Sunday, November 27, 2011

Will we get a two minute warning from God?

Quite a few years ago, my older sister and I used to chase each other around the house.  We especially did this when our parents were out.  There was a circular route thru my bedroom, the kitchen, the living and dining room, and the hallway.  When our parents left, we often chased each other around this circle.  We would mess up the rugs, move some furniture, and generally scatter things.  When we saw our parents pulling in the driveway, we had to run around the house and get things in order before they came in.  We were very good at this and usually managed to cover up our horseplay.

One time, when my sister was running through my bedroom, I threw a pillow at her.  But I hit the glass shade on the ceiling light which began spinning around and around.  We watched it spin until the nut which held the shade in place came off.  The shade crashed into the bedpost and broke.  Then, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to fix this before our parents returned.  I can still remember how afraid I was waiting for them to return.  I was relieved when my parents just made us pay for the new shade.  And I resolved that I wouldn’t throw a pillow at my sister again.  

My sister and I didn’t know when our parents would return.  But, we did our best when we saw them coming to make sure that the house was in order.   We got a two minute warning, if you will, to get the house in order.  But, life isn’t a football game; so we cannot rely on a warning that it is about to end.   Jesus says that we don’t know the day or the time for his return. 

When we broke the shade, the anticipation of punishment was very hard for me to bear.  This is familiar to some of us who wait for the coming of the Lord in a state of serious sin.  If we aren’t following his commandments, we will dread his coming and the anticipated judgment for our sins.   If any of us think that we might be in a state of serious sin today, we should go to confession and unburden our mind and our soul.  And after we confess our sins and receive absolution from a priest, we return to a state of grace and are ready for the end time, whenever it may occur.

The focus of the Gospel is the end times, either our end time after our short time on earth when we will each be judged, or the end time when Jesus returns for the final judgment and the elect are taken body and soul into heaven.  This is a scary topic for most of us and we deal with this in different ways.  Some strive to stay in a state of grace so that they will be prepared when he returns.  Some ignore the time of judgment and assume that in his mercy, Jesus wouldn’t condemn anyone, especially them, to hell.  Others despair that they aren’t worth saving so they ignore his return.  And some try to predict exactly when Jesus will return so that they can prepare just before it happens.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to be watchful and to be alert for we don’t know the time when He will return.  So, it would be foolish to either ignore his return or to try to predict it.

The Gospel parable is about a man who leaves home to travel abroad.  This traveler is Jesus who was here short time, was crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into heaven with his Father.  The home in the parable is the Church, Christ’s house.  Its servants are all of us, who he places in charge.  This parable reminds us that the present situation, building Christ’s kingdom, his Church on earth, won’t last forever.  When the master, Christ returns, he expects all of us to be working hard at whatever task we have been assigned.

This world is not our home; it’s just our temporary residence.  That should be evident to all of us as we witness the passing of those close to us.  So, while we don’t know when Jesus will return at the end of time, we do know that our time on earth will be a short stay of at most eighty or ninety years.  We need to be watchful and vigilant during our short time as the gatekeeper of our souls.

Arturo Nogueira, a twenty one year old rugby player who didn’t believe in God, was a passenger on a plane which crashed in the Andes in 1972.  After over one month in cold, cramped quarters with little food, he died from injuries sustained in the crash.   Arturo wrote a letter to his parents and his girlfriend just one day before he died.   He wrote:

“In situations such as this, even reason cannot understand the infinite and absolute power of God over men.  I have never suffered such as I do now- physically and morally- though I have never believed in him so much.  Strength.  Life is hard but is worth living.  Even suffering.  Courage.”    

Arturo got a warning before his end time and found a new relationship with God.  Some of us will get this warning and some will not.  Some who do have an opportunity to set things right with God will squander their last opportunity.  Today, Jesus urges us to watch and to be alert for we don’t know if he will be coming in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  May he not find any of us asleep.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is there oil in my lamp?

Several years’ ago, when I owned a software company, I had a salesman working for me who often told the same joke when he was giving a demo of our software to a prospect. 

His joke went as follows: A salesman named Bob died and found himself at the pearly gates.  He was greeted by St Pater who told him that there was a special offer today.  Bob could watch a video of heaven and hell and then decide where he wanted to go.  So, Bob watched the video.  He saw a view of heaven where there were angels floating around and everyone seemed happy.  Then, he saw hell where they seemed to be having a big party and everyone was having a good time. And, Peter asked him if he wanted to go to heaven or to hell.  Bob responded that it seemed like hell would be more to his liking because he liked to party and have a good time.  Immediately, Bob found himself in hell where it was very hot and he was getting stuck with pitchforks by an evil looking devil.  Then, Bob told the devil that it wasn’t anything like the video of hell that he saw.  The devil responded: “You must have seen our demo.”

As with most jokes, there is some truth in this joke and there are some lessons in it.  Shortly after we die, we are judged based upon our life.  We probably won’t be shown a video of heaven and hell and we won’t have an opportunity at that time to choose where we want to go.   However, we do get an opportunity to choose whether we want to go to heaven or to hell.  We make this choice while we are living, by choosing good or evil each day of our lives.  And, the devil, the great deceiver, makes this decision difficult for us by making evil seem like it’s not so bad so that it becomes very attractive to us.  If the devil presented evil as it really is, no one would ever choose it.  So he must continually lie to us. 

The Gospel on November 6th is a warning to alert us that the end is near for us and we should always be ready for it.  The five wise virgins with their lamps full of oil represent those who are prepared for the coming of the bridegroom.  Although they don’t know when the bridegroom is coming they make sure that they’re always ready for him.  The bridegroom represents Christ who will be there to judge us when our time on earth is over and will also be there on the day of judgment at the end of time.  Oil in the lamps symbolize our good works which have been done under the influence of God’s grace.  The five foolish virgins represent those who aren’t prepared for the bridegroom and won’t enter the kingdom of heaven with Christ.

What is clear in today’s parable is that when the critical moment of Jesus' entry into our lives arrives, it will be decisive. Preparation time is over. If we have lived vigilant lives we will enter the wedding feast with Christ our bridegroom. The foolish maidens arrived after the door was locked and when they knocked the door was not opened. It was too late. Poor choices were made, the time for preparation was over.

The Scriptures frequently use light as a symbol for goodness, God’s love, or following Jesus.  For example, Matthew’s Gospel tells us not to hide our light under a bushel basket.  Darkness is used to represent the devil, sin, or turning away from God.  John’s Gospel tells us: “For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”

At the end of mass, I’ll dismiss everyone with the words: “The mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  Then, we are all sent into the darkness of the cold, sometimes cruel world.  This world is confused and is searching for the Lord, even though, many don’t realize that is what they are looking for.  All of us are called to take the light of the Gospel, the light of Christ’s love, the light of our lamps which have been filled by good works and the sacraments into this darkness.  When we shine our lights in this darkness, it lights up the darkness.  And some will be drawn to the light while others will turn away from the light and will prefer the darkness.  When we shine our lights in the darkness, we will find that instead of using up the oil, the oil, the source of our light, will be refilled by our efforts.

This morning we have the men’s Christ Renews His Parish team with us for mass.  The giving team has been preparing for this weekend for the past six months.  They have been attending weekly formation sessions where they learned more about each other and about the love of the Lord.  Gradually, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they have filled their lamps with oil during these weekly formation meetings, so that this weekend their lamps are shining brightly for all to see.  We also have seven men on the receiving team.  These seven men came here yesterday morning to participate in this weekend.  Many weren’t sure why they were here.  But all were called here by the Holy Spirit.  And all have come to experience Christ’s love through the witnesses and the sacrificial love of those on the giving team.  When the weekend is over, the members of the giving team will leave with their hearts full of love and their lamps burning brightly.  They will be filled with the Spirit and will feel the call of the Lord to a closer relationship with Him.   Over the weekend, the receiving team saw the light, that is, the power of the Holy Spirit working through those on the giving team.  This light will draw some, hopefully most, to a closer relationship with the Lord. 

Throughout history, there has always been a battle between the light, goodness, and the darkness, evil.  And due to original sin each of us must participate in this struggle during our short time here on earth.  St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans:  “For I do not do the good that I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”  When we are honest with ourselves, we all must admit to this struggle.  So, today we need to reflect upon the message of the Gospel.  We must turn away from sin and darkness and towards the light and must let our light shine and be an example of goodness for others to see, especially our families.  Once we do this, we will find peace and joy in our lives and will be ready on  the day when the bridegroom will say to us “Well done my good and faithful servant, welcome into the joy of my heavenly kingdom.”