Comfort and Consequences ~ Br. Chip Noon, Novice

Today’s Readings, Responsorial Psalm, and Alleluia show us the great comfort in believing and trusting in God.

Contrary to the “fire and brimstone” of some preachers, these words are like the gentle rain that falls from heaven. We can read them over and over as we search for peace and comfort. And they will always comfort us.

In fact, we can search scripture and holy writings for any emotion we are dealing with. And in today’s readings, those emotions cry out for solace and peace. It’s like an extended version of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who morn, for they shall be comforted.”

Sometimes we seek out a church so that we may go in to a holy place and pray for comfort. The familiar surroundings speak to us of love, and they ease our distress. Even when we have a grievous sin on our conscience a church helps to begin the path back to God.

And that’s what today’s readings can do for us, even if we are in able to find a sanctuary.

“…and with much lenience you govern us;…” “and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins.”

“You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.”

“Brothers and sisters: the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness:…”

And

“Blessed are you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth; you have revealed to little ones the mysteries of the kingdom.”

Pretty nice. Comforting. All the readings of this Mass designed to give us hope and consolation.

Isn’t that what Jesus said he would give us? “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Much of the New Testament is a lesson in accepting God, believing he can help us, and turning our whole life over to him and his grace. It is a blueprint for going through this valley of tears in a way that does not destroy us nor leave us alone and afraid.

And then along comes today’s Gospel. Feel a little uneasy? Not sure what the meaning of the parables is?

What about this passage:

The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Well. What happened to all that gentleness we had before?

In fact, I was thinking of exactly this subject this week. In last week’s sermon I brought up the seed of God which is in all of us. One thought I left for later was “who are we to judge?” What about those who do evil?

There are some modern theologians who have proposed that there is no hell. That a loving God could not condemn someone to eternal damnation. That there must be a period of cleansing, such as Purgatory, that creates the reckoning, but without the “for ever” business.

But then we have today’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking these words. This is not a description written by an Apostle, these words are memorialized as a direct quote. “Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age.”

And evildoers are the weeds, as he explains to his disciples.

This gives me pause. Does it to you?

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

Just as Hamlet implies, we may all be in for it…

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

St. Thomas More went to his death rather than submit to an arbitrary king because he feared more for his mortal soul. In ages past, people really did believe that there was a hell as well as a heaven, that what we did here on earth would surely follow us to the afterworld and become evidence to be judged by a just God.

How did we lose this sense of righteousness, this idea of accountability? Are we all just here for the moment, then we go to God who will “comfort us in all our trials”? Why do we not fear God’s wrath and why is “fire and brimstone” just a quaint phrase of excitable preachers in tent revivals?

When I was young, the Roman Catholic Mass was in Latin. Then came Vatican II, the free speech movement, the era of peace and love, and a vast housecleaning of all that was taught about leading the life Christ showed us “or else!”… and everything seemed to change.

We don’t talk about consequences. We don’t hold people accountable. We seem to gloss over the idea of retribution. Maybe we’re just pulling the wool over our own eyes.

How many times have I heard “I really do hope there is a hell”? That tells me there is a longing for righteousness, that there is a sense of right and wrong, and that we shouldn’t expect to get away from this life scot-free.

That leaves me still with questions. Faith, hope, and charity are part of our culture. But “hope’ in this case is for a good final outcome. What if part of the meaning of “hope” is that those who mistreat us will get their comeuppance?

I guess we just have to go back to the direct quote of Jesus: “there will be a wailing and grinding of teeth.”

Lord, keep us from sin and error and protect us from the snares of the devil. Help us to trust in you and walk in your ways. And give us peace.

Amen.

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