As the liturgical year draws to a close and a new one is about to begin in Advent, the readings for our Sunday Masses point to our preparedness for the end and the second coming of Christ, the parousia. For today’s liturgy the gospel passage from St. Luke and the first reading from the Book of Daniel are both written in the literary genre of apocalyptic.
We may be familiar with apocalyptic literature from the Book of Revelation. The general characteristics of this type of writing are fantastic imagery that goes beyond the natural world. Graphic descriptions are offered regarding the “end times.” This type of literary work is written to a people who are oppressed or suffering greatly. The underlying message is one of hope.
Despite the current difficulties and tribulations, sufferings and persecutions, in the end God will be victorious and deliver His faithful from the peril of death to the rewards of eternal life. The people are encouraged to remain faithful and to endure the period of trial. They are exhorted to be patient and vigilant.
Jesus, in today’s gospel passage, uses this type of language to convey His message of faithfulness. Despite all the “signs” that the end is near, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The stress of this passage is that while we do know that the end will come at some point, we do not know when, so we should live now in hopeful expectation and anticipation.
Our lives should reflect vigilance so we are prepared when the Lord arrives. Jesus says, “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” We have the words of Christ and they speak to us now. He speaks to us now in these words. We are exhorted to listen to Him continually and to find life in these words, which will never pass away.
The first reading from the Book of Daniel has a similar theme. Here the vindication of the just is stressed. In the end Michael, “the great prince, guardian of your people” shall come to deliver those caught in the turmoil. He will deliver the wise and they “shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.” Reward will be had for those who are wise and seek justice. Although in turmoil now they will be delivered and saved.
The victory promised for the faithful is realized in the sacrifice of Christ. The Letter to the Hebrews recognizes that the self-offering of Jesus is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices that were previously offered by the priests in the Temple. Now, with the perfect sacrifice of Christ, no other sacrifice is needed. This one perfect sacrifice accomplishes the reconciliation of man to God and with each other. Our participation in this sacrifice through the Eucharist provides grace for us as we await the hour when “his enemies are made his footstool.”
The “end time” language can cause much harm and damage if it is misinterpreted. So many times this type of literature has been used to create false expectations of the “end.” Time and effort are expounded on determining the “when” and the “why” is ignored or forgotten. The message remains focused on the present not the future. While our confidence comes in our hope for Christ’s return and final victory, it is our faithfulness that prepares us for that reality.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.