Walking to Heaven

 

            I thought I’d begin today by telling you my favorite story about Fr. John LaTondress.  Fr.  LaTondress was pastor here at St. Ignatius from 1978 to 1988.  He was quite a great man and a wonderful priest.  He was also a stitch.  I got here in 1979,  a young priest, only 32 and weighing 125 pounds.  I figured that I might be assigned to some conservative old coot, so I stopped on Highway 52 on the way down from New Jersey and put on my clerical shirt.  Fr. John showed up riding a motorcycle and wearing jeans.  (By the way, now I've become a conservative old coot.)

 

    Fr. John  used to love to tell the following story: One day he had to pick up something at the store and decided to go for a little stroll.  As he was walking down Tarpon Ave a teenager drove by and recognized him.  He called out, “Fr. John, where are you going?” 

 

            “I’m going to heaven,” Fr. John replied. 

 

            “But where are you really going? the teenager asked. 

 

            “I’m really going to heaven,” Fr. John replied. 

 

            “But where are you really, really going,” the kid persisted. 

 

            “I’m really, really going to heaven,” Fr. John said, “but I’m stopping off at Publix on the way.”

 

            It’s a good story to remember when we are confronted with the gloom and doom of the readings for the end of the Church year like this Sunday. 

 

            The first reading from the Book of Daniel talks about the end of time being a time of unsurpassed stress where some who die shall be in everlasting horror and disgrace.  The Gospel reading from the Apocalyptical sections of Mark presents the end of time as being the day of tribulations, when the earth will shake and even the stars will fall out of the sky.  Scary stuff, these end of the world readings. 

 

            But are they?  Look again at that first reading: Daniel prophesies that many will live forever.  The wise will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament and those who lead the many to justice will be like the stars forever.  And in Mark Jesus adds, “the elect will be gathered from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

 

            The early Christians did not look at the Second Coming and End of Time with terror.  Instead they saw it as a time when the Lord would return to his people and correct the injustices of the world.  Good people, Christians,  were being put to death for the Lord in the most horrible ways.  Throughout the world, little children were starving to death while rich people ate heartily. The conquering Romans, like the Greeks and Persians before them, had no respect for any life other than their own and killed the population of whole cities, men, women and children viciously and randomly. 

 

            This is not what God created the world to be.  The world was suffering from sin.  Therefore, the Christians prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus, Maranatha. Come and recreate your world into your image.”

 

            The world has not changed all that much in its barbarity.  People are still killed for whom they are.  Just a few years ago we heard about genocide in Europe, in Bosnia, and in Africa in Darfur.    Here, in our country, good people are still persecuted when they refuse to join the latest mores of society.  If you are not in favor of gay marriage and abortion you will be held up to scorn by many in the academia and the media.  On the other side of the spectrum, if you are to say that the way of war should not be the way of the most civilized, advanced country of the world, then you have to be prepared to be labeled as not being patriotic, even treasonous.  The world has not changed that much.  People who hold their convictions tightly to themselves are still persecuted, even put to death in some parts of the world.

           

            And children are still hungry, still starving to death in Africa, South America, and, really, throughout the world. 

 

            The world has not changed all that much, and yet, it has.  The major change in the world is that with Jesus Christ there is hope.  There is hope that war will not have the last word.  There is hope that starvation will become a bad memory.  There is hope that racism and sexism will not in the end dance a jig together.  There is hope that oppression will not have a lasting foothold over the vulnerable.  There is hope that those who do evil will not prevail.

 

            Evil is not part of God’s plan.  But we are part of that plan. The visions we heard today rely on us to take a role in the conquest of the Kingdom.  We are assured that if we take up the battle of good against evil, good will prevail and we will join in the triumph of God’s forces. 

 

            Listen to the “then” section of the Gospel.  “Then you will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.”  That’s the Good New, the Gospel.  We will see triumph of goodness and be present as the Lord gathers his own to himself.

 

            Believing in the Lord and hoping in this promise, we turn our attention to the work at hand: preaching the Gospel through our words and deeds, even to those in darkness.  Even when we feel ourselves engulfed by darkness.  Still, we proclaim the Gospel, for we believe that light is coming.  We do not know when.  We do not know where.  But we do know the he, the Lord of Light is coming.  And so we continue to pray in the prayer he taught us, “Thy Kingdom Come.”