Homily of H.E. Mons. Claudio Gatti of November 15, 2009
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dan 12:1-3; Ps 15; Heb 10:11-14,18; Mk 13:24-32
It is a great joy to start the new week under the banner of Eucharist, the banner of love, participation and widening of the Word of God.
You know the reasons still preventing us from meeting together to widen it in the Bible classes, so the youth advised me to explain the Sunday readings with the intensity and depth of Bible sessions.
And today is the most suitable moment. If while reading the passages you did not understand much, do not be ashamed, in fact, even the commentators of these texts do not have a common understanding. I do not want to show them all, else you get bored, but I will explain the most pertinent to the Holy Scripture.
Let us start immediately with a clarification. We have two truths of faith: "Unity and Trinity of God" and "Jesus, true God and true Man". Let us pause before Jesus, humbly bow our heads and say, "Lord, tell us about You!". He can speak to us, either through inspiration or through previous studies. In Christ, one only person, there are two natures: human nature and divine nature. Early theologians, the Fathers of the Church, stated: "Double kind uniting in one person".
For instance, with regard to knowledge, Jesus has both the human knowledge, which He gradually acquires over time, and the divine omniscience. Beware of this claim, as some heretics while reading the last passage of the Gospel, "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mk 13:32), came to the conclusion that if Jesus is not omniscient, then He is not God! Do you understand where they got to? Instead, if you keep in mind the human knowledge of the person of Christ, you see that, in this case, the gradual learning is taken into account.
When Jesus was teaching, He was not referring only to those people, few or many, who were listening before Him, but also to all the people who, along the years, would have known the H. Gospel. I hope you understand this point and if someone would try mislead you, you will be sufficiently prepared to respond.
Jesus is therefore a theandric reality, this word derives from Greek and is composed of Tèos: God and Andròs: man, that is, true God and true man. When you say, "My God, Jesus, I recognize You as my God, I recognize You as my brother", is a correct statement, for the brotherhood between us and Christ is based precisely on the participation we have in the common Humanity. However, be careful! Every action performed by Jesus Christ has infinite value, for it is not exclusively made up of human nature, but embraces the whole person, so even the divine nature. So it is fair to say "God is suffering" because suffering is a part of human nature, but Jesus is also true God, so the suffering rises to an infinite value.
Now you clearly understand the theological reason why many times we said that it would have been sufficient the few drops of blood pouring out during Baby Jesus circumcision to save the world, because even if it is a human action, the theandric reality of Christ rises it to an infinite value. This is a clear point that you must keep in mind.
Let us begin with the H. Gospel. Here there is reference to a dual ending: the end of Jerusalem and the end of the World. For the Jews the destruction of Jerusalem would end human life, hence they identified the end of Jerusalem with the end of the World.
In the Sacred Scripture, when speaking of the Lord's Day: "In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, stars will fall from the sky and the powers of the Heavens will be shaken" (Mk 13:24-25), they always point to the actions of God, the end of Jerusalem is an action of God, which anticipates the experience, knowledge and acceptance of the end of the world. And you must also bear in mind that God (and Jesus is God) knows the future, so when He talks about "tribulation" He is referring to the siege around Jerusalem, which will lead to the destruction by the Romans.
Even the next sentence: "The sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, stars will fall from the sky and the powers that are in Heaven shall be shaken" (Mk 13:24-25), points out to the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, the evidence of the historians of that time tells us that in the years immediately preceding the end of Jerusalem there were upheavals, earthquakes and seaquakes. While we men do not know what will happen in a week or month, Jesus, being God, knows the future and had announced what would have preceded the destruction of Jerusalem.
"Then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory" (Mk 13, 26). This is a quick passage, here Jesus goes from the end of Jerusalem to the end of the world and this is difficult to understand. We too have not fully understood all that the Lord told us, we need time, we need further investigations and explanations.
Do not take this image from a literal point of view, rather do read this sentence from a potential point of view. Here the Lord wants to say: "What I have foretold is coming true, unfortunately for you, because of your rejection of God". You will remember when Jesus, going up the Calvary, said to Himself: "O Jerusalem Jerusalem, how often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you people were unwilling!" (Lk 13:34). Here again there is an image showing us the great suffering of Jesus who, even with His infinite love, was rejected by men. Well then, although this opportunity has been lost through men's fault, Jesus is not discouraged, but through other sufferings, is trying to snatch men from the greatest disgrace: the loss of God!
After all these centuries, thanks to the light of the Holy Spirit, we have been able to understand what is written in this passage of the Gospel.
I think it is the last verse of the yesterday's Gospel: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8). This passage is not just about the end of the world, but every intervention of God. Eucharistic miracles, the Trinitarian theophanies and the Episcopal ordination are the great interventions of God that have taken place here, in the thaumaturgic place, thus the meaning of the passage is: "When God will work something great, will the world accept it? Will it show faith regarding these actions?".
You see how important it is to know the Word of God!
Then He resumes again the discourse about the end of the world. "And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens" (Mk 13:27). This statement means that salvation is available to everyone. He does not say: "those who have been baptized, who have known the Gospel, who have received the sacraments", but "the elect" in general. "Elect" is the one who is called, chosen. Every man is called, every man is chosen by God regardless of culture, practicing religion and position he has in society. What matters is that man would freely respond to this "election" from God. However - it is not me saying it, but it is repeated many times in the letters of God - there are two people who had no choice. Who are they? Bishop and Marisa: "I did not ask him if he wanted to become Bishop, I said to him: You are Bishop". And so it was and continues to be so.
"When you see these things...", back to the discourse on the destruction of Jerusalem, "...you know that He is near", that is, His day is at hand. "This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled", He is not referring to the end of the world, but to the destruction of Jerusalem. We are at around 36 - 37 AD; the end of Jerusalem took place in the seventies. Do a calculation: there is a generation in between. Hence "this generation shall not pass away before all this has been achieved". "Heaven and earth will pass away but my words shall not pass away" (Mk 13:30), i.e. Jesus' teachings are good for all ages, for all nations, for every individual.
And in this way I believe that the Gospel is more understandable, more acceptable.
The letter to Hebrews begins with the comparison between the Jewish priesthood and the only true and eternal priesthood, the one of Christ and those who participate in His priesthood.
The priests of the Jewish people would give non-stop offerings to God through the sacrifice of animals, but they were limited offerings, which did not reach purification and redemption, they were merely symbolic to remind Jews that they had to purify, as far as possible, through repentance of sins and observance of the Decalogue, which was essential for them. These sacrifices were used to give an incentive to keep men, as far as it was possible at that time, in contact with God.
Christ is in a completely different situation, having offered one only sacrifice for sins. It is now clear: he suffered, shed blood, in a certain sense He "exaggerated" in suffering, and made sure that this suffering was taken up by His divine nature. What is the final effect? Total perfection!
When a validly ordained priest, anywhere, is celebrating the H. Mass, is not making a sacrifice different from yesterday, or different from what will make tomorrow; but it is the same infinite sacrifice of Christ, for He is God.
We say "he makes it actual", hence he is making actual something that has already happened. We humans, because we are limited and small, are not even able to make actual a day of our life. But God can do it because there is no limit for the Lord, neither of space nor time. Thus Jesus Christ is the same Jesus who in a moment, during the H. Mass, will live the passion, death and resurrection. Each of us, by attending the H. Mass, can live Christ's Passion beginning from the Garden of Gethsemane, the Sanhedrin, Pilate's hall and up to Calvary, just as Our Lady experienced it and who was under the Cross with John. There is no difference, in fact, and while changing the appearance, substance and reality are the same.
Then here is Christ who, having accomplished the mission the Father entrusted Him with, is by divine privilege, at His right. And, for the sacrifices He faced through His humanity, is a winner who gradually will be able to defeat all of his enemies, the last enemy to be defeated will be death. This sentence is not mentioned here, but it is Paul stating it in another passage: "And since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (Heb 10:13-14). What does this mean? Christ - if we comply with Him - is not just taking away our sins, but He is leading us to such a high condition that Paul himself, repeating Christ's exhortation, is describing it in this way: "You'll be perfect as your Father in Heaven".
Just think, those who are sanctified are made perfect! Perfect, I say! We should not give it a trivial and common explanation. By saying "perfection" you are doing today a new discovery. We reach a level of holiness and spiritual height that man alone could have never achieved. If you get to this level of perfection it is thanks to God's intervention.
Here's an example: Imagine a scale going from sin to perfection. In this scale sainthood comes first, which is attained through the forgiveness of sins; one would stop here and it would be already a big thing, keeping the current state of grace. But what is Christ doing? On His own initiative and with His power elevates men's holiness, elevating it to a higher level than they could have achieved.
As St. Augustine is reminding us, for the sanctification there is the need of human consent: "God created you without asking your consent, but He does not save you without your consent". After the consent you reach sanctification and man is all in one with Christ. Christ gives us an additional gift, He brings us even higher. Here is perfection: we get much higher than what human nature is capable of achieving!
Then there is prophet Daniel who, with his eye enlightened by God, allows us to pierce through time, centuries and reach the end of the world.
Again, we should not interpret the Word of God according to a strict grammatical and syntactical meaning, or else we get confused.
When in the Scripture you read this sentence: "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan 12:2), it does not mean that some people wake up and others will not. That "many" refers to the multitude: the multitude of men will wake up. They will wake up because there will be the final resurrection: there will be another great and miraculous intervention of God. And rightly so, according to the vision of God, as man is composed of soul and body, the body must follow the soul's condition in the final situation. The soul will be perfect or sanctified and at this point, whatever imperfection had been taken away and deleted. But man is not worthy to be before God, has no right to go to Heaven! It would have been sufficient and quite great if man were happy in the Waiting Garden, where one can see the Virgin Mary and Jesus, true God and true man, but not the mystery of God.
To get to enjoy the beatific vision we need another intervention by God in order to render the human condition able to contemplate divinity. In fact, the difference between human condition and divine condition is infinite, hence man is in no way able to fill this unlimited distance; then it is God giving us a chance by putting us in a position to view Him.
Here it is, we can say, the last great gift, the last great gift that God, by His free and sovereign initiative, is granting men so that they may really get, whilst not being worthy, the infinite and eternal joy that will never fade. But it is a joy that has "potential" and "growth" value. That is to say, the more we will know God in the beatific vision, the more we will love Him. The more we love Him, the more we grow in His likeness that is expressed in the presence of grace; hence we will be in a never ending growth of spiritual beauty!
I told you what the Lord has inspired me, in times of particular sufferings as the day I experienced yesterday and I give it to you. Make the best use of it! I hope that everything I have explained would not only remain a source of joy from a literary, theological or abstract point of view, but also a reality of life for the salvation of the world, for the rebirth of the Church and for the glory of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Praised be Jesus Christ!