33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

Should we ask challenging questions about our faith? Is asking tough questions about what we believe a sign of doubt and mistrust toward God? No, it shows just the opposite. Sincerely searching out for the answers to challenging questions is a sign of faith for it shows our confidence that there are good answers out there just waiting to be found.

If we Catholics decide to plug their ears and close-tight their eyes when challenging questions arise, our faith will never grow.  Our faith will never develop, in sophistication or strength, beyond what we knew when they were kids. We should ask tough questions about our faith because if we sincerely seek we will find, and our faith will be made all the stronger because of it.

Today’s readings raise two challenging questions. The first came up in the second reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews. It describes how the Old Testament priests once offered sacrifices, day-after-day, in an attempt to take away sins.  But Jesus Christ, our new high-priest, has offered a single sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. This raises a challenging question: Why do we have the sacrifice of the Mass, Sunday after Sunday? Sometimes people ask us, “Why do you Catholics do that? We are you trying to sacrifice Jesus over and over again? Are you saying that Jesus’ one sacrifice wasn’t enough?” No, that’s not what we believe.

At the Mass, the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not repeated, it is presented again, in its full reality, for us.  If the Mass actually repeated Christ’s sacrifice, then Jesus would be dying over and over again.  No, rather the Mass re—presents His sacrifice.  The Mass really brings to us, the one passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into glory of our savior.

Jesus’ sacrifice was accomplished once, but it is applied many times. Jesus’ sacrifice was accomplished only once in history, two thousand years ago and half a world away, but the graces of that sacrifice have been applied many places and many times. How do these graces come from His cross to us today? They come to us through the sacraments which Jesus gave to His one bride, His Church, to wash her, to nourish her, to make her perfectly beautiful, and to make her one with Himself. Jesus’ sacrifice was accomplished once, but its graces are applied to us many times, most especially here in the Eucharist.

The second challenging question from today’s readings comes out of the Gospel.  Here’s the context for the scene we heard in the Gospel:

As Jesus was making his way out of the temple area one of his disciples said to him, “Look, teacher, what stones and what buildings!”  Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple area, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?”

Jesus then proceeds to prophesize about the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world, when He says (as we heard,) “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

Well, the generation of the apostles is long gone and we’re still here, so the world hasn’t ended.  This raises the challenging question: are Jesus and the Gospel wrong? Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”

Notice how the apostles asked two questions.  First, “when will this happen,” and “what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?” The first question is a local one, about when the stones of the temple and Jerusalem will be thrown down.  The second is a cosmic one, about the end of the world. The apostles witnessed the first—the fall of Jerusalem—historically, but they experienced the second—mystically—in their own time.

Let me share you something written by present-day the Catholic author, Mark Shea.  (The internet is, by the way, a great place to discover good Catholic answers to tough Catholic questions.) Mr. Shea writes, “The prophecies of Jesus concerning the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD and his prophecies concerning his coming at the end of time are almost seamlessly intermingled (something that has caused endless puzzlement for Bible students as well as guaranteeing job security for biblical scholars all over the world.) Why do the gospel writers mix these prophecies together? Because, in a very real sense, the gospel writers see them as referring to nearly the same thing. This does not mean the gospel writers fancy that the world came to an end in 70 AD with the sack of Jerusalem. Rather, it means that the ‘death’ Jerusalem suffered when the Temple was destroyed is an image of the death Jesus suffered in the temple of his body, and an image of the death the Body of Christ [the Church] will one day undergo in the final climactic battle between light and darkness before the return of Christ.”

I would add that when Jesus says in the Gospel that ‘this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place’ He is not just speaking to the apostles Peter, John, James and Andrew for their time.  He is speaking to us and to every Christian generation.  From the fall of Jerusalem to the Second Coming, every Christian shares in the trials of the Church against the mystery of evil.

Again, from Mark Shea, “Disciples of Christ suffer and even die for Christ all over the world to this day. And, in our daily lives, all Christians experience various trials and tribulations ranging from illness to divorce to family difficulties to the inevitable death that we all must sooner or later endure. However, what some people are starting to forget is that what is true of Christ and of his individual followers is also true of the Church as a whole. Some people dream of a happy earthly destiny for the Church of Christ. They hope that, as the Church spreads out across the world, then perhaps little by little and bit by bit, every day in every way, the world will get better until the Kingdom of Heaven comes in the Great Rosy Dawn. Others, most notably in [the last] century, have tried to tinker together a man-made heavenly kingdom and have given it names like National Socialism, [Soviet] Communism, Maoism, Hedonism, Materialism, the Playboy Philosophy, the Triumph of Reason, etc. All these schemes share in the common hope of achieving the happiness of the resurrection without having to go to the trouble of dying. Several of the more energetic forms have, however, taken great trouble to kill on a massive scale. This “counterfeit messianism” is precisely what the Church warns us against. Indeed, the unbroken tradition of the Church holds precisely that [as the catechism says] “before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, the pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh” (CCC #675). The Church as a whole, like her members and like her Lord, will not get to take a shortcut. She too must pass through death to resurrection.”

Again, I would add to this that the great deception and trial are not limited to the final generation of Christians, these confront every age, including our own. This is partly why Pope Pius XI established the feast of Christ the King in 1925, which you will celebrate in a special way next Sunday.  Christ is our king, and His is our Way.  We will not accept pretenders to the thrown, for only by Christ’s reign will we be saved.

He, the Lord, is our inheritance!
He will show us the path to life,
the fullness of joys in His presence,
the delights at His right hand forever,
now, here at the sacrifice of the Mass
and later, forever in heaven.

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