Sacramental Grace…the Key to Perserverance

Homily of Deacon Gregory Maskarinec – 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Luke 19:5-19

In today’s Gospel, Jesus spoke about the coming destruction of the temple which was the center of the world for the first century Jews.  He also spoke about the coming of ward, uprisings, earthquakes, famines, and plaques.  Being seized and persecuted, handed over by family, relatives, and friends.  Being hated, imprisoned, and put to death…all because of Him, the Lord.  At the end of the Gospel I proclaimed, “The Gospel of the Lord.”  As you probably know, the word “Gospel” means “good news.”     In ancient times the “good news” was generally a message proclaimed by the King to his people, usually in connection with a military victory, promising the citizens good times and prosperity.  What we just heard was a proclamation of the “good news of the Lord.”   You must have agreed because you responded, “Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.”  In other words, praise to You, Lord for that good news!  If that’s the good news, we might be afraid to hear the bad!

You may be wondering, just what is the good news in today’s readings?  As we approach the end of the liturgical year the readings focus on the End Times.   Both the prophet Malichi and the Psalmist assert that when the time comes the Lord will rule the world with justice. Justice is the state of living in a right relationship with God and others.  The harmony of original justice whereby man lived in peace with God in the garden was lost through sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve.  The good news is that at the end of time the Lord will come and re-establish the harmony that existed in the beginning between God and humanity.

And while the Gospel might sound bleak there are rays of light that serve as sources of hope.  First, during difficult times the Lord promises to strengthen us and to be a source of wisdom.  We must trust in the Lord, which as you will know, can be difficult.  I have to admit that as I prepare a homily and am stricken with writer’s block, which is nearly every time I preach, trusting that the Lord will give me the right words can be very challenging. I’ll let you be the judge whether or not I’m able to hear the Lord and convey His message.  Jesus also promises that “not a hair on our heads will be destroyed.”  What Jesus is saying is that we are of great value in God’s eyes.  God will not let anything happen that will separate us from Him in eternity, not even death.   My brothers and sisters, this should give us great hope!

So what are we to do?  In the midst of persecution and uncertainty, we must persevere in our Christian responsibilities.  In today’s 2nd reading Paul is addressing a group of people who, in anticipation of the Second coming of the Lord, became idle and expected their brothers and sisters to support them.  Paul urged these Thessalonians to continue to work and to fulfill their duties while they waited in anticipation for Jesus’ return.  Jesus also encouraged His listeners to persevere…just as we heard in today’s Gospel and throughout His teachings.  Speaking of perseverance, C. S. Lewis wrote a fictional piece entitled, The Screwtape Letters, a collection of letters from a master demon named Screwtape, to his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter-in-training.   The book focuses on how to lead men away from God.  In one of those letters Screwtape writes the following, “God has guarded the man from you through the first great wave of temptations.  But, if he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally.  …You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere.”  The point is that the longer we live the more difficult it is to persevere in faith…especially in the midst of difficulties and persecution.

How can we grow in perseverance so that we don’t fall prey to the devil and his lies?  We can’t do it solely by our own efforts.  But God’s grace can accomplish the humanly impossible.  Grace is the free and unmerited help that God gives us to respond to His love.  In a few moments we will come forward to receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion…a most excellent source of sacramental grace.  But the Eucharist is not the only help God offers us…Confession or the Sacrament of Reconciliation is another excellent source of grace.  If you can’t come forward for Holy Communion because of some obstacle or impediment, I urge you to go to confession or to speak to a priest or a deacon about eliminating whatever it might be that prevents you from receiving God’s grace in these sacraments.   The good news is that through participation in the sacramental life of the Church the Lord continues to be a source of strength and wisdom for us in the midst of life’s challenges and persecutions.  Let’s not allow the likes of Screwtape and Wormwood to prevent us from seeking out God’s grace in the sacraments…the grace that enables us to persevere in our choice of eternal life with God.