Monday, November 18, 2013

Running to the Bridegroom

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mstefanko/3960853895/
Bride and Groom before the Divine Bridegroom
Readings for Sunday, November 17/ 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Malachi 3:19-20
Psalm 98:5-9
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-9

When we come face to face with our mortality, we don’t concern ourselves with unimportant things but rather with the most important things. In the many visits I’ve had with people drawing near to death, not once have I been heard anyone talk about the price of gas or whether they dusted the house recently. They express their love for others, their sorrow for sins in this life, seek and give forgiveness, and give advice to others which has served them well in their own life. That is what is taking place in the Scriptures today – as we near the end of this liturgical year the Church takes this opportunity to speak to those most important things.

It begins with the prophet Malachi, who tells us that the day is coming when the evildoers will be cut down and burned, and the righteous will rise up and experience the healing rays of the Sun of Justice. He speaks of the end of the world, but even more deeply he speaks of what lies beyond that. After death, for each and every one of us, there are only two ultimate options: heaven or hell. There is no third option; it is one or the other. There is a temptation quite often to try to use hell as a way to scare people into heaven. While that certainly has a time and place, and we all must reflect regularly on the horrible reality that hell is, trying to get to heaven simply because we fear hell is not what God desires most. What he wants is that we fly to heaven not out of fear but, instead, out of love for Him. I had a wedding yesterday in New Orleans and it was such a beautiful ceremony. I was with the groom and the groomsmen beforehand in the sacristy and they were giving him the necessary pre-game razzing: “Only ten minutes! If you’re gonna leave now is the time, buddy!” Of course he didn’t leave (and thankfully I haven’t had one leave yet!), but instead went out to meet his bride. It wasn’t because he feared what would happen if he didn’t – that the father of the bride might have his head on a platter after spending the money to get it all together – it was because he loved his bride. So great was his love for her that he had recourse to his handkerchief to wipe away his tears two or three times before she even got up to the sanctuary. It was the joy of his heart to marry her and it should be the same with us as we contemplate heavenly life. God is the Divine Bridegroom who awaits the Church, His bride, in each of her members. As each of us walk down the aisle to Him, it should take everything within us not to break loose of our father’s hand and run to our Bridegroom. We should LONG for heaven even more than the bride and groom longed to marry one another yesterday.

And yet, we have a choice. God always gives us the choice because He loves us. Our responsorial psalm tells us that “God comes to rule the earth with justice” and it is that justice that makes heaven and hell necessary. It is often said today that God is so loving that He couldn’t send us to hell. That’s absolutely true. If anyone goes to hell it is by their own choosing. It would be unjust of God to have someone reject Him completely in this life and then force him to be in His presence for all eternity. And it would also be unjust to have people who suffer greatly to live the Christian life sit side by side to those who never once showed an ounce of compassion, remorse for sin, or desire to serve the Lord. God’s justice demands that both realities exist because it is by our choosing that we either join ourselves to God or separate ourselves from Him.

This is where St. Paul challenges us in the letter to the Thessalonians. He says bluntly “If anyone would not work, neither should that one eat.” There can be a sense in which we Catholics give ourselves a free pass from living the faith like we are called to. It comes in many forms: ‘I’m too busy’, ‘They can expect that much from me’, ‘I’ve done my share already’, etc. There are far too many leeches in our faith today; people who give nothing to build up the Church but simply come to take take take. We must be people who give of ourselves, who put our faith into action. We must be people of daily prayer, who come to Mass weekly, celebrate Confession regularly, help the poor, contribute in some way to the Church because the Church is the instrument of spreading the Good News of Salvation and we are blessed enough to have received the promise of salvation through her ourselves. We must do all of these things, again, not out of fear of hell but out of love for God.

The thing, though, is that it can be difficult to keep up the pace of giving of our self completely to others and to God. But we must. Recall the last line of the Gospel we just heard: “Your perseverance will secure your lives.” It’s not about being perfect; it’s about being willing to try to become so. In the sacristy I have a little book that is a 33-day preparation for consecration to Mary. On the top of that book there are nine little pen marks, noting that I’ve done that 33-day preparation each of the last nine years. And you know what – when I opened it again this year I began to read through the prayers once more and I feel like I haven’t even started to become what they challenge me to be. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to put it on the shelf and forget about it. God knows that we are sinners, that we will always fall short of perfection. But that doesn’t change the fact that He invites us to strive for it. He just wants us to try. That’s all.

The great Saint of the Church Jean Marie Vianney once posed this question to his congregation: “Where are the Christians today who would be read, I do not say to give up their lives for God, but even to put up with the least unpleasantness or inconvenience rather than disobey Him?”

Where are those Christians? May God find many indeed here among us, men and women willing to try, willing to put one foot in front of the other and walk toward our Divine Bridegroom that awaits us. God grant us this grace today to grow even in the smallest of ways in our love for Him here and now, that He might keep us in His love for all eternity.