33rd. Sunday of Year (B)
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 with our own supreme spirit polarized towards God and eternal life. As a result of this, things of earth and temporal events can stir our spiritual awareness, they can help us understand and appreciate something more of God’s mysterious presence for us in the world and our experience of it, and thus live ever more conaturally and delightfully with Him and for Him.
This year of 2018 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 His grace at decisive junctures of their history. Nevertheless, the readings Mother Church has given us for today sound very strange to our ears and we find it difficult to understand much of them, although they do make a deep impression on us with awesome words concerning events great and even cataclysmic; and yet, for all that, full of hope for all who believe in and love the Lord Jesus.
Those words of Jesus:
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 times predicting the ruin of nations hostile to Israel, as we find in the prophecy 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.
After Isaiah, another great prophet Ezekiel spoke in similar tones of the forthcoming destruction of Egypt:
‘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’ says the Lord. (32:7-8)
The prophet Joel (2:28-33) used like words to proclaim the ‘Day of the Lord‘ when the Holy Spirit would be poured out on believers in Jesus before the wrath of God ultimately destroyed sin and sinners:
And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy … The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And 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, survivors whom the Lord calls.
And now, we find Jesus using that same type of language to foreshadow God’s final purifying of His People when evil will be purged away and God’s true servants revealed:
And 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 public ministry Jesus had used the title ‘Son of Man’ when speaking of Himself and now, in the words just quoted, He identified Himself for the first time as the ‘One seen in a vision’ by another late and great prophet, Daniel (7:13-14):
As the visions during the night continued, I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when He reached the Ancient One and was presented before Him He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, His kingship shall 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). Jesus now, therefore, showing Himself to be the Son of Man in Daniel’s prophecy, enables us to appreciate the fact that, in Him, humankind finds its supreme glory and God’s People its sublime 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 of and faith in Jesus but for reasons of social acceptability and personal advantage, are now freely abandoning her for those very same reasons. Indeed, even at this 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 by the Spirit, 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 juncture in time: 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 denouement 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 need and service, but in all His glory as the Son of God, Redeemer and Judge of all mankind. At present the words of today’s second reading 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 with Jesus’ teaching and come to know truly – in fact and in experience -- something of the infinite beauty and boundless goodness of God our Father.
It is a fact that today we see all around us the wicked proving themselves wicked; we find that wisdom and understanding, far from being valued and sought after, are derided 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 mentioned ‘His 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 (12:10): many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, because the elect are those faithful disciples who are being formed into a likeness of their Lord through their experience of and response to life under God’s Providence by the sacraments of Mother Church and 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 and embrace in order to remain true to Jesus despite the allurements and trials of life; and today mockery is one of the great trials Catholics and Christians have to endure for Jesus, especially mockery of Jesus’ teaching about a future judgement.
Now Jesus speaks of the coming judgement 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 because today we are not unaware of the primeval powers at work in our own sun and Milky Way, and in astounding galaxies above and beyond us: galaxies that defy counting and involve powers and occupy 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 imagine 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 -- being filled with God’s spiritual gifts of humility and wisdom -- were able to understand and interpret aright what basic facts were known to them. Today, on the other hand, for many moderns the facts are so multitudinous and often so tenuous that their minds are overwhelmed as they seek to co-relate and then co-ordinate them into a comprehensible whole; and where faith has been lost or rejected, and pride acknowledged as a reliable 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 with no significance, 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 the ways that lead ever further from God. 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 fulness of joy promised by Our Lord, before ultimately sharing in His transcendent glory and 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. (! Corinthians 15:8)