33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 17, 2013

There is a very funny reality tv show that is broadcast once or twice a year on a cable channel dedicated to cooking and food related topics. Two professional chefs interview contestants who are judged to be miserable cooks by their families and friends. The two professional chefs taste the signature dishes of the terrible cooks. I saw an episode recently in which one contestant made Macaroni and Cheese with cottage cheese, and another contestant made soup by emptying a random collection of canned soups into a bowl.

The point of the exercise was to choose a team of poor cooks, and train them to be excellent cooks. At one point in the taste test, one of the professional chefs had second thoughts about the whole project. He commented to the camera, “These folks weren’t kidding when they said they couldn’t cook. This is scarier than I thought it was going to be.”

Sometimes, life turns out to be scarier than we anticipated. Occasionally, even the Scriptures contain scary news. The Scripture readings this Sunday contain scary images of global catastrophe that are familiar to us because of popular culture’s fascination with “end of the world” themes. Biblical apocalyptic and popular notions of “the end of the world” share a focus on scary news, but that’s where the similarities between the two end.

Biblical apocalyptic was written at times and places when faithful people felt their way of life being threatened by events beyond their control. This Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Malachi reflects a time of trial and distress facing faithful Hebrews shortly after the end of the Babylonian exile. The prophet warns those who have fallen away from faith that their faithlessness will consume them like a fire. (Malachi 3:19) He also offers consolation to the faithful that “the sun of justice will arise with healing.” (Malachi 3:20)

In the Gospel reading Jesus warns his disciples that faithless people “will seize and persecute you.” (Luke 21:12) He also promises his protection to them in their sufferings saying, “not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By patient endurance you will win life for yourselves.” (Luke 21:18-19)

Popular apocalyptic is similar to this in that there is always a stern warning about the profound danger that one faces in the world. Each of us, when we’re threatened by health problems, economic problems, even political strife, tend to think in terms of an end to the world. The normal dangers in life don’t always lead to catastrophic results, but they almost always cause us to be afraid. Each of us knows that unforeseen events can change our lives drastically, and often, tragically.

The students at The Catholic Center were fond of posing outlandish questions to me about how to handle the coming zombie apocalypse. Their questions were always in jest, but I suspect that there was real fear that underpinned those questions. None of those students really feared the possibility of actual zombies wandering around, but if I had to take a guess, I would guess that there was something zombie-like that they anticipated as a possible reality in the near future.

The continuing weakness in the economy, and the chronically poor job prospects for young adults, could easily cause those students real fear. They would not become literally the “living dead,” but figuratively so if they couldn’t get jobs after graduation. Lacking a job with a sufficient income to live on, they would be caught in an unreal existence between unemployment and gainful employment, a sort of economic zombie life. A dead-end job, without sufficient income for an independent life and without the possibility for advancement, is a scary prospect.

There are numerous things that can cause us to be afraid: natural disasters, poor health, a weak economy, civil unrest, crime and violence, deadly pandemics and every other imaginable catastrophe, whether personal or global. For tens of thousands of people in the Philippines, their world came to an end as a result of Typhoon Haiyan last week. For those who lost jobs and homes during the economic recession a few years ago, their previous way of life might have come to an end. Anyone who does not have at least a little bit of fear about such things, simply has no good sense.

When we face personal or communal crises, it is a natural response to think in terms of the world coming to an end. We ought to be afraid of tragedy, disaster and loss, but we ought to do more than just to be afraid. Biblical apocalyptic offers a perspective on tragedy, loss and fear that we will never find in popular culture; the Scriptures tell us exactly how to be afraid. Fear of disaster is natural and unavoidable, but we have a conscious choice about how we live with those fears.

Jesus said, first of all, “See that you are not deceived.” (Luke 21:8) There will never be any lack of people who will try to stir up fear, nor any lack of those who claim to offer salvation from the world’s ills. Jesus repeatedly cautioned his disciples not to be confused or deceived by people who claim to know the mind of God. It is simply not for us to know the details of God’s plan to recreate the world without sin and death. We should never let our legitimate fears lead us away from the well-worn path of faith.

Secondly, Jesus said that we should face our sufferings as part of the cost of discipleship. To follow in the footsteps of the Suffering Servant of God will bring us at least our fair share of suffering. While no one can completely avoid suffering, God grants believers the possibility to join their suffering to the sufferings of Jesus. This won’t make our pain any easier to bear, but it can make our pain a path to greater holiness.

Lastly, Jesus said not to give up hope. The tragedies, great and small, that are unavoidable in life truly have power to change our lives without our consent. Not even the greatest tragedy, however, has the power to separate us from God. Hope is a choice to trust that God’s promises apply to our individual lives; we should never let legitimate fear sway us from the path of hope.

The “end of the world” in popular apocalyptic is a cataclysmic tragedy that will threaten every person’s life and well-being. In contrast, the “end of the world” for believers represents only the danger of falling away from God – something that is completely under our control. Regardless of the sort of bad news that affects our lives, and regardless of the tragic events that happen around us, we are fully capable of avoiding the real “end of the world” that will happen if we give up our faith and hope. Jesus gives us encouragement and power to remain faithful, to remain hopeful and to persevere with patient endurance.

A message from Fr. Alan . . .

I would like to ask your prayerful consideration of two requests. The first request is for the people in the Philippines who have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan. There will be a second collection next weekend, November 24; the proceeds from that collection will go to Catholic Relief Services. Catholic Relief Services maintains full time missions in 72 countries around the world; the Philippines is one of those countries that has a permanent staff of aid workers and coordinators. Their long-standing presence in the Philippines allowed CRS to begin providing aid and support immediately after the storm subsided. Next Sunday’s second collection will allow CRS to continue their work of caring for those displaced, bereaved and injured by the storm. Please make your check payable to All Saints, and write “CRS” on the memo line. You can also donate online at crs.org.

Catholic Relief services is one of the most efficient charitable organizations in the United States. They meet all 20 of the strict Charity Standards set by the Better Business Bureau’s charity rating arm, the Wise Giving Alliance, and have an “A+” rating from CharityWatch. 93 cents of every dollar you give goes directly to material and logistical aid in the countries that CRS serves; the remaining 7 cents supports the full time staff members who operate CRS’ mission offices in the United States and abroad. That 7 cents is essential to the mission of Catholic Relief Services; among other things, it means that CRS was able to respond immediately to those affected by the storm.

My second request is related to that 7 cents. Much of the good work that the Catholic Church does goes unnoticed until there is a tragedy or an urgent need, such as disaster relief in the Philippines. Administrative and logistical offices are not glamorous or enticing causes that inspire people to make charitable contributions, but they provide the necessary infrastructure with which to identify needs and provide appropriate help when help is needed.

Within our diocese there is something similar to that 7 cents that CRS spends on maintaining their administrative offices. Our diocesan administrative offices work year-round, but are noticed only when there is an immediate need. Among other things, our diocesan administrative offices provide financial support to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the organization that sponsors Catholic Relief Services.

It might not seem particularly interesting or exciting to make a contribution to the diocesan Annual Pastoral Appeal, but your APA contribution makes possible ministries like Catholic Relief Services, the Campaign for Human Development and the Catholic Home Missions office. I ask you to consider making a contribution to APA this year. If you have supported APA in the past, your contribution has made a significant difference both to the Church in the United States and to the Church’s missionary activity abroad. If you have not contributed to APA in the past, I ask you to consider doing so this year. All Saints parish is very close to meeting its goal for 2013, and our contributions have made possible the ongoing presence of Catholic Relief Services in the Philippines and CRS’ rapid response to the disaster. Our APA goal is rather small compared to some of the surrounding parishes, but every penny counts in the effort to be prepared to lend help to disaster victims and others in need.

You can support the Annual Pastoral Appeal by placing a check payable to “APA 2013” in the Sunday Collection, or by going to the APA website. (Please make certain to direct your online contribution to All Saints.) Please give your prayerful consideration to supporting our APA goal this year. Thank you.