Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Since I was old enough to hold a paperback novel, I've been fascinated by doomsday stories: end-of-the-world wars, plagues, alien invasions, zombies, that sort of thing. And if our movies and TV shows are any indication, I'm not alone in this fascination. Movies: 2012, Independence Day, Transformers, 28 Days Later, Day of the Dead. TV shows: Revolution, Last Resort, Falling Skies, Terra Nova. All of these plot the end of civilization and the survivors' struggle to re-establish a semblance of order. I'm sure that social psychologists could tell us why we love to contemplate the destruction of all we know. A fresh start always seems like a good thing. However, as followers of Christ, our first concern is not this world but the next; that is, we are principally motivated by God's promise of eternal life not by our chances of rebuilding a better-run kingdom in this life. So, Jesus says to his disciples, “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
In most of the movies, TV shows, and novels about the end of the world, folks are somewhat prepared for their destruction. The world's scientific community or the military warn the U.N. that the asteroid is coming, or that a viral epidemic is spreading like wildfire. Being animals, we humans react predictably: hoarding food, weapons, medicine; locking ourselves behind gates, in bunkers; fleeing to the hills. When disaster strikes everything we've ever believed in—law/order, equality/freedom, sharing/caring—dissolve, and we revert to behaving on survival instinct. We might be prepared to survive as animals but we never seem to be prepared to thrive as especially rational animals. When Jesus urges his disciples to be prepared for the coming judgment, what does he want them to do? Well, he's not telling them to buy out Dorignacs' bottled water supply, or raid Walgreens' antibiotics cabinet. Cleaning our guns and stocking up on ammo won't prepare us for our judgment. Our Lord is urging his friends and us to be prepared spiritually for the day when he returns to weigh our deeds against his commandment to love. “Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds [. . .] distribut[ing] the food allowance at the proper time. . .” IOW, happy are those who stay prepared for judgment by obeying God's law of charity.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes about “the stewardship of God's grace” that has been given to him for the benefit of Christ's church. He's describing his particular authority as an apostle to teach and preach the Good News. But he is also describing more generally a gift that all the baptized have received; namely, the responsibility of all believers to manage and distribute the divine gifts that we have received through Christ. We are heirs to the Kingdom and executors of God's will. And as such, it is our sacred duty to see that the truth, goodness, and beauty of God's mercy is freely and widely distributed. To carry out this duty, we must be righteous—in right relationship—with God through Christ every moment of every day. Our scientists, engineers, and soldiers cannot give us the date of Christ's return. Nor can our theologians, scripture scholars, or even the Holy Father. In fact, we've already received the only warning we're going get: “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Righteousness comes with obedience to the first commandment: love God, love neighbor, and love self. For Christ's sake: Love._____________
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