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Spirituality of the Readings
Thirty-Third Sunday
of Ordinary Time
November 18, 2018
John Foley, SJ

Getting Ready for Getting Ready

Jagged and dark.

These are the kind of images you will find in the readings for Sunday. They are called “apocalyptic literature.” *

For instance,

Some shall live forever, others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.

A time unsurpassed in distress.

The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Why such terrible imagery, especially now with beautiful Advent just two weeks away?

One reason, of course, is so that there might build within us a specific need for relief, for the coming of the simple Christ baby.

The world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest.
Recall that in our 21st century we find the opposite: competing ideologies striving to take over, and leaders more than willing to approve them. Look at the advertising world: shampooing your hair will make you ecstatic (with a corn-cob-eating grin on your face as you use the product). Casual sex without commitment—taken for granted and very often illustrated. Free cable movies freely practicing the blasphemous use of God’s and Jesus’ name, for no real reason, even while censoring out words referring to bodily functions. And so on.

Of course, on top of such dehumanizing media forces, the world is faced with crises every bit as bad as apocalyptic literature might suggest. Real threats of unrecoverable climate changes, economic crises that more than wreck people’s lives, toxic wastes, holes in the ozone layer, tsunami and hurricanes, shootings and killings, just to start the list.

Our readings do contain a few grains of hope. At the end of the First Reading we find a tempting promise of rescue:

… the wise shall shine brightly
like the splendor of the firmament,
and those who lead the many to justice
shall be like the stars forever.

This passage can bring us peace—

and a problem.

When the greatest tribulations in history are staring us in the face, should we be nourished by such lovely words?

Maybe we should get hyper-active instead. We should reform video games, television, movies, digital anarchy, recordings, and so on. Then stop spending money of the poor on luxuries that 50 years ago no one could have even imagined. And reinstate honesty and fairness instead of greed as the goal in life. Work harder to care for individuals and families who otherwise have no chance.

Shine brightly
helping rightly.

The problem with this reasoning is not at all that it is wrong. It is right. But how can you or I have any effect on the enormity of today’s situation?

First, get smart. Examine carefully what you are able to do and with what effect. You are not helpless, no matter how you feel.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.**

Second, let your courage rest in divine help. Remember that famous passage from Jeremiah:

I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you and bring you back (Jer 29:11).***

That is what Advent will aim towards. This Sunday’s purpose is to help us wait for the Advent waiting.

 * Apocalyptic writings are thought to be a distinctive branch of literature. Some believe this kind of writing took place in times of persecution when straightforward writing would be penalized. Apocalyptic writings usually feature visions or dreams revealed to the writer, predictions of the future, using fantastic imagery, mystical symbols, and predictions of the end of the age. The First Reading, from the Book of Daniel, and the Gospel passage from Mark for this week are two of the most important examples of apocalyptical writings in the bible. For more on this topic, see the “Scripture in Depth” section of this web site.
** From the “Serenity Prayer.”
*** I was blest to set these words to music and I did it mainly because of the hope they produced in me. To download “Song of Hope,” press here.
Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go