Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Faith to the End
At this time every year, I go down to Guardian Angles School to answer questions that the 8th graders devised. The kids are honest and frank, and I am honored that they trust me enough to seek some answers to areas of life that might be troubling them, particularly areas relating to their stage in life, adolescence. So, many of their questions are about dating and sexuality. I have to say that they are always quite respectful in the way they frame their questions. I am not be able to get away with my standard answer for their concerns regarding sexuality, “Ask your mother.”
The 8th graders can ask questions about any area. Some questions are about doubts in faith, or about particular beliefs. A few years ago, I was asked a question that greatly disturbed me. It was not about a sexual matter, but a question about our country. I was asked, “Do you think that the United States is getting farther and farther away from God?” I answered that by telling them that in some ways the country with its laws protecting abortion, defining marriage, etc, is drawing further from God, but in other ways the country is drawing closer to God. This is seen in the determination of our country to care for the poor and sick in the United States and throughout the world and in the commitment of so many of our young people, particularly young families, to lead Christ centered lives.
Many older people have nothing but negatives to say about the young. They do not know the young. No one can attend any of the many youth conferences, youth retreats, or campus ministries or get to know our young families and not feel good about the future of our country as well as our church.
Still, I can understand the source of the 8th grader’s question. There is a great deal of evil not just in our country but in the world. There are terror attacks that are perpetrated by the perversion of a religion that instructs its members to wage war throughout the world using all forms of terror, some of which should not be mentioned around our children. There is a great deal of evil in the world. It is understandable how people can become pessimists.
But pessimism is not the Christian attitude. Christians are optimists. Jesus Christ became one of us, died for us, gave us his life, and offers a personal relationship to each of us. Take the first reading for today, from the Book of Daniel. We heard about a time unsurpassed in distress. But we also heard that Michael, our prince, the great archangel, joins us in the battle against evil. The reading speaks about the end of time and the final destruction of the world. Even here we are optimists. We heard that those whose names are written in God’s book will escape the destruction coming upon mankind. We learned that the wise shall shine brightly and those who lead many to justice will be like the stars forever. In today’s Gospel we heard that when the time of devastation comes, God’s angels will gather His elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.
Those who lead many to justice will shine like the stars forever. This is where the readings about the end of time become less about something we hope will be in the far future and more about the way that we are living our faith now. We need to lead the many to justice. Biblical justice is more than fair treatment in a courtroom. In the bible, justice means living so united to God that our decisions reflect His Presence. We are called to lead others to justice. We are called to help them see His Presence in our actions, our care for the poor, the struggling, the sick, and all who are dependent on our compassion. On January 1st, 1972, the pope, St. Paul VI, proclaimed, “If you want peace, work for justice.” This message has animated many areas of the Catholic Church, particularly the Catholic Campaign for Human Development here in the United States.
The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, missions in Haiti, Africa and throughout the world, the Peace Corp, Doctors Without Borders, and so many other charitable organizations are examples of the wise, very often the young, shining brightly. These organizations of charity exist because there are people of faith in the world, people whose faith is so strong that no matter what horrors have been or are being thrust upon the world, they firmly believe that God will win the final battle against evil.
In the last century the world faced great evil, the rise of the Third Reich. In Europe, the British faced a real possibility of being conquered. All in England felt obliged to participate in the war in some way. They called it “doing my bit.” Each bit might seem to be only a little bit, but it was all part of a tremendous war effort. Like the Brits, we are facing evil that is doing everything to destroy us. Each of us can and must do our bit. That “bit” might be here in our country, or in another country. It might consist in giving a year to help destitute people, or a life. It might mean making a financial sacrifice so others can do this work. Our bit certainly means changing our lifestyle if that is what we need to do to fight evil within our homes. Whatever it may be, we all need to do our bit in the war against evil.
Our hearts hurt when we learn about terrorist attacks. The caliphate of evil, must be destroyed, but we have to realize that it is just one of the many forms of evil attacking God’s people. The attack on human life at every stage of life, from womb to tomb, substance abuse, pornography, immoral gains in business through the exploitation of others, the economic model that some must lose so others may gain, are all just some of the ways that the world is in the grip of evil. But we, people of faith, refuse to give in to pessimism. Michael is fighting with us. Jesus Christ is the Victor. We are optimistic that in the end, the end of time, evil will be defeated. And then we, people of faith, trust that God will join us to Himself as He wins the final battle.