30th Sunday Ordinary Time C

The Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ

On March 21, 1843, some 50,000 American followers of William Miller gathered together in buildings or in the open air to await the second coming of Jesus. Many had sold all their property, for soon, they believed, the world as we know it would end.

William Miller (1782-1849) was an uneducated but charismatic Protestant preacher of the bible. In his bible-reading of the books of Daniel and Revelation, he thought he had discovered a clue to the advent of Christ. It would be March 21, 1843. Preaching throughout the eastern states for months previous to that date, he had won many adherents and half-convinced many more. But March 21 passed without event. Miller’s disciples would have lost faith completely had not William quickly stated that his calculations were off by a year. When March 21, 1844, and then October 22, 1844 (a third adjusted date) proved equally uneventful, most of William Miller’s following deserted him as a false prophet.

In the Apostle’s Creed we, too, profess, as a matter of faith, that Our Lord, in due time, “shall come to judge the living and the dead.” When He will come has been debated ever since, and throughout the centuries many self-declared prophets have claimed that they had discovered the exact date of doomsday. Because the Book of Revelation refers to 1,000 years in connection with Jesus’ second coming, many people feared in the 990’s that the year 1000 AD was the fatal year. Of course, it wasn’t. Mark my words, however: as the year 2000 approaches, there will also be people who say that is the year to be afraid of.

St. Paul begged his disciples not to be “easily agitated or terrified” by these prophets of doom (today’s second reading). We have Jesus’ own assurance that the exact hour of his return is known only to his heavenly Father (Mk. 13:33). The important thing is that whenever He comes we be ready to face Him. As Our Lord warned us, “Do not let Him come suddenly and catch you asleep. What I say to you, I say to all: Be on guard!” (Mk. 13:36-37).

So the Millerites were wrong in date but right in principle.

-Fr. Robert F. McNamara

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Q447: Was the Pharisee in this gospel (Lk 18:8-14) really that bad? After all, he prayed regularly; he fasted; he tithed. Isn’t that what we are all called to do?

I think we can take this Pharisee at his own words, and believe him when he says that he fasted, tithed, was not dishonest, nor greedy, nor adulterous. Those things are good and virtuous practices, and we are pleased that he hasn’t chosen the opposite way of life. But the most important thing of all was missing in his daily existence, and that was a heart that is humble before God. A perfect example of that was not only his vanity, but also his judgmental attitude toward the tax collector, who was also in the temple to pray.

Right about this time in the gospel reading, everyone nods their heads, knowing that this Pharisee is going to get his come-uppance (a negative term for his deserved “reward”). Sure enough, Jesus says that the Pharisee was not in a right relationship with God. On the other hand, the tax collector, who had humbled himself, was deemed by Jesus to be in right relationship to God.

“Way to go, Jesus!” we might be inclined to say today. Then we remember that we are called in every parable to put ourselves into the story. Do I live like that Pharisee – things like counting up my rosaries, faithful mass attendance, using the church envelopes, volunteering for church activities… And thank God I’m not like those other so-called Catholics who don’t go to Mass regularly, or who dissent with Church teachings, or who party too much, or… they are well on their way to hell…

Oooops! Do I regularly fall into this trap of self-deception, becoming the judge of the salvation of others (and thereby implying that I surely am not like them)? Do I realize that this is a confessable sin? Recognizing and acknowledging our own sinfulness is an act of humility that puts us back in right relationship to God.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Humility is the core foundation of our relationship with God (CCC #2559). We must always carefully distinguish between judging the actions and judging the person. There are indeed actions that are objectively and intrinsically good or evil, but we must not take the next step of determining the guilt (i.e., salvation) of the person. That is a responsibility that lies only with God.

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The Pharisee and the Publican: A Lesson for the Self-Reliant

Can you picture the scene? The crowds gathered in the temple forecourt for the afternoon sacrifice of atonement. One worshipper, a member of the highly respected group, known for its high standards of religious observance, stands apart from the common crowd, but not so far that he could not be heard. His prayer is a proud catalogue of his religious accomplishments, which go far beyond what is required by the Law of Moses. Doubtless he did everything he boasted of.

Jesus does not fault him for pretending to have done something he hadn’t done. His problem lies in thinking that he has put God in his debt, in thinking that he had it made. The publican was probably well off and had some political clout even if he was considered a sinner by the religious establishment. But he realized that his relationship with God depended on God’s loving mercy, not his own merits and status. The message is not about hypocrisy, but a reminder that our need for a right relationship with God is achieved through God’s loving grace, not by our self-righteous accomplishments.

Father, we put our hope in you, but we often lose our way. Help us to turn to you; show us where we are and where we should be, today and always. Help us to put our trust in your love and care. Teach us to work as if everything depended on us, but to pray as if everything depended on you, which it truly does. Lord Jesus, be merciful to us sinners.

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