32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment, so also Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.
As the Church’s liturgical year comes to its end – we have three Sundays remaining until Advent which will begin the new liturgical year – the readings will direct our minds to the end of the world and the final judgement, when Christ will come a second time for the final judgement and the final establishment of the Kingdom of God. Today’s reading from Hebrews focuses on this final judgement in a very positive way for the children of the Kingdom, for it says that Christ “will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
But a first question follows from this passage: do we, do most Christians in fact eagerly await the coming of Christ to judge us? Now we should have every reason to long for His coming, assuming of course that we are preparing for His judgement. After all, Christ’s first appearance was for the great purpose of atoning for all our sins by His self-sacrifice, precisely so that we could be recreated by His Grace and made true children of God and members of His Kingdom, His Church. Christ is presented in Hebrews as the great high priest of all mankind who comes into the world, as a man, for our sake. He came to exercise the supreme priestly office on our behalf, offering himself as the perfect sacrifice which atones for all the sins of mankind. Is that by itself not a cause for tremendous joy and eager longing for Him to come again and fulfill what he has begun?
However, we also know that His sacrifice does not mean automatic remission of our sins and effortless personal salvation on our part. Here is the difficult truth for man. Each person, in order to be saved, must truly repent of his or her personal sins and must have a living faith in God, more precisely in the God/man High Priest who redeemed us. Moreover, to become a present member of His Kingdom here and now, each person must be baptized. And, finally, those who are actually to be saved in the end must live a life in accord with this faith and the moral law of God, and be ready, when he or she dies, to be judged by Christ our God. The Letter to the Hebrews makes that abundantly clear in saying that “that human beings die once, and after this [comes] the judgment.”
The Church calls this judgment immediately after death the particular judgment. This immediate or particular judgment will in fact determine whether we are to be forever members of God’s heavenly Kingdom or be forever cast out into the darkness.
However, Hebrews appears to be speaking in this reading not so much about the particular judgment of individuals but about that absolutely final or general judgement that will take place when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead of all of mankind, and even the angels. Moreover, this final, general judgement will establish the final and complete condition or situation of all of creation, not only of all mankind and angels, but even all the material elements of the whole universe.
On the one hand, our catechism teaches that at the particular judgment, each individual person will be illuminated by Christ to understand why he or she has either been condemned to Hell or has been rewarded with Heaven. At that moment, the judged person will either immediately enter among the blessed, if already found perfect in the state of Grace by Christ, or, if not found yet perfect will enter Purgatory where that perfection of Grace will take place, or, will immediately be placed permanently among the damned who died without the wedding garment of divine Grace.
On the other hand, at the general judgment the whole human race will be illuminated as to exactly why only certain men and angels are rewarded, judged worthy of the Kingdom of God, and why others are condemned, judged worthy of eternal damnation. In addition, this final illumination will make clear the meaning of all human history and how it will have related to the great mystery of redemption, how it contributed to the salvation of souls and the damnation of souls, the victory of Christ and His Church and the defeat of Satan and all the forces of evil.
Finally, at this final determination of all creation, the bodies of all men will be raised, but with vastly different forms. Those destined for Heaven will be raised and transformed in glorified bodies, while those destined for Hell will be raised in purely natural bodies still capable of suffering. And then the rest of the material creation will be transformed to become the dwelling place of the glorified sons and daughters of the Kingdom, while those who are to have no place in that Kingdom will be exiled in some mysterious way into the darkness which will be their final dwelling.
It is truly an awesome thing to contemplate this future judgement that will be the occasion and reason for Christ’s second coming, this second time in glory, and it will be even more awesome to experience this great division of creation, for good or for evil destinations. Thus, the author of Hebrews writes to console the pilgrim church which is ever struggling under persecution and rejection in this world. He does not in any way suggest that the faithful should fear this second coming of Christ, but says they are to long for it, to desire it, And why? Because Christ will be appearing, “to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.” Christ is coming precisely to deliver his followers from the evil things of this world and to elevate them to the joys of eternal salvation.
Still, we will have hope in this salvation only if we eagerly await His coming. For certainly no one will eagerly await His coming and judgment if he is living an immoral life, a worldly existence rather than a life of faith, hope and charity. Only they truly will await him eagerly who are truly trying to live a Godly life, a life shaped by His virtues, and by faith, hope and charity, and not by the values of this world.
We see a great example of this kind of person in today’s Gospel. The person who catches Jesus attention in the Temple treasury is the poor widow who donated only a few pennies to the treasury. Jesus praises her because her generosity, giving away everything, showed that she was making herself totally dependent upon God and was eagerly awaiting the Kingdom of God.
Jesus read that women’s heart, and Jesus knows what is in our hearts. But does he see the same faith and love in our hearts, that same eagerness for the Kingdom to come, witnessed to by the way we live in this world? Or, more importantly, will he see the same faith and love in our hearts when he comes to be our judge.