Homily: The Last Hour of the Hike

November 14, 2021 – Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3 / Hebrews 10:11-18 / Mark 13:24-32

The following is a homily I will be delivering at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today:

When I traveled to Haiti back in 2011, it was announced one day that we would be visiting Our Lady of Mt. Carmel chapel. We were told it was located “way up in the mountains.”

We traveled by truck for over an hour and a half. The road stopped at that point and we needed to travel the remainder of the distance on foot. The journey in the truck, while bumpy, was enjoyable. We spent time together talking and looking forward to the next experience.

The beginning of the walk proved enjoyable as well. I had new hiking boots; I had slept well the night before; it was a beautiful day. However, after nearly an hour of steep incline, I was wearing out.

I asked how much longer until we arrived. Our Haitian guide smiled and pointed to a barely visible building higher up in the mountains, “Not long,” he said. “Maybe another hour.”

My heart sank and I was suddenly exhausted.

The experience once we arrived at the chapel was transformational. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

However, the last hour it took to get there nearly did me in. It was physically and mentally draining. More than once I thought, “This couldn’t possibly be worth it.”

Thank goodness I got through it because it WAS worth it.

******************

We are well into November and look ahead with excitement to the coming of Jesus at Christmas. Christmas will be a time of joy and full of limitless possibilities.

However, these last few weeks of the liturgical year challenge us. They are like the last hour of that mountain hike.

I’ll be honest with you: I find it difficult to preach this time of year using the somber scripture readings offered to us.

While Christmas reminds us of the first coming of Jesus and all of the joy that comes with it, the Church uses the time leading up to Christmas to remind us of the second coming of Christ, often referred to as Judgment Day.

Here are some examples from the past week:

On Tuesday, the gospel told the story of an angry Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple.

From the Book of Wisdom on Wednesday we heard: “Terribly and swiftly shall he come against you, because judgment is stern…”

And in Friday’s gospel: Jesus said to them, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.”

Sprinkled throughout the week were phrases such: Be careful! Be watchful and alert! Be on your guard!

Today’s gospel reading delivers more of the same. The Gospel of Mark offered us this frightening image: 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…”

I ask myself at times why we need these frightening reminders and images. Why the urgency to be alert, and watchful, and on guard?

I am uncomfortable with the image of Jesus wielding a whip, driving out moneychangers, and knocking over tables. I prefer the image of Jesus with a child on his lap, or teaching his disciples, or crying at the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb. 

I am someone who looks for, and embraces, the beauty and goodness of our faith. I am fed by the joyful anticipation of eternal life in heaven that awaits us. Hope is the anchor of my faith.

As much as I long for these things and do my best to share the joy of the gospel, I realize I need to accept the fact we will be judged. We acknowledge it each time we pray the Creed together: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

So, as much as we want to put end times and judgment out of our minds, we must begrudgingly accept reality.

Our life on this earth, one way or the other, will end; our day of judgment will come.

When that occurs, eternal life is not automatic. There is no golden ticket; showing our Christian membership card at the gate will not admit us to heaven. We must earn our way in by the way we live our lives.

Unfortunately, we face many challenges along the way.

There are obstacles in our path to heaven – some placed there by external forces, others self-inflicted. Society promotes a self-centered existence. God and faith and a true sense of community are a distant memory to many.  

In addition, our internal demons can cause us to veer off-course. We are weak and are tempted by what the world tells us is good and desirable. We envy others; we seek immediate gratification; we ignore the needs of the less fortunate; we lack gratitude.

Bottom line: We struggle to give priority to God; and the amount of time and attention we give to God is the exact standard by which we will be judged.  

There is no getting around it. Reminders of Judgment Day are tough love by the Church.

The reality of Judgment Day is why, as I mentioned earlier, hope is the anchor of my faith.

We hear these words of committal in the Rite of Christian Burial: In sure and certain hope of eternal life, we commend our loved one to Almighty God…”

This sure and certain hope comes from a place of trust. Our faith is in a merciful and loving God, a God that sacrificed his own Son to make eternal life possible. He wants us to join him; there is unlimited seating in heaven!

We don’t go have to hike the mountain alone – Jesus wants to join us on the journey. He will face each obstacle with us – the ones placed in front of us by society as well as those for which we are responsible.

We simply need to invite Jesus to walk with us. When we do that, we show humility. We are saying to him, “I know I can’t do this alone.” It lets him know that we love him and desire to be with him. Fear melts away and is replaced with hope. Anything is possible; no obstacle is insurmountable.

We don’t need to see Judgment Day as a frightening experience. Instead, we should see it as transformational – our earthly existence transforms into something new and wonderful, beautiful beyond our imagination.

If we have invited Jesus into our lives and into our hearts, we will not face Judgment Day alone.

Jesus will not be there as our accuser but will instead stand alongside us as our friend and advocate.

Reaching the destination at the top of the mountain makes the last hour of the hike worthwhile.

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