Preparing for the Last Days
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, that we heard in our second reading today, says that the day of the Lord, the second coming of Christ, is going to catch everyone by surprise; like a thief in the night. People are going to be doing their usual daily routines and that event will come upon us with no warning.
So, the answer to this situation is not to be trying to figure out when that day will occur. The answer is not looking to the stars and natural world for signs that the time is close, or listening to the latest ridiculous prophecy claiming the end of the world is coming next week. That’s what pagans do. That’s what people of no faith do.
People with no faith obsess over when the second coming of Christ will occur because of two reasons; either they want to calculate how much time they have before they need to start repenting, OR, they’re looking forward to watching all those sinners get theirs!
“I want to watch all those people who didn’t believe me when I warned them they had to change their ways, get scooped up by the angels and cast into the lake of fire!” Hate to break it to you, but if that’s your attitude, you’re probably going into the lake of fire yourself, in the second roundup.
The devout Christian, the TRULY devout Christian, doesn’t want to see anyone suffer that fate. The TRULY devout Christian prays, and sacrifices, and does penance precisely so people who are ignorant of the Lord, or lax in their responsibilities to God, may avoid that fate. The TRULY devout Christian wants to see everyone saved.
And so the truly devout Christian lives everyday as if it may be our last. The devout Christian is to always be ready to face the Lord and our judgement by having our souls well prepared. And that’s why we have sacraments. This is the primary roles of the sacraments; to keep us in a state of readiness for our judgement, because using our will alone, we can’t do it. Using our own will power, we can’t resist sin forever. Most of us try to avoid sin by white knuckling it. We grit our teeth. We clench our fists. We try to distract our minds with other things. We use the same techniques when we’re trying to not to eat while on a diet, or when we try to quit smoking, or drinking liquor. And just as those techniques fail to keep us from eating, drinking, and smoking, they also fail to keep us from sinning.
In order to stop sinning, we have to change our heads and our hearts. As Saint Paul says today, we are no longer in darkness, therefore we have to live like children of light. Saint Paul is saying we have to change. In order to stop sinning, we have to completely change ourselves from the inside out, like buying a beat up old Ford sedan and rebuilding it into a Ferrari!
“Father Sisco, you may know theology, but you sure don’t know mechanics! A Ferrari is a completely different kind of car from a Ford sedan! It’s a completely different body frame, a completely different engine! It’s impossible to buy a beat up old Ford sedan and rebuild it into a Ferrari!”
You’re absolutely right. That IS impossible. But that is exactly what the sacraments do to our souls spiritually. The sacraments take our soul, like beat up old Ford sedan, and rebuilds it into a Ferrari.
That’s the only way to stop sinning, or at least minimalize it, is to allow the Holy Spirit into our souls to rebuild them, to radically change them into something they couldn’t become on their own. We do that through the sacraments and the Grace they contain.
And we need to use all the sacraments to change us. The Eucharist changes us. Confession changes us. Marriage changes us. Young people aren’t getting married in the Church anymore. They don’t see the importance of it. So, when I get my opportunities I explain. You get married in the Church to invite Christ to be part of this marriage, so he can transform it into an image of HIS marriage to the Church; self-sacrificing, life giving, nurturing. “But FAAAAATHER even though we didn’t get married in the Church we still LOOOOOOVE each other!” (Sometimes I want to vomit when these kids talk to me!) Because they speak of love, as if love can exist, apart from the source of love.
If you’re thirsty, you need to go to a water source to drink; the faucet, --bubbler, --fridge. You may have some water already in your glass, but when that’s gone, you got to get to a water source to refill, or go thirsty. You may have a love reserve in your heart, but that will eventually run dry. Then you either go to the source of love to refill your glass, or you get cynical and jaded. That’s why we need the sacraments; all of them.
So why don’t so many people see the need for sacraments anymore? Two reasons; negativity & discouragement. We look at the world around us, we s ee nothing but negativity, and get discouraged. Or, we try to be super Catholics but we keep sinning, or circumstances don’t get better in our lives, so we get discouraged and we give up.
I saw a video on Facebook recently, of a young man who was claiming that despite all the things you see in the media, this is actually the safest time in history to be alive. In this age, right now, fewer people have died by disease or violence than any other time in history. In the interest of full disclosure I have not checked his research. I don’t know if he included abortion in that statistic, which I would certainly consider death by an act of violence, but let’s just assume for today, his claim is accurate. If this is true, why then do we see nothing but death and darkness on the news? He claims, negativity is addicting. Our minds naturally jump to the negative. And when we’re exposed to negativity, we want to be affirmed in negativity. When we hear bad news, we want to tell someone else and be affirmed. When we get dirt on someone, we gossip, we tell others, because we want to be affirmed.
The media plays upon this, and keeps bombarding us with negative new s because that keeps us tuning in for more news, which translates into higher ratings and more money for them. Interesting theory. And I can confirm it at least spiritually.
You may remember several years ago I told you I gave up being negative for Lent. Whatever happened, whatever was said to me, I wasn’t going to complain, I wasn’t going to get defensive, or make a sarcastic remark, rather I was going to be positive. Every day I failed! But I noticed something. A bunch of sins and temptations I struggle with all the time, disappeared. And that demonstrated to me how much negativity can block what the Holy Spirit is trying to do with us. It is a form of living in darkness, as opposed to being a child of the light.
Secondly, when we try to be super Catholics, but we keep sinning, or circumstances don’t get better in our lives, so we get discouraged and give up. Solution; don’t try to be super-Catholic. In our gospel today, is an important detail that often gets overlooked. Did you notice the master doesn’t give his servants the same amount of money? To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to a third one, each according to his abilities. Each according to his abilities. We all don’t have the same gifts. We all don’t have the same abilities. I think I’m fairly decent pastor. I would never want to be a Bishop or the Pope. That’s beyond my ability. Managing a parish and school is quite enough. I don’t need a diocese or all Catholicism!
Mother Theresa of Calcutta used to say, “Everyone wants to start a leper colony, but no one wants to do the dishes!” This was a constant theme with her. When visitors from America used to volunteer to spend time with her community in Calcutta, she would often say to them, “How blest you must be, that you have no poor living where you are, that you had to come all the way here!” She would often tell people, look for charity to be done in your homes, your workplaces, your neighborhoods, your parishes. In other words, set short, achievable goals. Do the dishes. Use the gifts God has given you to help those around you. And let the Holy Spirit, through the sacraments, refill your glass, rebuild your soul, change your mind and your heart to conquer the effects of sin in your lives. Then whether the Day of the Lord happens today, tomorrow, or many years from now, you’ll face that day with no fear.
--Father Michael Anthony Sisco