One of the opportunities I have as Assistant Director of Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), is to record video reflections on the readings of the Scriptures proclaimed at daily Mass. I do so as part of larger group of colleagues at the Conference, along with lay and ordained leaders from around the country. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the readings for the life of faith today and to share them here, along with the written text of the reflections. To view these video reflections for past and upcoming celebrations of the Eucharist, visit the USCCB website.
Reflections on the Word | Saturday, 34th Week in Ordinary Time – Year 2 | December 1, 2018
In his poem “Little Gidding” from a collection of poems called “Four Quartets” the famous writer T.S. Eliot offered a reflection on the passage of time and how it changes our perception and on the hidden voice of God in life’s experiences:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.”
T.S. Eliot’s poem provides an appropriate array of images to put alongside the images from our Scripture readings for this very last day – indeed very last hours – of our liturgical year. These are readings from the very final liturgy of the church year. Mere hours after they are proclaimed, the season of Advent begins, ushering us into a new year of grace. And these readings are, like Eliot’s poem, an array of images about the passage of time, the hope that guides us as our lives unfold, and the promise that the best is yet to come. We haven’t seen nothing yet!
These themes are experienced in one way on this side of our liturgical year – the time of ending – and the very same themes are seen again ‘for the first time’ as Eliot says in Advent – the time of new beginning.
The Scripture readings throughout these last weeks have been from the book of Revelation – a text of the Bible well-known for its evocative imagery. But with that imagery comes the potential for dangerous misinterpretation as a ‘history of the future.’ The Book of Revelation isn’t a crystal ball in which we strain to see the details of a future time; instead Scripture scholars remind us that its purpose is more like a guarantee of a promise.
Today’s first reading has John describe a beautiful vision of the fulfillment of the ages, the joy of heaven, the reunion of all of creation and all people with the God of peace. And God is the eternal light of this holy time.
It is an important, hopeful and joyful image which crowns the Book of Revelation. We are reminded, that God saying he is “coming soon” should not upset us, or give us anxiety. The God who is coming is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who reigns victorious and who always comes to us when we least expect it, not to condemn us, but to show his love and mercy, and to rescue us. So just as we will begin a new church year in Advent and bid farewell to the old one – the theme of the Lord’s coming , which is a common theme to both times, calls us to be thankful for the ways God has touched our lives in the past year, and of the ways we have been the presence of God’s love to others. That loving vigilant presence is what today’s Gospel reminds us is part of our mission as Christian disciples on earth – vigilance against evil to be sure, but vigilance on behalf of the needs of others even more.
We also know over the past year, if we are honest with ourselves, that we have not been as vigilant as we ought. Our own difficulties may have obscured the hope of God’s promise of new life, and, perhaps through our own fear or lack of compassion and caring, we may have harmed the hope of others. Today’s Gospel also reminds us that we are so tempted to distraction or avoidance! We often neglect to see the signs of those in front of us, needing the care and attention we as people of faith can provide. Perhaps in the final hours of the church year, we might call to mind the ways we haven’t always done our best witnessing to God’s mercy and love and justice this past year, and hand over to God in prayer those failings and those we may have injured through thoughtlessness and commit ourselves to a new start in the Advent season. Doing so, we can be renewed in spirit and know that when the time comes, we will stand secure, and relieved, and joyful beside the “source of the longest river” and before the loving Son of Man.
God give you peace!