The readings at Mass become more apocalyptic at the end of the Church year. They become more anxiety provoking and less comforting. Images of harvesting the earth, the winepress of God’s fury and the trials that Jesus describes in the Gospel are not the sort of thing on which one wants to meditate immediately before bed. The Gospel is fascinating because it offers a window into human nature, it tells us about ourselves. I think that as Jesus was speaking to the people there was an edge of frustration or irritation in his voice.
Even this late into his ministry, despite the parables emphasizing that we will not know the hour or the day; despite being warned that the master will come when we least expect his return, those questioning Jesus don’t, and didn't, get it. They want specifics: When will the Kingdom of God arrive? Where will it be? How will we be able to tell when it is coming? Because Jesus’ questioners lack faith they are willing to follow any charlatan who tells them what they want to hear. It is no different today.
What would Jesus have said about the people's behavior at the turn of the millennium when 2000 arrived? Many of the quote religious prognostications unquote were beyond bizarre, as were the individuals making them. People hung onto the words of self-appointed evangelists and interpreters who were nothing more than soothsayers spreading alarm.
Thirty-six years and one week ago, on November 18, 1978, over 900 men, women and children died in Guyana—Jonestown, Guyana—after years of following the rantings of a mad man. Jim Jones disguised his combination of egocentric and delusional thinking with the veil of religion. He was nothing but a lethal psychopath.
Jesus cautions his hearers, He warns us, not to be taken in by false messengers. My sense is that the degree of skepticism toward claims about the coming of the Kingdom of God, and details of what will happen, should be proportional to the degree of certainty and detail with which those claims are put forth. What Jesus described in the Gospel is not only what is to come. It is a description of the time in which we are living and the times in which people have lived since he spoke these words. Natural disaster, war, discord within the community, and dissension within the family are facts of human life. These facts have existed and persisted since the beginning. Those who follow Jesus have been persecuted since the crucifixion. They will continue to be persecuted until the second coming. Little has changed. Our only option is to wait and pray in faith. "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done."
I celebrate Mass every Tuesday at 7:45 at the convent of the Carmelites for the Aged and Infirm in Framingham. Thus I have a lot of Tuesday homilies to prepare. Next week I will give the sisters three days of recollection with Mass, benediction and conference each day. They do very fine work.
The photos below are from the advantage of being able to get into churches and chapels on "off hours" or backstage as it were. These are some shots of "church hardware," the various vessels etc. that are necessary for appropriate liturgy.
The first two are from the Abbey of Regina Laudis showing two thuribles, the swinging pots (inelegant term but accurate) for incense, and the bells, one of which is run during the Consecration, an action that has fallen out of favor in many churches (pity).
The next three are from Campion Center. The first shows part of setting up for a funeral Mass. When I was minister part of my job was to prepare the chapel for funeral Masses. That involved counting out the hosts (after an estimate of how many might be needed) and getting the various vessels prepared. I tried to do some of this the night before as the morning of was generally a degree of controlled chaos.
The second two are candelabra in one of the sacristies. The freshly polished ones were polished by Ignatius Hung, SJ while he was here on sabbatical. Unlike me he is meticulous in doing things such as that to the point that he dipped everything with wax on it into hot water to get it off.
The last two are from St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home church, taken on Holy Saturday.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD