Bottom line: When the trumpet sounds, those "left behind," that is, those still alive will have no advantage over those who have died. We will be raptured: taken up and transformed. At that moment, what matters is that the Lord's fire burns within us. By prayer and Holy Communion we have our lamps filled and burning when the Lord returns.
Today's second reading contains a reference to an event sometimes called "the rapture." In fact, First Thessalonians 4:17 is the only biblical reference to a rapture in relation to the Second Coming of Jesus. So it deserves a closer look. St. Paul paints this picture:
When the trumpet sounds, there will be two groups of Christians: "those who have fallen asleep" and "we who are alive." St. Paul states that the living will have no advantage over those who have died. Jesus will raise the dead and then those who are left behind - that is, Christians still alive - will be caught up in the air with them. As St. Paul describes things, it will be good to be a Christian "left behind." We will meet Christ, who will transform us - along with those whose bodies now rest in the ground.
That is basically it. St. Paul does not refer to an interim time between the rapture and the last judgment. When Jesus returns, he will bring down the curtain.* Then the real story begins, the one where - as C.S. Lewis says - "each chapter will be better than the one before it."
We express it this way in the Creed: "He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end."
I have to admit that I would love to be alive when the Lord returns. To be caught up together with all the saints would be wonderful. And it would be nice to not have to die, but to simply be "raptured." I suspect, however, that my path will be like my parents - and millions of other Christians: death, judgment and, then, getting our bodies back on the final day.
What matters, as St. paul emphasizes, is not whether we are "asleep" or alive when Jesus returns. The question will be this: Are we with Jesus - or not? That is the point of today's Gospel: When the Lord returns will we have oil in our lamps or will our lamps be empty?
A man named Simeon the New Theologian had an interesting take on this Gospel. He notes that the purpose of oil in a lamp is to produce fire. If our lamps are empty, we cannot have the fire of Christ burning in our hearts.** St. Simeon wrote in the early eleventh century - a time when many Christians had grown cold. They lacked the fire of Christ inside them.
We are like those Christians ten centuries ago. Our lamps seem empty; the fire of Christ does not burn within us. Here at St. Mary of the Valley we will do something to help get the fire in our hearts. Perhaps you have heard that Fr. Robert Barron has completed a film project titled "Catholicism." With a professional camera crew, Fr. Barron travelled the world to tell the story of our faith. It is so well done that many PBS stations are broadcasting it. You won't find it yet on Seattle's station, but I will be showing it here in the parish - to our RCIA class, starting this Wednesday. I invite you to join us. I guarantee it will make your heart glow, perhaps even burn with love for Christ - and his Church.
Something else will happen to help get the fire back. I have been speaking about it on previous Sundays: In just three weeks we will begin using the new translation of the English Missal. This Saturday I will give a workshop on how the new Missal will bring us deeper into the Scriptures - the Word of God. Let me give one example now:
When the priest invites the congregation to Communion, he will use these words: "Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." This phrase from the Bible - the book of Revelation - synthesizes what Jesus and St. Paul say about the Eucharist. The "supper of the Lamb," refers to the goal of our existence - eternal union with Christ in the heavenly banquet. Communion gives us a foretaste of heaven.
After the priest invites the people to the supper of the Lamb, we respond, "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof." That response comes directly from the Bible. It is what the Roman centurion said to Jesus. And he added, "Only say the word and my servant shall be healed." The centurion's words will help us ask Jesus to heal and cleanse us so we can receive him.
In Communion we receive Jesus. When you think about it, he is the "oil" for our lamps. We want his fire in our hearts. I cannot give it to you. That's why the wise virgins said, "no," to the foolish ones. They were not stingy; they would have loved to share - but each person must go personally to Christ. No one else can do it for you. You have to know him and he has to know you.
As St. Alphonsus Liguori said, "Those who pray are certainly saved. Those who do not pray are certainly lost." Our lamps must be full and burning when the Lord returns.
So this Sunday we have learned: When the trumpet sounds, those "left behind," that is, those still alive will have no advantage over those who have died. We will be raptured, taken up and transformed. At that moment, what matters is that the Lord's fire burns within us. By prayer and Holy Communion we have our lamps filled and burning when the Lord returns. Amen.
*For a description of what will happen in the final days, I encourage you to read the Catechism: 668-682. Here is a concise summary:
Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. The triumph of Christ's kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil.
On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the tares, have grown up together in the course of history.
When he comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each man according to his works, and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace.
**"God is fire and he is so called by all the inspired Scripture (see Heb 6:4; 12:29). The soul of each of us is a lamp. Now a lamp is wholly in the darkness, even though it be filled with oil, until it receives fire and is kindled. So too the soul, though it may seem to be adorned with all virtues, yet has not received the divine nature and light, is still unkindled and dark. And its works are uncertain." (Discourse of Simeon the New Theologian, quoted by Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints) Simeon continued, "Oh what swirling of the flames in me - miserable one that I am - come from you and your glory. I fall down in adoration before you. I thank you that you have made me worthy to know, however little it may be, the power of your divinity."
General Intercessions for the Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (for Thirty-Second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru