It's hard to believe that we're almost to the end of another liturgical year. In two weeks, we'll begin the season of Advent. Four weeks later, we'll celebrate with joy the birth of our Lord and Savior. Shortly after that, we'll have the start of a new calendar year. This time of year is almost overwhelming.
As we reach the end of the liturgical year, we're asked to focus not on the here-and-now, not on next month, or even next year. Instead, we are called to look at the end of time, at that point in our future when Our Lord returns from Heaven for the final judgment. In our readings, we are challenged to consider how we approach our time here on earth, and how we are looking forward to Jesus' Second Coming. We need to be careful not to fall into several traps which are quite common in today's world.
The first trap which people commonly fall into is one that Jesus saw back 2000 years ago, so it's unfortunately not anything new. We hear it on the radio, televangelists promote it day in and day out: all you have to do to be saved is “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” This trap, which the Gospel passage illustrates through a parable, states that salvation is a one-time good deal. Say a quick prayer, sincerely believe that Jesus has entered into our hearts, and we're saved, right?
Not exactly. In the parable, Jesus shows us that our lives must bear fruit in this world into order to enter into the next life. Look at which of the servants were given the responsibilities in the kingdom and which were thrown into the darkness. Those servants who bore fruit from the master's investment were given great responsibility within the kingdom, while that servant who merely buried the money, bearing no fruit, was cast out of the king's presence. To enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, we must be concerned about more than ourselves and our salvation, but must also have a deep concern for our neighbors' needs and salvation. We must work in this life to bear fruit in the next. We can't just sit back, assume that we're saved, and not worry about those around us.
Along the same lines, there is a presumption that all we need to be saved is to be a “good person”. You frequently hear this at funerals. As long as we're not hurting anyone, not talking against anyone too often, and generally being a decent person, we've got a one way ticket to Heaven. Once again, this isn't the case. Merely being a good person is not enough to enter into Heaven. The only thing that will keep us out of Heaven is the refusal to ask God's forgiveness for our sins. One can be a good person and still commit sins, as all of us are sinful people who need to have our sins forgiven. God, our Heavenly Father, wants us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but respects our free will to choose for or against Him. We need to make sure that we're in proper relationship to God, unmarred by sin, in order to enter into our heavenly reward when the time comes. Unfortunately, even good people can refuse to ask for God's forgiveness.
The final trap that we can fall into is an excessive planning regarding our relationship to God. Throughout Christianity, many people have put off their reconciliation with God until they're on their deathbeds. Even in the four and a half months since my ordination, I've had several people refuse the Sacraments of Anointing and Reconciliation until literally their last moments on Earth. This is spiritually a very dangerous practice that needs to be eliminated. We have no promises regarding the end of our lives. We could be in perfect health one minute and facing Our Lord at the Judgment the next. Modern medical technology can do a pretty good job of estimating life spans, but it's nowhere near perfect. Even routine tasks, like driving down the highway, could become fatal quickly and unexpectedly. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, we do not know when Our Lord will come for us, but that he will come “like a thief at night”, completely unexpected. We need to make sure that we're always prepared for the return of Our Lord, as well as for our own death, by maintaining a right relationship with God, approaching Him for forgiveness when we cut ourselves off from Him through our sins.
As we approach the end of this liturgical year, may we keep the return of Our Lord in our sights, and may we prepare ourselves by working to develop good fruit and maintaining our relationship with Him.