33nd Sunday Year B
Be well-prepared for death. Be well-prepared for life.
The Catholic liturgical year is a cycle that begins with the Season of Advent, marking a four-week preparation period before Christmas, and ends with the Feast of Christ The King a year later. We are approaching the end of the current liturgical year. Next weekend, we will celebrate the Feast of Christ The King. With the end of the year approaching, the Scripture passages take us on a reflection of “the end”. It is rhetorical to say that the end of a period always precedes the beginning of something new, e.g. a new liturgical year, a new year of 2022, etc. Most of us do not worry too much about the end of a year, for we know that after 2021 there will be a new year 2022, and after that another new year 2023. In fact, we are rather desensitised with the end of a year and the beginning of a new one – hence, we live this year just like the last, and the next year just like this one. And so, as we approach the end of yet another year, we should ask ourselves: Am I living my life to its full potential? Or am I merely existing? In other words: Do I bright joy to others? Am I at peace with myself and with God? Do I feel fulfilled and contented? Is my life meaningful? These are the questions the Scripture poses to us this week.
Our life is God’s great gift to us. We need to live our life to its full potential. Similarly for us believers, our faith is also a great gift from God. We need to live our faith to its full potential. But in truth, while many of us observe the rituals and practices of our faith, we do not truly live our faith. In the Second Reading, St Paul recalled how “every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” (verse 11) This verse reminds me of our penitential practices in the Catholic faith. In the Catholic Mass, we have the Penitential Rite at the beginning of the Mass that cleanse us of our minor sins. For more serious sins, God gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In each of these rites, to help us bring the effect of the rites to bear, the Church provides us a formula. However, at these rites, do I mean the words I say, or are the words just a routine for me? Indeed, this is the reason why many of us carry baggages in our life. As St Paul explained, through His sacrifice on the cross, Jesus “perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (verse 14). In spite of this grace that God have gifted us, we are unable to heal from our past hurts. Some of us avoid thinking of hurtful events in the past. Some of us avoid people who hurt us. Some of us even bear thoughts of vengeance and getting even. These are signs that a wounded heart that is not healed. So my dear friend, we ask ourselves: Have I truly opened my heart to God’s graces? Have I forgiven others who hurt and betrayed me? Have I sought forgiveness from those I wronged? Have I forgiven myself? St Paul concluded in the Second Reading, “where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin” (verse 18).
In the Gospel this week, Jesus provides us a vision of the end time. In addition to this week’s Gospel of Mark passage, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke also provide us two accounts of the end time (Mt 24:4-31 and Lk 17:20-35). In His end time account in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus warned us of “the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (Mt 24:15). Jesus was referring to the end time prophesy of Daniel, part of which we read in the First Reading this week. My brothers and sisters, what are the “desolating sacrilege” of my life? If my religious practices become merely lip services that do not come alive in my life, are they in fact “desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place”? Following the First Reading this week, the Prophet Daniel warned us about this “desolating sacrilege” (also translated as “desoluting abomination”) in Dan 12:11. In fact, our “desoluting sacrilege” is not confined to our empty religious practices. It is also our spiritual worldliness. Let us reflect: Are my earthly pursuit of wealth, fame, power and recognition overshadowing my spiritual pursuits? And worse, do I pursue the same worldly quests of wealth, fame, power and recognition within my faith life and my faith community, disguised as spiritual quests? This is in fact not uncommon among those of us who are regular church-goers. We practise spiritual worldliness.
So, how do I truly live my life and my faith? How do I be well-prepared for life? Ironically, to be well-prepared for life, I must first be well-prepared for death. I need to meditate on “the end”. I need to perform death meditation often. One way of doing death meditation is to imagine my life on earth coming to an end in a month. How would I live that month? Most likely, I will start to live my life and my faith to their full potentials. It is when I meditate upon death that the Scripture passage this week become most relevant. For the end of my life on earth is no longer some future event that I conveniently sweep under the carpet, to be put out of sight and out of mind. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus reminded us, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Mt 24:43-44) And in the Gospel of Luke, our Lord warned us, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them – it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.” (Lk 17:26-30) No, my brother and sisters, “the end” is not a future event to be cast out of our consciousness. We must be ready always, for “the end” will come at an unexpected time. The Gospel this week tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (verse 32) Am I ready? Is my life ready?
My dear friends, we often assume there is a continuity of the present, that the year 2021 will be followed by 2022 and after that 2023. This is an illusion. My brothers and sisters, we do not know the time or hour we will bid this world farewell. Hence, for a believer, merely existing is not an option, we must live our life to its God-given potential. As we approach the end of yet another year, let this be our new year resolution, one that actually bring us true fulfilment. Let us be well-prepared for the end. Let us be well-prepared for life. Amen.