Witnesses to joy

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33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B: Nov. 18, 2012
Dan 12:1-3; Ps 16; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

For the Secular Discalced Carmelites (OCDS) at their semiannual Profession Mass.

As we approach the end of this liturgical year, our Gospel reading today comes from the 13th chapter of the Gospel according to Mark—a chapter sometimes known as the “Little Apocalypse,” for in it our Lord Jesus prepares his disciples for what would be coming. Some of it would be coming just 40 years later, when Jerusalem would be conquered and the Temple destroyed by the Roman Empire, while some of the generation of his time were still living. Some would come beyond that, in the future; indeed, even now it has yet to come.

For we still anticipate that tribulation of which he spoke, which the Catechism describes as the final trial, the persecution, the final unleashing of evil (675-77). But we know that this terrible time will be brought to an end when our Lord Jesus Christ triumphantly returns. Then, as St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians,

The Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thess 4:16-17)

And we anticipate that our Lord, at his Second Coming, will bring about

  • the resurrection from the dead of all those who have died;
  • the Last Judgment, when all will at last be set right;
  • the coming of the Kingdom of God in its fullness;
  • and the transformation of all creation into the New Heavens and New Earth, in which “he will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

This is our hope! But the sweetest thing will be the truth that St. Paul states: “Thus we shall always be with the Lord”—with our precious Lord, whom we have known and loved in this life—though at a distance, not yet seeing his face with our own eyes, not yet hearing his voice with our ears. Then we shall see face to face; then we shall know fully, as we are fully known. (1 Cor 13:12) Then we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.” (Rev 21:3)

And so it is our joy, our hope, our glorious expectation that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming soon. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And we fervently respond: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:17, 20)

But, as we stand erect and raise our heads because our redemption is at hand (Luke 21:28), who else is watching with us? Does this eager expectation for our Lord’s Second Coming pervade the lives of those around us? Or is it not the case that

  • some do not believe in our Lord Jesus, or in his Second Coming;
  • some are gripped by fear of the events of the tribulation that will precede it;
  • while others are afraid of his judgment and the consequences that will follow;
  • some are hoping that he will not come for a long time, because they hope to prolong their experience of this earthly life, thinking that it is much more interesting and enjoyable than the life to come;
  • while still others give his Second Coming no thought at all, but are completely focused upon the many distractions of everyday life.

How will this ever change? How will the minds and hearts of so many ever turn so that they too watch with expectant joy for the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus? It will only be through grace and the work of the Holy Spirit; but one of the instruments that the Holy Spirit will use is the testimony of witnesses. And this is where your vocation as Secular Carmelites, and the promise that you make or renew today, enters in directly.

The Constitutions of the Discalced Carmelite Secular Order speak of being “witnesses to the experience of God.” In imitation of St. Teresa, who “placed prayer as the foundation and basic exercise of her religious family,” “Secular Carmelites are called to strive to make prayer penetrate their whole existence … in such a way that the whole of their life is a prayer.” You have come to know that it is he “whom your heart loves.” (Song 3:1-4) You know that, when you gaze upon him and converse with him in prayer, you are, as St. Teresa said, “taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.”

It is true that we now see only indistinctly, as in a mirror, and we now know only partially. (1 Cor 13:12) But how sweet this is—even this indistinct, partial communion! Here he has drawn you to himself. Here he has called you to Carmel. Here he has beckoned you to tend toward Gospel perfection.

And so it is that you are ready to commit, or renew your commitment, to live the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and of the Beatitudes. For you know that he is trustworthy; and that you do not need to cling to excessive possessions or power, or the illicit use of other persons, in order to be safe and fulfilled. You know that he is faithful, and that he rewards a hundredfold those who are poor in spirit, and merciful, and pure in heart; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. You know that this is how you will live in the fulfillment of heaven; and you want to begin living heaven now!

And so your heart and life become a testimony that God never changes; that patience obtains all things; that nothing is wanting to him who possesses God; and that God alone suffices. (Bookmark of St. Teresa) And so, as the Constitutions say, “as sons and daughters of Teresa of Jesus and John of the Cross” you “are called ‘to stand before the world as a witness to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus and a symbol of the living God.'”

If you still have the copy of the 2003 Clarion in which the new Constitutions was first published, have you noticed the words that go around the icon on the cover depicting our Lord and our Blessed Mother? Around the oval edge, it says over and over that prayer of the early Church: “Marana tha! Come, Lord Jesus!” And no wonder!

He is coming soon. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And we fervently respond with our lips and with our whole lives: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

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