33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, cycle C

Let us pray with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin…

Lord, enfold me in the depths of your heart;

And there hold me, refine, purge, and set me on fire,

Raise me aloft, until my own self knows utter annihilation.  Amen

1st Reading:   Malachi (3:19-20a)

Take a minute to go over the opening prayer again and what this reading is saying.  Our spirituality is like fire.  We can let it transform us, or we can rest in the coals.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.”  How does this sit with you today?

Malachi means “my messenger”.  This book was written by an anonymous author about 460-450 BC after the exile.  Although the exile was over and the people had been allowed to return home, they were disheartened.  The temple had been rebuilt, but it did not guarantee communal, liturgical, or spiritual unity.  The people were in disarray.  The clergy were negligent, the ritual sloppy, and there was an indifference to the needs of the poor.  The rich became richer, and poor became poorer.  The prophets used the idea of the “Day of the Lord” to create fear and to motivate people to change. They claimed the day would be a day of judgment – a day of fire when the righteous would be saved, but evil would be destroyed.  Because Malachi came up against the leaders, he was a very unpopular prophet.  He was also insistent that the people forsake all foreign religious practices – he was even afraid of intermarriage because he thought it would taint Judaism.  (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 533)

The “Sun of Justice” literally means the ‘sun which is justice’.  How does this image speak to you of God?  Here we see the Biblical authors applying the symbol of the ‘sun god’ that was used in Persia and Egypt to Yahweh for to them Yahweh certainly was the source of all light and life. The hot sun could blaze with fire to burn away evil and to heal the righteous.  Christians applied this idea later to Jesus calling him the “Son of Justice” – the One who comes as light into the world with the incarnate presence of God.   (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Wk, 533-534)

2nd Reading:  2 Thessalonians (3:7-12)

This letter reflects an example of a group whose apocalyptic fervor has ‘gone amuck.’ They refused to work, and they were beginning to be a burden on the rest of the Christian community.  We do need to be careful how we apply this text.  We are all capable of being ‘shirkers’ – and we thus need to take the warning seriously. But – as with all scripture – we should not use this passage to criticize the poor who might be faced with unemployment and homelessness beyond their own choice. It may be just as likely to find ‘shirkers’ among the affluent as among the poor. Christianity always demands that we uphold the law of love. (Mary Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook, 534)

“Faith cannot stand as an excuse.  Faith does not wait for another to work, for another to think, to serve, to pray.  Faith plunges the believer into the thick of the human experience with all its pain and struggle even as it realizes and lives in the hope that this life is not forever.  Temporal and temporary as it is, however, it is only during THIS life that we have the opportunity to prepare for the life that never ends,” (“Preaching Resources”, Nov’04).

Gospel Reading:   Luke (21:5-19)

From John Kavanaugh, S.J., “The Word Engaged” http://liturgy.slu.edu :

But in some ways this gospel is also just about the way life is – such things do happen as Jesus warns us. Each day is the last. Each time is the end time. Each human faces the end of the world in the span of a life. Every sunset closes a day that will never come again. Each human death is a curtain on an unrepeatable drama. Without God, this would all mean hopeless tragedy.

Has there ever been an age without such turmoil and trial, persecution and stress? As Paul says, it is only faith that saves us; it is faith that gives us hope in the midst of this ‘groaning of creation’ both within and without our human lives – as we live and when we die.

Our belief in Paschal Mystery can help us.  From the Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser:

In order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life . . .

Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life . . . Jesus did not get his old life back. He received a new life – a richer life, a life that is free of death entirely.  (146)

What can we learn from the cycle of the paschal mystery?

  1. Name your deaths.
  2. Claim your births.
  3. Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality.
  4. Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing.
  5. Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living. (148)

Christ’s words are meant to move us, inspire us to set the world on fire like St. Ignatius implores.  Here are some reflection questions using the image of fire:

  • What is blazing in your heart?
  • Where in your life do you experience the fire of light, protection and warmth?
  • What in your life needs to be refined or purified?
  • Where do you experience resistance to the purifying dimensions of fire?
  • What keeps you from living your life with an awareness of this holy fire within you?
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