Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

Giving Testimony

They will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
–Luke 21:12–13

James_Intercisus,_II_Half_of_XVI_Century,_St_Nicholas_Bolnichki_ChurchIn the Gospel reading, Jesus describes the signs of persecution that his apostles will face in their evangelical endeavors. We know that when this gospel was written down, the disciples had already come to know abuse quite well. Romans and Jews martyred early Christians such as St. James Intercisus, patron of lost vocations and torture victims, whose feast day is today.

St. James Intercisus served as a decorated soldier during the reign of King Yezdigered I in fifth-century Persia. Fearing the retribution of the King, he apostatized his faith much to the dismay of his mother and wife. In time, St. James found the courage to defend his faith, which led to his public martyrdom. St. James was dismembered slowly, but tradition holds that during his execution, he gladly offered himself as a sacrifice to the true living God (DVRodrigues, 2018).

Knowing that this persecution continues in our present time, I find myself wondering, why would anyone want to give a Christian testimony today? Why would I choose to suffer when I could be silent and prosperous?

The answer, perhaps, is the love of Christ that we know through faith. We can see the goodness that comes from Him. When we plan a dinner for our fellow Christians or take a hike, we know He is with us. We see the inspiration Christ continues to give to us, the poor.

When Christ says, “because of my name,” we know that he has paved the way to heaven for us. If Christ suffered such senseless discrimination having both human and divine nature, do we expect to be treated any better? We know that the disorder in the world and our sinfulness prevents us from receiving the goodness we intend to give out, but that should not stop us from giving.

As the holidays approach, and we prepare delicious meals to be shared with family, think of the passage comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a woman making bread. Christ tells us the “kingdom of heaven is like yeast” (Luke 13:33).

Let us meditate on your abundance so that we may rise to the occasion if we are required to give testimony in times of persecution. Please help us to discern the Holy Spirit so that whether we are sharing a meal with family, or protesting against the senseless torture of captives, we can know the true beatitude that you have promised us. Help us remember your name and respond with love instead of hatred. Give us the courage to share your love alongside the poorest among us and within ourselves. Let us not suffer needlessly, but rather with the resolve to do your will. Please give us the Courage and Fortitude to bear our burdens.

Never let us forget your ultimate plan is not limited to us here and now but is ultimately a unitive love that is for all eternity.

Source: DVRodriguez, 2018, Saint James Intercisus, St. Vincent Ferrer Foundation of Texas, accessed Nov. 20, 2019.
https://svfonline.org/st-james-intercisus-nov-27/

Image: James Intercisus, II Half of XVI Century, St. Nicholas Bolnichki Church. [Public Domain]

Spiritual Amnesia

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I was speaking with my dad recently, expressing my disbelief and frustration at the far-reaching consequences of the poisonous “sexual revolution;” flabbergasted at how women could still be gulping down such lies: that pre-marital sexual relations and contracepting are “empowering,” when they’re really enslaving! That we are the ones who decide a life’s inherent dignity and worth, instead of understanding this all comes from God! That the way to have “equality” is to lower the bar to give into the whims of our over-sexed culture as long as it’s “on our terms,” instead of learning to live in the light of God’s love and purpose for us! Humanae Vitae, anyone?!

My dad amusedly raised his eyebrows and paused for a moment—“You fell for it…”

I shut my mouth and sighed. Yes. Yes indeed, I had fallen for it for a time…hook, line and sinker. Hence my irritation. As the psalmist writes, “They exchanged their glory for the image of a grass-eating bullock” (Ps 106:20).

I had forgotten my God. I had lost myself.

What frustration God must have felt (and still feel!) with such a “stiff-necked” people (Ex 32:9)? The constant protection, guidance and revelations of His awesome majesty and love —only for them to worship a large baby cow made of gold? Really?

But I can’t roll my eyes too far back or shake my head too hard. The years in which I lived away from the Lord—attempting to normalize, even celebrate, my sinful life after seeing His miraculous hand at work—sting my heart. I had my own golden calves, my own spiritual amnesia. But the Lord’s love and mercy are unfathomable, and He chased me relentlessly until I truly recognized that I must “come to [Him] to have life” (Jn 5:40).

We, as Catholics are not permitted to believe anything of our own will, nor to choose what someone has believed of his. We have God’s apostles as authorities, who did not themselves of their own wills choose anything of what they wanted to believe, but faithfully transmitted to the nations, the teachings of Christ.

(from today’s Saint—St. Isidore of Seville)

In the darkness of this world, in the darkness of our own hearts, Jesus—alone worthy of all adoration and worship—challenges us to deeper trust and belief in Him. We have each “turned aside” (Ex 32:8) from the path God has pointed out for us and believed a great number of lies—yet we continually return to God and ask the Lord’s grace: to enlighten the darkness of our hearts and minds, and to open our eyes, so that we may truly seek “the praise that comes from the only God” (Jn 5:44) in knowing and loving the One sent by the Father with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. As antidote to our sinful forgetfulness, we strive to always praise the Lord for His everlasting lovingkindness (Ps 136).

After speaking with my dad that day, I was reminded how exceedingly grateful I was to the Lord for the journey on which He’d led me. Eternal thanks be to God, Who remembers us even when we have forgotten Him and ourselves! May the Lord redeem the time we have spent turned away from Him; make us grow in deeper humility; help us recognize our true worth and dignity in Christ; and may we, like Moses, beg mercy for all.

(*The links above lead to 3 wonderful prayers: Prayer to Redeem Lost Time, Litany of Humility, and the very powerful Seven Offerings of the Precious Blood.)

Kingdom at hand

In looking at Today’s Readings, I was struck by the universality of the Word. Simply put, the message of Jesus Christ is meant for every human being: The Kingdom of God is at hand!

But how much of our lives are spent waiting for the right conditions to live/move/have our being?

“Once I have…”
“When I’m finally able to…”
“If someone would only just…”
Some of those sentences hurt for me to type, because they ring so true. I feel like I’ve spent years deferring, blaming, excusing, or avoiding. I’ve yearned to burst forth like a bolt of lightning, chasing down my dreams, passions, and callings with holy excitement and energy, yet I often seem to find some little hindrance or struggle to which I give too much power and pump the brakes.

“But I’m so tired…”
“I’ve got these other responsibilities…”
“I wish I could afford to…”

To be fair, there are seasons of life where waiting is the calling. For example, my life as a husband and father to one toddler and potential Christmas/New Year’s newborn is not necessarily the time to travel the world and broaden my horizons. These days, it’s more like running in circles around our apartment hallways and babyproofing my horizons. But a life season of patience does not mean we are waiting, or that we are hamstrung, ineffectual.

Jesus told us, and continues to tell us, that the Kingdom of God is at hand! Right now! God is calling me, calling you, to greatness (in His eyes, not the world’s). All of the excuses and rationalizations I’ve listed above betray one big need in my life: my faith in God needs to grow!

Two variations of one of the most profound messages I heard during my time as a campus minister come to mind: 1) God does not call the equipped, he equips the called, and 2) God will always give you enough time, energy, and resources to pursue His calling for you. If it’s His calling in your life. He will make it work. We need not wait; we ought to act. If you truly believe that Jesus Christ brought about the Kingdom of God, brought Death to its knees, and brought everlasting redemption, WHY WOULDN’T YOU ACT?!

St. Paul tells us today that we have Jesus Christ has given everyone on earth both a Word and a Mission. We are to receive and preach “the inscrutable riches of Christ.”

The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Act like it. Then go tell everyone.