33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 12, 2022
Mercy Center Mass of Gratitude
In these latter days of November – every year – we listen to passages from the Scriptures that point to the end times. And we’ve been listening to such passages for centuries, with no clear evidence that the end times – the Day of the Lord – are on our doorstep. Yet, human nature being what it is, many of us can easily take to reading life as it surrounds us with an eye to the coming of the Lord – to that inevitable Day of Judgment.
Who wouldn’t wonder if these were the end times? … Our world seems to be turned upside down. … Innocent lives are confronted with the horrors of war. … Immigrants are given little hope in their journey to better their own lives and those of their children. … Our communities and country are more polarized than ever. … And our Church has hardly presented itself as the spotless bride of Christ, particularly during the past few years.
What else could all of these things be pointing to, if not the coming of the Lord in judgment? … And yet, Jesus seems to approach such signs in a different way, doesn’t he? “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
In other words, Jesus seems to be saying: Don’t become anxious and worried about those things that are beyond our ability to change. Rather, he calls us to focus our attention on those things for which we have responsibility and over which we have some influence.
In short, he seems to encourage us to spend less of your time worrying about the signs of this age or judging the shortcomings of those who appear to have missed the mark in their embrace of the gospel mission entrusted to our care. Instead, implicit in today’s gospel passage is a question that each of us should ask ourselves every day: How will I best live this day as an authentic disciple of the Lord? … How willing am I to pay the price of discipleship – to imitate Jesus and his life of selfless love, mercy and forgiveness – come what may? To what extent are we willing to embrace the gospel message?
Jesus is rather clear in reminding us, especially during these latter days of the Church year, that the mission of living the gospel is our mission, in season or out of season – whenever the opportunity to live the gospel arises in our lives.
When I was in the seminary 40 years ago, I had a good friend by the name of John Petrasko. John was a fine man with a passionate commitment to the mission of the gospel. I suspect some of you remember him well. John was ordained a priest in 1982 – a year before I was ordained. He served as an assistant pastor for about 5 years and then was appointed as campus minister here at Misericordia. It was during his time on campus that he really seemed to excel in preaching, counseling and modeling service through the many mission trips that he organized for college students. … Sadly, it was also during this time that John was diagnosed with cancer while on a mission trip to Mexico. … He died just a few months later in his ninth year as a priest.
I share John’s story with you today less because of his untimely death and far more because of the legacy that he left to me and my colleagues in ministry who knew him so well. Quite often as seminarians and as young priests when we’d be together for a meeting or for some down time, we’d spend our time discussing hotbed issues of the day, our own pet peeves, and all sorts of things that from the vantage point of life years later, really weren’t battles worth fighting.
John was a man of few words. In the midst of such conversations, most of the time John would just listen. Occasionally he’d say something. And when he did, he’d bring our discussions and arguments to a close by asking this one question that has reverberated in my mind and heart for years as a priest and as a bishop: “Gentlemen – stop and listen to yourselves! Whose kingdom are you building? Your own? Or God’s?”
More than anything else, today’s gospel confronts us with the reality of our lives as disciples of Jesus and the urgency of living its message and building God’s kingdom. Jesus’ message, however, is not one of dread. It’s a message of hope.
There will always be unsettling signs in every age. Jesus’ response to such signs, however, is a simple one. Don’t worry about them! Instead, consider carefully on how you – and I – live our lives as disciples. … Recall Jesus’ words reminding us that we will be judged less on how reverently we worship and how precisely we articulate our beliefs – and much more on the simple acts of mercy that we’ve embraced in our lives. “When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. Ill and you comforted me.”
How providential that on this day of remembrance and thanksgiving, the Word of God invites us to reflect upon the challenge that we have all received to embrace Jesus’ example of selfless love and service in our lives as disciples. For fifty years, Mercy Center – and more importantly, the Sisters of Mercy and so many others who have ministered with them – have provided life-giving care, faithful accompaniment, and selfless love and service to aged and frail sisters and lay residents. What a blessing Mercy Center has been to the countless numbers of lives that have been touched by the grace of God through the hands and hearts of God’s faithful servants.
While change is never easy and we grieve the loss of that which is comfortable and familiar, may our prayer today around this table of the Lord be one of gratitude and hope: gratitude for all that has been and hope for what will be through the grace and goodness of God.
For ultimately, sisters and brothers, in these latter days of the Church year, we’re challenged to seek the lasting things of God that will always remain – the things of the heart – rooted in Jesus’ example of selfless love, service, mercy and forgiveness. In the end, the only thing that will matter is whose kingdom we occupied our time building. … Our own. … Or God’s.