The Last Curtain

(Homily First Sunday Advent, A)

(Before giving the homily I want to express my appreciation for the great response not only to Sacrificial Giving, but to Eucharistic Adoration. Some 140 people committed themselves to one hour a week before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In addition 30 from our Vietnamese community made that commitment and this Sunday we will be asking Hispanic parishioners and later at the Filipino Mass. Also I draw your attention to the northwest door of our Church which is now sealed. It will remained closed throughout Advent as a sign of waiting, preparation - not just for the celebration of Christmas, but for the Second Coming of Jesus.)

Recently our local paper had an article about increasing life expectancy. After mentioning various scientific advances, it concluded that the chances of dying have been significantly reduced. Now that was news - especially for those who had been brought up thinking the chances were 100%... It is easy to be lulled into a sense of false security. Our society even uses science and medicine to create the illusion that things will keep going on just like they always have.

This Sunday Jesus wants to disabuse us of certain illusions. He is not doing it to be a spoil sport. What he wants is for us to shake off the stupor, to stop sleep walking. He tells a parable about servants left in charge when their master goes on a journey. They don't know when he will return. Unfortunately it is all too easy for the servants to get used to being in charge - and to start thinking they in fact are the masters. That has happened in our society today. We have become accustomed to doing things "on our own." We have become masters of human life itself with vaults of frozen embryos, tiny human lives suspended like products on the grocery shelf. The ancient Greeks called this hubris, the overweaning pride which the gods would punish.

Some people say we have become a neo-pagan society. But that is not the case. The pre-Christian pagans had a lively sense of divine presence and of their own accountability. Not us - we have become like the servants who usurp the master's place. Instead of waiting for his return, we do everything in our power to banish such a thought from our mind.

Let's be honest. To speak about Jesus' return, his Second Coming, makes us uncomfortable. We like to think such talk belongs to groups like Jehovah Witnesses and Adventists. Sure, they were off base in their attempts to calculate the date of Jesus' return. Nevertheless, they have correctly focused on the central message of the New Testament - that human history is not meaningless striving, but a genuine drama. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. Jesus warned us against trying to figure out precisely which act we are in, but at the right moment, he will bring the curtain down.

While none of us sees the human drama from beginning to end, Jesus does. He opened his ministry with this message, "The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1:14) And his final words in the New Testament are "Surely I am coming soon." To which the author replies, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20)

In our own way we Catholics have kept alive that dramatic sense of history. In the Mass we express a longing for Jesus' return. We "wait in joyful for hope for the coming of our Lord and Savior." One of the articles of the Creed states clearly our belief that Jesus "will come again to judge the living and the dead." The first prayer every Christian learns has these words, "thy kingdom come..." Not only that petition, but each line of the Lord's Prayer has in view the Second Coming. For instance we ask forgiveness and the ability to forgive others because on the final day we will be judged. The concluding doxology, altho textually a later addition, does sums ups its spirit, "for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen."

Having emphasized that we cannot calculate the exact hour of Jesus return, I hope you will not misunderstand if I mention a most appropriate moment. I am speaking of course about midnite, December 31st. It would have a certain balance because salvation history began two millennia before the birth of Jesus when God called our father Abraham. To bring things to a close two thousand years later would be marvelous symmetry.

At no other moment will people be more sharply delineated. Many will be celebrating the year 2000 without even asking, 2000 what? Others are deeply conscious of the central event which happened when a divine visitor appeared to a Jewish maiden. The two groups will have a different focus on New Year's Eve. Some in the first will be looking for the "ultimate thrill." They want that nite to be memorable. But suppose it is memorable in a way they do not plan. Would they be like the revelers of 4000 years ago in a town called Sodom? When the divine messengers arrived, the Sodomites did not recognize them - except as another possible object of pleasure. (Gen. 19:5) If Jesus came in dazzling glory, would people say, "That is the most amazing thing!" then rush back to the party to talk about it?

The second group will have a different approach this New Year's Eve. In many parishes, including Holy Family, Mass will be celebrated, beginning at 11 p.m. What if Jesus were to appear not under the humble form of bread, but as he is? For sure, the initial reaction would be awe, even terror. We are after all mere creatures. A night mouse would freeze if he suddenly touched the paw of a lion. But tho we would tremble, I do not think we would run. To kneel in silence. To shed tears. Whatever emotion is next - joy, unworthiness, peace - would come from the Holy Spirit.

Between those two groups would be many others, the more practical folks. They stayed up until midnite, at least this year. But they want their rest because they have things to do. "I cannot be disturbed now. I have to plan for the future." They might be on the verge of a great scientific discovery or a political breakthrough. Or this may be the year to get married or begin a family. Or perhaps just a relaxing day and a great meal. How unfair that Jesus should come now!

But, remember, we do not now see the drama from beginning to end. Nor do we even know who the main players are. Bill Gates might actually only have a bit part while someone we hardly notice is a major character. Nor do we know which act we are now in. The last curtain may be very near. Do not be lulled into a false security. "What I say to you I say to all: Watch" (Mk 13:37)



National Conference of Catholic Bishops on Holy Door

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