Sunday, November 30, 2014

Heaven and the Cincinnati Bengals

I’ve been a Bengals fan since they started in 1968.  There have been a few highs, like the two super bowls, and lots of lows.  So, when I read today’s Gospel about being watchful and anticipating the heavenly kingdom, I naturally thought about my beloved Bengals.  I imagined what it would be like if the Bengals won the rest of their games including winning the super bowl.  For some of us, that might seem like heaven.   Then, I imagined that Marvin Lewis, the Bengals’ coach, came to me and asked me to be on the team.  I know that this is far-fetched, but dream with me a little.  Finally, he revealed to me a secret weapon which made everybody play better and virtually guaranteed that the team would win super bowls for years to come.  I began dreaming about participating in exciting victories and lots of super bowl rings. 
So, how does this dream about the Bengals relate to the parable Jesus told in today’s Gospel?
In the parable, the man traveling abroad, Christ, is the master of the house, like the owner of a football team. The master, Christ, leaves home and ascends into heaven.  Then, he rules through his gatekeeper, the head coach, Peter and the apostles and their successors, our bishops.  The Church is Christ’s household, and its members, all of us, are his servants.  This passage reminds us that this present arrangement will not last forever, and when the Lord returns he hopes to find each of us working hard at whatever tasks we have been assigned.
We have some work to do during our short time on earth so that we all can follow Jesus to everlasting life, the ultimate victory.  Jesus has made us members of his team, the winning team, his sons and daughters, through baptism.  He has given us everything we need to succeed, like the playbook of a football team, through his church.  He has even given us a secret weapon, his body and blood in the Eucharist which gives us grace for our journey.  All we have to do is to follow him and our final victory, eternal destiny with him in heaven, is assured. 
These are very exciting times, more exciting than any football season.  They can be described as already, but not yet.  Christ has already come and has won the victory.  He has defeated the devil and has opened the gates of heaven for us. But, we are not yet there.  First, we must spend a short time here doing our part as his sons and daughters, His mystical body, His winning team, to build his kingdom.  The season of Advent, which begins today, is the announcement of a time when Christ shall return to establish his kingdom. Advent is a time of preparation for that final triumph over death and darkness. That is why Advent begins with this passage from St. Mark: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It’s like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.”
Our current time, “the age of the Church”, lasts from the birth of the Church at Pentecost until the end of time.  In this age, every person is given the opportunity to play an important role on Christ’s team in building His kingdom.  Christ longs for us to use this opportunity well, and we have no one to blame but ourselves if we don’t.
In the Gospel, Christ provides a snapshot of what it means to be a Christian.  To follow Christ is to honor him by serving and obeying his Church as a member of His Mystical Body, His team.  Each of us is a member of this household, his Church, and our membership constitutes the most important aspect of our lives on earth.  If we live accordingly, we will be ready to welcome him when he comes again.  If we neglect to watch, however, and let other concerns take precedence over our relationship with God, we may be unpleasantly surprised by the eventual outcome. 
Jesus tells us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  If we build our lives on the rock of Christ and his teaching, we will achieve our goal, eternal life with Him.  Jesus doesn’t speak about these events to scare us, but to motivate us.  It is so easy to fall into a purely natural outlook on life, getting so wrapped up on our daily to-do lists that we forget the big picture.  When we do that we ignore our relationship with Christ.  Jesus knows that nothing could be worse for our happiness, now and forever.  Therefore, he reminds us to keep the end in sight, so that we can keep everything in its proper perspective.
If we do our part, we won’t have to worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself.  We also won’t have to worry about money, power, fame, or even our favorite sports team.  These are just fleeting things. 

In this game of life, all of us are in the trenches, like offensive and defensive linemen.  We don’t get to call the plays or to be the star.  We just continually do our part in building His kingdom.  The stakes are high, eternal life or eternal death.  What team are we on, the losing team with our culture and the father of lies on the wide road to eternal death?  Or are we on the winning team with Jesus on the narrow road to eternal life?