Focusing on the End

33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

If you haven’t looked at a calendar lately, you might want to. We are rapidly approaching the end of the semester. Even without looking at the calendar you could probably tell that by the rising stress level of the student body as everyone rushes to complete assignments, catch up on reading, and prepare for the final exams that will be here before you know it. These last few weeks of the semester are when things get real, because we know that our class time is soon coming to an end and that work we’ve postponed all semester can’t be put off any longer. Looming deadlines tend to focus your thoughts and energy in that way.

The end of the fall semester happens to correspond with the end of the Church’s liturgical year — the annual cycle of seasons and feasts that tell the story of salvation history. Next week is the last Sunday of Ordinary Time which we celebrate as the Solemnity of Christ the King, marking the end of the Church year in a triumphal way Christ’s reign over all Creation. The Sunday after that is the beginning of Advent, that season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s nativity at Christmas. Thus we are already looking forward to the celebration of Christmas and the start of a New Year. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s important that we pause and consider the time we are in now.

The scripture readings selected for the liturgy at the end of the year are meant to focus out attention not merely on the end of the calendar year or another liturgical cycle, but on the end of time itself and the Second Coming of Christ. The first reading this Sunday from Daniel speaks of the dead rising from their graves, some to eternal life and others to everlasting disgrace (Dn 12:1-3). In the gospel, Jesus teaches us that all things of this world will pass away except for His word (Mk 13:24-32).

The month of November is also a time when the Church commemorates the faithful departed, beginning with the dual celebration of All Saints and All Souls Day on Nov. 1 and 2. All of this reflection on death and the end of the world ought to make us mindful of the reality of our own death. We pray that will not be for many, many years, but we can be sure that we will each reach our last day eventually. We just don’t know when that day will be.

Just as the end of the semester serves to focus our attention on that is important to our grades and the successful completion of our classwork, the end of the liturgical year with its reminder that all things — you and I included — will come to an end, serves to focus us on what is important to the successful completion of our lives. It does this by reminding us of our end — not just the prospect of our death, but our purpose (the other meaning of the word “end”)

The readings for this Sunday remind us that there two directions our lives can take — toward God or away from God, toward light and life or toward darkness and death. Where we end up is entirely up to us and the choices we make. Life is pass/fail and we aren’t graded on the curve.

As you think about how to best spend your time during these final weeks of the semester to make sure you are prepared for the end of classes on Dec. 10, make sure you’re also preparing for your life’s end (in both senses of the word). Of that day or hour no one knows (Mk 13:32).