Sunday, December 02, 2018

When ‘A World’ Ends

(First Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 2, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:4-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2018]

Today’s gospel reading probably sounded familiar.  That’s because it’s very similar to the gospel text from Mark that we heard two short weeks ago.  This is St. Luke’s version of the very same event from the life of our Lord. 

Jesus, in this section from Luke 21, is obviously speaking about the end of the world; however in the verses just prior to this he predicts the destruction of the city of Jerusalem—something which would take place in 70 A.D.—just about 40 years after his death and resurrection.  And he makes a direct connection between these two events, saying, in effect, “If you want to know what it will be like at the end of time, pay very close attention in 40 years when the Romans decimate this city and tear down this beautiful temple.  That’s what it will be like.” 

So here our Lord makes an important comparison: he compares the end of the world to the end of a world.  You see, a world was about to end for the people of Jerusalem: a world in which they were able to worship God freely in his sacred dwelling place.  That world would come to an end—a very abrupt end—when Titus and the Roman army set fire to the temple and tore it down. 

The thought occurred to me earlier this week: We have this same type of experience in our lives all the time, whether we’re conscious of it or not.  Just as the people of Jerusalem experienced the end of a world when their temple was destroyed, so too for us “worlds” come to an end constantly.  Sometimes the end of a world will take the form of a tragedy that comes our way; at other times it will take the form of a great blessing.  For example, those of you who will graduate from high school or college next spring will experience the end of a world on the day you get your diploma—the end of your world in that particular school.  The day someone gets married is the day they experience the end of a world—the end of a life lived as a single person.  (Some, of course, might look back on their wedding day and say it was the end of the world--but that’s another story!)  When you have a child, it’s the end of a world.  Every once in a while I’ll hear a parent say, “You know, once you have a child, everything is different.  Your world immediately changes.” 

Or how about when a person is diagnosed with a serious illness?  That is certainly the end of a world: the end of a world of good health.  I remember my mom saying, “Once you’re diagnosed with cancer, your life changes; your perspective on everything is different!”

I can say the same thing about Parkinson’s Disease.  Many of you can say it about serious ailments that you’re currently dealing with.

And what about the death of a loved one?  Whenever someone we love dies, in a very real sense a world comes to an end—a world that included that particular person.
I think it should be clear by now: the end of a world signifies any major change that we experience on this earth; and since we all experience changes constantly, worlds end for us constantly.

So what’s the best way to deal with the end of a world?  What’s the best way, in other words, to prepare for the major changes of life?  Well, believe it or not, the answer is found in today’s gospel text about the end of the world.  Jesus implies here that at the end of time there will be two groups of people: those who will be filled with fear, and those who will hold their heads high—that is to say, those who will be filled with faith.  (I don’t have to tell you which group I’d like to be in.)  Then our Lord adds, “Be on guard lest your spirits become bloated with indulgence and drunkenness and worldly cares.  The great day will suddenly close in on you like a trap.”  So here we see what separates the fearful from the rest.  On Judgment Day, the fearful people will be those who have lived lives of self-indulgence and sin and haven’t repented.  The Day of the Lord will close in on them like a trap.  But those who have taken their faith seriously will be able to hold their heads high.  And so Jesus says, “Be on guard.”  This, by the way, is why the Church encourages us to examine our consciences daily and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation often.  Hopefully we’ll all make the effort to get to confession sometime during the season of Advent.

Basically our Lord is telling us here that the best way to be ready for the end of the world is to live in faith--to make our Catholic Christian faith our number one priority!  But that’s also what we need to do to prepare ourselves for the major changes of life—for the ends of those individual “worlds” that each of us lives in.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I ran into a doctor friend of mine at Luxe Fitness Center up on Granite Street.  He had just finished exercising on the treadmill and was getting ready to leave.  Several years ago, this man was diagnosed with lung cancer, and he’s been going through some heavy-duty treatments ever since.  Simply put, he’s been traveling a long, rough road battling this disease.

But his faith, praise God, is stronger than ever!  That became clear to me in our conversation that afternoon.  He said to me at one point, “You know, Fr. Ray, when I was first diagnosed with cancer I was angry.  The Lord took away everything through this disease—everything I enjoyed doing.  For a while he took away my voice, so I couldn’t teach the gospel like I used to.  He took away my work which I loved; I had to retire.  I couldn’t run marathons anymore like I once did; in fact, I ended up not being able to run at all.”

That was the doctor’s way of saying, “A world ended for me several years ago, on the day that I heard those devastating words, ‘You have cancer.’  It was a world—a world of good health and earthly fulfillment—that I was blessed to have lived in for a significant portion of my life.  That world was gone—forever.”

But, thankfully and amazingly, this doctor never gave up on God.  He never stopped trusting in Jesus.  Instead he faced his anger, dealt with it and moved past it—and in the process he’s come to an even deeper level of faith.  His love for the Lord has grown stronger.  And he thanks God for giving him back his voice (as he said the other day, “It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough!”), and he’s grateful that he’s still able to get some exercise by walking the treadmill there at the gym.

His final words to me as he left that day were, “Fr. Ray, God is good”—which he said with a big smile on his face.

That, I think, is a very good example of how a believer deals with the end of a world—any world.  He deals with it in faith and with God—which is precisely how believers will deal with the end of the world, whenever it comes.