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ENTER BY THE NARROW GATE
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, 22nd Week of the Year, September 04, 2017
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Psalm 95, Luke 4:16-30


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted

 

"For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And then the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).


This is St. Paul's great eschatological passage about the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of the world on the clouds of heaven in power and great glory. We should not think that we will not experience this coming just because we will probably die before he comes.


The early Christians had the same fear, but in a slightly different way. They were convinced that they would be alive in their earthly bodies when the Lord would come again, but they were worried about their dead loved ones who they thought would miss it, since they were already dead.


Not so, St. Paul tells them. All those who are saved will experience the Lord's return, both the living and the dead, and, in fact, he says, the dead will have an advantage over we who are alive when he comes, because it is the dead in Christ who will meet the returning Lord before the rest of us who are still alive. They will rise first at his coming and meet him before we do:


"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).


These words of St. Paul, which were meant to console the Thessalonians about their dead loved ones, should console us too, because most of us think that we will probably be dead when the Lord comes again. We probably will be dead, but we are consoled by St. Paul's words today that assure us that we too shall see the Lord's return, and when he comes, we will even meet him before those who are still alive in their earthly bodies on that day.


Why does God reveal this to us? Why does he tell us that Christ will come again on the last day on the clouds of heaven to take us to be with him in risen and glorified bodies forever? Surely it is because he wants us to know and to think about the final end and goal of our life.


If we know the final purpose and goal of anything, we will know how to better use it. If we think, for example, that God made tomatoes to provide food for birds and fertilizer for the ground, we will not try to eat them and so will miss out on an important food that God created for us. One who knows that God created tomatoes as human food will have a great advantage over those who do not know this and will be able to benefit from eating them with his meals.


It is the same with knowing the end, final goal, and purpose for which God created man. One who does not know the final purpose, end, and goal of man doesn't really know how he is supposed to live. He will probably think that he is supposed to have as many pleasures as possible and so will become a fat glutton and sex maniac.


But one who knows that man's end is to be taken up with Christ when he returns again in power and glory and to rise with him in resurrected and glorified bodies to live with him forever will live very differently. He will try hard to do all that he does in a way that he knows will please God so that he might be judged and rewarded by God on the last day for the morality, purity, and goodness of his earthly life and so be taken up into glory at the Lord's return, and not be cast into the outer darkness where they will weep and gnash their teeth (Matthew 25:30).


Those of us who know our final end should "make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body" (2 Corinthians 5:9-10).


It is good for us to reflect on these Scripture passages about our final end and the ultimate goal of our life. They are meant to inspire and motivate us to overcome the many, almost daily temptations to live for our own pleasures, so that we might rather live for the Lord and follow his will that he revealed to us in his moral law (the Ten Commandments).


We are justified by faith, not by works (Galatians 2:16), but once justified, God expects us to live according to his will as revealed to us in his moral law and in the teaching and example of Christ and the New Testament. And the grace of justification enables us to live according to God's will, that is, to follow his moral law.


There are so many counter pulls in our life, enticing us to live for our own pleasures in ways that offend God and are destructive of the God-given goal, purpose, and end of our life that we need pulls and attractions in the other direction, in the direction of God and the way he wants us to live. One of these true pulls and attractions is Christ's teaching about our final end and the ultimate goal of our life. Reflecting and meditating on this will strengthen and motivate us to turn away from false, harmful, and sinful pleasures that will shipwreck our life and prevent us from realizing the goal for which God created us.


Today's text from 1 Thessalonians is one of the key Scripture passages that describes in a very visual way our final end:


"For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel's call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).


When the final trumpet blows, will it catch us off guard, or will it find us ready and waiting for our Lord with our loins girded and our lamps burning?


"Let your loins be girded and your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the marriage feast, so that they may open to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them" (Luke 12:35-37).


This is how we are to live now. We are to live correctly and be sober and awake. We should not live "as enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18). Those who live that way will not end their life well. They will end in destruction.


"Their end is destruction, their God is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Philippians 3:19).


They are walking down the broad and easy way of life that leads to destruction. They will miss the end for which they were created. They will not be saved and so will not rise to meet Christ in the air when he comes again. Their mistake is that they have not entered by the narrow gate that leads to eternal life.


So "enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).


It is only those who walk on the narrow road who will end their life in the glory that God has planned for us, when there "will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; and he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other" (Matthew 24:30-31).

 

All the tribes of the earth will weep and mourn when they see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, because they did not believed in him. At last they see their great mistake, and they weep because it is too late for them to change. Now is the time to repent and change, before the Lord comes.


May we live now in such a way that we will be among those who are caught up in the air with Christ on that great day, when "we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).


So "gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13).


"Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (2 Peter 3:14).

 

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