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Rest assured: God is in charge

Archbishop Wenski's homily at 'Convivencia' of Neocatechumenal Way priests

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Nov. 26, 2021, at the concluding Mass for a “Convivencia” (gathering) of 150 priests of the Neocatechumenal Way, which was held in Miami.

The literary genre of the Book of Daniel and the parts of the Gospel according to Luke that we have been hearing in recent days belong to what we can call “apocalyptic narratives.”

Apocalyptic writings are not unique to the Scriptures — nor are they found only in the far distant past. These writings emerge during times of rapid social change, times of confusion, and the various apocalyptic writings try to help people make sense of an existential crisis they are experiencing.

And today apocalypticism has both religious and secular manifestations. We can find both in the wake of COVID 19. For some religious people, the “apocalypse” signifies the judgment of God while the secularist’s apocalypse would be sociopolitical change, a new revolution or new world order. In any case, you can find a variety of religious and secular apocalypses — some right wing, others left wing — on various social media sites.

What’s important to remember is that these apocalypses are not “canonical” like the ones we find in the Scriptures.

Today we are living through difficult times. Pope Francis has described our time as being not so much an era of change but the change of an era. This was true also of Daniel’s time, and it was certainly true for those early Christians to whom the Gospel of Luke was addressed, many of them former Jews — for them the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem provoked an existential crisis and symbolized the change of an era. They were moving from B.C. to A.D., definitively a change of an era.

One of the signs of our times that tell us that what we are experiencing is more than just “business as usual,” that we are in fact in a change of an era, is that society’s institutions are being called into question. Certainly, these institutions have been undermined to one extent or another because of corruption and greed, because of the abuse of authority and power. Positions of service are turned into instruments of personal gain. We see this in politics, we see this in academia, in the press, in the entertainment world, in business — and certainly we have seen this in the Church.

This is all very unsettling: People are afraid, and people, when they are afraid — especially if there is no escape — people react with anger. Today, for example, we see that people are increasingly addicted to “outrage.” In fact, the internet and cable news support a whole industry devoted to “outrage” — which could be defined as talk designed to provoke emotional responses — anger, fear, moral indignation among others. This “outrage industry” is sustained by overgeneralization, sensationalism, inaccurate information and “ad hominem” attacks. It’s all very apocalyptical.

While we usually associate the word “apocalypse” with some type of existential crisis — a foreboding of doom and destruction — the word is also translated as “revelation.” And thus, the various apocalyptical narratives we find in both the Old and the New Testaments invite us to discover God’s perspective in the signs of the times.

And so, today we have Daniel’s vision of the four world powers that one after the other will beset the Jewish people — the Chaldeans, the Persians, the Greeks, and then finally the Romans. Using apocalyptic language, he tries to make sense of the tribulations of people and to find God’s perspective in the events. Likewise, Jesus in today’s Gospel also urges us to look at the signs of the times and like Daniel ends with a message of hope. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

The apocalypses of Daniel, Luke, and certainly that of St. John’s Book of Revelations assure us — or reassure us — that God has the last word in the events of human history. To us is revealed what the end of the story will be. This is what distinguishes Biblical apocalyptical narratives from the many religious and secular apocalypses of today.

And this assurance that God is in charge — this blessed assurance, as one hymn phrases it — is a fitting introduction to the Advent Season which we begin this Sunday. Advent is about hope. Mary’s “yes” opened the doors of our world to hope: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical, Spe Salvi, a world without God is a world without hope, a world without God is a world without a future.

Today, our world is suffering from a crisis of hope. Assaulted by a global health crisis, as well as economic and social turmoil in our cities both here in this country and in other parts of the world, we can feel like we are set adrift in uncertain waters. Any social ill you might point to is, I would say, a symptom of the loss of hope: drug abuse (100,000 people dead last year because of opioids) — people who see a future of hope for themselves don’t poison themselves with drugs; abortion — mothers who see a future of hope don’t kill their children. The demographic winter is a symptom of the loss of hope: Without a future of hope, people don’t marry and form families. More than ever, we need the anchor of hope, that hope that sustained the saints even in their darkest moments, that hope that is Jesus Christ.

The proof of the truth of the Gospel is its power to change lives. This power is shown especially through mercy and compassion, as Pope Francis continually reminds us. 

Advent with its call to make straight the way of the Lord is a call to witness to the power of the Gospel by allowing it to change our lives. For lives changed by the power of the Gospel is what introduces hope into the world. And that is essentially what the Church offers, what we offer, the world. In the midst of the chaos in which we live — "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears" — the Church offers a path to a future that can be different, a future that is different precisely because the man Jesus Christ, who is also the Son of the living God, lived, suffered, died, and is risen from the dead.

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