Mass for Thanksgiving Day, November 22,, will be held at 9:00 a.m.
As we approach the end of another Church year, and toward the end of Mark’s Gospel for another cycle, the Church gives us this very, shall we say, colorful Gospel. Colorful in its language; colorful in its meaning; colorful in its interpretation.
Will this generation really not pass away until the stars fall from the sky, the sun be darkened, and the moon fail in offering its light? With this Christian belief, the people of the 1st century waited for all these astronomical events to happen in their time, which would be the signal that Jesus was returning; the sun, the moon, and the stars to start acting out of whack; to possess a mind of their own and start doing their own thing, away from the natural purpose for which God created them. Sort of like people who perform actions of true hatred. They’re like fallen stars and a darkened sun if we say and do things that contradict the love Christ calls us to. We’re not meant to be Catholic contradictions.
Maybe that’s what our Lord meant with the words that symbolize the irrational behavior of nature’s most potent elements. That the Son of Man is near the gates when there are so many fallen stars, and so many darkened moons, that we leave God no option but to return and save us from ourselves. But don’t you think his return would have happened during the Second World War, a time of violence and hatred on a scale our world had never before seen, and has yet to match it since? Not to minimize the violence and hatred we see tossed around today, with political divides, immigration, and caravans and such. That would all make sense, if he already didn’t come to us. Instead, his first appearance to our generation was an invitation to love, with the perfect example given by Christ on the Cross. A concern for one another, this invitation to build up his Kingdom.
As we teach in our faith, there is no further revelation after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, our generation has been given all we will ever need to shine like stars in the sky of heaven, to be as bright as the sun on a clear day, to allow our resurrected hearts to be as bright as a full moon on a cloudless night. There is no further revelation to come, after Christ. The eternal commandment is spoken; love God and love your neighbor. Not a false god and some of our neighbors. The goal is to seek perfection. ‘Be perfect,” Jesus says, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The language of today’s readings is the language that causes a few folks to lose their minds and begin predicting things that pass like a ship in the night. The Church uses this end-time language because we near the end of a Church year that leads to what? It leads to a new advent. An advent where we, with great joy, look forward to celebrating the coming of Him who invites into his Kingdom of love. A Kingdom that is larger than the universe, yet it’s within us. “Come to me,” he says, “all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
If that’s a core teaching in our Lord’s lasting revelation to us, then why all this talk about falling stars, darkened sun, the moon losing its light? Why all this talk about caravans, political divides, and whatever else that has the potential to bring forth from us a response that contradicts the great commandment, choosing instead to live in fear?
You know what I think? It’s like God says to us, “Here’s a star for you. Here’s the sun for you. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to turn this caravan into a fallen star, or a shining star? Is the great Prince Michael going to arise in your heart, or is the great demon that Michael destroys going to control our actions? Which one is it?”
If God does indeed test us, this is what it looks like. What are we going to do with that star? Because this generation will not pass until all these things have taken place. Which generation is Jesus talking about for our time? Is it the Greatest Generation of all those men and women defined by history as the ones who saved freedom back in the 1940’s, in the midst of a twisted generation of evil leaders and followers? Is it Generation X Jesus talks about, or the Millennials, or the Baby Boomers? Which generation is Jesus referring to with falling stars and a moon that fails to shed its light?
It’s all so confusing, on paper. But it’s not to be confusing in our hearts. In fact, it’s very clear. We know what God invites us into, in our Baptism, in our Confirmation – go and be disciples, – in our reception of the Eucharist. These are not routine actions. We do them, I pray, because we seek to draw closer to him who has already saved us from ourselves, and him who calls us to imitate his love.
“This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” Jesus fooled them all. “All these things” refers to every star, sun, and moon, every act of love, small and large, that God in his infinite wisdom knows will happen before Jesus returns in all his glory. The focus of God is on love, and each one of us owns a plentitude of those acts. Every one of us participates in “all these things.”
And, “this generation?” “This generation” is not reference to all the human names we give to certain people and certain times over the centuries. “This generation” refers to the entire Christian generation from the time of Jesus’ resurrection to the time of his return. It’s one longstanding generation of those who follow the Master, which is why we stand united with all the Saints from every time. He will come back and resurrect our bodies when the full quota of loving acts is reached. God is counting. May we help to build up that number.
I wonder if Jesus’ observation flew right over the heads of his Disciples, like someone who is slow to get a joke. Except here we have no joke being spoken at the treasury department of 1st century Palestine. The observation that 12 Disciples are being called to imitate a widow and her two coins, as opposed to the bigshots standing nearby with the long robes and happy salutations. Jesus actually told his chosen few that the widow was their Saint to look up to. My guess is they didn’t get the non-joke. It went right over their heads.
Why would our Lord choose a widow who drops her two cents into the treasury as the model for Christian discipleship? Is it her generous nature? That could certainly be part of the answer for us, that we are to be generous toward one another in word and deed. Generosity is not limited to the rich, as we see in this Gospel story. Most of us have the capacity to be generous financially, whatever our respective numbers in any monetary institution, or whatever we hide under the mattress.
Or maybe Jesus chose the poor widow to be the model of discipleship because she looks and dresses more like the Lord that she does the long-robed scribes. We wish not to throw any good clothing stores under the bus, but would you trust more a preacher who dresses simply, or one who is flashy, wears three watches, and talks really fast?
Simplicity, which the widow defines to a tee, is one of the surest virtues that connect us to Jesus. Granted, we have no photos of Christ from the 1st century, with no Facebook back then. But if Jesus is critical of the long robes that stand aside of long egos, you just know our Lord didn’t shop at Brooks Brothers, which has some really nice clothes. The widow as a model of simplicity, however, is not defined by her simple clothing, but in her simplicity of heart. In that, she models Christ, as well as not being a fast talker, for she speaks not one word in the Gospel.
Or, as just mentioned, maybe Jesus chose the widow as the perfection of Christian discipleship because she has no ego, therefore, she possesses great humility. A Christian disciple embraces always the virtue of humility. No humility, no discipleship for Christ.
How do we know the widow was humble and not an arrogant poor woman? Her silence coupled with her generous nature is certainly telling. I know people who are extremely generous … and silent. And the ones I know are deeply humble. They’re not poor, but there’s something Godly to be said for generosity and silence in the same act. But even more, we know the widow was humble because the Son of God raises her as an example of what he admires. Jesus is a big fan of the widow.
More than all these above virtues though, the number one reason why our Lord chooses the poor widow as the perfection of Christian discipleship is because, as Pope Benedict XVI once observed about the widow, she gave her entire self. And that’s why Jesus highlights her actions in the treasury in front of his disciples; to give their entire lives to him, and the same for us. Not because he’s some sort of egomaniac, or that he’s looking to expand an army to conquer nations – although spiritually and lovingly he does want that. Jesus looks for the 12 to give him their heart, soul, mind, and strength as we heard in last week’s Gospel because he doesn’t want our jar of flour to go empty, nor our jug of oil to run dry. A vibrant faith in him is the road to effective discipleship.
The 12 will shed their blood for him, minus one, if they are to succeed at bringing the Good News of salvation to the world they encounter. A mean world at times, where many folks in the 1st century will be offended by the “Jesus message.” “Who are you to tell us pagans that this crucified man is the Messiah?” Many others will open their hearts to the Good News; others will kill the Apostles. If the Disciples don’t give their all like the widow – drinking from the same cup of martyrdom that Jesus drank from – then God’s message of peace and salvation will be overpowered by godlessness, which runs rampant in our culture today.
The generous, silent widow is our model for Christian discipleship too. Jesus points her out for more than her generosity, her simplicity, her lack of ego, her humility, and her silence. Although those alone are a really good ticket to heaven. She’s our model in the 21st century because, as they say in baseball, and as the Red Sox did, she leaves it all on the field. She left it all in the treasury.
The retired Pope who is now living the monastic life in Rome is spot on; she gave it all. And that’s what our Savior seeks from us. Faith is faith when we don’t hold back, whether times are easy or difficult. Faith is true faith in Christ when we put forth the expanse of our lives, as parents, grandparents, single people, clergy or lay persons, doing all for Christ, and not for the sideshows in this world, starting with politics.
The poor widow was definitely poor by the standards of any time. But in giving her all, she didn’t laugh all the way to the bank, for there was nothing left to deposit. She laughed all the way up Jacob’s Ladder as she climbed to heaven. May she intercede with Jesus for us.
I’ve heard a few people say in just the last month alone, and many times in past years, that just when it looked like a priest was finished with his homily, he would start another story. And I empathize with the good People of God sitting in the pews regarding this issue. I used to sit out there. And over my lifetime I can honestly say that there were a few priests who didn’t know how to, what we say in preaching, “land the plane.” They would circle the airport again and again when the air traffic controller was telling them to land, giving the impression the homily was about to finish, and then go back to another story, not landing the plane. I try not to do that from this side of the liturgy.
The great part about priests who don’t know how to fly a plane is that they still provide a holy meal, called the Eucharist. Whereas the length and style of their preaching may exasperate listeners, their capacity to feed us in the second part of the liturgy is never diminished, thanks to God’s power that comes through ordination.
Jesus is asked a question, a very important question for all of us in today’s Gospel: “Which is the first of all the commandments?” And without hesitation, our Lord proceeds to answer through the holy words of his sermon… This prayer called The Shema that goes back to Moses and a wandering people in the desert as we heard proclaimed in the first reading.
The Jewish prayer begins with, “Hear, O Israel.” Remember, Jesus came for the lost sheep of the House of Israel, but would extend his love and miraculous powers to non-Israelites (Gentiles) who professed faith in him. These Gentiles could move God’s mountain with a mustard seed of faith in him. But our Lord here speaks to Israel, the ones who recognize the words he is about speak further. The Jewish people know The Shema the way Catholics know the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Jesus continues his sermon; “The Lord our God is Lord alone.” A message that remains relevant in the 21st century, and for centuries to come. Don’t create any false gods in the world of our lives. We know many of them; money, power, sexuality, which is a false god for many people today. The list is long, because the temptation to worship idols is long and ever-present.
Contrarily, when the Lord is God alone for us, we see the world and its inhabitants in a Godly way. Through the eyes of holiness and dignity, through the eyes of compassion and mercy, through the eyes of faith. The Lord is God alone sets us on a path to healthy relationships, to good works of ministry, knowing we serve him in serving others. The Lord is God alone is the train that rides us to the great promises of Jesus Christ, which are many.
And then Jesus continues his sermon to the question, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart,” placing him at the center of the ticker within all of us. Not just a portion of our hearts, like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday like a college course. Or, not dropping the ball on our heartfelt love for him from Friday night to Monday morning when the Evil One is working overtime to penetrate our free time, trying to transfer some portion of our love for God to his hatred for us. Rather, love him with all our heart, being nothing less than a forerunner for heaven itself.
And Jesus continues his short sermon; “With all your soul,” we are to love him. The invisible part of us. Love God with our conscience.
If I were to ask, “What is your conscience?” I bet most people would say, “It’s what I feel.” And I would say, “That’s not what it is. Our conscience is not simplified or relegated to feelings and emotions.” Our conscience is the deepest part of our being. Conscience goes as deep as we can travel within when addressing an issue. If I say, “Yea, I support the death penalty because that’s how I feel,” without taking into account all that our faith teaches us, and praying about it for a long period of time, that’s miles away from our conscience. Conscience is deep, and it takes time to arrive to arrive there. Loving God with all your soul is deep, and it takes time to arrive there.
And the sermon continues; “Love God with all your mind.” Think of the great things of heaven in the midst of a twisted generation, and what’s been prepared for us. If we could capture in our minds a small portion of what God has prepared for us, our heads would explode, but in the best of ways.
And the homily of Jesus comes to an end; “Love God with all your strength.” This has nothing to do with physical strength, like only muscle heads can love God greatly with their strength. Most of us, I suspect, are not muscle heads. I’m not. You don’t look like you are. Jesus means that whatever strength we have internally, strength of will and desire, love Him above all. This is why people in wheelchairs and the homebound can love God with all their strength much greater than those who pump iron at the gym five days a week.
And there’s Jesus’ homily for this Sunday. Oh, wait! There’s a second story from Jesus. He doesn’t want to land the plane yet. Sorry. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If we love ourselves for the way God created us, the type of love that will see ourselves with respect, dignity, humility, grace, with dependence upon Him, then we will love our neighbor too. Loving others is dependent upon a healthy Christian love of ourselves. Not a conceited love, but a humble love, like Christ has given to us.
That’s really the end, I think. Just one more. Love God, love yourself, and please do your best to love your neighbor. It’s worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
Since I’m sick of listening to myself, this plane has now landed.