Saturday, November 17, 2012
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Imagine a woodpecker. Now this particular woodpecker I want you to think about has a few important qualities. First, it is indestructible. Second, it is eternal…it never dies. Third, it lives on a tree just below Mount Everest. One day this woodpecker decides he wants to level this great mountain. He flies to the summit and scratches away at the uppermost rocks for thirty seconds. He then returns to his nest and sits there for one hundred years. After this time he returns to his work and pecks away at the top for thirty seconds more. After thousands, millions and perhaps trillions of trips, this woodpecker could achieve his task. And when Mount Everest has been leveled flatter than North Dakota, this is only the beginning of eternity.
We approach the end of another liturgical year—a year that parallels Jesus Christ. We begin anew in a couple of weeks with the start of Advent when we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ as a man. We then celebrate the great feast of the incarnation—Christmas. A few weeks later we will contemplate the second essential mystery of Christ—the passion and death of Jesus—of which we contemplate with prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent. We then rejoice in Jesus’ Resurrection during the Easter season. And during the rest of the year—Ordinary Time—we consider Jesus’ public ministry as he taught, healed and forgave sins.
The last few weeks of Ordinary Time—the time in which we are in—we are presented with readings that help us reflect on both the end of our lives and the end of the world. In so doing we recognize how weak we are. We hear about international wars, natural disasters, wars between the angels and demons and cosmic events. We realize that at the physical level we cannot alleviate the wars in the Middle East, stop a hurricane (like Sandy) or affect the sun, moon or stars. Yet we humans have one feature greater than all that we cannot do in the physical world—we decide our fate for all eternity.
It is true that heaven and hell exist. It is true that, as our reading from Daniel notes—“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.” It is true that we choose where we end up. While none of us can earn heaven (Christ alone can do this) we can choose to receive the gift of heaven. This is not a one-time choice, but a decision made throughout our lives. And each action we make in our lives—from how we work, raise our families, perform at school, compete in sports, hunt or fish—leads us either closer to heaven or hell. As C.S. Lewis said, each of our actions make us either a more heavenly or a more hellish creature.
When we ponder such realities, we don’t need to be afraid. We have Jesus Christ on our side—the one who “by one offering…has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.” We reach for heaven, not only from a fear of hell, but for a love of God and neighbor. Indeed, “perfect love casts out fear.”
As we carry on our week and proceed to the end of the liturgical year—how will you act? Will it be to hell, or, please God, to heaven?