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Keeping Vigilant

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The Gospel of Mark 13:24-32, begins the Adventen turn toward the End Times and the Second Coming of Christ. It is a passage that carries no warm and fuzzy messages, but rather messages of warning. We do not know the day nor the hour when this life will end and we will come face-to-face with our Maker. Are you ready to make an account for your life?

This passage reminds us to keep ourselves vigilant, ready at any moment to face judgment. It reminds us of our true priorities: all that belongs to this world will pass away. It is only Christ that remains. Do I live my life in a way that embodies the eternal nature of Christ, but the fleeting nature of worldly goods?

Furthermore, it is not just our salvation that we work for. As part of the Body of Christ, we are also called to work for the salvation of others. As we are reminded with the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, we are not isolated beings pursuing holiness, we are part of a communion of saints. We belong to each other. How are you praying for those around you? How are you sacrificing so that they might come to know Christ or deepen their relationship with Him? Do you notice people missing at Mass? People who used to come? What are you, personally, doing to invite them back to Mass?

We do not know the day nor the hour when Christ will come again. Nor do we know the day nor the hour when our individual life on earth will end. But we do know eternal life awaits us. Let us live our lives in such a way that we get there, and bring as many people with us as possible!

Witness for or against God

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I have an intense internal drive for justice. I have always been someone who strives to see justice done in all things and for all people. And when I witness or hear about acts of injustice, I am filled what a deep sense of outrage.

This visceral drive for justice is what helps me witness to the Jesus who flips tables in the temple court and chastises the religious authorities for their hypocrisy. It makes me a strong witness for our God who is a God of justice. But when left unchecked or not filtered through God’s lens of mercy and charity, this drive for justice can also make me a counter-witness. In my flippancy or antagonistic turn-of-phrase, I can end up turning people away from Christ, rather than toward Him.

The first reading for today speaks to this very idea of being a witness for or a witness against God. In who we are and how we behave as Christians, we have the power to draw people closer to God, to foster a desire in them to know Christ, or we can turn them off entirely. We can be shepherds who scatter the sheep, or we can be united to Christ our Shepherd who draws all sheep safely to himself.

As we continue growing in intentional discipleship as a parish, it is as important to talk about the ways we serve as counter-witnesses as it is to discuss the ways we positively witness to Christ. For so many people, the reason they have strayed from the Church or refuse to consider joining is less about Her teachings and more about Her members. So this week, I challenge all of us to spend some time pondering these questions: How am I positively witnessing to Christ in the world? How might I be, in word or deed, acting as a counter witness and turning people away from Him?

Transformation and Conversion

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Over my years in ministry, I have heard many different interpretations for why we take up practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. I’ve heard that we take up these practices for the sake of suffering as Jesus suffered. Another common theme is that we do these practices as a form of penance for our sinfulness, or that we take on these practices as a kind of personal testing, as Jesus was tested in the wilderness, to see if our faith holds up. The list goes on.

While there is some element of truth in each of these interpretations, what they lack is that they often make the practices ends in themselves. We suffer for the sake of suffering, or undergo a test for the sole purpose of saying we did it.

But the Gospel for today shows us what we are truly aiming for: transfiguration, transformation. This passage from Mark is widely understood as a revelation of the true reality of the crucifixion—that what on the face of it looks to be gory destruction, is actually the glorification of Jesus Christ. So too, our Lenten practices are not meant to be just brutal sacrifices for the sake of brutal sacrifice; they are meant to be transformative. They are meant to bring about the glory of God through our own transfiguration. The goal of Lent is not suffering, it is conversion. We too are meant to be “dazzling white.”

So this Lent, may we keep this perspective as we strive and struggle to hold fast to our resolutions. May we remember the ultimate goal is conversion, and allow the Lord to use our successes and failures to lead us closer to Christ and make us more Christian, more Christ-like.

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