Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beyond Days of Reckoning

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

My dear friends, do you know what a day of reckoning is? It’s a day of judgment. A time when wrongdoers are made to pay for all the bad things they have done, and those who have been good are rewarded for their efforts. I’m not sure, but I suspect that there are some of us here for whom we already know exactly when the day of reckoning is going to take place. It’s this coming Thursday, the 21st of November. Do you know why? That’s when the PSLE results will be released. For isn’t it true that many of us see this particular day as a time when misdeeds are punished, and hard work rewarded? I’m referring, of course, not so much to the children who sat for the exams, but more to their poor parents!

It’s sad but true, isn’t it, that so many of us seem to consider the PSLE as nothing more, or less, than a stress-producing, anxiety-inducing preparation to face a fearsome day of reckoning? Of course, it’s easy for me to talk, since I’m not a parent myself. And yet, don’t some of us wonder whether it really has to be this way? Whether the process of educating our children could be less burdensome? Don’t we wish someone would find a way help our kids cultivate a love for learning, by making it just a little bit more enjoyable?

I mention this not to make fun of those who may still be recovering from the trauma of the PSLE. But more because, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, our readings today describe something that looks a lot like a day of reckoning, a day when spiritual exam results are released. We see this perhaps most clearly in the first reading, which speaks of a day that is coming like a blazing sun. Burning up evil-doers, on one hand, and healing good people, on the other.

In the gospel too, Jesus describes the coming destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 AD, as something like a day of reckoning. A day when the fidelity of disciples is tested. Those who remain faithful to the Lord’s name, even in the face of terrible trials – including being betrayed by their closest relatives and friends – all these faithful disciples will be rewarded. Their endurance will win them their lives. The implication being that those who do not endure, those who fail to remain faithful, will be punished.

So we can perhaps be forgiven, my dear friends, if we were to see the coming of the Lord as nothing more than a fearsome day of reckoning. A time for the bad to be punished, and the good to be rewarded. So that, in order to prepare for this terrible day, we have to do what many children and parents in Singapore force themselves to do to get ready for the PSLE. We need to put in great effort. We need to endure the unavoidable pain of hard work.

In other words, we need to do something like what St Paul is asking the Thessalonians to do in the second reading. We need to go on quietly working and earning the food that we eat. Except that the work we have to do is not just the kind that puts money in our bank accounts, and food in our stomachs, but the kind that will help us obtain a good score when the heavenly PSLE results are released. We need to engage regularly in fervent prayer and in charitable works.

All of which is, of course, not wrong. We do need to prepare to face the Last Judgment. And just as it’s proper to work hard to get ready for the PSLE, so too is it appropriate to think that we need to work hard to prepare ourselves to stand before the Lord when he comes. But still, just as we may wonder whether there’s more to the PSLE than a traumatic process of pain and suffering (especially for parents), might we not also wonder whether the spiritual life is really meant to be all doom and gloom? Is there not perhaps some truth in that old saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?

Thankfully, the opening prayer that we offered earlier, helps to give us a more balanced view of what preparing for the Day of the Lord should feel like. For it seems significant that, in this prayer, we prayed not so much for the diligence to engage in hard work, or for the capacity to endure pain and suffering. Important though these may be. Instead, what we prayed for is the constant gladness of being devoted to (God), for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good… 

Constant gladness and lasting happiness born of service with constancy. This is what we prayed for. And what does this suggest, if not that – surprising as it may sound – our efforts to prepare for the coming of the Lord should really bring us joy, even in the midst of trial? Of course, this joy is not the kind of passing pleasure that we may get from indulging in various addictions, like shopping or gaming. It is instead perhaps more like the interior calm and profound peace that comes from being rooted in the love of God. From living a loving, purposeful, God-centred life, in which even trials and tribulations are considered joyful opportunities to bear witness. Consoling occasions for experiencing the presence of the Lord, who promises to give us, in time of trouble, an eloquence and a wisdom that none of our opponents will be able to resist or contradict…

I’m reminded of these consoling words from an old Christian song written by Michael Card…

There is a joy in the journey.
There's a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life.
And freedom for those who obey.
And freedom for those who obey.

Sisters and brothers, even if we may rightly consider the coming of the Lord as a day of reckoning, perhaps our preparations to face it can be far more peaceful and joyful than the experience of the PSLE. What can we do to claim this gift of peace and joy for ourselves, as we continue preparing for the Lord’s coming today and everyday?

No comments:

Post a Comment