November is the month we close out Ordinary Time and make way for Advent and the beginning of the new Liturgical Year. It does so, however, with a flourish.
We all get excited by books and movies that try to tell us about the end of the world. November presents us with God’s Word on the subject. Actually, we get three different visions of the future. We get to glimpse the end of this world as we know it, we also get a vision of the next world, and, before either of them transpire, we are told about the world we are about to enter, namely the time between now and the end of earthly life. That is the world we will be living tomorrow.The Word of God at the Sunday Masses of November stun us into attention and present a message we need to put into effect in our lives immediately.
November always begins with a vision of heaven. This is the next world. On All Saints Day we see what kind of life we may expect in heaven as well as the kind of life we should live in the present so that we can attain our ultimate goal. That goal is depicted right at the start.
The first reading of the month is from the seventh chapter of Revelation. The people in heaven form a great uncountable multitude. They come from all peoples of all times. They cried out in a loud voice to the Lamb. The Lamb is the triumphant Christ who was sacrificed on the cross for us and who is now at the right hand of the Father. The throne of God is surrounded by praising and worshiping angels as well as the crowd. Heaven is a happy, loud, and crowded place.
In the second reading, John tells us, in his first letter, that we can feel God’s love now. We are his children. If we are now, then we shall be like him in heaven. We don’t know exactly what heaven looks like; but, for sure, we will see God as he is. With such a hope, our task here is to make ourselves pure.
The Gospel of All Saints gives us an idea of what ‘becoming pure’ means. The Beatitudes is our guide. If we are poor in spirit, meek, thirsty for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart and peacemakers, then we can expect our reward in heaven to be great.
The first of the four Sundays in November is the 31st of Ordinary (counted) Time. The Liturgy of the Word begins with a reading from the Book of Wisdom. Written about 200 years before Christ, it gives us God’s view of the universe. It is “a drop of the morning dew.” Not much! Yet God still has mercy on all. To us, he is forgiving and loving. Our reaction to God’s love, Wisdom writes, is to abandon wickedness and believe in God.
The second reading is the first of the three passages from Second Thessalonians that we read in November. Here, Paul reveals that Christians in Thessalonica were “shaken out of their minds” by some letter or statement about the second coming of the Lord. Some people, even today, try to scare people into repentance.
In reality, we do not know when or how the last day will come. Until then, the good do not have to be afraid of it. We do need to “make every effort of faith that the Lord may be glorified in us.” Therefore, the days between the present and the end of time should be a time of joyful preparation for meeting the risen Lord.
The gospel gives a fine example of what Paul was getting at. Luke tells us about an incident that took place in Jericho. This was the last stop on Jesus’ final journey (from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem). A tax collector, Zacchaeus, completely changes his life upon seeing Jesus and hearing his proposal to eat dinner in his house. Jesus’ remark, “Today salvation has come to this house,” is an example of the joy we should be experiencing in our present. One way to achieve it is by evangelizing our environment. Doing that will bring us face to face with many a modern day Zacchaeus who wishes to find faith in the person of someone like ourselves.
On the second Sunday of November, the Old Testament reading takes us back to the Greek occupation of the Holy Land. The successors of Alexander the Great were attempting to make the whole world Greek. This Hellenizing force met strong opposition in Israel in the form of the Maccabees. They rebelled against the harsh imposition of Greek religion and culture. One such example we have is in the first reading.
In that example we also can recognize the beginning of the people of God coming to realize that there is a life after death. “The King … will raise us up to live again forever. It is for his laws that we are dying.” They discovered in the distress of persecution that there is a heaven and that what we do on earth has an effect on our lives after death.
Jesus endorsed these concepts during his public ministry. In doing so, he met the opposition of the Sadducees. This group, which included many high priests, only accepted the books of Moses as inspired. They didn’t accept any literature written in Greek as the books of Maccabees were. Accordingly, these people ridiculed Jesus for his teaching on life after death. Today’s Gospel gives us an example of their disdain of the doctrine of heaven.
They presented to Jesus a case of a woman who was married seven times during her lifetime. Then, they asked Jesus “whose wife would she be if there were such a thing as resurrection from the dead?” They probably did so with a hint of laughter. Jesus’ retort was telling and well-aimed. He said that we would be like angels and no longer could die and, therefore, do not marry. Actually, with glorified bodies we can be closer to those we love than we now experience in marriage.
Then, Jesus quoted Moses to the Sadducees saying that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that he was not the God of the dead. So, it follows that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive after death. I suspect their silly smiles were wiped off their now red faces.
On the third Sunday of the month, the scriptures give us a picture of the “last times.” The prophet Malachi divides this difficult time into two aspects: what happens to the bad and what happens to the good. For the bad: they will be set on fire and become stubble. For the good: the sun of justice will arise with its healing rays. It’s interesting that one source of heat burns the bad and heals the good. The difference, then, must be the state of soul we reach during our life on earth.
Paul writes about the state of our present lives to the Thessalonians. Some were so convinced that the last days would come soon that it was aimless to work now. In such a state of mind they became disorderly in community. Paul says they should work quietly. If they aren’t contributing to the community, they should eat their own food. They should remain within the Christian community and work with them as they prepare themselves for the Kingdom of God. So, should we.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses the temple in Jerusalem as the backdrop of his lesson on the last times. He starts by saying the days will come when not a stone will be left upon another. The thought of so much utter damage is scary. But the question this scene evoked in the disciples was: when will this happen and what signs will signify its coming soon? Jesus, in response, cites many disasters and possible warnings and tells us not to heed them or be terrified.
Then, he talks about what will come before the last times. These are what they have to worry about when they will be seized and persecuted. Friends and family will turn you over to those who will even kill some of you.
Jesus is predicting a tribulation for Christians that precedes the last times. Times are pretty bad in the present. We must realize the danger now. Yet, there is a consolation. Jesus will give us a wisdom in speaking that will render our persecutors powerless. In short, even in the worst of times, we can feel the presence of God inspiring us.
The implied lesson for us is not to worry too much about the end of the world. We will have enough dangers in our own times to deal with. But, as bad as they are, they have the ability to lead us to experience God’s power within us. Then, we will know God’s love and care. It will abide with us until eternity.
The final Sunday in November and the entire liturgical year is the glorious Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. It begins with the scene from Second Samuel in which, after the death of Saul, the leaders of the Northern Kingdom of Israel come to David (now the King of Judah) to ask him to be the new ruler of a united kingdom of Judah and Israel. He accepted and was anointed the King of Israel. We can recall that of all the titles Jesus received, he seemed to respond most favorably to ‘Son of David.’ That meant he was of royal blood and rightful successor of the throne of Israel.
In the second reading, Paul includes for the Colossians a song or poem praising Jesus to the highest. In it, he praises God, the Father, for transferring us “to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
In this act of praise, we can notice that kingship is directly linked to redemption and forgiveness. It is the function of a king to govern citizenship and grant rights to people. In so doing he forgives and redeems. Jesus makes peace by the blood of his cross both on earth and in heaven. We should learn to depend on our King to forgive our sins so we can enter his Kingdom.
The most vivid and stark example of just this truth is found in today’s Gospel. The passage begins with the rulers sneering at Jesus as he is in agony on the cross. Then, the art of Luke, the great storyteller, turns to another cross. We call the man on it Dismas. He is the absolute opposite of the rulers. He is dismal. After a confrontation with the third victim of crucifixion that day, he humbly asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom. That request elicits one of Jesus’ last words, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Thus, we have documentation of a divine act of redemption and salvation. Our King redeems. Our King saves.
Looking back on November’s Sunday readings, we can see Christ as the king of time and eternity. We discerned three distinct eras in our future. There is the near future into which we enter every moment. Then, there are the ‘last times.’ They include tribulation, which, hopefully, will turn people’s hearts toward the Lord whose second coming will take place just before the end of the world. Finally, there is heaven, which, technically, is not of time but eternity. We learned to work faithfully on earth as we prepare for heaven. Preparation consists in following Jesus, the Christ, who is king of heaven and earth.
Father Joseph Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.