“For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Prayer of Commendation
Go forth, Christian soul, from this world
in the name of God the almighty Father,
who created you,
in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God,
who suffered for you,
in the name of the Holy Spirit,
who was poured out upon you.
Go forth, faithful Christian!
May you live in peace this day,
may your home be with God in Zion,
with Mary, the virgin Mother of God,
with Joseph, and all the angels and saints. . . .
May you return to your Creator
who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May holy Mary, the angels, and all the saints
come to meet you as you go forth from this life. . . .
May you see your Redeemer face to face.
O God, who cause the minds of the faithful
to unite in a single purpose,
grant your people to love what you command
and to desire what your promise,
that, amid the uncertainties of this world,
our hearts may be fixed on that place
where true gladness is foundation.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Thus says the LORD:
I know their works and their thoughts,
and I come to gather nations of every language;
they shall come and see my glory.
I will set a sign among them;
from them I will send fugitives to the nations:
to Tarshish, Put and Lud, Mosoch, Tubal and Javan,
to the distant coastlands
that have never heard of my fame, or seen my glory;
and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations.
They shall bring all your brothers and sisters from all the nations
as an offering to the LORD,
on horses and in chariots, in carts, upon mules and dromedaries,
to Jerusalem, my holy mountain, says the LORD,
just as the Israelites bring their offering
to the house of the LORD in clean vessels.
Some of these I will take as priests and Levites, says the LORD.
Like all the prophecies of the Old Testament these words of Trito-Isaiah contained far more than his contemporaries could grasp. The glory of Jerusalem which he foretold was to be something entirely new, something the Jews of his time could not even begin to understand. The most they could see in it was that the pagans of the world would come to recognize Yahweh, the God of Israel, and offer tribute to him in his Temple in Jerusalem. This was but a small part of the significance of the prophecy; the pagans would recognize the God of Israel, but through his divine Son, the Immanuel who had come on earth to bring all men to heaven and to his Father. The Temple of Jerusalem with its animal sacrifices and symbolic rites would be replaced by the true Temple, the Church, with its once-for-all effective sacrifice of Christ which would earn heaven for all men. The shadow would give place to the substance, the types and symbols would yield to the reality.
Reading these words of Trito-Isaiah today, words written five hundred years before Christ came on earth to fulfill them, we can see how the good and kind God was thinking of, and preparing for, the salvation of mankind down through the ages. He was gradually opening the minds of the Jews to see that the Gentiles were his children also, that the Temple of Jerusalem, where he had shown them his glory, was but a preparation, a symbol of the universal Temple in which he would really dwell among all the peoples of the earth in the person of Christ, his divine Son.
We can also see that God is not rushed in the carrying out of his plans. He delayed the sending of his Son for thousands of years, but in the meantime he was not neglecting Jew or Gentile. To the former he gave a direct but limited revelation of himself, and he accepted the crude but willing sacrifices and honor they paid to him, for which they were eventually rewarded. To the Gentiles he revealed himself indirectly through the things he had created. Even though they localized him in idols of their imagination, he did not condemn them for their sins of ignorance. The pious pagan, as well as the pious Jew, found a place in his kingdom, when the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ had made this possible for man.
Today, there are still millions who do not know God and who therefore do not serve him. God is waiting patiently for willing apostles who will bring his knowledge to these people, but in the meantime they will be judged not by what they do not know, but by their compliance with the knowledge they have. We who have the full revelation of God and of his plans for us, and who have the supernatural aids which he has given to his Church, should lose no opportunity of bringing this gift to our fellowman.
They can get to heaven without this. God’s mercy is as infinite as his justice. But they will find the going much more difficult. A neighbor of mine who cannot afford transport of any kind has to go from New York to Philadelphia. He can make the journey on foot but with what hardship! I am going there by car. Would I be worthy of the title of neighbor, much less of brother, if I refused to offer that poor unfortunate man a seat in my car?
Our pagan brothers’ journey to heaven will be on foot unless we Christians, who have all the necessary transport, awaken to our obligations of fraternal charity. God is depending on us–he is calling on us daily through the many appeals to help the missions. If we continue to refuse to listen, we may find God turning a deaf ear to our entreaties when we are in need.
“They shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as an offering to the Lord,” the prophet says to us today. Am I included in that “they?” Am I helping within the limits, of my means to bring my fellowman, whether in pagan lands or nearer home, back to their Father, God, and eventually to heaven? If I am not, I had better look up my spiritual road-map. I must have taken a wrong turning somewhere. I am not on the road to heaven myself.
Ps 117:1, 2
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Praise the LORD all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Heb 12:5-7, 11-13
Brothers and sisters,
You have forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children:
“My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord
or lose heart when reproved by him;
for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines;
he scourges every son he acknowledges.”
Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time,
all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.
So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees.
Make straight paths for your feet,
that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.
This exhortation, given to the early Jewish converts, is as necessary for us today as it was in the year 67 A.D. Those converts suffered much from their fellow-Jews, who refused to accept Christ as the promised Messiah and branded all Jews who became his followers as perverts and traitors to their own religion and race. In many cases they had to leave their towns and their possessions. They were persecuted, imprisoned and threatened with death (see Acts 8 and 9). Besides all this, they had poverty and sickness to contend with. Their following of Christ was surely a climbing of Calvary.
There are many parts of our world today where the same or even a worse fate is the lot of the true follower of Christ. Even in countries where there is no open persecution, there are hidden, insidious attacks on religion, especially on the Christian religion, attacks all the more dangerous because they are hidden. It is not easy for one to keep the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church when so many of his neighbors, including some who were one time “Masters in Israel,” having thrown aside all sense of Christian observance themselves, ridicule and deride his attempts to live his faith.
It is not easy, but living the Christian faith was never intended to be easy. The man who looks seriously on life, and knows what it really is, a period of preparation, a training-school for the eternal life that is to follow; will expect and in fact gladly accept the difficulties and hardships which this entails. Nor must we forget that God also grants his faithful ones many happy moments in this “valley of tears.” We are not crying all the time. As for the temptations which the enemies of Christ spread around us to abandon our upward climb, and the ridicule they sometimes heap on the man who is seriously concerned with the things of God, the old saying is still very true : “He who laughs last, laughs longest.”
Not that we should ever rejoice or laugh at the unfortunate ones who, because of the way they mis-spend their life here, will find no welcome in the heavenly kingdom. Rather, the true lover of God will want them to turn to God before it is too late, and will never miss an opportunity to help them to see the light.
True love of God demands true love of neighbor, and that neighbor is even the man who is trying to keep me from living my Christian life as I should. In fact, such a man may be a truer and a more helpful neighbor than those who never trouble me, for he is giving me a chance to practice the virtues of patience and perseverance which today’s lesson urges me to practice.
“Endure your trials as the discipline (the training) of God, who deals with you as sons.” The Christian’s trials, then, come from God, a God who is his father and wants to train him and make him fit to earn the heavenly reward. How proud, how glad, we should be that God deigns to take such an interest in us. He has made us, mere creatures that we are, his sons and heirs. Because we are his sons and heirs, he goes to the trouble of training us for the position of honor which he has prepared for us. Let us then endure our trials, knowing that God has a very special purpose in sending them to us.
Jesus passed through towns and villages,
teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.
Someone asked him,
“Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
He answered them,
“Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough.
After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door,
then will you stand outside knocking and saying,
‘Lord, open the door for us.’
He will say to you in reply,
‘I do not know where you are from.
And you will say,
‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’
Then he will say to you,
‘I do not know where you are from.
Depart from me, all you evildoers!’
And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth
when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
and you yourselves cast out.
And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.
For behold, some are last who will be first,
and some are first who will be last.”
While the questioner who asked how many would be saved did not get a direct answer from Christ, nevertheless it was made very clear to him and to all of us that each one’s salvation is in his own hands. All those who accept Christ, his teaching and the helps he has made available to them, will enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, those who are excluded from that eternal kingdom will have only themselves to blame. God invites all men to heaven. He gives all the help necessary to every man, but, because men have a free will which God cannot force, some will abuse that freedom and choose wrongly.
Christ mentions the narrow door through which we must enter into God’s kingdom. This means that we must exercise self-restraint and mortification and this we do when we respect and keep his commandments. When we are called to judgement it will be too late to shout “Sir, open for us.” We should have sought his mercy and his forgiveness during our earthly life, and he would have granted it.
Neither will it avail us to say that we knew him in life. Acquaintance with Christ is not enough. We should have loved him and become his real friends, which we could only do by being loyal followers of his. “He taught in our streets” will only prove our guilt. We could have learned his doctrine; we could have become his disciples, but we would not. The pagan who never heard of Christ will not be condemned for not following his teaching, but the Christian who did hear his doctrine and refused to carry it out, will deserve condemnation.
As descent from Abraham was not a claim for special consideration on the part of the Jews, neither will any other circumstances of nationality, birth or earthly privilege help us on the day of judgement. Each one will stand or fall by his own mode of life during his term on earth. Nothing and nobody else can change the just judgement of God when that moment arrives for each one of us.
The thought of our moment of judgement is a staggering one even for the holiest of us. Things and actions that do not trouble us much now, will appear in a different light then. The prayers we omitted or said carelessly, the Masses we missed on flimsy excuses the little bit of continual injustice to a workman or customer, or the dishonesty practiced by a worker against his employer, the sins of impurity of which we thought rather lightly, the bad language so freely used and the scandal we spread so flippantly, the money wasted on drink or gambling when our children needed nourishment and clothing–these, and many other such faults of which we excuse ourselves so easily now, will not be a source of joy or consolation for us on that dread day, if we arrive at God’s justice-seat still burdened with them.
We are dealing with God’s mercy while alive. He will forgive any sin and any number of sins if we truly repent, and resolve to correct these faults. To do this is the only one guarantee that even God himself can give us of a successful judgement. Every man who lives in God’s grace will die in God’s grace and be numbered among the saved. The man who lives habitually in sin, and refuses to amend his life, will die in his sinful state, and thus exclude himself from eternal salvation.
I have a free will. I can choose to pass that final examination or to fail it. The whole of my eternity, the unending life after death, depends on my choice now. If I choose to follow Christ and live according to his laws during the few years I have on this earth, I shall pass and shall be among the saved. If I ignore Christ and his laws now, he will not know me on the day of judgement. I shall be among the lost. God forbid that I should choose the latter course.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press.
The Highest Peak of Being
Satan’s heights are the heights of doing things on one’s own authority, of uninhibitedly determining oneself in possessing all things and being permitted all things… The height of the mountain of crucifixion consists in Jesus’ having relinquished all possessions and privileges all the way down to the pure nothingness of complete naked-ness, which then does not even have a place on the ground any more. He has put these things aside in his “thy will be done,” which is spoken to the Father. He has put them aside in the complete unity of his will with the Father. In so doing he has attained the real “all”; he is at the highest peak of being – he is one with the true God, who is not a despot or pleasure-image of God and humans which lay behind the satanic offer of “being like God.” In his earthly nothingness but in unity with the will of God, Jesus also stood firm against the power of force and its being able to do all things. He is one with God, and therefore one with the real power that encompasses heaven and earth, time and eternity. He is one with God, so that God’s power has become his power. The power he now proclaims from the mountain of exaltation is power coming from the roots of the cross and is thus radically opposed to the unrestrained power of possessing all things, being allowed all things, and being able to do all things.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked;
nor lingers in the way of sinners
nor sits in the company of scorners,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord
and who ponders his law day and night.
He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper.
Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
shall be driven away by the wind.
When the wicked are judged they shall not stand,
nor find room among those who are just;
for the Lord guards the way of the just
but the way of the wicked leads to doom.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.