November 18, 2018
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm: 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Gospel: Mark 13:24-32
Death is in our face this time of year. One day the leaves are on the maple tree, the next they are blowing down the street. The days get shorter as nighttime steadily encroaches on us. We celebrate the saints who died to themselves here on earth before leaving us for eternal glory, and we visit cemeteries to pray for those who are not yet there. Here at CTU the ofrendas for Día de los Muertos honor our loved ones whose presence we miss and remind us that one day we, too, will be on an ofrenda. The news makes it impossible to forget how fragile this life can be, and how terrible we often are at cherishing and protecting it.
And then we have the readings for this Sunday, which treat of the end of the world. It will be, we are told, “a time unsurpassed in distress,” days of tribulation during which “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” — all before heaven and earth finally just pass away. Dark stuff.
Of course, behind all this talk of tribulation and death and passing away is one of the great themes of Scripture, God’s commitment to life. Long before the revelation of meaningful life after death, Israel knew that her God was a God who cherished life, and who, when humans chose death over life, resolutely worked to bring them back. “I know well the plans I have for you…plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11). And again: “I am the Lord, the God of all the living! Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer 32:27). And once again, in our psalm: “You will show me the path of life, fullness of joys in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.”
So when, in time, Israel was given to understand that this earthly life is not the end of the story, that God offers life eternally to those who want it, it may have been a bit surprising, but one couldn’t really say it was out of character. Nothing is too difficult for God, even the defeat of death, the enemy that has been made Christ’s footstool. First Daniel and then Jesus remind us this week that this life, with all its attendant joys and struggles, is lived against an eternal horizon, and that means what we do in this life has eternal consequences. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “This life is not everything. There is an eternity… Is it not precisely this reality that bestows on life its seriousness, its freedom, its hope?”
This time of year all things — the Scriptures, our Tradition, visits cemeteries, the ofrendas, the news, and the maple tree in our front yard — conspire to remind us of this stark reality: we will die. And so they urge us to remember how serious this life is, precisely because it is only the beginning of our story, it is the threshold to eternity. The month of November and this week’s readings exhort us to live every moment with that in mind and to snatch up every opportunity to love God and neighbor while we can. In our final hour, the painful words of the poet Marguerite Wilkinson might be ours: “For I am haunted night and day/By all the deeds I have not done;/O unattempted loveliness!/O costly valor never won!” We pray we will also have the joyful surprise of seeing the ways that God made, through the tiniest promptings of grace, something lovely for eternity in and through us.
In the meantime, let’s remember in this month of November to pray for all those who have gone before us, and to help them on their way to God. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. Requiescant in pace.
Br. John R. Barker, OFM
Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies and Interim MDiv Director