:
Many shall be refined, purified, and tested, but the wicked shall prove wicked; the wicked shall have no understanding, but those with insight shall.
It is, indeed, 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 disparaged and disregarded, while the most abominable practices are openly flaunted and being covered over with a cloak of pseudo-respectability to such an extent that some simple Catholics are being 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. (Mark 13:22)
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, throughout their life on earth, are being formed into a likeness of their Lord through the Scriptures, the sacraments of Mother Church, and the gifts of His Holy Spirit, whereby they are enabled to walk perseveringly and faithfully along the ways of Jesus. A notable part of the purifying and forming 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:
After that tribulation (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 astounding forces at work in our own sun and Milky Way, and in the myriads of stars and countless galaxies around and beyond us: galaxies involving powers and occupying space and time we try to account for and measure but are utterly unable to comprehend.
All this comes about because of the nature and extent of our scientific knowledge. Every day new facts about the world around us are being discovered; but -- without understanding – facts, like statistics, are ultimately meaningless and empty. As, over the decades and centuries, our probes into the secrets of nature have extended ever wider and deeper, scientists have found it increasingly difficult to gain a comprehensive appreciation of such an immense diversity of facts old and new that they can embrace and learn from. Newton came up with one such an understanding, which we call a hypothesis, which seemed to embrace and unify the then known facts, and caused scientific circles great rejoicing. But still more facts continued to come in and eventually there was so much that was new and inexplicable that a further hypothesis had to be found. Einstein came up with another explanation, another new hypothesis, which again rejoiced the minds of scientists, and again led many to think “Now we can explain all things.” The flow of new facts continues however, and not all fit into even our very-latest hypotheses and so, yet again, scientific thinkers seek to come up with still other working hypotheses that might seem to offer a unifying explanation of all the facts we think we know. Understanding always lags far behind the facts for scientists; hypotheses can only try to explain our universe on the basis of present experience and observation, and today we are becoming increasingly aware that we experience very, very little of the totality of what is real.
Think of it in this way: when it is light we see, and we then think that light shows us everything. Normally, however, we only experience ordinary light, whereas science tells us that such ordinary light contains many, many, different wavelengths, each revealing different objects, such as infra-red light, ultra-violet rays, X rays, all opening different views of what we had thought we knew well enough.
Now, People of God, we are not really concerned with science here; but we Catholics and Christians live in God’s world and because it is God’s world created for us, we are interested in, admire, make great use of, and should respect, the world as such. However, though we live in the world, we live that life in the world for God. Ultimately therefore, all our knowledge of the world is desirable only in so far as thereby we learn to admire God’s wisdom and power, beauty (just look at the truly heavenly pictures sent us by Hubble!) and goodness, ever more and more and, above all, in so far as we are thereby helped to live our life-on-earth for Him more gratefully and fittingly, in a more truly and fully human -- that is, divinely-aware-and-responsive -- manner.
Some of the psalmists of old epitomize that life for us: to them the heavens did indeed speak most glowingly of the glory of God! In those days, there were relatively few scientific facts available other than what our human senses could immediately discern; nevertheless, being filled with the gifts of humility and wisdom, the psalmists were able to understand and interpret appropriately what facts were known to them and wholeheartedly rejoice before God. Today, however, for many moderns, the facts are so multitudinous and often so tenuous that the human mind is overwhelmed as it seeks to co-relate them into a comprehensible whole. And where faith is lost and pride is embraced and 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 reflects their own purposeless appreciation of primeval and chaotic power, expanding and exhausting itself in time and space – not indeed totally outside our knowledge, but far beyond the comprehension of minds unwilling to learn humility from what surpasses them.
We Christians, however, want to learn from the glory of God resplendent in the heavens above; and, from the goodness and mercy of God manifest in Jesus and in the Scriptures of Mother Church, we want to learn how we can prepare for that coming judgement so as to find eternal blessedness. For, as our readings today warn us, when the Judgement Day comes:
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.
Now is the time of trial: even at this very moment, the process of choosing and preparing the elect is going on all over the world, going on in you and me.
But the wicked shall prove wicked; none of them shall have understanding.
It has always been so, the wicked rejoice in their wickedness and manage to persuade themselves that there is nothing that can happen to them after death by surrounding themselves with others who think likewise, by distracting their minds with ever-new projects, and by silencing their consciences with pleasures that can satiate but not satisfy. Nevertheless, for those who seek to live before God and show themselves willing to be guided by Mother Church and her Scriptures,
Many shall be refined, purified, and tested (by the grace of the Holy Spirit and the light of Jesus’ teaching) and the wise shall have understanding.
There lies our vocation, People of God: whilst we have the time, we are called to seek understanding and urged to live wisely, for:
Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
Therefore, dear People of God, do not let yourselves be troubled by scoffers who ignore the teaching of divine 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 when those other words of His find their ultimate fulfilment:
(You) 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.