It is hard to believe that we have arrived at the penultimate Sunday in our Church’s liturgical year. During this month of November, we are invited to reflect on the four “last things:” death, judgment, heaven and hell. Our readings and prayers at Mass this week remind us that the choices we make now will be our future. When I used to drive to Cooperstown on a regular basis, I would pass a sign on a front lawn that had a simple, but stark message: “Heaven or hell: your choice!”

Our readings immediately grab our attention, as they focus on the end of the world. We are all familiar with predictions about the end of all things. Many of us may recall how the world was meant to end in 2012 because of the Mayan calendar; or how the beginning of the new millennium might have been some sort of doomsday, due to the way computer calendars worked. Certainly, there have been very worrying signs and events in recent history. We can think of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the many tensions and troubles in the world. Many feel that society and culture are rapidly unraveling.

Whatever the case, our Lord teaches us in the Gospel, that we do not know the hour or day when all will end, but we can choose how to prepare. Incidentally, many writers see his words “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place,” as a prophecy about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. For the Jewish people, the temple was not just a building, of course. It was the symbol of God’s presence with His people and a focus of national and religious identity and life. Its destruction must indeed have seemed like the end of the world.

Jesus also teaches that we must prepare for the end and be ready. We have a choice and decision to do this. He also teaches how we can best be prepared. First of all, being ready is not simply a passive waiting game. Jesus mentions how his “angels” (literally, his messengers) will be sent into the world to gather all the elect together. Many see this as a powerful reminder about our duty and choice to be the Lord’s messengers: to proclaim the Gospel to whoever and wherever we are. As one of our responses says at Mass, “We proclaim your death, O Lord and profess your resurrection, until you come again.” So often this proclamation will be done just by choosing to live our faith. Father Tommy Lane quotes a wonderful poem about this:

“God won’t ask the square footage of your house. He will ask how many people you helped who didn’t have a house.

God won’t ask how many fancy clothes you had in your closet. He will ask how many of those clothes you gave away to those who didn’t have any.

God won’t ask how many material possessions you had. He will ask whether those material possessions dictated your life.

God won’t ask how many promotions you received. He will ask what you did to promote others.

God won’t ask what your job title was. He will ask did you perform your job to the best of your ability.

God won’t ask what your parents did to help you. He will ask what you did to help your parents.

God won’t ask what you did to help yourself. He will ask what you did to help others.

God won’t ask how many friends you had. He will ask how many people to whom you were a friend.

God won’t ask what you did to protect your rights. He will ask what you did to protect the rights of others.”

Pope Francis has designated this Sunday as a “World Day of Prayer for the Poor.” We can reflect on how choosing love and care for the poor and needy is a most excellent way of being prepared for the end. As those sobering words of the parable about the final judgment remind us, “Lord, when did we see you?” (St. Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 25).

Our Lord also tells us that his words will not pass away. Growing in our knowledge of God’s Word, especially in the Sacred Scriptures, is an essential part of being prepared and ready. After all, how can we be the Lord’s messengers if we do not know him? St. Jerome famously said, “Ignorance of the Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” The Scriptures tell us about God and help us to tackle all the many issues that we face, both inside the Church and outside. They are truly the inspired Word of God and they truly inspire us in how we live. God’s Word is also unsettling and challenging and ensures that we are spiritually awake and ready, rather than spiritually sleeping.  As Mark Twain once remarked, “Others are bothered by the parts of the Bible they cannot understand; I am bothered by the parts I can understand!” As Advent approaches, perhaps this could be an Advent project: Choosing to develop a habit of reading and praying the Scriptures, and then truly living according to God’s Word.