17 November 2012

Tribulation & the Second Advent

33rd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio File

Watching the news these past few weeks, I can't help but hear, whispering behind reports of war, riots, famine, economic collapse, the dooming rhythm of Yeats, reading his visionary poem, “The Second Coming”: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” This is 1919. Just one year after 16 million soldiers are killed in WWI. Just one year after Europe ends its suicidal slaughter for the glory of kings and parliaments. And just 13 years before a former corporal in the Austrian army is appointed Chancellor in Germany. His reign will end in 1945 with the deaths of more than 70 million. Yeats: “Surely some revelation is at hand;/Surely the Second Coming is at hand./The Second Coming!” Jesus assures his disciples that he will come again. He came to us first as a Child and next as Judge and King. When? “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So, as we prepare to wait for his birth in Bethlehem, we wait for his coming again in glory. 

Though it is not yet Advent, that time when we wait in anticipation for the birth of Christ, we celebrate another sort of Advent this evening, a Second Advent, celebrated everyday, every hour since Christ's resurrection from the tomb. Jesus warns his disciples that after his death, “False messiahs and false prophets will arise and will perform signs and wonders in order to mislead. . .the elect. Be watchful!” And despite this warning, many of his disciples through the centuries have been misled. Some by a Roman emperor. Others by Greek heresies. Many by charismatic monks and holy women. Millions were led astray by clever theological argument. And millions more by atheistic science, utopian fantasy, secular political ideology, and the temporary treasures of Mammon. How many have been duped by New Age gibberish, or the slick sales pitch of 21st century humanists? Jesus calls this long, painful falling away from the apostolic faith, a tribulation; that is, the threshing of a harvest to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

After this tribulation, he says, “. . .the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky. . .” And as nature convulses in its announcement, we “will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory. . .” His angels will “gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” Seeing on the faces of his disciples the same expression that most of you have now, Jesus answers the unspoken question: “When [the fig tree's] branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that [the Son of Man] is near, at the gates.” When is the Christ coming again? When will the Son of Man be near the gates? When we see the sun and moon eclipsed and stars shooting through the sky. When, as regularly as the changing of the seasons, the blooming of the fig trees, we see men and women misled by false prophets and fake Messiahs. He will come again when “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” In other words, he is always prepared to come again, so we must always be ready to receive him. When “the best lack all conviction,” and “the worst/Are full of passionate intensity,” his Church must be passionately convicted in her faith, waiting for his arrival with an intense hope. 

Obscure apocalyptic passages like this one from Mark serve a specific purpose in the life of the Church. Rather than tempting us with the useless task of figuring out the hour and day of Christ's return, these passages urge us to hold firm in the faith and live with the hope that Christ's resurrection promises. Rather than scaring us silly with tales of the imminent destruction of the world and threats of eternal damnation, these passages report events that have already taken place in history; or events that are occurring at the time the passage was written; or events that recur in history over and over again. Their purpose is to reassure us that there is nothing particularly poignant about the social, economic, religious convulsions that we are living through. Has there been a century in 5,000 yrs of human history w/o a solar or lunar eclipse, a meteor shower? A decade unscathed by war, plague, poverty, or natural disaster? We don't need to know when Christ will return. All we need to know is that he will, and that our task is to be ready: free from all anxiety, utterly at peace. We wait. But are we ready? 

We might wonder: what’s Jesus waiting for? Surely the world cannot be a bigger mess; surely we cannot become more self-destructive, angrier, greedier, more hostile to peace and the poor! Israel and Syria are firing rockets at each other. Iran is on the verge of building a nuclear bomb. Europe is teetering on another Great Depression. The U.S. is hellbent on defying both divine and natural law in a headlong rush to top Sodom and Gomorrah's last big party.* What's he waiting on? He’s waiting on you. On me. On all of us. He waiting for us and our repentance. Peter asks an excellent question: “Since all [of creation is] thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . .?” While we wait on the destruction of the world, what sort of persons should we be? What kind of person should you be, if you want to hasten the Christ's second coming? If his coming again seems to be taking too long, Peter reminds us: “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The day and hour of the Second Coming matches perfectly the day and hour of our repentance, our return to righteousness in Christ. 

Have you been through the tribulation long enough? Have you been thoroughly threshed? If not, think about your tipping point. What will it take to turn you around, back to God? You see, the threshing process we all go through can take days or decades; it can be a slow, agonizing process, resulting in cuts and bruises; or a quick, painless beating with a feather. It all depends on how eager we are to be threshed; that is, it all depends on what sort of persons we want to be while the world circles the bowl. Peter's question—“what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness”—answers itself. Living a life of holiness and godliness makes you a holy and godly person. While the world self-destructs, a godly and holy people will hear and see the Word at work in the world; preach and teach the Good News of repentance and forgiveness; do good works for the glory of God; grow and grow in holiness not just by avoiding sin but by embracing grace as well. So, while we wait for the Second Coming, let's hasten Christ's arrival by making our every word, our every move shout joy to the world so that no one is left behind, so that every eye can see and every ear hear that God freely offers His mercy to sinners through the once-for-all sacrifice of His Son on the Cross.

* The sin of S&G is much debated.  The text can be read a number of different ways.  One view holds that homosexual rape is the cause of S&G's destruction.  Another view holds that it is the violation of the law of hospitality.  My view is that rape (of any sort) is a pretty much always a violation of the law of hospitality.  My reference here is meant to invoke an image of general moral degeneration and a turn toward godlessness.

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  1. In my weakened condition :-) this was almost too much for me to handle! Pretty darn awesome.

    You threw in a bit of everything - current events, history, poetry...and even used the word "gibberish". For what more could one ask? About half-way through paragraph three I caught on to where you were going, with a light-bulb moment about this Gospel section. I personally appreciate when you take me somewhere I haven't been before, and cause me to think in a different way. You accomplished both with this homily. Final paragraph tied it all together nicely, leaving me with (as all your best homilies do)questions to ponder and answer for myself.

    Thank you!

    1. This one was very well received. . .which goes to show ya. . .I punched this one out sentence by sentence over six hrs. Hated it from the first word. . .had decided to scrap it for another shot in the morning. Even after I preached it at the vigil Mass, I thought it was awful and had started thinking of something else. Oh well. Shows what I know.

    2. Funny that - I was invited to participate in a juried poetry reading a few years back, and was surprised at which of my poems the committee chose me to read - my least favorites. I guess there's no accounting for taste . . .

      But 6 hours on a homily!! Well, I must say my first impression was how "solid" it felt. Must have been those hours of slogging away sentence by sentence. Of course, if you feel like torturing yourself, a totally different direction for tomorrow's homily might be even better ;-)!!

    3. No poet is a good critic of his/her own work.

  2. A great post Father. I just wish that this message could be read by all of the faithful. Thank you.

  3. Lois in Indy11:05 AM

    I found this a very good homily, too. Thanks, Father. Glad the Holy Spirit kept you from sending it to the scrap heap. Lois