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Are You Ready?

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Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

CLICK HERE FOR THE YOUTUBE VIDEO VERSION OF THIS SUNDAY HOMILY

Another liturgical year will come to an end with the rapidly approaching Solemnity of Christ the King.  As the liturgical year ends, it is interesting to note how the flow of the Catholic liturgy focuses on the theme of the Second Coming.

The eschatological teachings of Jesus are very clear throughout the Gospels.  We pronounce our certainty of eternal life each time we pray together the Profession of Faith. “…I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

Judgment (particular and universal), Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, The Second Coming and the hope of a new Heaven and a new earth are the components of this fundamental teaching of Christianity.

Many times, our contemporary culture avoids consideration of death.

Many who are called to preach the word of God avoid the fullness of the eschatological teachings in their preaching because of a fear of contemporary sensitivities.

When we avoid teachings on Hell, Purgatory and Judgment, we are short changing the people by denying them the fullness of the truth.

Someday, yet unknown to us, this life will come to an end and God will judge us according to our deeds.

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so, we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4: 16-17).

We need to be ready.

This is the theme of the Catholic liturgy as we approach the celebration of the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Jesus was an amazing story teller who used the circumstances of his day to explain the truths of eternal life.  The wedding customs of the Jewish people during the time of Jesus, which still exist today, are very different from anything that we are used to.

Unlike our own traditions, where weddings are organized with detailed precision, the Jewish wedding of the Holy Land hinges on expectation rather than certainties.

The maidens accompany the bride, and the groom presents himself at any given moment.  He can show up during the day or even at night. No one knows when he will come.

Moreover, when a Jewish couple marries in the Holy Land, they do not go away for a honeymoon.  Instead, they stay in their home for a week and sponsor an open house for their family and friends who are the invited guests.

Expectation, rather than certainty: this is precisely the message of the parable.

This life will end, and a new life will begin unannounced, at any given moment.

Thus, we need to be ready.

Vigilance is a vital part of our journey toward eternity because of the ease with which attitudes of the world can penetrate our lives.  Decadence can be attractive to the senses and we may find it easy to succumb.  We have a responsibility to use our freedom in view of our eternal destiny. The reality of death and judgment must be a continual call to conversion.

No one knows the moment of the Second Coming; however, our times are certainly a time of trial and tribulation which distresses us all.  Vigilance allows us to be on guard against evil.  We must do all that we can to protect our relationship with God.

We need to be cautious and discerning about the movies that we watch, the television shows that appear in our living-rooms, and the false prophets that freely dissent from Church teaching.  Satan, the father of lies is very much present in our lives.

The practice of frequent Confession is a sure way to preserve a delicate conscience and receive the graces that we need to avoid any serious sin which ruptures our union with God.

Salvation is not a guarantee.  St. Paul warns us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Philippians 2: 12-18).  The grace of final perseverance is a grace, and we should ask for this gift every night before we go to bed.

However, when we consider the Second Coming of Jesus, we should not be filled with fear and anxiety.

In the Catholic Mass, after we pray together the Our Father, the priest proceeds to pray: “Deliver us Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we wait the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Too many people can fall into deep pessimism and even despair by viewing hours of daily news reports that only focus on the negative and sensational.

Faith and hope allow us to see God at work in our world.  Faith and hope allow us to see the good things that are all around us.

God is all powerful and he continues to lead all men and women to himself.

For example, many years ago, George Bush, as Vice President, represented our country at the funeral of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Bush was deeply moved by a silent protest carried out by Brezhnev’s widow. She stood motionless by the coffin until seconds before it was closed.  Just as the soldiers touched the lid, Brezhnev’s wife performed an act of great hope. She reached down and made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest.

In one of the geographic centers of atheism, the wife of the man who had been one of its’ leaders, hoped that her husband was wrong. She hoped that there was an eternal life and that that Jesus might have mercy on her husband (http://www.sermonillustrations.com).

My dear friends, as we continue to reflect upon this Sunday’s gospel passage, some readers of the parable may think that the message is rather cruel.

The wise virgins do not give any of their oil to the foolish virgins. Once the foolish virgins return from buying more oil, the door of the wedding feast is shut. They are not allowed to enter.

This surprising part of the parable illustrates that we cannot enter Heaven on what others have amassed.  Personal holiness and fidelity are things that we must acquire for ourselves.

The door not opened to the foolish virgins shows us that life is not a dress rehearsal.  Repentance and conversion are to take place in this life.

Death marks a definitive moment in our earthly life.

Like the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22: 1-14), this Sunday’s Parable of the Virgins and the Bridegroom underscores the reality that Christianity is the greatest romance of all.

It is appropriate to recall, once again, the famous of words of Saint Augustine: “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.”

Both parables indicate that God’s relationship with us, our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other is the Marriage Feast.  From the outlook of the Gospel, every nuptial experience is a manifestation of the Kingdom.

Intimate mutual love is at the very center of the Christian experience and the image of this reality, as displayed in both parables, can only take place within the relationship with between a bridegroom and his bride.

As we sing in this Sunday’s responsorial psalm: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God” (Psalm 63).

The oil in the lamps brought by the wise virgins symbolizes man’s necessary self-surrender and love which provide the essential fuel which allows the fire of God’s love to radiate throughout the world.

The empty lamps symbolize those whose love for God is lacking or all together void of any love at all.

Just like in the Parable of the Wedding Feast, we need to make a concrete, clear and practical decision: what is our diet going to be like?

Starvation diet people focus on devotional externals without any personal    relationship with Jesus. They use the seven sacraments of the Church like voodoo, merit badges or as mere cultural customs and traditions.  Moreover, they look at Mass attendance like jury duty.

Starvation diet people do nothing for the parish community.  They never lift a finger to help with anything and even though they have financial resources, these are the people that continually put a dollar in the basket every Sunday.

Fast-Food diet people are consumed with the finite things of this world.  Their inordinate desires are never satisfied.  They gorge on sex, drugs and alcohol.

Their purposeless life-style finally spirals out of control.

Like Caligula of the ancient Roman Empire, they turn on each other and destroy one another because the sex, drugs and alcohol of their decades long orgy no longer provides the satisfaction that their insanity craves.

Now they are possessed by a demonic lust for power and control.

The Parable of the Wedding Feast and the Parable of the Virgins and the Bridegroom remind us that the authentic and mature Christian has only one choice: to be a mystic.

Christopher West writes: “A mystic is someone who is able to ‘taste and see the goodness of the Lord’ in all of life’s circumstances and events, and in all of his creation, even amidst trials and sufferings.  A mystic is someone who had been captivated by the fragrance and beauty of divine love, and nothing can thwart his or her desire for ever deeper intimacy with the Divine Lover.

In short, a mystic is someone who has entered God’s love song, hears it everywhere, and can’t help but dance because of it” (Fill These Hearts, p. 35).

My dear friends, it is interesting to note how the liturgical year ends with the theme of the Second Coming, while at the same time, the new liturgical year also focuses on the same theme.

If we have already embraced Jesus in his first coming, we will have no fear of his Second Coming.

The wise virgins are ready.

As the first reading tells us, wisdom gives us peace. “For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care…” (Wisdom 6: 14).

Wise men and women live in the light of eternity.  Living in this manner allows us to experience the indescribable joy and hope of being alive in Christ Jesus, the Lord.

“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25: 13).