32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
This is a time of year when thing come to an end. The end of the semester is approaching, with just a few short weeks before exams. For those graduating in December, it means an end to their time on campus, and perhaps their academic careers. The world around us also speaks of the end of things. Leaves once green in September, then vibrant red in October, now lie brown and broken on the ground. Grass withers. Night comes sooner, so that even the sun seems diminished. It is no wonder the Church chose November as a month to commemorate the dead.
The liturgical year of the Church is also rapidly drawing to a close. Soon it will be the first Sunday of Advent, and the start of a new Church year. These autumn days of the liturgy are full of references to the End Times, starting with Jesus’ call in this Sunday’s gospel for us to “stay awake” (Mt 25:13).
When the Church speaks of the end of time, the word she uses is Eschatology, from the Greek word eschaton, or end. The study of the end is often seen as a rather esoteric school of theology. The End of Time seems like such a long way away, it’s easy for us to simply not think about it. But the teaching of the Church is clear. The universe will die. Time will not run on forever. Time had a beginning and it will have an end.
Since we don’t know when the end of time will be, why should we care? We should care because each of us will meet our personal end sooner or later. Death is the one thing we know with certainty will happen to all of us, and it is the one thing we do our best to avoid thinking about. This is especially true for college students who are still in the spring time of their lives.
Celebrations such as All Saints and All Souls Day are important occasions for us not only to pray for the dead, but to remind ourselves that we will one day share that same destiny. As Catholics, we know that how we live is very important. Starting this Sunday, our Credo discussions after the Sunday afternoon campus Mass will be about the moral life. We bear responsibility for our actions, good or bad, and the choices we make have eternal implications. But even more important than how we live is how we die. Do we die in God’s friendship? Or do we die isolated from God, having rejected His love?
Jesus’ call for us to stay awake is a wake-up call (literally) to the fact that we don’t know when that day or hour will come for us. We all like to think we will die peacefully in our sleep in our old age, but the reality is we just don’t know. You could die before you finish reading this reflection! A short-term fad in the early days of Christianity was for new converts to postpone baptism until they were close to death, to increase their odds of going straight to heaven. The major problem with that approach is that it is a huge gamble. We don’t always have foreknowledge of our death. Jesus is telling us to turn toward God now because we don’t know when He will call us home.
Place God first in your life now. Do whatever you need to do to restore a good relationship with Him now. Go to confession. Ask for forgiveness. Receive the Eucharist. Make prayer a priority in your daily schedule. Whatever you need to do, do it today. You might not get a chance tomorrow.
The reason why this is important is because death is not the end. If the materialists are correct and death is simply the end of our existence then what we do in this life does not matter. But they are not correct. So says the One who has conquered death.
In the parable Jesus tells in this Sunday’s gospel, the wise virgins are stay awake awaiting the return of the bridegroom (Christ). Once again, Jesus uses a wedding metaphor. When you get married, it is both an end and a beginning. In a sense, you are dying to your old life as a single person, and entering into a new life as a married couple, two becoming one flesh. Just as when you graduate, your days as a college student come to an end, but your new post-graduate life in the world is just beginning.
So it is with death. The finite amount of time we each have on this world will come to an end. But it will be the beginning of something else. We will stand before God and receive our judgement. Did we feed the hungry and clothe the naked? Did we visit the sick and comfort those in prison? Did we love God with all our heart, and love our neighbor as ourselves? Did we forgive others, as we asked God to forgive us? The answers to these questions will determine our final destiny: eternal happiness and perfect union with God in heaven, or the suffering of eternal separation from God in hell. Do you want to be with God or not? We answer that question each day by how we live our lives. In the end, we will each get what we ask for.
So stay awake! Be ready! Don’t get so caught up in the concerns of this world (as important as they are) that you forget that the bridegroom is coming, and one day He will arrive to take you to His home. Do whatever you need to do today to make yourself ready for Him. And stay ready. Stay awake.