(The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia, on Sunday, November 14, 2004.)
The mood in the world of nature all around us has drastically changed within recent days. Gone are the brightly-colored leaves which clothed the trees in shades of orange, rust, red and yellow; instead these leaves lie fallen and dead beneath tree branches which stretch out gaunt and bare. Gone are comfortable day-time temperatures and bright blue skies; instead, a chilling wind blows across our neighborhoods and skies seem grey and gloomy. Yes, the mood-change is evident in the world of nature: all seems stark and somber. Moreover, the mood-change seems reflected in the Scripture readings for this weekend's liturgy. We hear about lack of permanence and incompleteness, about persecution, difficulty and misunderstanding, about the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and end of this world. These words and images seem so stark and somber, and they are! How are we to react and to respond? Jesus, in the Gospel, points to two sets of phrases, which can serve as good advice for these serious, stark, somber times.
“See that you not be deceived”: that is the first advice Jesus offers. How easily we can be deceived! For instance, by unrealistic expectations of how life should be. Where did we learn that our life should always treat us fairly? Where did we learn that our desires should be met easily, effortlessly, instantly? Where did we learn that everyone and everything owe us a living? Are these not some of the expectations we have in living life? And when they do not get fulfilled, how frustrated and even angry we become, with ourselves, with others! Do we not “do a number” on ourselves and others by being deceived by such unrealistic expectations? I am not suggesting that we should be cynical about life or that we should not battle against injustice and evil. I am not saying that we should not seek to improve the quality of life or that we should not have ideals. But, we must be realistic and that means accepting how temporary, incomplete, fragile and limited this life is. To assume otherwise is to be deceived at a terrible price to ourselves and others.
And if we are deceived by unrealistic expectations about what living life means, it is no surprise that we are also deceived by our unrealistic expectations about what faith implies in our lives. Are we not unrealistic by assuming that prayer makes the unpleasant, the difficult, the struggle just disappear? Are we not unrealistic by assuming that being good and doing right will automatically bring us prosperity, success, happiness? Are we not unrealistic by supposing that people who believe do not cry when their loved ones die, do not ask “why” when the unexplainable happens, do not struggle at times to be honest, responsible, forgiving? Prayer is absolutely necessary to our life of faith, but not as some kind of spiritual magic; prayer gives us a way of seeing differently and strengthens us to endure whatever comes. We must be good and do right, not because God will reward us better or more, but because being good and doing right are the only way in the long run to live as faithful disciples of Jesus, with any measure of self-respect or inner peace. People who believe cry and struggle and question. We must be realistic and that means that we see the very real world around us with faith and through faith. With faith, we see further and through faith we see beyond to the Lord's promise awaiting its fulfillment in us.
That is why Jesus gives us some further advice. Not only does He counsel us: “See that you not be deceived” but He goes on to advise: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives!”
To have expectations that are realistic means to persevere " to hold on to Lord and to each other " as we journey through life. The bottom line is trust, a kind of clinging in faith. Easy? No! Always make sense? No! But, this is the best advice we have, the best approach we can take. The One who advises us to hold on, to persevere, to endure patiently, points to His own experience: He lived our life fully, He died our death completely, He is now alive and risen to new life. After all, if Jesus is not now fully alive, we should not be here. But, He is risen and He lives. We have the best reason, only reason, to go on, with perseverance and patience.
Yes, the world of nature is stark and somber right now. But, even the gaunt and bare trees teach us to trust, for if they endure through winter, the spring will bring them renewed life and growth. So with us; if we persevere, if we patiently hold on to the Lord and to each other, we too will live " forever! A prayer written by John Henry Cardinal Newman summarizes so beautifully our desire to persevere, to hold on with trust:
May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes; and the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over and our work is done. Then in His mercy, may He give us a safe lodging and a holy rest and peace of the last. Amen.