- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

Excerpts of a homily given yesterday by the Rev. William P. Saunders at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church in Arlington:

Each time we profess the Nicene Creed, we state our belief that our Lord Jesus Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. Our passages from Sacred Scripture for this Sunday attest to this belief. First, a period of great suffering will mark the end of the world. The prophet Daniel foretold, “It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress,” and our Lord Himself foretold a great tribulation, “times more distressful than any since creation.” This time of distress and tribulation will be one of persecution, religious deception and the abandonment of truth. The faith of believers will be tested. In a positive sense, this period is one of conversion for sinners and purification for believers, preparing us for final judgment.

In the end, this period will give way to the day of the Lord, when our Lord returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. Angels will gather the elect from the four ends of the earth. St. Michael will wield the sword of justice and separate the righteous from the wicked, the good from the evil. On this day of judgment, Christ will reveal the secret disposition of our hearts and will render to each according to his works and his acceptance or refusal of grace. The souls of those who have died and who have already received their particular judgment will have that judgment affirmed; however, the purification of purgatory will be completed. The souls of those living will now face judgment.

At this judgment, all the souls of the just whose names are written in the Book of Life will enjoy everlasting life in Heaven and the beatific vision. As the gospel reads, the just will rise to everlasting life and will shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who have helped many to salvation will shine like the stars. Moreover, these souls will share in the resurrection of the body. Just as Jesus rose body and soul from the dead and was completely glorified, so will each person, a union of body and soul, be glorified, free of corruption, defect or suffering.

The souls of the damned, those who are unrepentant and have rejected God’s grace, will rise to “everlasting horror and disgrace.” They will have condemned themselves to hell. These souls, although they too will be united to a body, will not be glorified, but will endure the sufferings of hell and eternal damnation. …

In recent times, there has been much discussion about a book titled “Left Behind,” which suggests that there will be a rapture, whereby “the saved” will be mysteriously removed from this time of trial and tribulation, and “the unsaved” will be left to endure it. Based on a notion by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, the rapture idea misinterprets the prophecy of Daniel. Moreover, it forgets the mystery of the incarnation. … Rather than looking for an escape or a rapture, a Christian who has died and risen to new life with Christ in baptism and who shares in the mission of the Lord … should see the end time as one of conversion and purification.

So, we wait. We wait faithfully. We wait with Christ now. Jesus is the high priest who offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins on the altar of the cross. Through his blood He washed away our sins and through his resurrection promised us everlasting life. … We live by His words, which are spirit and life. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” We strive for holiness now, continuing our own conversion and purification through self-examination, repentance and penance. Through the Holy Eucharist, the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord, we receive the foretaste and promise of everlasting life. Yes, we face the trials, distress and tribulations of our day-to-day living, but we face them with the Lord, knowing that He, the Good Shepherd, leads us safely through verdant pastures and dark valleys. …

However, each of us needs to ask, “Am I living a Christ-like life today, bearing witness to my faith in word and deed? Then too, each of us needs to ask, “Am I ready today to face the Lord and judgment?” In a world of temptation, in an age of persecution, religious deception, the abandonment of truth, you and I have to shine like the stars now. By His grace may we do this.

In a few moments, we proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” He will come again, but for now, as Mother Teresa said, we only have today to love Jesus.

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