Sunday, November 16, 2003

The End Gives Meaning to the Now.

(Thirty-third Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on November 16, 2003 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Daniel 12: 1-3; Mark 13: 24-32.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Thirty-third Sunday 2003]

A priest was patiently waiting in line to have his car filled with gas just before a long holiday weekend. The attendant at the station was working as quickly as he could to serve everyone, but it was quite some time before the priest finally made it to the front of the line. When he arrived at the pump, the attendant said to him, “I’m really sorry about the delay, Father, but it seems like everybody waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.”

The priest just smiled back and replied, “My son, I know exactly what you mean. It’s the same in my business.”

How true it is! Although it’s certainly not the case for everybody, there are some people who will delay their repentance, who will put off a long-needed confession, who will procrastinate about making positive changes in their lives, until their days on earth are almost over, and they’re about to make “that big, one-way trip” into eternity!

I’m sure this is why, at the end of every liturgical year, the Church gives us readings like the ones we heard this morning. Our first reading was from Daniel 12; our Gospel text from Mark 13. Both focus our attention on “the end.” In this 12th chapter of Daniel, the prophet speaks about the final conflict that will occur between good and evil just before the consummation of human history. Then God tells Daniel that when this decisive moment arrives, “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. But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

Jesus gives us a similar message in the Gospel, adding that this will be the moment when he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead (as we say in the Apostles’ Creed).

As to when this will happen, Jesus says, unequivocally, “No one knows . . . except the [heavenly] Father” (so please tell your Jehovah’s Witnesses friends to stop trying to figure it out!).

The obvious conclusion here is that we must always be ready, since the final moment of human history—or the final moment of our life here on earth—could come at any time. If we delay our repentance, put off a much needed confession, or procrastinate about making the changes we know we need to make in our life, we may never have the chance to do so. The end may come when we least expect it.

Now please understand something: Jesus does not tell us all these things about the end because he wants us to live in fear! Quite oppositely, he tells us to be ready because he wants us to live in faith! If we live in faith, then we have nothing to fear!

I was reminded of the importance of always being prepared for the end a few weeks ago, when I was called to the emergency room of Westerly Hospital on a Tuesday afternoon. A man from our parish had died suddenly a few hours before while playing tennis. He was in his 70’s, but he didn’t look or act it. And he was such a wonderful parishioner: involved in our Habitat for Humanity group, and a host of other things. During the course of my conversation with his wife at the hospital I said, “Dot, there are some people about whom I would be very worried if they died so suddenly. But not your husband. And that’s the greatest compliment I can possibly give him. Of course, only God is the final judge of anyone’s life, but I have a very confident hope for your husband’s eternal salvation, because it seemed to me that his Catholic faith—his love for Jesus Christ—was at the foundation of everything he did.”

She agreed; and I know that the thought of his faith and charity also gave her hope—and a good bit of consolation and peace—in an otherwise tragic moment.

And let me say a word here to the young people: Don’t think the message of this homily is only for the elderly and for those who have a terminal disease! It’s for you, too! Many adolescents and young adults currently live lives that they describe as “boring”: lives without direction, without purpose, without meaning. I would say that in many cases this is because they never stop to think about “the end” (the end of their lives, the end of the world) and how that relates to their present circumstances.

But this is something we all need to do, because (believe it or not) it’s “the end” that gives meaning and purpose to the present moment. It gives meaning to the “now.” And we all know this truth from our everyday experiences. For example, at the beginning of every pro football season, players look to the END POINT they want to arrive at—namely, the Super Bowl! And that’s what motivates them to practice hard and to play their best in the present moment. Thinking of the terminal point of the season doesn’t depress them, it inspires them! The end gives meaning to the now.

Every college student looks forward to that terminal point of his schooling known as “graduation,” and to finally getting a job in his chosen field—and this is what motivates him to study and work hard in the classes he’s presently taking. (Unless, of course, he’s just in school to party and waste his parents’ money!—in which case he’ll probably flunk-out anyway in his first year!).

Ever since the finance committee said yes to the idea of a capital campaign for the improvement of our church, school and rectory, I (and many others) have been thinking of the terminal point of the project: of that moment when all the work will finally be done and all the bills paid! And the thought of that happy end gives meaning and purpose to the entire process: to all the meetings, the paperwork, the phone calls, the fundraising—and the frustrations—that we’re enduring now.

And so it should be with the terminal point of life as a whole. Knowing that it will come someday shouldn’t depress us; rather, it should inspire us to live for Christ, since living for the Lord in faithfulness to our baptism is what will bring us to his kingdom in the end.

The end must give meaning to the now.

Let me close by sharing with you the final words of a reflection that was given at a funeral I recently attended. This funeral was for a young man, in his late 30’s, who, sadly, led a life filled with self-destructive behaviors—behaviors that ultimately led to his demise.

This man’s brother spoke at the end of the liturgy, and I was deeply impressed by his words—because he didn’t try to “sugar-coat” reality in any way. Yes, he highlighted his brother’s talents and good qualities (as he should have), but he was also very honest about his brother’s faults and failings. You don’t often encounter that type of clear thinking at a funeral.

His final words to the congregation are a fitting conclusion to this homily. He said, “Let us all learn from this [tragic] experience [of my brother’s death]; let us [learn to] take the time to listen, to care, to make peace, to do what we can for one another, and to love unconditionally, before time passes and it becomes too late.”

For the man who wrote those words, thinking of the end—the end of his own life—gives meaning and purpose to the present moment.

And that’s the way it should be for all of us.