Sermon for the 24th Sunday after Pentecost – November 24, 2019 by Father Paul A. Norton
DOMINICA XXIV ET ULTIMA POST PENTECOSTEN
“And unless those days had been shortened, no living creature would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened”
This is one of three phrases I want to highlight today. Many people have asked me several times how is this possible. How can a time be “shortened” if constancy is precisely the fundamental way of measuring time? (unless we talk of that phenomena called time dilation in which speed and gravity apparently affect the progression/perception of time).
Obviously, I won’t talk of physics here today. I will talk about the spiritual meaning of the “shortening of time” and the relevance of it in our times.
In his letter 199 to the Bishop Hesychius St. Augustine wrote: “For days themselves are not evil, but the things that happen on them. They are said to be shortened, then, in the sense that, because God granted people endurance, they felt them less, and in that way evils that were lengthy became short. But whether that shortening of the days should be understood in this way either because they were reduced to a few or because they were shortened by a quicker revolution of the sun —for there are some who also have this idea, namely, that it was said that the days would be shorter just as the day was longer when Joshua the son of Nun prayed— Luke the evangelist nonetheless taught that this shortening of the days and the abomination of desolation pertain to the destruction of Jerusalem.”
Then St. Augustine continued, pointing out that there are parts of the prophesy that can be interpreted in a spiritual way:
“And the words.
Almost at the end of his letter St. Augustine uses the parable of three good servants, one of whom believes that the Lord will come sooner, another that He will come later, while the third admits his ignorance of this. He points out that it is more dangerous to hold the view of the first servant, since, if the Lord comes later, those who believe otherwise may be subjected to insults and mockery. The view of the second servant is not dangerous, but may be erroneous, while the view of the third servant avoids both danger and error.
In this way St. Augustine teaches us prudence but also indicates that the “shortening of times” might refer to Christ’s first coming, to his second coming, or to both without defining it.
So, let me give you another possible interpretation, related in a way to the one which states that, due to “people’s endurance, they felt them less”: It seems to me that the “shortening of times” could also mean that in a shortened time people will learn and grow in the faith, when in normal times this would have taken years and even decades.
Do I have proof to say this? Well, no more proof than my pastoral experience and the observation of reality that informs my ideas which, in turn, guides me to understand my relation with reality (which is my definition of common sense).
During many years I have seen catholic people having to face a massive apparatus of misinformation, confusion, anti-Catholicism, secularism, atheistic scientism and tempting conformism so it is almost miraculous to see those people not only persevering in the faith but having the knowledge to satisfactorily respond to the challenges these times represent. And I have to say that many are very young people, young men and young women who seem to know more about their faith than a man in his 70s. Yes, the speed in which the world and its temptations are accelerating is frightening but also the swiftness with which many Catholics are receiving information and developing wisdom is, at times, astonishing. People say that we are in bad times (and certainly we are) but I can point to at least one aspect in which we are better: In the times of the Council everything was confusing and evil people used the surprise attack as a weapon, but today we are more prepared to smell modernism from afar. For example, a young Traditional priest today is not the same thing as a priest of 60 years ago. Just lock me in a room with one of those novus horror priests to talk about catholic theology and you will see how in a few minutes I knock him down (intellectually, of course, intellectually, but I have to confess that sometimes I don’t lack the drive to… ).
Anyhow, if this is happening with traditional young men and women, imagine the greatness of this miracle when you see it happening before your eyes with people raised in non-traditional circles. Even more, when it happens with people that are not even Catholic. Yes, I have seen so many men and women finding their way to the Catholic Church, learning the faith, receiving the sacraments, understanding and applying Catholic manners, valuing our traditions, investigating our rich history, praying incessantly, sustaining their community and helping others with the holy love that originates in the true Faith, that it is difficult for me not to think that the times for them are being abbreviated. Something that in other times used to take decades for someone to understand and to learn is being assimilated today in a surprisingly short time.
Come, Holy Ghost, Creator, Come
Thou who art sevenfold in thy grace,
Finger of God’s right hand
His promise teaching little ones
To speak and understand.
Now, this last Sunday of Pentecost has a marked apocalyptic tone. As the year ends, the Church also reminds us of the end of the world, that’s why the second phrase of today’s gospel I want to highlight is this: “When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand”.
The second coming of Christ is a dogma of faith, quite forgotten nowadays, but possibly it is much forgotten because it is perhaps very close. And the certainty of that event and its closeness, far from frightening us, should make us happy, because if we are faithful to God, we will certainly be on the winning side.
Now, this chapter of today’s gospel talks about the παρουσία and is almost a summary of the Book of the Apocalypse. A summary so synthesized that 50 pages would not be enough to explain it part by part because it inseparably intertwines what in exegesis is known as apocalyptic type and anti-type. The prophetic way of speaking, which is used here, has the characteristic of using realities of Christ’s own time as paradigms of future realities. What happened with the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem is an example of what will happen in the last times.
As we understand we won’t ever be able to know exactly the date of the παρουσία (pretending to do so is expressly condemned by the Church) but we can know its imminence and its proximity. And so the first Christians, resident in Jerusalem around the year 70, knew that the signs of Christ were verified, and obeyed his words (“Then, let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains); without stopping for a moment, for which they fled and took refuge in the mountainous village of Pella and were saved from the horrifying massacre wrought by the troops of Vespasian and Titus in Jerusalem (where the nucleus of the first Church resided).
But this was not the final persecution of Christianity, the final persecution will be the monstrous universal reign of the Great Perverse, Prince of Peace according to the world, and the ruthless persecution (internal and external) of all those who truly believe in God; in which the Church will seem to be permanently shipwrecked.
Our Temple has been destroyed; the ecclesiastical structure that once gave us certainty and tranquility no longer exists. Our traditional faith exists, yes, but we are forced to do the same thing that the Jews did after the destruction of the Temple. To organize ourselves in houses of study (synagogues) in which the laity (rabbis) remind others the faith of our fathers. It is true that the sacrament of the priestly order will last forever, but every day it will become much more difficult for you to have a priest at your deathbed to assist you with the extreme unction.
Many friends wrote to me, very scandalized in these pasts weeks, commenting about the introduction of the idol called “Pachamama” (which is part of a hierarchy of false native deities and to whom the Incas used to sacrifice children) into the Vatican, and more than one said: “it is the abomination of desolation standing in the holy place”, but I told them: “the worse abomination was the official enthronement of the abomination of modernism during the second Vatican council”. Pachamama is just the Mamma of Francis coming to visit his children for a tea party.
Anyhow, to finish, I want to remind you of another phrase that Our Lord spoke in today’s gospel and it’s the third phrase I want to emphasize today: “Behold, I have told you beforehand”. This phrase is a reminder that He has the control. Despite how frightening the crisis of faith may seem, even with how difficult it seems to be a good Catholic today, “the Son of Man” will come “in the clouds of heaven, with much power and majesty” “And He will send His angels with a trumpet and a great sound, and they will gather His elect from the four winds” to bring them to participate in the heavenly banquet for ever and ever.
Let us ask of God, constantly, the grace of final perseverance, remembering always that the night is darker when the dawn is near. Do not forget that His Divine Providence guides us and “When these things begin to come to pass, look up, and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.”