November 14, 2004
This weekend and for the next several weeks, as we listen to the Scriptures at Mass we will hear a basic theme repeated over and over again: “Ready or not, here I come.” Jesus prepares us for His great coming at the end of time. Jesus, as we end this Church year and prepare to begin another, gives us a constant reminder of what each of us face- the time will come when we will stand before Him. As we hear the great prophecies of His Return proclaimed at Mass it reminds us to consider our final destiny. There was an approach the great Saints encouraged whenever someone faced a major decision. The approach was to ask yourself: what difference does this make in relation to Eternity? If we tried this approach, it might significantly simplify our lives from time to time.
We will be reminded of that especially during this time of year, as we consider the reality of the judgment that we will all face; of the reality that Jesus Himself will come back; that we will see Him, whether He comes in our lifetime or whether at the end of our lives we stand before Him as our judge. How do we feel about seeing Him?
When I first became a Christian, there was a lot of ‘apocalyptic fever’ going on. In the early 70s, it seemed like among Christians most everybody was talking about the Second Coming, i.e. whether you could calculate the exact moment the trumpet was going to go off. Books like The Late Great Planet Earth were getting a lot of press. (That was even before “Left Behind” started.) Everybody was reading about it and making movies about it. There was a lot of interest in when Jesus was going to come back. The feeling was that if it wasn’t tomorrow, it might be the day after tomorrow, and at least no later than the day after that. There was a lot of excitement in certain quarters of the church about the possibility of this imminent return. People varied in terms of whether they were looking forward to that or not; were they going to be ready for it or not.
I had a wonderful little opportunity that Jesus provided in a kind of humorous way, though it wasn’t particularly humorous at the time, to gauge my own response to how I would feel if the trumpet went off. I was at the University of St. Thomas, a freshman there, and one day at noon, when the campus is ordinarily very, very busy, one of the students decided to go up to the roof of a tower that was the highest point on campus, and practice this great, majestic trumpet fanfare that he’d been working on. So he was up there and just as I stepped out of a building, all of a sudden these unbelievably gorgeous peals of trumpet music just came blasting out of nowhere. I was quite taken aback and, at that very moment, there was not a soul in sight anywhere! It was noon on that campus, the quadrangle was ordinarily filled, people coming and going, people everywhere; and right now not a soul in sight! I heard this trumpet and I thought, “Can this be it?” I turned around and there was nobody, anywhere, and I looked back into the building I had left and there was nobody in the hallway, nobody anywhere, and I thought, “LEFT BEHIND!”
What do you do when you’re left behind? It was a totally panic-struck feeling. I was relieved when I saw this one priest on campus, who was a really holy guy, and thought, “Well if he didn’t make it either, then we’re in good company!” My theology of the imminence of the return has modified somewhat since that trumpet encounter; but it gave me an interesting opportunity to reflect, “Am I ready to go? Why did I have such an experience of panic?” Well, obviously, I had such an experience of panic because I thought they had come and gone. What about us today, are we ready to go?
The great Saints remind us that you never know the moment. It is very rare that we know the exact moment that we’re going to go; and certainly at this point, notwithstanding so many people during the last two millennia attempting to calculate with great precision the exact nanosecond of the Second Coming, nobody is succeeding in doing that. I remember several years ago, a scientist had calculated the exact date and published a book that people bought thousands of copies of, because it had a cogent, scientific explanation of when Jesus was going to come back. It was actually a date that was fairly proximate. Church attendance started to rise around the presumed date of the Return- because it was “fire insurance,” i.e. if it’s going to happen, I want to be ready for it. Then the date passed, and the author published a statement that he had made a math mistake, so it’s actually going to be on such and such a date. Well after two or three misfires, people stopped paying attention, but the initial attention it got does show something about people’s interest, especially concerning whether we’re ready to go.
The best-case scenario would be if we found out that Jesus was coming back at 3 o’clock tomorrow, it wouldn’t change a thing we’re doing today- because what we’re doing today is exactly what we believe He wants us to do. If someone asked me what I would do if I found out Jesus was coming back in a week, my response would be that I would run up all my Visa cards- giving charity to the poor, of course! But seriously, the best-case scenario is for us to be walking moment by moment, day by day, doing exactly what Jesus wants us to do. If we are, then if the trumpet goes off, our anticipated response should be that we’re filled with delight, because the one we love with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength is about to be there before our very eyes; and nothing should give us greater joy than to see Him face to face. If the idea of the trumpet going off makes us think, “Where’s the closest confessor?” then we need to look at that. We need to look at how we are being faithful moment by moment, day by day. Jesus invites us to so put Him first that it has an ongoing, practical impact on our life- because if being His follower is not practically impacting who we are and what we’re doing, then to what extent are we His follower?
We’ve been talking about time and talent and treasure. It’s good for us, especially as we conclude this liturgical year, to look back on the past year and ask ourselves: how have we used our time and talent and treasure for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven? How we live now and the practical choices we make will obviously have a drastic impact on our future, especially our eternal future. One of the strongest parables the Lord Jesus teaches concerns the sheep and the goats: the goats are separated because they have failed to use their talent to build the kingdom! They walked by those who were hungry and did not feed them; they walked by those who were naked and did not clothe them. Jesus goes through a whole list of things that they did not do; and the horrendous consequence of that failure is that the last words they ever hear from Him are, “Depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels- because I was hungry and you did not feed Me….” How we live will have drastic implications for where we spend our futures- we need to be as concrete and systematic about our relationship with Jesus as we are about everything else we value in our lives. Our spirituality, our life with Jesus, does not just come together by accident. It requires self-discipline; it requires focus; it requires wisdom. Jesus invites us, as we end one year and prepare to begin the next, to look and see, just how we are doing that? How are we placing Him first?
Especially with respect to our time- our time is in many ways the most valuable commodity that we have. I may say, “Jesus of Nazareth is the center of my life, and He is my most important relationship,” but do I spend more time watching TV every day than I do praying? Who is the center of my life: Jesus of Nazareth or the NBC peacock? Who is the center? The answer to ‘who the center is,’ is demonstrated by our choices. It’s not enough for Jesus to be theoretically the center of our lives if He’s never practically the center.
What do I do with my treasure? Do I use it concretely to build the Kingdom, or do I run the risk of being like the rich man who let Lazarus starve to death in his front yard? Do I use my resources to build the Kingdom, to proclaim the Good News, to support the poor- how do I use the gifts the Lord Jesus has given me?
In order to help facilitate some reflection on that, we have prepared some cards that the ushers will now pass out to the adults. We don’t have enough for the kids; we invite adults to sit with the kids and look them over. These cards are not something you’re going to fill out and give to us. They are between you and Jesus of Nazareth. They’re an invitation for you to look at your time, your talent and your treasure, and make practical decisions. What do I do with these gifts Jesus has given me? How do I choose to build the Kingdom? We need to be completely practical when it comes to the most important things in our life, especially Jesus Himself. If you had a friend whom you wanted to get to know better, you would sit down and concretely plan appointments; you would make it a high priority- you would spend time with him or her. Do we allow Jesus to get bumped by everything else that happens in our lives?
Years back, especially after getting concrete guidance from Fr. Mike Scanlan about making appointments with God, I started to build into my calendar appointments with Jesus- non-negotiable appointments with Jesus. Death, medical emergencies and the Holy Father were the only things that could interfere with that. Do we let Jesus be the center of our life in that way? How do we take all that He’s given to us and use it to build His Kingdom?
As we continue to hear these ‘Ready or not, here I come’ Scriptures, what do we do with them? Do we allow Jesus to touch our hearts about the reality that someday we will stand before Him? Someday we will see Him face to face, and we will be with Him- and what do we want to hear Him say? Do we desperately want to hear Him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master.” If that’s the desire of our heart, then how does that translate into the practical way that we choose to live? Do we tithe what He has given us? Do we use our strength to build the Kingdom? Do we take the time, most of all, to fall more deeply in love with the One Who loved us first? If we do these things, it should always be in response to the generous gifts He has given to us. It should never be from the point of view of negotiating for mercy. We don’t do these things to impress Him- He can’t be impressed. We don’t do these things to buy mercy- mercy cannot be bought. We do these things as the generous response of our grateful hearts to the One Who has given us so much.
What does Jesus require of us to give us His blessings? Well, the most perfect example of that is the greatest gift that Jesus gives, the gift of Himself! What do we have to do to receive it? Get up out of our seat, walk forward and say “Amen”. What does that cost us? Nothing. What did it cost Him? More than you can possibly imagine. His mercy and His grace are perfectly demonstrated in our reception of Communion. Here is the Savior Who loves to save, lavishing His presence on His people. Our response is born simply out of gratitude, gratitude to the One who deserves it all. Let us with grateful hearts continue to lay down our lives at His feet; but let us do it in practical ways, to demonstrate that this is not just a nice theoretical reality that only has the same strength in our hearts as a New Year’s resolution. Rather, let how we live every day be dictated by the reality of the Lord who rules our hearts, the Lord who has given us so much, and who loves us beyond words. Let us respond to Him with generosity, even as He has been so generous with us.