August 23, 2019

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Isaiah provides the first reading for Mass this weekend. Isaiah is a fascinating book of Scripture. It covers a long period of Hebrew history. Its early chapters deal with events and conditions in the southern Hebrew kingdom of Judah, before the kingdom’s conquest by the mighty Babylonian army.

Then, as the book progresses, it tells of the plight of the Hebrews taken to Babylon, the imperial capital, where they and their descendants languished for four generations.

At last, the Hebrews were allowed to return, but the homeland that they found was hardly the “land flowing with milk and honey.” It was sterile, lifeless, and bleak. It must have been difficult not to succumb to cynicism or outright rejection of God. Why did God lead them to this awful place after all that they have experienced in Babylon? Was this God’s confirmation of the covenant?

This dreary, despondent situation is evident as we hear the words of the book read on this weekend, but the prophet unceasingly calls the people to reaffirm their devotion to God. He will rescue them and care for them.

For its second reading for Mass this weekend, the Church presents a reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews. In the late part of the first century when this epistle was composed, the plight of the Jews was anything but good. In the year 70, the Jews rebelled against the Romans. They paid a dreadful price for their audacity.

Things were as bad as they were in the days of the last part of Isaiah, from which came the reading heard earlier this weekend.

Nevertheless, as the prophets so often had encouraged the people in the past, the author of Hebrews assured the people of the first century that God would protect them, despite all their trials and woes, and lead them to life eternal.

St. Luke’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is a somber reading, indeed a warning, but also a lesson. This world is impermanent. God lives and reigns in an eternal kingdom.

Jesus has the key to the gate of God’s kingdom, but entry into the kingdom is possible only for those who are faithful to him.

Reflection

For several weeks the Church, either directly or indirectly, has taught us in the weekend readings at Mass that earthly life is not the only experience of living for humans. Earthly life will also pass.

Life is eternal, or better said, human existence is eternal. Earthly life will end, but then will come either eternity in the kingdom of heaven, or despair in hell.

God offers us every opportunity and every aid to enable us to reach heaven. He could show us no greater love than to give us Jesus as our Redeemer and companion as we move toward heaven. The Son of God, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Blessed Trinity, Jesus forgives us, strengthens us, guides us, restores us, and finally places us at the banquet table of heaven.

All this being the case, however, humans can ignore or outright reject God’s love so lavishly given in Jesus.

Humans, therefore, create their own destiny. Will they live in eternal joy with God? Or will they live without God in everlasting despair and pain? The choice belongs to them.

Therefore, each of us individually has a choice. By our faithfulness, or by our sin, we select the eternity in which we shall be.

Human pain can be quite disturbing if we do not balance it against the promises given by God to the prophets and by Jesus to us that if we honestly seek God, he will assist us through Jesus to reach eternal life with its peace and joy. †

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