Sunday, November 18, 2012

Genuine Christian Spirituality

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 13:24-32

Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation 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. "And then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Promised One is near, right at the door. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."But as for that day or hour, no one knows it--neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son--no one but the Father .

As we have heard both Daniel and Jesus today, we can see the main significance of the end-time in the fact that it'll be the time of God's final judgment.

There will be a great separation: the people who have lived in conformity with God's commandments will enter into the fulness of salvation. Individuals who have only lived for themselves, who remain hardened in a completely self-seeking stance, will be barred from sharing God's life in eternity.

I don't think we can deny that Jesus regarded this prospect of final judgement, and the possibility of either redemption or damnation, as an important aspect of his whole message, and he often appealed to people in vivid and urgent language to stand ready, to prepare themselves, and to live in such a way that they might confidently face God's judgement if the end of the world were to happen tomorrow.

We don't have to be literal-minded about the lurid and violent images of the "time of distress". But the core meaning of apocalyptic preaching is something that we should take seriously and our spirituality as Christian believers and disciples should always have an apocalyptic aspect.

Christian spirituality should always be conscious, for example, that the purpose of human life doesn't lie, ultimately, within this world. We're destined for eternity, and that means an authentic Christian spirituality never places an ultimate value on anything that belongs to this world: material wealth, the achievements of worldly power or social status, even the emotional ties that naturally mean so much to us. At the end, we leave them all behind.

 Religion, then, for us, properly understood, is more of a journey towards our final destination: fulness of life with God. Our life on earth is an opportunity to render our duties towards God, the source of everything that exists. It's not a matter, as religion seems to have been re-construed in modern consumer culture, as a sort of pleasant pastime, a set of vague activities that foster human warmth and community spirit.

Secondly, the apocalyptic dimension of Christian faith should help to make us aware that our life could end at any time. Every day we should live, as Jesus implies, as though we might meet God before we reach the end of it.

This has always been an aspect of genuine Christian spirituality: that life is short and the hour of death unknown, as we say in the prayers of the funeral service. Many people used to say prayers before going to bed at night made explicit reference to the prospect of death, and they asked God to be merciful and to receive them into his company if they died before the morning.

Again, you can get the impression that many church people now don't give much serious thought to the prospect of their own death or anyone else's, and are spiritually ill-prepared to face it when it happens, especially when it happens suddenly.

A third aspect of apocalyptic spirituality which is valuable is that it encourages us to interpret disasters and catastrophes in the light of our faith in God. In the early centuries of the Church's history many men and women got so weary of the corrupt state of society that they withdrew to the remote desert areas to spend their lives in prayer and reflection, searching for God and preparing to meet God. This was their response to the disaster of a society in terminal decline: to concentrate their energies more single-mindedly on God.

 Nearer our own time, after the end of the Second World War, there was a surge in applications to the contemplative orders of men and women because having witnessed the destruction and cruelty of the War, many people became very reflective about the purpose of life and life after death. Again, this had an apocalyptic tenor to it: reacting to disaster with a more careful fostering of spiritual life.

 We can ask ourselves: how do we follow these examples in the collapsing culture of our own time? It's certainly right that Christians should line up with other people to protest - for example - about unjust wars, threats to civil liberties, efforts to create a political climate that tolerates torture and brutality, the destruction of the environment, and so on. These are the apocalypses of our own day.

 But at the same time let's not underrate the value of small, individual gestures. The person who responds to the corruption of surrounding society by quietly saying his or her prayers every day, by refusing to go along with dishonest practices in the workplace, by living simply and renouncing the whole indulgent philosophy of consumerism, is also getting ready for God's judgement in the way Jesus invites us to.

A lot of these small actions might seem futile to people with no faith, but for us it's a question of doing what God wants, not what impresses other people or achieves "results". The real significance of our small efforts of faith is often hidden and goes unnoticed. But they're no less valuable for that.

 Last of all, let's not lose sight of the fact that the main emphasis of apocalyptic preaching is hope, not disaster, God's love and will to save, not anger at human sinfulness. If we genuinely treat our lives here and now as a preparation for our future destiny, and behave accordingly, there should be no need to worry about God's negative judgement. But it's surely also true that we can't behave selfishly, cruelly, blindly towards other people's suffering, and expect God not to discriminate against us.

St. Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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