Reflection for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Today’s readings about the end of times, may either be interpreted as “the best of times” or “the worst of times,” depending on the ethos from which we encounter it.
As Dickens would have viewed the period of the French revolution, we may be seeing ourselves at a similar and critical historical crossroad: “… it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ….”
Does it also come with his pessimistic assessment of a common “either-or” eschaton, “… we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …?”
The prophet Daniel speaks about a “time unsurpassed in distress,” in which “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.”
Clearly distinguishing between two human fates, he explains what will be the fruits of our imperative mission on earth: “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.”
Though we may be living in a paradoxical period of very difficult choices – a level of difficulty that we have brought upon ourselves – the Spirit has not failed in pointing out to us the decisions we must make vis-à-vis the decisions we tend to make. The end of times is not a day of wishful thinking rather a day of mindful reckoning.
The end of times has been spoken about with much dread, because we feel with an uneasy blend of regret and hatred, an “undeserved” impending doom in relation to how we believe we are supposed to live our lives on earth. Have we not boasted so many times about our “age of wisdom,” our “epoch of belief,” of “having everything before us?” Why should these “nice” efforts of ours come to an ignominious end? Why must the Spirit “deny us the privilege” of uplifting and enjoying our existence? Why should there be anything wrong with “a civilization that continues to create hope and bring Light” for all, with all desires satisfied, with all cravings fulfilled?
But the Truth remains that this image of ourselves is far from reality. We are in an “age of foolishness,” an “epoch of incredulity.” We are blind, endlessly groping within this “season of Darkness;” and depressed, endlessly crying in this “winter of despair.” There is actually “nothing before us,” but a sad existence of broken dreams and an unrealized happiness. And we can only blame ourselves for this emptiness, because we always seem to forget the simple principle that happiness cannot result from the strivings of an independent spirit, but from the greater outcome of the combined efforts and resources of two or more interdependent spirits, in committed collaboration and complementation. We need each other, and so we must be responsible for one another, yet we have always been indifferent to and suspicious of the “strange other.”
With such a human condition, the day of reckoning can only be “the best of times.” It will mark the end of a life lived in unengaged comfort and detached enjoyment, to a life worthily lived in engaged discomfort and joyful love and service. It will herald the beginning of a new chapter of human history in which we are brought back to the Truth that only through selfless charity can we achieve the elusive goals of true justice and peace for all. The end of times shall become the fulfillment of ministry, and so we must anticipate its inevitability. If we can only choose to remain far from the fantasies and falsehoods we continue to conjure for ourselves, remaining grounded in the thought that the only comfort we deserve to enjoy is the comfort of all creation, then this “dreadful” day of reckoning will be a most welcome event.
In this glorious end, “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.” What appears to be the falling down of creation is in fact the advent of its rejuvenation, for “when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates.” Our Lord who is above creation, will come to transform it, and to affectionately receive those who labored for its becoming: “The Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory, will gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”
Hence, in this glorious end, our Lord will be our inheritance, our destiny. As he has been our companion through the finiteness of earthly life, so shall he be our companion in infinity. But he who suffered much, whose sacrifice consecrated forever our own, must first sit in judgment; he will be holding us accountable for our dying to the self in order to bring more life for others. Selfless and genuine charity in the struggle for true justice and peace is thus a sacred action. Worldly recognition is unimportant and of much less value, for what we must seek is to serve the kingdom of God and to hope in the eternal accompaniment of he who most solemnly uttered, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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