7th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
So...there you are: standing before the Just Judge. (You've died, btw). You're standing before the Just Judge, waiting your turn. Back in your parish – your family, friends, and co-workers have gathered for what you hope is a real funeral Mass and not a “celebration of life.” You need serious prayers right now! Not cutesy stories and a canonization homily! As the line moves you closer to your judgment, you remember something you heard once at Mass: at the final judgment, Christ the Just Judge will look into my face. If he sees his face in mine, then I lived in the world as if I were already in Heaven. I am ready for the eternal wedding feast. However, if he sees my face instead of his, then I lived in the world as one belonging to the world. He cannot recognize me. I have chosen to be excluded from the company of God and the blessed...forever. Unfortunately, it's a little late for soul-searching. You've died. The face you wear is yours for eternity. Is it Christ's or yours? How do we come to wear the face of Christ now, before we die? Jesus says, “Stop condemning and you will not be condemned...the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”
So, are you happy with your face? Is your face the eternal face of Christ, or do you wear the false face of the passing world? If the former, keep doing what you're doing! You're on the right path. If the latter, we need to talk. (I'm guessing that most of us aren't sure, including me, so we'll struggle on). Here's what we need to talk about: you and I decide for ourselves whether we join the eternal wedding feast or the eternal feast of worms. Now, this may be a revelation for you. And you may find this truth reassuring. I get to decide where I spend eternity! Great! At the risk of throwing ice water on your joy, I need to add: this is not a once and done decision; it's a daily, hourly decision we make with every thought, word, and deed, with every breath we draw. Since death comes like a thief in the night, and there is no changing your mind after death, vigilance is key. So, at the forefront of your heart and mind is the imperative, the command from Christ himself to love God, self, and others; to judge as you want to be judged; to measure others as you want to be measured; to forgive as you want to be forgiven. IOW, to be Christ in the world so that you will always be Christ when you leave the world. That's how we acquire his face for our own.
And there's no need to sugarcoat the truth here. You know it already: this is no simple task. Why is it difficult? I cannot read your heart and mind. When you do or say something that prompts me to judge you – tempts me to sin – I can't read your motivations. I don't know your heart or mind in that moment. I'm reacting to your words and deeds. I don't forgive you b/c forgiving you might lead you to think that I approve of your words and deeds. That I'm joining you in your sin. Maybe forgiving you will make you think it's OK to sin against me, or lead you to conclude that your sin isn't really a sin after all. Your words and deeds hurt me, angered me, shamed me. And I need to react out of hurt, anger, and shame. That doing so will not make things better is irrelevant. You have wounded my pride. Now both of us stand condemned. What's missing from these confused deliberations? Sacrificial love. Charity. And a very practical consideration: do I want to wear the face of Christ? The world wants me to react to an offense aggressively, decisively. Forgiveness is weakness. Vengeance is strength. The world also wants me at the table for the eternal feast of worms.
But if I choose to wear the face of Christ and to join the wedding feast of heaven at my death, then I choose forgiveness w/o hesitation. It is precisely b/c I cannot know your heart and mind that I assume grace and measure out to you mercy overflowing. I forgive you not your sin. You forgive me not my sin. You and I are human persons; we are not our sins. We are not our sins so long as we are capable of repentance and receiving God's mercy. At death, we lose the gift of repentance, and our face is set. If death were to find you right now, whose face would you be wearing while awaiting your final judgment? Remember: thief in the night. Vigilance. Always be prepared. In a little more than a week from now, we will begin the Great Lenten fast. We'll be reminded of our beginning and our end: ashes, dust. And we'll be exhorted over and over again to repent, to turn to the Lord, to believe the Gospel. Forty days is more than enough time to turn vice into virtue, to acquire the good habit of immediate forgiveness, to figure out whose face we will wear into the grave and before the throne of judgment. “The Lord is kind and merciful,” the Psalmist sings. His kindness and mercy is yours and mine if we choose it. The thief always comes. Choose wisely.