By Pastor Julian Harris
Concerning times and seasons, brothers and sisters, you have no need for anything to be written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
(1 Thessalonians 5:1-2)
The fledgling church in Thessalonica asked questions through St. Timothy, and St. Paul answered them by letter. We can infer the questions: If our loved ones are dead and buried before Jesus comes again, will they be left behind? St. Paul sought to comfort, encourage, dispel doubt and give hope where there would normally be no hope, and to remove ignorance so that Christians in every age might be informed as a protection from erroneous ideas that might disturb their peace or lead them into counterfeit Christianity.
For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16-18)
The greatest purpose of the prophetic Word is to lead the Church in her pursuit of holiness and truth. All biblical passages about the Day of the Lord, the Second Coming of Christ, and the End Times are exhortations to godliness, faithfulness and perseverance in holiness among the godless, the faithless and the wicked of this generation. This includes themes like living as aliens and strangers in your own native land. Beware complacency!
Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers,
they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
(1 Peter 2:11)
Christians are sojourners here, and Heaven is their home. Hope, therefore, is the key to Christian identity. Hope is the great motivation in the Christian life; hope is the reason Christians endure suffering. Hope motivates our witness and powers our evangelism. Hope is the fulfillment of the Christian life when we stand before the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and receive the crown of glory from His hand at His coming:
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
(1 Peter 5:4)
For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes? Is it not you? (1 Thessalonians 2:19)
We should stand out from the crowd as a distinct people, like water separates from oil. Our Savior and His kingdom are not of this world, and we are not of this world; so let’s act accordingly:
Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now My kingdom is from another place.’
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.
The words Concerning times (chronos) and seasons (kairos) show that St. Paul is now turning to another question from the Thessalonian church. The church’s letter to the Apostle does not survive, but we can infer its contents from his answers. It is related to the date (When) and character (How) of the Day of the Lord, that is, the Day of Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ. When will it come, and how will it be for us? St. Paul speaks of two realities: one for the children of the Light, those who live in the daylight of God’s personal revelation through Christ and do the works of the light, whom He will find going about their good works, and another one for the children of the night’s darkness who will be taken by surprise and caught in the act:
For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.
When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them,
like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
(1 Thessalonians 5:2-3)
The children of light, then and now, you and me, must conduct our lives in a distinctively Christian manner as a contradiction to those around us who live in darkness and do dark things. Many people in our society today are lost in darkness and bedazzled by the glamor of evil and blind to the truth. Christians must remain awake and alert, sober, modest in words and dress, adorned as it were with the virtues of self-abnegation, patience and perseverance.
Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And finally, we must comfort (parakaleo) one another. That means to encourage each other by our own example and sometimes loving but firm admonishment to hold fast to the faith. As The Holy Spirit is our Comforter and Companion so too must we accompany each other in solidarity. We need edification from our Church leaders, our parents, our teachers and those who have legitimate authority over us. We look to our bishops and priests to inspire us by their holy lives, instruct us by their preaching and heal us by their ministrations. We must help our clergy, our consecrated women and men and each another to stay sober and spiritually awake. We are to help believers find their strength in the Savior and not in the details of life or from the things of this world, which are passing away and headed for sure destruction. We are not to be this generation’s kind of people who live as worldlings or mud-dwellers, as those who make no plans for the future or are unconcerned about spiritual matters. We must build each other up, not scandalize each other by surrendering to our human weaknesses and the allurements of worldliness.
THE CRISIS OF THE CHURCH
The Venerable Fulton J. Sheen warned us of these days. These are perilous days where many profess Christ as Catholics but do not possess Christ in their hearts or recognize Him in Holy Communion. During his television show in 1974 Venerable Sheen spoke of the way the world is going, what we should expect and what should we d0. Remember, this is all before the internet, cable television and Mass social media had arrived to hasten the pace. His words predate the current crises in the definition of gender, marriage, and even life itself:
We are at the end of Christendom. Now not Christianity, not The Church, remember what I am saying: we are at the end of Christendom. What is Christendom? Christendom is the economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is finished. We’ve seen it die. Look at the symptoms: Breakup of the family, divorce, abortion, immorality and general dishonesty…decay from within. President Lincoln said: ‘I have no fear that America will ever be destroyed from without, but I fear that it may be destroyed from within.’ We live in this country from day to day, and we do not see the decline. We take everything for granted; we get used to things. And we almost accept them as the rule…The air that we breath and the press that we read, the television that we see, is in no instance inspired by Christian principles. As a matter of fact, there is, on the part of many of us, the tendency to go down to meet the world—not to lift the world up. We are afraid of being unpopular—so we go with the mob…
Our enemy today is the world — the spirit of the world. Today we have to conform to the world or we’re branded. Must be politically correct. Our Lord said, I have taken you out of the world. We say, ‘No we have to win the world, and to win it you have to be one with it.’ Our Lord says, I pray not for the world. He was praying for the spirit of the world. And this is the easiest kind of way to fall off the log — worldliness. It’s so simple, and it can be justified for a thousand reasons; namely, the Vatican Council said we have to go into the world — indeed, but not to be worldly, which is quite a different matter. So this is our attack today and is one of the basic causes of our degeneration, of our death. We’re dying. What about it? What’s the answer?
The answer is: these are great and wonderful days in which to be alive. I thank God… that I can live in these days, because these are days of testing…What we are going to have in the Church is a minority report: a minority report of sisters, a minority report of priests, a minority report of laity — not the minority that is aggressive and troublemaking, but the minority that like Caleb and Joshua, trusts in God. So we are tested just as the Jews were tested.
Next Sunday is the Solemnity of Christ the King. It will signal the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of Advent, not of The One who has come, but more properly, to the One Who will come again. AMEN.