Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time


Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Mal 3:19-20a;  2 Thess 3:7-12;  Lk 21:5-19

In a letter to his friend, Donatus, St. Cyprian writes: “This is a cheerful world, as I see it from my garden. But if I were to ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, do you know what I would see?  Brigands on the highways, pirates on the sea, armies fighting, cities burning; in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds; there’s selfishness, cruelty, misery and despair under so many roofs.  It’s a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world.  But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy that’s a thousand times better than the pleasures of a sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, and I am one of them.”

There are many gardens where this world is a truly cheerful place.  But from the heights of his divinity Jesus sees a different world.  He said to his apostles: “All these things you are staring at now, the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another. Everything will be destroyed.”  The historian, Josephus, witnessed the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  He writes that 6,000 people perished in the burning of the Temple, and the Roman army put over a million Jews to the sword, and took 97,000 captives to Rome.

The destruction of the Temple and the persecution of Christians prefigure the end of the world when all the beautiful monuments of human achievement will be thrown down.  

But for Jesus, an even greater tragedy is the loss of one single person for all eternity. St. Ambrose writes, “Everything built by human hands either wears away or is overthrown by violence or destroyed by fire… But there is also a temple within each one of us that crumbles whenever faith is lacking.”

So, when Jesus wept over Jerusalem he was not weeping over the city but over the citizens, over all those who do not believe in God’s mercy and justice. It is not God who rejects the sinner, but the sinner who rejects God.

This is illustrated1 by the story of a woman who dies and appears for Judgment in front of an angel sitting at a table. On the angel’s right is a door marked Heaven, and on the angel’s left another door marked Hell.

The woman asks: “Do those doors really lead to heaven and hell?”

The angel replies, “Yes, that’s correct. Please go, there are others waiting.”
The woman says, “But, what do I do?”
Angel: “You go through one of the doors.”
Woman: “You mean I have a choice?”
Angel: “That’s right.”
She replies craftily: “Oh, well, I’ll take heaven.”
Angel: “Over there, please.”
She says: “Okay, thanks!”

She starts gleefully toward heaven’s door, then turns and asks, “Look, I don’t want to make any mistakes at a time like this. I have a choice. I can go to heaven or to hell. That’s what you said, right?”
The angel replies: “That’s correct. Heaven is offered to everyone who receives the mercy of God.”
She reflects: “That’s hard to believe.  Just because I choose heaven doesn’t mean I’ve always been a model of good behavior. I haven’t always been perfect you know. Who has?”  She laughs a little as if sharing a joke.
The angel says: “I understand.”
She continues: “All right, just so long as it’s clear.”  

She starts toward heaven again, then hesitates and says: “Ah, pardon me; once I go in there I stay there, right? I mean, this really is Judgment Day?” 

The angel affirms: “Yes, once you enter it’s final.”
The woman objects: “But that’s not fair. Ask anyone! Only the righteous can go to heaven and be rewarded for their goodness. The wicked have to go to hell and be punished for their sins!  Are you trying to trick me? Did you reverse the signs?”
The angel replies: “No. Please don’t take too long, there are others waiting.”
Annoyed, she says: “But this is stupid and unfair. Wouldn’t everyone choose heaven?”
The angel looks sad: “Not all.”
Puzzled, the woman asks: “Look, have I got it wrong? In heaven the streets are paved with gold. And hell is a lake of fire where you burn forever. Isn’t that so?”
Angel: “That’s correct.”
The woman responds: “Then I don’t understand. Why would anyone would choose hell? We have to earn heaven by our good deeds. I want a fair trial.   
The angel says: “There’s no trial.”
Unbelieving, the woman says: “You mean to sit there and tell me heaven can be mine even without earning it?”
The angel smiles: “That’s correct. Please move along.”
Furious, the woman replies: “This is outrageous! I don’t need anyone’s charity. I’ll show you!”  Then she runs for the door to hell and passes through.

It’s not God who rejects the sinner, but the sinner who rejects God’s mercy. We can’t earn forgiveness.  It’s offered as a gift earned by the passion and death of Jesus.  

As St. Cyprian expressed it, “I have discovered in the midst of [the world] a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy that is a thousand times better than the pleasures of a sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, and I am one of them.”      


  1. Adapted from a sermon by Steven E. Albertin, “Judgment Day”.


Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Prov 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31;  1 Thess 5:1-6;  Mt 25:14-30               

An eighth grade boy walking home from school saw a sign, “Help wanted.”  When he applied for the job the owner asked him, “What can you do?” He replied, “I can do what I’m told.”  The man said, “You’re hired.” At first the boy was given small tasks, and then entrusted with greater ones.  Years later the owner gave charge of his entire store to the young man who could do what he was told and make the business profitable. Commerce hasn’t change in thousands of years. Good managers are entrusted with more, while poor managers are fired.

The master in today’s parable is no ordinary rich man.  He has tremendous wealth.  Gold talents were not coins that you could hold in your hand.  They were heavy bars of bullion that you could hardly lift, each one weighing as much as 110 pounds. That was equal to twenty years of hard earned wages.  Such a rich man would have summer homes and winter homes, with residences in foreign lands, and dozens of servants.  He chose three to entrust his possessions. Could they do what they were told?  Would they be good managers?  Two of them doubled their master’s gold, an astonishing accomplishment!

But the third was lazy, so like all bad managers, he was fired.  He not only lost his job, he was cast into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. Suddenly we are confronted with more than employment.  Salvation itself is at stake. This parable is about God’s wealth, the grace of charity that has been entrusted to us.  No earthly treasure can compare with it.  Are we good managers? Here’s a story about very good managers of God’s love who “reach out their hands to the poor and extend their arms to the needy” (Prov 31:20)

It’s a true story about a 29 year old nurse named Kelly and her patients.  She went to Liberia, in West Africa, to care for people with the deadly Ebola disease.  She writes this: “Another week has come and gone. The heat and humidity are increasing. There are so many insects, scorpions, and snakes. Despite these challenges, we’re determined to provide good care for our Ebola patients.  Wearing protective gear is a challenge.  Besides the physical limitations, it’s hard to recognize anyone and it hides our emotions.  I wish I could pull it off so my patients can see I am laughing, smiling or crying with them.   Some of the kids are terrified by our alien appearance. 

“One little girl named Christine was close to death, but somehow she held on.  She finally turned the corner and became a whole new person: sassy, demanding and snooty. No longer infectious, I went to see how she was doing.  As I turned to go, she stood up on her bed, asking me not to leave.  I went back and sat on her bed and started talking to her.  Crying, she crawled into my lap and put her arms around me.  My heart melted.  I rocked her gently for a long time. When she left for home a few days later part of me wished she didn’t have to leave.

“For some of our patients, like Christine, there’s a happy ending.  But for many others, like Ester, there’s a very different outcome.  Ester’s husband died of Ebola, leaving her with four children.  Her ten year old son is the oldest, and he shoulders responsibility like a grown man.  He spent hours at his mother’s bedside helping her in every possible way.  But Ester wasn’t able to fight off the virus.  When she died her son took the loss of his mother very hard. 

“A few days later his six year old brother arrived, also dying.  Just as he did with his mother, he looked after his brother’s every need.  He changed him, bathed him, fed him and, as his brother became weaker and incoherent, he simply stayed close to his bedside until the little boy died.  When his own blood test came back negative he was able to leave. Ebola cases are common in remote villages where entire families are infected.

“Liberia is teaching my heart to stretch and grow.  I’m in some of the most excruciatingly painful situations I’ve ever seen human beings experience.  Now I’m learning what it means to manage love, and how to communicate love in ways I didn’t know were possible, not externally, but internally.  A heart that truly loves has no trouble conveying compassion, because that type of love comes from the very deepest corners of the soul and is an almost physically compelling force experienced by all those around.  Even though I know that I could get sick, and be one of those who doesn´t survive, I´m OK with that because I´d rather be here helping them than safe at home.  Please keep all of us, patients and staff, in your prayers!” Like Kelly and the ten year old boy,may we also be good managers of God’s love!


Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Scripture Readings: Mal. 3:19-20a; 2 Thess. 3:7-12;  Lk 21:5-10

When I was first assigned to work in the infirmary forty years ago, I enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician course to get some background in dealing with medical emergencies.  After being recently reassigned to the infirmary (what goes around, comes around), I reviewed some of the materials we had been given at the time.  One of the points that was emphasized was that the E.M.T. should be a calming influence at the scene of an accident.  The tone of voice and choice of words should be reassuring: “help is on the way” “we are here to take care of you now” “we’ve seen things like this before.”   What is NOT needed is for someone to get hysterical and excited: “You look terrible”  “This is horrible” “What can we do?”  Someone who becomes panicky will do anything and everything at the same time and not help the situation.

The image of an E.M.T. helped me to understand what Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel.  He responded to an apparently innocent admiration of the adornments of the Temple.  It was the focus of Israel’s assurance of God’s presence and protection.  But Jesus says that this sacrosanct symbol will be destroyed and disappear.  He then goes into a list of calamities that are impending on every level: political, religious, cosmic, and even familial.  All that you rely on for support and protection will be pulled out from beneath you.  There is nothing you can do to prevent it or prepare for it.  It is a sad inevitability that such things must happen.  It is woven into human history and destiny. 

In view of this fatalism, there doesn’t seem to be anything to do.  “Sorry, there is no hope for you.  Say your prayers.”  But before we step away from the scene, we are reminded that the calamities and conflicts that take place on a global scale first find root in our own lives.  In speaking of the environmental crisis, Pope Francis begins with the “violence that is in our own hearts, wounded by sin.”  The competitiveness, intolerance, exclusiveness, fragmentation, polarization, hostility and hate that lead to social conflict can dwell in our own souls.  They are simply written on a larger scale when we read about them in the newspapers.  “Everything is connected” is a mantra in Laudato Si’.

“By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.” That could easily sound like nice by-pass around the troubles of life.  Hang on until the end of the ride.  We know how the story ends and it isn’t good.  Stay in your seats and hold onto your ticket stubs.  You will be given entry into the Peaceable Kingdom. But the word translate here as “perseverance” also means “patient endurance.”  This is not withdrawal, but a presence which takes on the pain and suffering that is occurring.  The E.M.T. who arrives on the scene needs to be clear-sighted.  He needs to be undistracted by the bent metal or blood and see the afflicted person.  He needs to be far-sighted, thinking of long-term consequences.  It is short-sightedness that constantly gets us into deeper trouble:  borrow a few billions to carry us through; chop down the rain forests so that we have enough paper and lumber; sell weapons to the rebels even though they might one day aim those guns at us.  The E.M.T. needs to be whole-sighted, to take all reality under his vision.  This is an Integral Vision which includes everyone, does not divide groups into friend or enemy.  It is an integral vision and integrity which believes in an underlying order and justice which gives meaning and purpose to life.  And it is apparent that life can’t seem to provide this order and justice from its own resources.

This means the E.M.T. must be insighted, must be able to draw from that personal well which has been filled by God’s Spirit, a Spirit of Justice, Healing, Order, and Peace. “I myself will give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”   It is not a stubborn perseverance that secures the life of the soul, but patient endurance.  It is suffering and patience which maintains an integral vision, which does not flinch or turn its back on the pain in the world.  A remarkable and somewhat mysterious sentence from Laudato Si’ states:  Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.  We are to be clear-sighted about the suffering and pain caused by conflicts and “disorder”, to be far-sighted and whole-sighted in offering the healing and forgiveness that we only know from the grace and gift we have received from God.  We know full well our limits, but we also know the infinite and limitless justice and goodness of God.  If we dare to turn what is happening in the world into our own personal suffering, we will find that we are becoming imitators of Him who planted the new order of peace and justice in our world through the blood He shed on the Cross.