For Sunday, November 17, 2019
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
We are experiencing a time of upheaval and change. This is true in both our secular and Church worlds. Structures and systems are changing rapidly. The way we conduct our political, societal, and religious business is so vastly different today than it was even a short time ago. While some may see this as a time of despair and gloom, it really can be an opportunity for cleansing, change, and hope. History shows that every so often a time of purification and reevaluation is needed. The old ways of doing things simply are not working anymore, and we are called to examine again our fundamental roots. We tend to cling to the concrete and familiar and get very anxious when those things are threatened.
Yet, Jesus couldn’t be clearer: “All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Our physical churches, structural systems and institutions, governmental protocols, doctrines, traditions, and the like all give testimony to something greater, but they are not that “something greater” in and of themselves. People who have lost their physical securities due to fire or natural disasters learn this valuable lesson the hard way. Hard lessons are also being learned in the life of our Church. Chanceries and church institutions must change and conduct business differently. Parish life is changing. Consolidating parishes and the closing and selling of churches are events happening in many dioceses. People are feeling the grief that comes with loss and change, but is this a time of sadness and despair only or a time of hope and the birth of something new?
Malachi reminds us that for those “who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” The Son of Justice has arisen and brings healing rays. Can we allow Justice Incarnate to pierce through the clouds of change, sadness, and darkness and burst forth through our current experience with his healing rays? We easily forget that God is in charge and is ever faithful. When our familiar structures are taken away, the essence of His presence and the mission of the Gospel remain. While we may be attached to certain buildings, traditions, protocols, ideologies, systems, routines, and the like, we must remember that they only serve as pointers to something greater and are not ends within themselves. This is difficult to do but necessary.
When we suffer, it is hard to find hope in the blessings of tomorrow. We only see our pain and loss. The sadness can lead to anger, and the anger can cause us to throw in the towel and walk away. What has that accomplished? Suffering is always an opportunity, and the call within all suffering is the invitation to a life that is new. This newly discovered life may even find us a bit happier than we were before and more focused, purposeful, centered, and convicted to our original mission. Christianity and the Catholic Church, in particular, have to find their path toward credibility once again. The end of that journey may look a lot different than it does today, but it will be more true to our tradition and more honest.
We need to learn how to see life through God’s eyes. It is this vision and this vision alone that will bring redemption and salvation to our lost and broken world. Contemplating God’s glory and living contemplative lives frees us from passing structures, ideologies, and safety nets and brings us into the wonder of transformation and resurrection. Are we not called to bring people to a new hope? How can we even begin to do this if we are hanging on to bitterness, afraid of trying something new, falling victim to rumor and gossip, getting involved in petty debates, and losing the bigger picture of who we are called to be. We need to find joy.
It really doesn’t matter what building we gather in for worship as long as we gather. It doesn’t matter if the people around me are the same families that have been there for 50 years, as long as there are people whom we call brothers and sisters. God will be present where two or three are gathered. As long as we can be united in the Eucharistic presence of Christ, then all is well. The core life, teaching, and witness of the Church are what will remain because they live in the hearts of all believers. They become part of the stories we share and the fabric of our lives.
There are many wounded and hurting souls eager to hear the life-giving message of the Gospel. This is a time and opportunity where justice can be restored, and we can rediscover where God is calling us to be. We are called to look forward, not backward, because the goal of all that we do is preparation for the time Christ will come again. We do not know the day nor the hour … nor is any of that necessary. If we are truly sincere and committed to pursuing a love relationship with God, then it doesn’t matter when He comes.
We have to resist putting things in boxes and running to our safety nets of familiarity and long-standing traditions. Any prophet or herald who has ever made a difference in our world has left all of those things and ventured out into the unknown, often with nothing. This is as true for the original disciples as it was for St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Calcutta. God can heal our growing pains. We need to trust in God’s presence, listen honestly to each other’s stories, rely on the help of the Holy Spirit, absorb the healing rays of Christ’s justice and mercy, and forge ahead. Tomorrow will look differently than today and that’s okay.
Rev. Mark Suslenko