Thirty Third Sunday Ordinary Time 2012 Reflections on End Time

Scripture readings for Sunday's Mass are here.

Various reflections from St Louis Centre for Liturgy are here.

Edge of Enclosure reflections on the end time are here although scriptural references differ.

This coming Sunday is the next to last Sunday in the Church’s Year. 

The current liturgical year, Cycle B, ends with the feast of Christ The King on November 25th and then Advent, Cycle C begins on Sunday December 2nd.

The gospels of St Mark have predominated the B cycle with a little of the Gospel of St John.  

In the next cycle, C, the Gospel of St. Luke’s view of Christ's story is read and after this, if we are all still here (!),  Cycle A, gives St Matthew’s version.

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Traditionally, the Christian liturgical calendar year ends with a reminder of the end of the world and life on earth. The first reading from Daniel and the gospel from St Mark today both present apocalyptic messages of the end of the world. 

These end time readings form part of eschatology: the study of last things in the Christian tradition, the events that lead to the final coming of God’s kingdom. 

From Daniel’s description of a world in distress to Mark's description of days of tribulation and darkening of the sun and moon, and all the power of heaven and nature shaken the signs are of the end. 

 Perhaps total solar eclipses allow us to experience in a small but primal visceral way, a sense of apocalypse.  I witnessed one in Cornwall some years ago and found the experience quite surreal. It was both beautiful and frightening. 

                                        James Tissot. Jesus and the Accursed Fig Tree. Source

Even the milder vision of the end of the world and given by Jesus himself, of the fig tree going through its natural growth cycle, is pretty scary, but a tad easier to cope with. 
A vision of Jesus coming at the end of time’s cycle and waiting and calling out for us all to meet him has some sense of gentility about it. 

But even that image has me curious because I remember reading somewhere that Jesus cursed the fig tree for not bearing fruit at a time of year when it could not have been possible for it to do so !!

 Maybe that's why the ending of this gospel contains a wry joke when Jesus admits that even His sense of timing of events is not perfect.

 "But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

But whatever the timing may be, the scriptures talk of Christ's second coming that will bring about the end of the world and separate humankind into good and evil is one that I find hard to dwell on for too long without a severe case of the shivers.

Fr. Richard Rohr, in his book Hope Against Darkness wrote after the Katrina disaster and the Haitian earthquake and long before Hurricane Sandy, " that there are three major perspectives that make up our total window on reality: our world-image, our God-image, and our-self image. They are largely operating unconsciously in most of our lives. I guess in this case, I would also have to add a fourth: one’s “eschatological”-image. 

Forgive the big word, but it just means “Where do you think this is all heading?” What is the final goal of history? And in religious language, “What is the spiritual end that we are all heading toward?” This eschatological perspective might be the best one to help us frame or reframe this disaster. If you know the final end, you can make some possible sense of the means and the path.

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If the “eschatological” goal of history is that all things come into free and conscious union with God (and that is what I believe), then the how, when, where of that is entirely up to God’s Providence and good will. 

We are all being saved in spite of ourselves, so do not look for some pattern of perfect order—which is the usual illusion of both very religious people and atheists, and why they both can become so rigid. God seems to have the flexibility and freedom to live with disorder.

If nothing else, tragic events do force us to bring our operative images to consciousness. Who is God? What is it all for? What does it mean to be human on this earth? Tragedy brings us into the human struggle in very concrete ways, which is the only way that people do come to high levels of consciousness, freedom, and even love. Now I admit, that is small consolation to someone who has lost family and home in this disaster. They would willingly remain unconscious and unfree, if this is the price. But what about love? We are certainly seeing its outpouring in a truly global compassion, probably unmatched in human history. Is this a way for us to realize we are one world, and not just these warring, self-interested nations?

Freedom in nature is an all-or-nothing decision on God’s part. If the created world is really free to take its course, then God cannot step in sometimes and not step in others, or the world becomes whimsical, scary, and incoherent. The very existence of science is based on this observation. 

God clearly does not stop every chilly wind that you and I deem uncomfortable, or every rain that ruins a Papal Mass. God normally does not stop the natural progression of healing nor the natural progression of cancer either . 

As some have said, evil is live spelled backwards. The patterns of evolution and devolution are inherent. God does not seem to intervene in the small things, which we can understand. 

But we get damn angry and mistrustful when God does not stop the big evils. From our frame, it clearly becomes a tragic and unjust universe. And it is. The story of Job made that very clear.

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So the only answer I can give is the one that was given to Job. Yahweh, in effect, says to him:
1) I am listening.
2) You do matter to me.
3) The struggle itself is key, and even good.
4) There is a meaning to the universe.
5) I know your suffering and can work with it, if you let me in.
6) Even though you cannot trust what you see, you can trust me.
7) This psychic/spiritual relationship is often the beginning of Divine Intimacy.

This disordered universe, nature itself, and the disorder of our own minds and hearts, is all being drawn into an order not of our making. Disorder is the same as freedom, you know. God took the great risk of making us free, and also kept it for Himself, which he then uses in our favor. 

Remember, mercy itself is the essence of divine disorder. Forgiveness is God breaking God’s own rules, but for our good! 

                                                                        Festival of Lights
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All I know is that the Biblical revelation is saying that through all of the mess and disorder of history, God is committed to a loving and saving response to all that God created. God holds himself to the rules of the created order during the ordeal of time, but allows himself what Julian of Norwich calls “a final great deed”. 

I will call it, God’s great escape clause, God’s perfect and total freedom. I don’t know what else would be worthy of a God who is “glorious, victorious, and unsurpassable,” as the Psalms say. Acts 3:21 calls this final deed “the universal restoration.” 

If you want to see this belief developed brilliantly, read "If Grace is True", by Gulley and Mulholland. As Blessed John Duns Scotus taught, “Decuit, Potuit, Fecit.” If it is fitting, and it is possible, then God will do it.
                                                                    Christ Cosmic 
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Belief in the final judgment has God saying “I will not intervene until the end.” But the real point is to leave room for God’s final and complete victory. 

Wait and see how God will break all the rules of logic, and order, and merit, and justice, and who deserves what, and who has suffered more or less. We will “know the meaning of salvation through the forgiveness” of everything! (Luke 1:77). God’s almightiness is precisely in the realm of mercy. 

Finally, all creation will see God’s full power to save. Our sufferings and deaths will be a drop and a passing moment in a final tsunami of forgiveness. Our hope is cosmic."

The institutional part of the Roman Catholic Church, the “magisterium” is self-destructing. However, my faith in the Incarnation, in “Christogenesis,” the “coming to birth of the Cosmic Christ” and the ultimate Communion of this Christ with God , I Corinthians 15:28, is unshakable."

Two helpful articles from America Magazine reflect on today's readings.

"Already And Not Yet "by Daniel Harrington S.J.,  Professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

and "Stardust made Flesh" by Barbara E. Reid, a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids, Mich., a professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., where she is Vice President and Academic Dean.

Rohr also writes: 

"I hope you’ve met at least one “Kingdom person” in your life. They are surrendered and trustful people. You sense that their life is okay at the core. They have given control to Another and are at peace, which paradoxically allows them to calmly be in control. A Kingdom person lives for what matters, for life in its deepest and lasting sense. There’s a kind of gentle absolutism about their lifestyle, an inner freedom to do what they have to do—joyfully. Kingdom people feel like grounded yet spacious people at the same time, the best of the conservative and the best of the progressive types at the same time. 

Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God’s love deep within them and deep within everyone else, too. They happily live on a level playing field, where even God has come to “pitch his tent” (the literal translation of John 1:14). 
Whatever they are after, they already seem to be enjoying it – and seeing it in unlikely spaces. Kingdom people make you want to be like them… Mostly, though, Kingdom people lead … ordinary lives… Kingdom people are anchored by their awareness of God’s love deep within… When you live in the Kingdom, you live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. You learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together…”

 Adapted from Richard Rohr' s Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 110-111

My post from 2010 as we approach the end of the Liturgical Year.

 Some striking poems and art with eschatological leanings below....

The Prophet

by Alexander Pushkin

Six winged Seraph (after Pushkin's poem Prophe...
Six winged Seraph (after Pushkin's poem Prophet), 1905 Photo credit: Wikipedia

With fainting soul athirst for Grace,
I wandered in a desert place,
And at the crossing of the ways
I saw a sixfold Seraph blaze;
He touched mine eyes with fingers light
As sleep that cometh in the night:
And like a frightened eagle's eyes,
They opened wide with prophecies.

 He touched mine ears, and they were drowned
With tumult and a roaring sound:
I heard convulsion in the sky,
And flight of angel hosts on high,
And beasts that move beneath the sea,
And the sap creeping in the tree.

 And bending to my mouth he wrung
From out of it my sinful tongue,
And all its lies and idle rust,
And 'twixt my lips a-perishing
A subtle serpent's forkèd sting
With right hand wet with blood he thrust.
And with his sword my breast he cleft,
My quaking heart thereout he reft,
And in the yawning of my breast
A coal of living fire he pressed.

 Then in the desert I lay dead,
And God called unto me and said:
"Arise, and let My voice be heard,
Charged with My will go forth and span
The land and sea, and let My word
Lay waste with fire the heart of man.

Host of Seraphim 


I want to eat ambrosia,
dine with the gods.  Dance.
Seraphim at the gate, velvet-winged.

“A plea is not a call,” says the tallest angel.
“One should not taste of success too soon.”
“Yes.  Wait’s a word to ride the wind,”
says another.  “And who will know the
mind of God?”

A celestial chorus in a quick response.
And I, reaching upward, raise uplifted palms.

A spurt of boldness:  Each—in its own way.
The voices fade, and things I reach for seem too far.

Then just as silence slices through morning,
heaven’s jagged edge cuts my finger to the bone

 by Helen Losse

Note:   first published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

 A poem  from Rainer Maria Rilke from Duino Elegies No 9

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 

From left to right : Pestilence/Famine, Death, Conquest, & War. 

Here's the original text from the Book Of Revelations....

1. And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
2. And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
3. And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
4. And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
5. And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and saw a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of scales in his hand.
6. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
7. And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
8. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

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