Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Daniel 12:1-3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 16:5, 8-11
Second Reading: The Letter to the Hebrews 10:11-14, 18
Gospel: According to St. Mark 13:24-32
The fifth and often forgotten branch of the United States Armed Forces is the Coast Guard. According to Wikipedia, and who could doubt anything written therein, the Coast Guard was founded in 1790 at the request of Alexander Hamilton as the “Revenue Marine.” Their task was to work for Secretary of Treasury Hamilton by collecting customs duties in the nation’s seaports. Their motto then, as now, is Semper Paratus – “Always Ready.”
This week’s readings remind us that we need to be like the Coast Guard and always be ready. Very often those who write about the ‘end times’ try to shoehorn present events into biblical prophecies from centuries ago. I remember as a kid hearing that some people believed that the creatures described in Revelation 9:7-9 were the Beatles: creatures with men’s faces, women’s hair, and metal breastplates (electric guitars). It made sense to me, but then again I was nine years old.
There’s ‘being ready’ as in seeing every present event as corresponding to something in Daniel or Mark’s Gospel or Revelation, and then there’s ‘being ready’ as in knowing that at any moment we might be called home.
One of the great lessons that my dad has taught me is that the Hail Mary speaks to us about the two most important moments in our lives. This beautiful prayer concludes with the phrase “now and at the hour of our death.” Are there any moments more important than those two? What I am doing right now, in the present, is the only thing that I really have any control over; and the state of my soul at the moment of death is the only real concern that any person should ever worry about.
For each of us there will come a moment in time when these two events – now and the hour of death – become one. When that time comes, a time that none of us can avoid no matter how much we try, it will not matter to us whether the end of the world is imminent or whether it is a thousand years in the future. All that will matter in that moment is that the end of our world has come.
It can be fun to think about and read about the end of the world. Besides the scriptural books and passages that are apocalyptic there are also some great works of fiction. My favorites are a series of books written by the Canadian Catholic author Michael D. O’Brien. The “Children of the Last Days” novels are well written and insightful, but they don’t try to be anything more than that – novels that can make us think about the world in which we live and the state of our souls in that world. They teach us that all souls have an important role to play in the drama of history, even when that role is brief and mostly hidden from the eyes of the world. But Jesus warns us that when it comes to the end of the world, “of that day or hour, no one knows,” and so we should not waste our time trying to figure out if the end is near. We should be wise, as the prophet Daniel tells us in the first reading, and that probably means that we should take a cue from the Coast Guard and always be ready.