It was great to visit England again after an absence of over two years, to meet up with various members of the family, to have the chance to soak in the history of such cities as Oxford and Durham, and even to attend a soccer match and drink at a country pub or two. All quintessential English experiences.
But I have to say that I left my home country after two weeks, with a heavy heart and worried for my homeland. Not only are they having to deal with a new monarch, but also a new prime minister, with a huge migrant problem and with an economy which is in the hole to the tune of an astonishing 50 BILLION pounds. The new prime minister had issued a solemn warning to the country that they were all facing a bleak economic future, with a lot of austerity measures, higher taxes and many spending cuts , to come , The recession England is facing, will probably , according to the experts, not be over anytime soon. Everyone in the country, rich or poor, young or old, will have to tighten their belts and settle in for the long haul. The era of living on the cheap, with low interest rates and taxes was over.
Our readings today give us a similar bleak assessment for our world. Not in terms of economic difficulties and austerity measures, but in terms of everyone having to settle in for the long haul. Ahead of us lie “wars and insurrections…famines and plagues…dreadful portents and great signs from heaven” as well as great persecution, even from members of our own families. However, with this message of doom and gloom from our gospel today, comes a glimmer of hope. Jesus assures us who count ourselves among his disciples that “not a hair of your heads will perish” and that “by your endurance you will gain your souls”. Notice that word “endurance” – it speaks of the virtues of perseverance, persistence and patience. We have to tighten our “spiritual” belts and settle in for the long haul. As the great German pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote as he was awaiting his execution in a cell for opposing the Nazi regime: “There is no such thing as cheap grace”. The grace of salvation, of eternal life, of forgiveness of sins, of deliverance from the evil of hell, did not come cheaply – it cost Jesus, our Saviour, everything, to the last drop of his blood on the cross. Before the cross, all of our weak excuses, that we are not really bad people, that we haven’t done anything really wrong, that we deserve to get into heaven, even though we are lukewarm of even indifferent to matters of faith, all these pathetic excuses are exposed for what they are – pathetic excuses. If God and Jesus saw the effect of our sins in all its awful, catastrophic reality, and judged that only the supreme sacrifice of the Godman could pay the price for that sin, how dare we dismiss our faults as minor, as readily excusable and forgivable?
That is why , even though it is a matter of private revelation, and we are not obliged to believe it, I believe that the number of prophecies are true, which, down through the generations from different people at different times in church history, have spoken about a moment of “Warning” or “ The Illumination of Conscience”) The apparitions at Garabandal , in Spain, back in the 1960s , are just one example . The angel appearing to the visionary, Conchita, gave a warning that, at one moment in time, every single person in the world will see the state of their soul as it is in God’s eyes. In the eyes of the Lord who is coming, as our responsorial psalm says today, “to judge the earth … with righteousness and its peoples with equity”. All the ways in which, throughout our whole lives, we have fallen short of righteousness and equity, and not confessed those failures, will be shown in explicit detail. For those who have been in the habit of regular self-examination and confession to a priest, this revelation will be painful, but bearable. Those who have never, or not for a long time, been to confession, who have never taken the trouble to examine their lives in the light of the gospel truth, are going to have a huge shock, which may well kill them.
(Example of Fr Stephen in book “The Warning” by Christine Watkins). When I first heard Fr Stephen giving his testimony on EWTN, it shook me, really shook me up, in a good way. Here was a priest, who had been ordained about the same length of time as I, about twelve years at that time, having his sins of lukewarmness, half-heartedness, selfishness, and apathy exposed in a way he could not deny it. I was forced to check into my own inner life, and see what were the real motivations for my own priestly activities – was it true love of the Lord Jesus, appreciation for all he had done for me to save me from my sins by laying down his life for me on the cross, was it love for his people, and a desire to lay down my life for them? Or were my motives coming from a corrupt, compromised and selfish heart, was I seeking really just a life of self-comfort and ease, without any real passion for Jesus or his Church, or my share in his priesthood?
Before you think I am indulging in a bit of self-flagellation ,with a fair measure of self-pity thrown in, I would remind you that I did say that Fr Stephen’s testimony did shake me up, , but “in a good way”. I saw that shaking up as an act of mercy on God’s part, just as I see a future “warning” or “illumination” as, in reality, a mercy from God. It is the chance, before it is too late, for us to open up the eyes of our hearts and not let the deceptions of the evil one, or , indeed, our own self-deceptions, to lead us , step by step into hell. As I have said before, hell exists, despite the attempts of liberal theologians and pastors to wish it away. The book of Malachi, in our first reading today, warns us that, when the Lord comes, how he comes to us, will depend on the state of our soul. If we have allowed the weeds of sin to take root, and not been bothered to spend time and energy cultivating a lifestyle of righteousness, then the Lord’s coming will be in the nature of a consuming fire that will burn us up in our arrogance and evil. For those, however, who have kept faith with the Lord, and so lived as to revere his name and lead others to revere it, then the Lord’s coming will be in the nature of the warm, life-giving, light-giving rays of the sun.
The Lord is coming, brothers and sisters, have no doubt about that whatsoever. He is coming to judge the world in righteousness and equity, in terms of his own righteousness and equity, not ours. The Bible proclaims it, the Church teaches it, has always taught it, and various prophets throughout the ages, have warned us about it. In the season of Advent, we prepare for it as the community of the Church, the Body of Christ. Let me leave you with a question, brothers and sisters: “If you were to die today and find yourself summoned before the judgement seat of God, and he was to ask you:
”Why should I let you into heaven?” what would your answer be?