Strength of Faith.

“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

We are at the end of our Ordinary Time reflection on Strength of Faith. Our call to growth in strength of faith is unending – we need to work at it from minute-to-minute; that must not stop. Today we focus on what comes next. What is the outcome for those who are growing ever stronger in faith?

The concept of Christ’s return, the end of the ages, the final judgment is difficult for us. It may be in part because of what we do not know (especially the where and when). The bigger difficulty is our awareness that God’s justice must be satisfied, that we will have to stand before the whole world and be judged, our sins and failings laid bare. That freaks us out!

Of course, people have been playing on the final judgment for centuries. It ranges from freaky visions of the Blessed Mother appearing over tress and hills with dire warnings to certain people who tell us they have seen visions of the end – and we are all going to hell.

Human guilt is used as a powerful motivator to instill fear and to elicit, not necessarily change of behavior, but to engage in a sort of slavery to fear itself or to those who purvey fear. Unfortunately, some churches lead their members to a rollercoaster of fear and dread.

The life for those who are strong in faith is never one of fear and dread. Certainly, we are aware of our accountability before God. We sense our guilt, confess our sin, and resolve to re-enter the path of sanctification over-and-over. When we fall, we know that Jesus is there to lift us up and we do not take His mercy and helpful grace for granted.

The outcome for those who are strong in faith is right there in scripture: the angels [will] gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.

Listen to the words of our prayers, the Propers of today’s Holy Mass. We hear words like incorruptibledelighthope that lies beyondeternal, and to “stand in peace and safety.” That is what awaits those strong in faith.

We see that the promise of our journey of growth in strength of faith is not fear but rather its opposite – confidence in victory. What Jesus Christ, our Lord, and very particularly our Savior has promised us will occur. We will be gathered in, we will undergo judgment, and we will rejoice in the heavenly kingdom. As Daniel heard, we will shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and shall be like the stars forever.

Strength of Faith

Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away.

Over the next twenty-six weeks we are going to focus on how we live out the Christian faith, how we can walk in Strength of Faith.

In the text of today’s Epistle, we hear Paul say that we aspire to please him [i.e., God], whether we are at home or away. Hearing that immediately took me back to the days of family vacations. At home or away.

The first family vacation I remember was to Florida, Coral Gables, and my Uncle Frank’s house. Both of our families had been touched by tragedy, the loss of my dad and Frank’s loss of his wife, his children’s mom. This was still a pretty fresh memory for all of us.

This time gave us some freedom from those thoughts. I recall each thing we did, the visit to the breach, the salt water of the ocean, shells, going to the Venetian Gardens and its beautiful pools, running away after taking a wedge out of the green on a very nice golf course (I think they’re still looking for me). Being with my cousins. Visiting Ma Easter, an in-law to Uncle Frank, a great, very funny, and vivacious southern woman. Going to the planetarium and seeing moon rocks.

Some of this was culture shock, most just plan fun, and parts even scary. Life is like that, and the overriding question is: How do we approach life? Paul was writing about how we are to live. He boils it down to living in the strength of faith.

The love of God encompasses everything. Grounded in God’s love through Christ’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s communion, we can be what we have been called to be; commending ourselves with confidence to everyone regardless of circumstances, regardless of where we are.

In fact, all that we do while we are in our bodies will be manifest before “the judgment seat of Christ” – the moment when Christ, coming in power, will judge all. This reference to Christ’s “judgment seat” and how we are to live is not a threat or something we should fear, but rather a promise and an expectation of the fullness of the kingdom for those who live in strength of faith.

Although we live in a world where tech savvy, wealth, power, and the call to constant conflict with neighbors seem to override and even wipe out thoughts of God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness, we can be confident that God, and we who live His way, will prevail in the end. 

Our “transformation” into Christ’s image takes place not in some otherworldly place, only at the end, but here and now in how we live. Here is where we need to live and act in strength of faith, to go the way of Christ when we feel the pull to conflict, greed, the need to repost criticisms, to finger-point, to REACT. God’s grace is sufficient power to overcome, to live in strength of faith and to be truly Christian.