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RCIA – Final Judgment – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 21, 2010

Opening Prayer – O Loving God, you are all holy and wise. You have the words of everlasting life. Transform us that we will recognize you in our brothers and sisters. Make us firm in our commitment to make you known to the ends of the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Perhaps the most horrifying scenario imaginable is to stand outside knocking on a locked door only to hear the Lord respond, “I do not know where you are from.” Through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord assures us: “I come to gather nations of every language.” But some resist the invitation. In order to join God’s gathering, we must “enter through the narrow gate” – that is, we must say yes to the relationship that Christ wants to have with us. The Letter to the Hebrews says that “God treats you as sons.” When we change and conform our life to our calling to be God’s children, then those who are last will be first. We will recline with them at table in the kingdom of God. (M)

Share some reflections on today’s readings.

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Most of us live our lives as if there is always a tomorrow. Each evening when we retire we expect to rise in the morning. When things or events seem to go wrong, we expect them to get better. (RCL) Optimism is a good thing, but as this Sunday’s lesson tells us, God is always calling us home, but to get home we must conform, and to conform we need discipline.

The 2nd reading – The Letter to the Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13

What is the message of the Letter to the Hebrews?

Last week’s reading from Hebrews used the image of a race to encourage the recipients of the letter to persevere in the Christian faith. This week, the image that is used is of a father disciplining a child in order to make the child strong and healthy. The notion of salutary, wholesome discipline was familiar, both from the Greek culture’s athletic experience, referred to earlier, and from the Jews’ experience of rabbinic training. In this passage the author suggests that the sufferings and hardships the Christian community is undergoing are God’s way of providing the necessary discipline to strengthen their faith. The author quotes from the Book of Proverbs in vv 5-6. Then, by way of commentary on that text, he urges the Hebrews to endure their discipline gracefully, to correct their lax ways, and they will find that the discipline of the Lord “brings forth the fruit of peace and justice to those who are trained in its school.” (RCL)

The letter to the Hebrews was written to offer encouragement to believers who faced the very real danger of abandoning their faith in Christ. Alternating instruction and encouragement, the author seeks to protect his readers from themselves. These Christians have already suffered for their faith, but it is not persecution or martyrdom that threatens them now. They have lost their fervor and grown lukewarm in their faith. It’s not always easy to run the race and keep our eyes on the goal. As we face life’s challenges, we grow weary and lax. So the author quotes the Book of Proverbs to remind the reader that trials are a sign of God’s love, God’s way of tilling soil to bring forth “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” The father-son analogy is helpful, but the verses deleted from this passage add clarity: “If you are without discipline . . . you are not sons but bastards.” The author suggests that discipline is real proof of filial relationship, presumably because fathers might not love illegitimate children enough to invest time and effort in their upbringing. Mainly, the author seeks to clarify our blurred vision. Things are not always as they seem; what brings pain today may later bring joy. Christ is our model. He was God’s only Son, yet he endured the discipline of the cross. The trite expression is “No pain no gain.” If we suffer without understanding, pain is meaningless. But when we see God’s hand in the discipline, we can endure. Then our gain is inestimable, and we can even rejoice in what others see as sorrow. (LTP)

What is the importance of discipline for us?

Why is it so difficult to discipline ourselves?

What type of goals help us to not lose heart?

What causes us to lose heart?

How does the Letter to the Hebrews encourage us to be faithful?

We all need to regularly reflect on the importance of self-discipline, and knowing how difficult this task is, turn to the Lord to ask him to help us to be strong, courageous and faithful.

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Christ came to save all peoples, but are we willing to accept that people of other cultures and other religions such as Muslim, Hindu, and others will also be in heaven? What is required of a person in order to gain eternal salvation? What is the narrow door that Jesus speaks about? (RCL)

God invites all peoples to the feast of his kingdom, even the “nations,” meaning unbelievers. Let us recall this invitation with joy when we are feeling unworthy because of faults or sins, alienated because of differences of opinion within our worship community, distanced because of our sometimes wavering faith. (M)

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. (1 Tm 2: 3-4) (M)

The 1st Reading – Isaiah 66:18-21

This reading shows us that God is calling everyone to his heavenly kingdom. What is really interesting is that it shows us that while the Jewish exiles were awful for the Jewish people, they were in fact part of God’s plan to spread the news of salvation to the whole world.

In today’s readings, the whole world is invited to feast in the kingdom. God has a plan to send to every nation “fugitives” from Jerusalem who will “proclaim” God’s glory. Upon hearing of the one true God, the citizens of these foreign lands will become God’s servants and then spread the message even further among the Gentiles. The “sign” God plans to set among the nations is these “missionary” refugees.  The ancient nations listed were found in areas of Spain, Africa, near the Black Sea, and Greece. “They shall bring” refers to the foreigners who, responding to God’s goodness, bring “all your brethren” (that is, Jews scattered throughout the nations) back to Jerusalem, and every available means of transport – horses, chariots, carts – will be utilized to achieve this goal. And in the end, Israelites and foreigners will offer sacrifice together. (LTP)

Scholars generally date the third part of the Book of Isaiah (cc. 56-66) to the time after the return from exile. Among the concerns of the author(s) of this book are a desire to overcome the narrow particularism found especially in certain priestly circles and to hold up a vision of universal salvation where even the pagan nations will be welcomed in the house of the Lord. The Jewish leaders, priests and Levites seem to have a narrow view of who will be welcome into the house of the Lord. They consider themselves the chosen people because of the covenant made between God and Abraham. The others are pagan and surely not welcomed into God’s house. Isaiah, the prophet, warns them otherwise. The section we read today describes an incredible assembly of people from every corner of the earth, streaming to Jerusalem where all – Jew and Gentile alike – will join in worship in the Temple. Even more startling is the Lord’s promise to include Gentiles among those who minister in the Temple. (RCL)

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Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. (Lk 13: 24) (M)

Jesus warns that all are invited to feast in God’s kingdom, but not all will choose to come. The gate is narrow, the road is hard, and we are sometimes tempted to sit at home in comfort and dine at the table of our own will rather than make the attempt. Let us pray for the grace to accept Jesus’ call to us to become good and faithful disciples, walking in his ways. (M)

The Gospel – St. Luke 13:22-30

In the Gospel, Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem and is stopped along the way. In response to the question of who will be saved, Jesus warns his fellow Jews that their status as children of Abraham does not guarantee them anything. (RCL)

Neither is our salvation guaranteed. What does that mean to you?

How do you interpret the last sentence of this passage?

What is required of a person in order to gain eternal salvation?

What is the narrow door that Jesus speaks about?

What is the message of today’s scripture passages?

Whom do they console?

Whom do they challenge?

Contemporary Jewish apocalyptic speculation foresaw numerous reversals of fortune in the final age. The possibility is real of being excluded from the kingdom. Jesus reiterates the prophetic stance heard earlier in our first reading, namely that the Gentiles from the four corners of the earth will stream to God’s eschatological (end of the world) banquet and find a place at table. But in sobering terms he adds the implied judgment in his closing dictum (“Some who are last will be first and some who are first will be last.”) that the presence of the Gentiles at table may go hand in hand with an exclusion of those in his audience. (RCL)

Were not this passage placed in context with the First Reading it would be natural and correct to stress the parable of the narrow door. But today’s liturgy focuses us on universalism, not the struggle, straining, and striving required to enter the kingdom. Without denying the difficulty of entering, the liturgy focuses us on the final sentences of this text. The earlier part of the pericope sets up the stunning reversal proclaimed there.  (LTP)

The opening raises the specter of the cross, for Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem, Luke’s codeword for Jesus’ Passion and death. We would probably like a different answer to the question of how many will be saved, but Jesus’ reply stresses only the difficulty involved and the foolishness of taking salvation for granted. Jesus is no soft and easy messiah here. His words suggest urgency, for the narrow door will not remain open forever. The master rises unexpectedly to lock it. The dialogue between master and those barred grows increasingly urgent as those who presumed inclusion find themselves left out, and no appeal will save them. Contrast their claim to having eaten and drunk with him, with the master’s blunt reply: “I do not know where you are from.” (LTP)

The reading ends with a litany of inclusion (east, west, north, and south) that announces the paradox of the last-called (Gentiles) preceding the first-called (Israel) at the eschatological banquet. This is a warning to all of us regarding complacency, and a reminder of how easily the tables can turn. (LTP)

Here, Luke stresses the need for ongoing commitment. Instead of speculating on the number to be saved, Jesus herein notes the effort needed to enter the kingdom. The “narrow door” indicates that it is not enough simply to have associated with Jesus. Salvation comes through commitment and action, not empty talk. Luke urges his community not to repeat Israel’s mistake. Watchfulness, not election, is the basis for entering into the reign. The God of Israel indeed loves everyone who repents and follows faithfully. (JOF) We can have too much baggage to fit through the narrow door. We carry grudges against our neighbor; we carry pride. We need to humble ourselves to make ourselves small enough to fit through that narrow door.

The Last Will Be First – The unclean soul, the impure conscience, the proud mind, and curious conceit are rightly kept at a distance from the quest of the divine sacraments and mysteries. For the spirit of discernment flees anything false and will not dwell in a body subject to sin. Wisdom will not enter into an ill-disposed soul. But humble piety, believing love, and a pure conscience, the simplicity of the child of God and the poor in spirit, although these reverently withdraw, they are called forward by the Holy Spirit. In a special sort of way they are drawn to inquire into things divine. For they love and therefore they seek, and when they do seek they seek to love still more. Consequently, O faithful soul, when in your faith the more hidden mysteries impinge on your timorous nature, be brave and say, not to stave them off but to follow them: How can these things be? Let your question be your prayer. Let it be your love and your humble desire, not considering the majesty of God in lofty matters but seeking salvation in the saving acts of the God of your salvation. And the Angel of Mighty Council will reply to you: When the Paraclete shall come whom I will send to you from the Father, he will bear witness of me and will bring all things to your mind… And if, when he shall come, he finds you humble and quiet and fearing the words of God, he will rest upon you, and he will reveal to you what God the Father withholds from the wise and prudent of this world. Those things which Wisdom was able to teach the disciples on earth will begin to enlighten you. ~~ Father William of Saint Thierry (+1148) was a Cistercian Abbot, a theologian, and a mystic. (M)

The heart of today’s message: salvation is open to all who open their hearts to Christ. (LTP)

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Catholic Doctrine

Michelangelo’s  “Last Judgment,” a gigantic fresco that appears on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel next to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, totally overpowers the altar table in front of it. (Floor to ceiling the room is six stories tall.) The artist broke with traditional representations of the last judgment which were characterized by hierarchy and compartmentalization wherein even the dead were dressed according to their station. Michelangelo, instead, presents a unified scene, without compartments, without thrones or ranking. The nude figures swirl in a clockwork motion (a kind of wheel of fortune). Figures of souls rise from their graves, gravitate around the center, Christ, and sink downward to hell. The dead show no joy, only dread in the judgment taking place. Some look dazed, some without hope, and some look up in awe. Some of the figures soar upward as if pulled by divine attraction. Other figures are fought over by demons who drag them down. (Frederick Hartt, History of Italian Renaissance Art (7th Edition), 4th ed., Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1994, p. 631-33) (RCL)

Sun-Symbolism and Cosmology in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”

Michelangelo's Last Judgment

Jesus has ascended to the Father and sits at the right hand of the Most High in glory. Both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed proclaim our belief that Christ will come again to this world to judge both the living and the dead. Catholic teaching refers to this as the final or last judgment. Till then we live in the age of the Spirit and of witness, as we await in hope for this second coming and Christ’s definitive judgment on the nations and the world. (RCL)

Here the creeds are speaking of the end of the world, which will be at a time that no one knows or can predict. Some psychics claim to know the exact time the world will be destroyed. They are only fooling themselves, only God the Father knows when the world will end.

The Church teaches there are two moments of judgment: A particular judgment which is at the end of one’s earthly life and the final judgment which is at the end of the world when Christ will come again bringing the fullness of the kingdom of God. (RCL)

Particular judgment is the revealing of one’s total life and is determined by the way in which one lived. It is a judgment of how one either cooperated with God’s grace or how one rejected God’s grace. Accordingly, judgment is rendered and the person is assigned to either heaven, hell or a time of purification in purgatory before entering heaven. The teaching regarding particular judgment has been part of the Church’s belief since the second century and was reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960’s. (RCL)

Final judgment constitutes God’s final word on all history. Jesus Christ, who is the living word of God, will reveal God’s glorious triumph over evil and at the same time manifest the ultimate meaning of the whole of creation. God’s plan will come to fruition and all will know that love truly is stronger than death and that the last word in all things belongs to God. (RCL)

The meaning of the last judgment for believers is an urgent call to conversion, to make the best use of the time available. The Church, in this regard, speaks of holy fear, that feeling which commits us to the justice of God’s kingdom and pursuing the way of life in Christ rather than the way of death (CCC 1041). This conversion is a life-long process of moving from self-centeredness to God and to being centered on others. (RCL)

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. (Dt 30: 19-20a) (M)

What in your life requires reordering to a more Christ-like way of living?

What do you need to change?

How do you plan to achieve such a change?

Closing Prayer – Most loving God, you desire that all people will be one with you in heaven for all eternity. Help each of us to live each day according to your desire. When we forget what your desire is, send a gentle reminder that heaven is for all eternity. Grant that when each of us comes to the end of our earthly life, you will find us ready to meet you face to face. Bless us with perseverance, acceptance, and patience each and every day of our lives. Amen.

Additional on-line Catholic educational resources for general self-study:

http://www.wordonfire.org/Home.aspx Fr. Robert Barron is an excellent Catholic teacher.

http://www.therealpresence.org/archives/archives.htm This site contains the writings of Fr. John Hardon.

http://catholicexchange.com/ This site has a little bit of everything Catholic.

http://www.ewtn.com/ This is Mother Angelica’s network’s webpage. It has articles and TV and radio streaming.

http://frjohnriccardo.libsyn.com/rss Fr. John Riccardo is another excellent preacher. You can listen to his podcasts here.

M – Magnificat, Vol. 12, No. 6 – August 2010

RCL – Foundations in Faith from RCL Benziger.com

LTP – 2010 Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word

JOF – Journey of Faith, The Word into Life, Year C

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Nicodemus Wnek permalink
    February 10, 2011 7:20 pm

    The picture shown is not the picture of Michelangelo”s Last Judgement as shown in your Feb 2011 issue which displays Si. Blaise as part of the lastJudgement which you said could be seen in its entirety by going to mag.com at the end of the story.

    • catholicwideweb permalink*
      February 10, 2011 11:54 pm

      Nicodemus, it took me a bit, but i finally understand your comment. It sounds like you are writing to Magnificat magazine’s website. This is not it. This is a blog. Aside from that issue, the detail in the February 2011 Magnificat artwork section is in fact part of the Final Judgment that is in this post. You can find the detail in the center, right side of the painting. Look for the “wheel.”

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