Monday, January 08, 2007

RCIA: Week Five

November 19, 2006
Due to illness (mine) Tom and I missed Mass and RCIA.

The Old Testament Reading:

"At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your
people; It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until
that time. At that time your people shall escape, everyone who is found written
in the book. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; Some
shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the
wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, And those who lead
the many to justice shall be like the stars forever." -- Daniel 12:1-3

The New Testament Reading:

"Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same
sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one offered one sacrifice for
sinces, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God; now he waits until
his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has made perfect
forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these,
there is no longer offering of sin." - Hebrews 11-4, 18

The Gospel Reading:

"But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon
will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the
powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man
coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the
angels and gather [his] elect from the four winds, from the end of the eart to
the end of the sky. Learn a lesson froom the fig tree. When its branch becomes
tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when
you see these things happening, you know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I
say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken
place. Hevean and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of
that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but
the only the Father." - Mark 13:24-32

Many of us have experienced times in our lives when we have felt like our world was ending. Maybe a loved one passed away, an important relationship ended, a serious illness afflicted ourselves or a family member, or we found ourselves suddenly without a job. Such times are not pleasant. But the end of the world? That's...bad. It really isn't all that surprising that a lot of people -- including some very strong, faithful Christians -- shy away from it. No one likes to think of death -- much less the complete collapse of the world -- but at the end of the liturgical year, that is exactly what we are called to do.

The language contained in most readings related to the Apocalypse is forceful. From the unknown author of the Book of Daniel warning us that it will be a time of "unsurpassed" distress and that those who do not believe will be subjected to "everlasting horror and disgrace" to Mark telling us "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken," the imagery is designed to be jarring, but, moreso, it is designed to help us address the present time in light of the end. In other words, we are supposed to be shaken up enough to start examining ourselves and making the necessary changes in our lives to be prepared for that moment which will determine our eternal future. (See how that works?)

But in addition to acting as a catalyst of change and forward momentum, apocalyptic passages are also designed to offer hope. When the Book of Daniel was written, the Jews were being oppressed by the Greeks, and many Jews were put to death since it was a crime to practice their faith. At the time of Saint Mark's words regarding the end times, his people faced persecution by the Roman Emperor Nero. So when the author of Daniel encourages the people to remain faithful with promises of everlasting life (the earliest reference to the resurrection of the dead) and when, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus promises his disciples that he will come with power and glory to gather his believers, hope is offered. Furthermore, in the Letter to the Hebrews, the knowledge that God's sacrifice of his Son secured salvation for all of us is reaffirmed, and in the Gospel of Mark, the forceful imagery of the end times gives way to a lesson providing us with the advice to remain watchful (Surely we can do it...after all, people were standing watch for the birth of the Messiah from its first prophesy at least 600 years before its occurrence, and they didn't have the benefit of the promise of salvation.)

So, yes, one day, our lives of joy and sorrow will end, and one day our world will collapse, but God will be there to save us. We will survive.


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