Our readings today are all concerned with the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of time, to do away with sin and subject all things to Himself for the glory of His Father.
Now, it is not possible to speak of the events of those latter days using ordinary language, for they will be events unseen before and beyond all human anticipation and imagination; that is why, in the Old and New Testaments -- even when Jesus Himself is speaking -- the language used is of a special character, called apocalyptic language, full of strange and extreme events: cosmic at times in their size and impact, always awesome and usually terrifying for mere human beings. Therefore, because those times will be, so to speak, divine times, when the divinity of Jesus and the supernatural majesty and power of the all Holy God are revealed, they will be – for the ungodly -- times of deep darkness and great distress, such as only nature’s primeval powers can now inspire:
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars; on the earth nations will be in dismay. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.
In the first reading, we heard:
In those days Judah shall be safe, and Jerusalem shall dwell secure; this is what they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice.'
Jerusalem will be safe because her inhabitants will be clothed with justice -- the supernatural God-given gift of righteousness -- says the prophet Jeremiah. That is what St. Paul had in mind in our second reading taken from his first letter to the Thessalonians:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God – and as you are conducting yourselves – you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
Mere human beings, who have refused to live in a way pleasing to God, and who consequently, are not clothed with the righteousness of the Lord, will be unable to survive the manifestation of divine holiness on the day of His coming. We are forewarned about this, dear People of God, every returning summer for, whether we have good eyes or weak eyes makes no difference, all of us can be blinded by the direct glare of the noon-day sun. Likewise, immediately before the coming of the Lord, personal confidence, courage, riches or ability, self-pity or overflowing rage and anger, will be of no comfort when primeval, instinctive, terror strikes the human heart at the sight of the tumultuous seas, mountainous waves, or rivers of flaming volcanic lava in full spate.
Only those prepared by sincere conversion and divine endowment, fortified by prayer and personal love of God, will find themselves able to survive those days, as Jesus warned us:
Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent, and to stand before the Son of Man.
Since this will be the situation when God comes to bring time to a close and to destroy sin from the face of the earth; and most especially, when you think that we only have one life, that is one chance, and whoever gets it wrong cannot come back and try again, it is surely amazing that many put their trust in merely human self-appointed and self-opiniated, teachers, gurus, prophets, and guides! Divine holiness, majesty and power will be manifested; all-seeing knowledge and inscrutable wisdom will be deployed; and yet, you find some devilishly proud and presumptuous people saying to others who are, incredibly, foolish enough to listen to them: “Follow me, do what I am doing, see how I am enjoying myself! It won’t be that hard at the end … you just go to sleep, that is the end of everything, there’s nothing after that!” Issues that have exercised human minds and involved human hearts and consciences from man’s beginning, which have provoked a morally unanimous religious awareness, appreciation, and response from humankind, are challenged and called into question by individuals whose pride is overwhelming and whose life but a fleeting shadow. They come out with teachings which, seemingly human, are ultimately devilish: sexuality is not something given by nature but something to be 'more or less' genetically arranged according to personal preference; homosexuality is an equal option for life alongside marriage between a man and a woman; or again, there is no right and wrong, there is no truth, it is only a matter of social or political correctness and human upbringing; what used to be called ‘sin’ is but the result of genetic disturbance; and human life has no other dignity than what we accord it.
Dear People of God, life for us believers, is a wondrous mystery: what is its true meaning; has it an ultimate purpose? Mysterious too are the essential elements of life as we experience it: what is love; how can one find happiness and peace of heart; why is life so tasteless without hope; what is justice, where is truth?? Again, why do we feel, inside, that some things are wrong; and why – having done such things, even though in secret -- do we feel disturbed, ill at ease, indeed, under threat??? Such mysterious questions as these are of vital importance, because both reason and experience teach us that life is problematical: money cannot buy happiness, worldly success or renown cannot guarantee peace of heart, nor can present pleasure foster future hope.
Here then, as we begin the season of Advent, we are urged by Mother Church to do some serious thinking. We are bid look into our hearts to sound those hidden depths that we so rarely penetrate in our everyday life and activity, for only there can we find some appreciation and understanding of the mystery of our make-up as persons, as individuals who have been made divinely special. For all of us do believe that we are special: none of us can tolerate injustice done against us, and we all hate lies and love truth as they affect our lives. Who is there that does not know that life inspires hope, while death, on the other hand, provokes despair? Inexplicably, we feel ourselves made for life, even though all things else are made and are content to die.
People of God, we Catholics are Christians -- the original and authentic Christians -- called to bring the Gospel, the Good News, to the whole world, throughout time. And the message we are commissioned to bring is that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the mystery of human existence and the supreme hope for our human destiny: He alone can bring peace and hope into our hearts and minds, together with the strength to live and love aright both in society and as individuals. Above all, we are to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only One Who can raise us up to aspire to a heavenly destiny; one that will be truly ours -- in and with Jesus, by His Spirit -- a destiny before God the Father which will be the glorious and eternal fulfilment of all our possibilities, powers, and longings. Our teaching is certain and clear:
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6)
I and My Father are One. (John 10:30)
How those who say: “follow me; do what I am doing; listen to me, I know”, how such people despise their brethren! Why do I say despise? Because they dare to imagine that the miserable prospects they offer can possibly fulfil a human being: pleasure, usually basic or even animal; success, though, even at its highest, is only for a very short time and, of itself, has no moral value; popularity, which -- basically shallow -- can only be sustained by craven conformity.
Jesus alone fully loves and truly appreciates us: He raises us to a life that is eternal and sublimely beautiful, a love that is fulfilling and divine. Indeed, He offers us a fulfilment that can penetrate to and transfigure the hidden and most intimate depths of our human and personal being. That is why Catholics offer their whole selves to Jesus with no if’s and but’s: for example, when they marry, they offer the whole of that marriage – for better for worse, humanly speaking -- to Jesus, in the belief that, through Him and by the grace of His most Holy Spirit, their faithfully-lived Christian union will serve their own eternal destiny, mankind’s continuity and growth, and God’s loving plan of salvation for the world:
All things have been delivered to Me by My Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. (Luke 10:22)
Because the Father Who calls us to Jesus has committed all things to Him, so we too, who answer the Father’s call and come to Jesus as His disciples, commit all things to Him: there is nothing secret in our lives where He cannot enter, where He does not rule. All ‘ours’, all of ‘us’, is for Jesus so that in Him we might be totally for the Father, and that we might thus come to find our eternal fulfilment in the glory and joy of His kingdom truth and love.
To that end we live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus and by His Spirit given us in Mother Church; for the Good News of Jesus comes down to us through her proclamation and teaching in all its original fullness of integrity and purity; and by her sacraments the Spirit of Jesus is sprinkled in blessing upon all that we do and are: body and soul, mind and heart, work and aspirations, yes and even our humiliations and sufferings endured for love of Jesus.
In all such ways does God’s Providence and Love govern, sustain, and guide our lives that we might ultimately be made able to humbly accept and whole-heartedly embrace what is sure to come:
(You) will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.