|How the Election and its Aftermath Are Like the Movements of the Soul.
The Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the tertiary dominica, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Malachi 3: 19-20.
• Psalm 98: 5-9.
• II Thessalonians 3: 7-12.
• Luke 21: 5-19.
The Sixth Remaining Sunday after Epiphany.*
Lessons from the dominica, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Thessalonians 1: 2-10.
• Psalm 101: 16-17.
• Matthew 13: 31-35.
The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; and, the Feast of Our Holy Father John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople.**
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & third from the menaion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Ephesians 5: 9-19.
• Hebrews 7: 26—8: 2.
• Luke 10: 25-37.***
• John 10: 9-16.
8:52 AM 11/13/2016 — Well, it’s certainly been a very exciting weak, hasn’t it? And the future promises to be more exciting still. As we watch the spectacle of rioters running a muck because no one ever told them that people who don’t think the way they do existed, we might be tempted to think that our Lord was watching television, too, when we hear His eschatological rant in our Gospel lesson. But that’s all merely a coincidence. During these final Sundays of the liturgical year, the Church always invites us to reflect on the end times and what we have always referred to as “the last things.”
The Prophet Malachi, in our first lesson, speaks in very graphic terms about the end times:
Trust me, a day is coming that shall scorch like a furnace; stubble they shall be before it, says the Lord of hosts, all the proud, all the wrong-doers, caught and set alight, and neither root nor branch left them (4: 1 Knox).
And our Blessed Lord follows up by reminding us to be alert for His coming again, but to do so with discrimination, not blindly following everyone who says the end is near, or looking for it in the everyday vicissitudes of daily life, no matter how unusual they may seem to our perspective: “‘Take care,’ he said, ‘that you do not allow anyone to deceive you. Many will come making use of my name; they will say, “Here I am, the time is close at hand”; do not turn aside after them’” (Luke 21: 8 Knox).
There were some Christians in the early Church who believed the Second Coming was imminent. They became so preoccupied about the approaching end of the world that they stopped bothering about practicalities. Saint Paul laments this situation in his second epistle to the Thessalonians which provides our second lesson today. He alludes to his own life experience, reminding the Thessalonians of all the hard work he’s put into spreading the Gospel and making converts to our Lord, something that wouldn’t make any sense if he thought the end was near. He gives them a memorable precept: “If anyone will not work, let him not eat.” It’s more than just the slogan of a work ethic; convince yourself that the world is coming to an end, says the Apostle to the Gentiles, and you’ve got no reason to bother doing anything at all other than just sitting down and wringing your hands about it, not unlike we might be tempted to do, watching disturbing things happen in the news and thinking that the world’s just falling to pieces, condemning in our internal thoughts everyone who … well … who doesn’t see the world the way we do.
And now we are told [he says] that there are those among you who live in idleness, neglecting their own business to mind other people’s. We charge all such, we appeal to them in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn their bread by going on calmly with their work (II Thes. 3: 11-13 Knox).
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that eternal things should not be on our minds; quite the contrary. The Christian needs to live every minute of his life conscious of the fact that life is short, that it can be required of us by God at any time, and that we should always keep our souls prepared by suppressing our vices, seeking the Lord’s constant grace in confession when we sin, and by steeling ourselves against temptation by staying ever close to our Blessed Lord through frequent and worthy Holy Communion. Given the prospect of final judgment, that’s just common sense; but, you know what they say about common sense: that it isn’t always so common.
That’s why I particularly like the way Saint Paul words his wise and sober counsel to the Thessalonians, especially in Msgr. Knox’s thoughtful translation: “We charge all such, we appeal to them in the Lord Jesus Christ, to earn their bread by going on calmly with their work.” Yes, we should always have our eyes fixed on heaven, our true home, but always with both feet planted firmly on the earth. Yes, we should work with intensity for the glory of God, to provide for our families, to improve our society, for these things are important; but, our intensity in these tasks cannot be allowed to mutate into agitation. And haven’t we all known people like this? Someone who is committed to what he believes, who speaks of his faith often to others, who bares witness to it by both word and example every chance he gets, is an inspiration; but, when such a person allows his conviction to get so out of hand that it becomes agitation, then he’s just annoying. Instead of drawing people to the truth, he ends up repelling them because the image he projects of himself is far from that of someone who is at peace. There is a fine line between conviction and fanaticism, and a fanatic never converted anyone.
No one has ever actually seen an atom. We can deduce what they might look like because of how they behave in a cyclotron. So, we assume that you’ve got a nucleus of protons and neutrons with all these little electrons spinning around it at unbelievable speed. You put one in a cyclotron and make it go around and around, faster and faster, then you smash it into another atom and it splits apart, all the little electrons flying every which way; then, they smash into other atoms and split them apart, and all their electrons go flying all over the place, smashing into more atoms, which releases more electrons; and, before you know it, you’ve got nuclear fission. Learn to harness it and you can power a city. Fail to harness it and you can blow up the city. That’s kind of like what happens when you’ve got someone with an agitating personality in your orbit. His mind is always going; he sees things that need to be done—and he’s not wrong—but he can’t sit down and think them through; he explodes with frenetic activity that just complicates everything, and lashes out at anyone who doesn’t share his sense of urgency because he thinks they just don’t care. He ends up smashing like an unrestrained electron into the people around him, either splitting them into agitating people like himself, perpetuating the whole thing into an uncontrollable atomic explosion, or just driving them away because they are unable, as the Apostle says, “to earn their bread by going on calmly with their work.”
The tension in the early Apostolic Church between the agitators in Thessalonika, who had convinced themselves that the second coming of Christ was this afternoon, and the more calm and reasoned witness of just keeping ourselves prepared for judgment by confessing our sins, practicing virtue and going on about our business leaving the rest in the hands of God, as preached by Paul, Barnabas, Timothy and the others, would never end. It runs like a thread through the whole history of the Church. How do you think we came up with such things as the Inquisition, the Crusades, the dueling medieval heresies of Quietism and Jansenism, finally exploding into a Protestant Reformation? Msgr. Knox once wrote a book—I highly recommend it—called Enthusiasm, which traces the history of Protestantism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, delving in detail into the lives and personalities of the various men who founded all these different sects; and, in each and every case, you read about someone with ants in his pants, someone who just couldn’t sit still, whose intense faith and conviction—which in almost every case was genuine—lacked any sense of calm or interior peace.
So, very soon we will open a new chapter in the history of our country. A long forgotten and marginalized segment of the population rose up as one and decided to vote, and soon we’ll have a new government with a new set of priorities. No matter what side of the political isle we’re on, it’s always good to make a new beginning once in a while; but, what’s true in politics is even more true in the interior life of the Christian. Very soon we’ll be entering a new Church year, and a new season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the welcoming of our Divine Savior into the world. And it’s a good time to take a deep spiritual breath and count to ten, to set aside the concerns and causes and crusades that preoccupy us, and just place ourselves and our problems in the hands of God; to just say to our Lord, “Lord, You know my virtues and my faults, my good deeds and my sins, my joys and my sorrows. If You don’t mind, I’m going to leave them with You for a little while and just take a little nap.” That doesn’t mean that we’d be presuming upon His mercy, nor unconcerned about His judgment; but, we can’t very well address either without a clear head and calm spirit. As Saint Augustine said back in the fourth century: “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (Confessions, Book I, chapter 1).
* Because the date of Easter is variable, so are the number of Sundays from Pentecost until the First Sunday of Advent; yet, the Roman Missal of the extraordinary form does not provide texts for Sundays beyond the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost. Therefore, if there are more than twenty-three, the texts for these Masses are taken from the Masses which were previously omitted after Epiphany (with the exception of the Last Sunday after Pentecost, which is always the Sunday before Advent, and for which there are proper texts). In this way, the Missal provides for every Sunday in it to be celebrated at one time or another in the course of the year. This year, the second of these left-over Sundays is the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.
** The feast of "the Golden-Mouthed" is observed today instead of on the anniversary of his death on September 14th because of the Feast of the Holy Cross on that day. Born in Antioch in Syria in either 344 or 347, his father, Secundus, was a general in the Roman Legion, and his mother, Anthusa, a woman of admirable piety. He was baptized by Melece, Partriarch of Antioch, and retired to the solitudes of the desert around that city around 374-375. He was ordained a deacon in 381, a priest in 386, and preached and commented on the whole of the Bible in the presence of his bishop, Flavian. At the death of Archbishop Nectarius in 397, he was elected Partriarch of Constantinople by all the bishops and confirmed by Emperor Arcadius, being consecrated a bishop in 398. He denounced the cupidity of Empress Eudoxia and was exiled. He was recalled to his See only to be exiled again in 404, dragged from one place of exile to another for three years. He died during these travels in 407. His eloquence earned him his name, "Chrysostom," meaning "Golden-Mouthed," and is regarded as the author of the Liturgy used more than any other in Christendom. In 1908, Pope Pius X declared him universal Patron of all Christian orators.
*** In the Churches of the Byzantine Rite, the "Lucan Jump" is in effect for this and the following weeks through December 28th. Cf. the second footnote attached to the post here for an explanation.