Terrance KleinNovember 10, 2021
Joseph Chan on Unsplash

A Reflection for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Daniel 12:1-3 Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 Mark 13:24-32

She is fighting cancer. So she did not surprise me when she stepped outside her front door and said, “Father, we need to talk before you come in.” Though vaccinated, I reached for my facemask.

“No, not that. I’ve begun decorating for Christmas. Here, please come in. You’ll see, and I can explain.” A beautiful tree in the window, not yet decorated, garlands along the banisters, at least 30 fully wrapped presents against the fireplace wall.

“You see, if I am able to have surgery next week, it will be at least a week before I can come home. And then I’ll be bedfast for a bit. I have to have Christmas ready for my family.” A meme I had seen on Facebook came to mind. “Remember the magic of Christmas? It was your mom.”

We did not need to be. We are created by this same love. It cares for us. It calls to us by our names.

“No, it’s fine. I understand. Why, I was just thinking that, if I am going to put up my Christmas village this year, I should probably get started. Last year I just didn’t feel it, and it takes days to assemble.”

“You have a Christmas village? So do I, but I’ve given mine to my daughter so that her children can enjoy it.”

Eventually, we came to the purpose of my visit. Her cancer surgery, its postponement pending an EKG reading and the contingency and anxiety that this has created for her. “I’ll be ready for Christmas, but there is something else we should talk about. You will have my funeral, won’t you? I want Father Eke to be there as well. He’s been so good to me. I’ve written down instructions. That seems silly, doesn’t it?”

“No, I did that myself a few months ago. For years the diocese has been asking for them. When an old priest dies, no one knows what to do with him.”

We Christians believe that both world history and our personal lives matter. They are not illusions, dreams from which we awake.

After covering Christmas and her funeral, we celebrated sacraments and talked of the life to come. “It’s such a puzzle,” she said of her cancer. “I’m not a drinker or a smoker.” Then she repeated something I had retained from a previous visit: “I’m O.K. with dying if that is what it comes to. It’s my family that I’m worried about. I take care of them.” Indeed, she does.

Imagine how different our conversation might have been without our Christian faith. In November, Catholic thoughts turn to the dead, but they also face the future. This world is coming to an end.

At that time there shall arise
Michael, the great prince,
guardian of your people;
it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress
since nations began until that time.

Pondering the end might sound sad to some, yet it is a great comfort because the conclusion of history is connected to two other great truths of the faith: Our world had a beginning, and it has a purpose.

At that time your people shall escape,
everyone who is found written in the book (Dan 12:1)

This world did not need to be. It was summoned into existence by, in the words of Dante, “the love that moves the sun and other stars” (Paradiso XXXIII.145). We did not need to be. We are created by this same love. It cares for us. It calls to us by our names.

You can cherish life and surrender it when you know that it is never insignificant, that your story matters, that you exist to love the author of our tale.

We Christians believe that both world history and our personal lives matter. They are not illusions, dreams from which we awake. No, the world’s story and our own are a great drama. The conflict began in a garden when humanity chose something less than its destiny, and the battle was won in a garden, when the God-man surrendered to the will of his Father.

But this one offered one sacrifice for sins,
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.
For by one offering
he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated (Heb 10:12-14).

This is why my friend could prepare for Christmas, her funeral and her life in a world yet to come all the while loving this life, which she still fully intends to keep living. She can do all this because she knows that her Lord gave her this life. If he granted it to her in love, it would only be through love that he would ask her to surrender it.

Nothing morbid. Nothing of death’s darkness about our visit. Fiercely loving this life, she had plans to make. She and I know where we fit into the story. We know the chapters that need to be outlined, even before we write them. You can cherish life and surrender it when you know that it is never insignificant, that your story matters, that you exist to love the author of our tale.

But 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 (Dan 12:3).

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