Summary: The New Mass gives us an opportunity to show to the world the earthly celebration of the heavenly banquet--the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride.
33rd Sunday in Course
13 November 2011
Spirit of the Liturgy
Stewart the Steward was patting himself on the back. His boss, a hard man without an ounce of patience or forgiveness, was returning today from a long business trip, during which he had bought and sold several companies. In the course of that trip he also put ten thousand people out of work and made a billion dollars, even in a horrible economy. Stewart had been one of three employees entrusted with his millions during his absence. The first had been given ten million dollars to manage; the second, five million; and Stewart, only one. All had gotten busy with their research. He had sat through Bernie Madoff’s spiel, and Jerry Corzine’s presentation for MF Financial. Stewart was certain that his competitors had put all their money with those two discredited people, and just as certain that they had lost all or most of the cash. Stewart was a gold bug, and since his boss gave him the million in gold coins, all he had to do was bury it someplace safe, and wait for the inevitable uptick.
But what is this? Employee One made his report. He bought Apple stock high, and it went higher–even doubled. The boss, obviously pleased, gave him a big promotion. Employee Two did the same, doubling his money by selling the Euro short. Stewart gulped. The big gold run-up had stalled, and the coins he had carefully hoarded were worth the same as they were when he got them. Stewart was put out on the street in the midst of the worst jobs market of his lifetime, and he could forget a letter of recommendation.
Sometimes we game our position, thinking that all we have to do is beat the perceived competition in order to win. Two guys were out walking in the prairie, and both spied a mountain lion, just as the mountain lion saw them and began its pursuit. The first fellow knelt down and began to tie on his running shoes. The second looked at him and said, “what are you doing? You’ll never be able to outrun that lion.” The first replied, “I don’t need to outrun the lion.”
But the spiritual life is not like that. It’s not a competition in which all we have to do is show ourselves better than murderers, embezzlers and child molesters. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, as St. Paul reminds us. There’s no sleeping on the job, no surrender to the “dark side of the Force.” All of us, in our individual ways, know that we are weak and sinful. That’s why we are here. The Holy Eucharist, the Mass, is not a celebration of how wonderful we are. It is a clinic for the sickness of sin. We come here because we have spent some of the time last week in minor darkness–what we call venial sin–and need the light of Christ to burn that darkness out. We come, hungry for real food, because we have been stuffing ourselves with spiritual potato chips and avoiding our spiritual vegetables. And the Father, who gives the real food for eternal life, gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit here through the reception of the Body and Blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Because in the last accounting, when the trumpet sounds the Day of the Lord either for all of us at once, or–more likely–for each of us individually, Jesus must look upon us and see in us an image of Himself. If He does, then, after a period of purification, we will be one with the Blessed Trinity forever. If He does not–if He does not see the love of God and neighbor manifest on our face and in our lives–we will face sudden and eternal destruction.
The Scriptures give us some very stark pictures of that destruction. So stark and terrible we don’t hear about them much. But let me share two. In the Book of Revelations, the eternal separation from God is called a lake burning with fire and sulfur. The ancients couldn’t think of a worse eternal torture–being burned alive while you choke on sulfur dioxide. It was like being cast into a volcanic cauldron. The other vision is from St. Peter. He says our adversary, the devil, goes about the world as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. C.S. Lewis expands on that theme, envisioning hell as an everlasting banquet at which our diabolical adversaries dine on the condemned souls.
Enough of contemplating what we all dread the most–eternal death. Live your life in charity–love of God and neighbor. Confess your sins and receive the Eucharist frequently as an aid to your spiritual growth. Then you can offer daily acts of hope–the virtue that lets us look confidently to our salvation and eternal reward, saved by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.