by Jeffrey Lindholm
The end of Ordinary Time presents an interesting time of year. Many Catholics do not even realize that the end of the liturgical year is approaching. It certainly is a bit unusual to end a year in November, but every year the Catholic Church wraps up Ordinary Time and transitions into Advent and a new year. What can we Catholics learn from the end of Ordinary Time?
The readings in the last three weeks of Ordinary Time offer gloomy language about the end of time and a just God. For example, we hear from Second Maccabees that a man being tortured and near death says, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him, but for you [the King], there will be no resurrection of life” (2 Mac. 7:14).
Might Jesus offer a more hopeful message? On the contrary, he says, “‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. Before all of this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. You will be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives’” (Lk. 21:10-12, 16-19).
Even Jesus—who we consider the most loving of all—talks of division and hatred towards us because we believe in him. The language from the Old Testament and from Jesus himself can be startling and even frightening when we hear of apocalyptic images and of death. The beautiful thing about Ordinary Time is that these reading have special meaning for Catholics. Eschatology, or “the branch of systematic theology that treats of the last things: death, particular and general judgments, heaven, hell, and purgatory” (Catholic Dictionary), is evident in the closing weeks of Ordinary Time. Pondering the end of life, eternity, and the possibility of hell can rest easy in one’s mind and soul, but a closer look at the supposedly “dark” readings offers everlasting hope.
The study of the last things can often be too much to think about. These closing weeks challenge us to ponder our lives and the state of our soul. Psalm 17 says that “Lord, when your glory appears my joy will be full” (Ps. 17:15). I think we can take this message and dwell on it. When Jesus comes again, he will come in glory to save the world once and for all from the depths of sin and injustice.
The 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time, or the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is the end of the liturgical year, and the end of the eschatology-themed readings. The Gospel gives Catholics the most comforting message, and is a fitting end to the Church year. The Gospel reading is the familiar story of the Good Thief on the cross. While suffering himself, Jesus turns to the condemned man next to him and says, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
Through this story, Jesus offers us the ultimate promise of love and mercy in the midst of the dark readings. Jesus comes to us and accepts us as we are, in the midst of our brokenness. Jesus promises us eternal life, even when we have not been perfect. This message and promise of “paradise” is the message of Ordinary Time that dominates the end of the liturgical year. We must contemplate the last things during this time of year because Jesus calls us to himself, for we do not know the time nor the hour when we will be called.
At end of Ordinary Time, the Church persuades us to contemplate Eschatology. This allows us to meditate on the state of our soul. Are we growing closer to God? Do we believe that our actions bring God’s love to the world? Do we believe in the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting, as the Nicene Creed teaches? This is our faith. The conclusion of Ordinary Time challenges us to take up our cross and grow in our faith. Jesus bore our sins on the Cross and promises us eternal life just as he promised it to the Good Thief prior to his death. Instead of fearing the readings in the coming weeks, may we open ourselves up to the love of Jesus Christ, with the hope of eternity given to us through his defeat of sin and death.