Once a newly assigned devil was explaining his strategy to a veteran. “My plan,” he said proudly, “is to convince the man that there is no God.”
“No,” said the senior devil, “That will not work. All the man has to do is take a look beyond the earth and he will know that God exists.”
“Well, then,” said the junior demon, “I will convince him that there is no devil.”
“That is more promising,” replied the veteran tempter, “but, still, if he takes a close look around his own neighborhood, he will realize that the devil exists. Here’s the best plan. Don’t try to convince him that there is no God or that there is no devil. Just tell him there is no hurry.”
Evidently that is the current strategy to bring people down to hell.* In America a very high percentage of us believe that God exists. And a majority also believe that the devil exists. What we don’t seem to believe in is our own mortality. We act as if we have plenty of time, that there is no need for start worrying about where we will spend eternity.
Jesus wants to jar us out of our complacency. He uses a bold comparison. We are so used to it we do not realize how startling it must have been to his contemporaries. Jesus compares God to a burglar.** A thief, of course, waits until people are most off guard. He strikes in the middle of night when people least expect.
Christ could come at any moment: when we are attempting to weasel out of some obligation or are finally about to even scores with someone or are seeking distraction by surfing the Internet. The realization that his coming will be like a thief should give us pause. But it should not cause an obsessive anxiety. Rather, we should be like the ancient Israelites. The Old Testament reading puts before us the beautiful image of the Hebrew people awaiting their deliverance. In secret the “holy children” were offering sacrifice. (Wis 18:9) They had their sandals ready for the journey. They knew God held human history in his hands.
*As a "Baby Boomer" I have noticed how well that strategy works with my own generation. So much of our conversation revolves around the denial of growing old - and we will embrace any fad which offers hope of staying young. During recent years, when the economy was in a slump, we spent ever increasing amounts on cosmetic surgery, mainly to cover up the evidence of aging. On a much darker side, we now willingly sacrifice our own children (or grandchildren) to embryonic stem cell research - in hopes of discovering a fountain of youth.
**The fact that Paul uses that image (1 Thes 5:2,4) indicates that it had wide currency among the early Christian. The startling nature of the comparison made it unforgettable.
From Archives (19th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Baker bishop requires lay people to affirm church teachings
Bishop Vasa's letter provokes this revealing response: "I could no longer pretend that I could ascend to some of those articles of faith any more than others can."
Fetal Stem Cell Research: Don't Do It for the Gipper
Have you read The DaVinci Hoax? I just finished it and want to recommend it to readers of these homilies. I know that many say it is a waste of time responding to a work of fiction, but Dan Brown presents his novel as based on historical fact - and a lot of people read it as a true account of Christian origins. Carl Olsen and Sandra Meisel not only respond to the accusations contained in the novel, but in the process give a concise account of early Christian doctrines, the development of the New Testament Canon and the Church in the era of Constantine. Also they give a brief description of Gothic architecture, Leonardo DaVinci's paintings and the real story behind secret societies such as the Templars and the Priory of Sion.
Technically, Brown is a "Gnostic," that is, someone who claims to have a secret knowledge. He asserts that, after two thousand years, he is finally able to make public who Jesus really was: an ordinary human who tried to teach people about the "sacred feminine" as the solution to all our emotional and social problems! The DaVinci Code is a remarkable phenomenon because so many, inside as well as outside the Church, are ready to take seriously this claim. To expose the Gnostic pretentions of Dan Brown is relatively easy. Olson and Meisel do more than that - they show that there is another way of approaching Jesus which is not only more substantial, but also much more intriguing.
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
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