Monday, February 28, 2011

The End Draws Near, My Soul . . .

Dear Parish Faithful,

Here is a fine short summary of the meaning and placement of the Sunday of the Last Judgment during our current pre-lenten season. This is from Archbishop Kallistos Ware’s Introduction to the Lenten Triodion:

The two past Sundays spoke to us of God’s patience and limitless compassion, of His readiness to accept every sinner who returns to Him. On this third Sunday, we are powerfully reminded of a complementary truth: no one is so patient and so merciful as God, but even He does not forgive those who do not repent. The God of love is also a God of righteousness, and when Christ comes again in glory, He will come as our Judge. ‘Behold the goodness and severity of God’ (ROM. 11:22). Such is the message of Lent to each of us: turn back while there is still time, repent before the End comes. In the words of the Great Canon:

The end draws near, my soul, the end draws near;
Yet thou dost not care or make ready.
The time grows short, rise up: the Judge is at the door.
The days of our life pass swiftly, as a dream, as a flower.

This Sunday sets before us the ‘eschatological’ dimension of Lent: The Great Fast is a preparation for the Second Coming of the Saviour, for the eternal Passover in the Age to Come. (This is a theme that will be taken up in the first three days of Holy Week.) Nor is the judgment merely in the future. Here and now, each day and each hour, in hardening our hearts toward others and in failing to respond to the opportunities we are given of helping them, we are already passing judgment on ourselves.

From The Lenten Triodion,p. 45-46

What are some of the “opportunities we are given” to help others by expanding our hearts in order to embrace their needs? We just heard these “opportunities” proclaimed in the Gospel reading appointed for the Sunday of the Last Judgment (MATT. 25:31-46):

+ to give food to the hungry
+ to give drink to the thirsty
+ to welcome the stranger
+ to clothe the naked
+ to visit the sick
+ to come to those in prison

These are the acts of mercy and charity proclaimed by the glorified Son of Man that will be at the basis of our judgment when we – together with “all the nations” – will be “gathered” before Him. The glorified Son of Man is our Lord Jesus Christ. According the imagery of the parable, He will “come in His glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” (v. 31) As the judgment unfolds, there is a separation between the “sheep at the right hand” and “the goats at the left.” (v. 33) Our response to the “opportunities we are given” to serve Christ by serving those in need is expressed in a particularly profound manner by the Lord: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (v. 40) Repeated failure to avail ourselves of these opportunities to serve others in need has harsh consequences according to Christ: the final separation that leaves one a “goat.” Yet, the consequence is self-inflicted; and not a rigid juridical pronouncement. Is our faith acting through love (GAL. 5:6); or does our faith never develop beyond the theoretical stage? These are choices that we make based upon the gift of self-determination bestowed on us by God.

Various possibilities arise that present these opportunities to serve others. One such possibility exists through our parish ministries. To minister is to serve; and that is the basic meaning and goal of all parish ministries. As our collective consciousness to embody the Gospel beyond the boundaries of the parish has developed through the years, so have those parish ministries that are directed to the assistance of others expanded accordingly. Those ministries that are directly connected to the teachings of Christ in MATT. 25:31-46 will include the following:

+ a food and beverage pantry that feeds local residents in need

+ financial sponsorship of an orphan that feeds, clothes and educates her

+ parish mission teams to the Hogar in Guatemala to work and support the children

+ the possibility of visiting those in hospitals

+ a prison ministry that includes visiting prisoners, preparing food items, etc.

+ providing Christmas gifts for poor and needy families, concentrating on children

+ a “Lazarus basket” in the Fall that helps fund some of the above

The inevitable questions then arises for every member of our parish: to what extent do we participate, support and embrace these ministries? Are these ministries a part of our Christian stewardship of time, talent and treasure? Is our heart “in it,”or “out of it?” How do we coordinate the teaching of the Gospels – heard at every Liturgy – within our life as lived out as a member of a concrete parish? Does my self-absorption minimize my care for the “other?” Do I truly believe that I will be judged as Christ declares in the parable?

Perhaps these very questions can form the basis for a “preparation for Confession” during Great Lent. We usually find ourselves examining how well we fasted or failed to fast during Great Lent. Yet, in addition to prayer and fasting, almsgiving/charity is essential for a holistic embodiment of an “evangelical” – i.e. Gospel-based – way of life. Perhaps such self-examination will prepare us for the ultimate examination before the Son of Man, when everything will be revealed in absolute clarity.

But, Savior who alone lovest mankind, King of the ages, before the end comes, turn me back through repentance and have mercy on me.
(Vespers of the Sunday of the Last Judment)

Fr. Steven

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