Summary: Paul is not focusing on sinful behavior we should avoid, but on exemplary behavior we should practice.
24th or Last Sunday of the Year 2016
The five hundred year period since the end of the Renaissance has been marked by two events we Catholics can realistically call religious catastrophes. The first, of course, was the Protestant revolution most agree was begun by Martin Luther in 1517. The Church has undergone many reformations in her history. They were led by saints in such a way that what resulted was in continuity with the early Church, but more one, more holy, more Catholic and more apostolic. What Luther began a half-millennium ago was a true revolution, so that the ecclesial communities that resulted were less unified, less sanctified, less universal and less in union with the tradition of the apostles. Even Luther himself recognized some of the damage done by the revolution, especially to the institutions that serve the poor and weak. The changes brought about by the Council of Trent, by contrast, were true reforms, changes we benefit from even today.
The second catastrophe, of course, was the so-called Enlightenment, a period of religious skepticism authored by men like Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Rousseau and Diderot. From that unhappy time we harvested the unhappy fruits produced by biblical scholarship out of sync with the traditions of the Church. And one of those blighted products was the notion that Jesus made none of the prophecies we heard today, and that all the Gospels were written well after the destruction of Jerusalem. They wrote that Mark wrote the first Gospel, a simple one in poor Greek, and Matthew and Luke were not only not written by St. Matthew and St. Luke, they were written toward the end of the first century, perhaps fifty years after the ministry of Jesus.
Protestant theologians convinced many Catholics over the last two centuries of the late date of Matthew because they needed to cast doubt on the authenticity of his account of the meeting at Caesarea Philippi, when Jesus told St. Peter that He would found His Church upon the “Rock,” Peter, the first Pope. Folks began to believe that the story was added to Matthew’s Gospel by some bishop of Rome or his followers. The trouble with that is such an idea casts doubt on the historical truths contained in the Word of God. If you take away the inerrancy of Scripture, the whole of the Christian faith is jeopardized.
So believe it: Our Lord certainly did predict that the failure of the majority of Jews to believe in Him would have terrible consequences. He did foresee the Jewish revolt of 67 AD, and the siege of Jerusalem, its capture and the destruction of the Temple. This warning to flee the city was taken to heart by the Christians of Jerusalem, so that they fled across the Jordan before the final battle, and were not captured and sold into slavery by the Roman general Titus in 70 AD.
If we believe in the prophecy, we believe in the God-man who made the prophecy. We must take also to heart His statements about other Messiahs, especially political ones. When Our Lord returns, as we declare each week in the Credo, there will be no doubt. His coming will be like the lightning from a massive rainstorm. No one will mistake it. And at that point, it will be too late to repent, too late to change hearts. So we must continually repent, seek the Lord in the sacraments, and share the Gospel with our friends and neighbors. That is our mission until the return of the Son of Man.
Now we should re-read the words of St. Paul to the Christians of Colossae. Paul is giving us specific instructions on how we should live the Christian life. We have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and now share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light. Here Paul is not focusing on sinful behavior we should avoid, but on exemplary behavior we should practice. Let’s consider each in turn: bearing fruit in good works means the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. What do we plan to do this coming week and month? Are we going to help out the St. Vincent de Paul charity during Advent, collecting food and giving alms? Will we continue to pray for the living and the dead, especially the souls in the anteroom of heaven we call Purgatory? Will we instruct the ignorant, encourage the doubtful, visit the sick and those in prison?
We are also to increase in the knowledge of God. Do we study the Scriptures? Do we read books by and about the saints? When we watch television, do we give appropriate time to upbuilding movies and shows such as seen on EWTN?
And, lastly, do we give thanks? The prayers of thanksgiving and praise should always be on our lips, even when things seem to go badly. This is, indeed, a valley of tears, but if we are faithful, if we accept the forgiveness and grace of God available in penance and holy communion, and act as Jesus did, then a marvelous eternal celebration is held in store for us with Christ and His Blessed Mother, enfolded in the embrace of the Trinity, with every tear wiped away, and every need fulfilled.
In nomine Patris. . .