Sunday Scriptures

Careful Vigil Makes For a Joyful Dawn

by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise

EVER SINCE THE 2007 film “The Bucket List” was released, the concept of writing one has become quite popular. As a matter of fact, when I put the words “bucket list” into the Amazon search box, it came up with 1,299 results!

The film tells the story of two terminal patients, played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, who decide to go on a spree completing all the things they want to do before they die, colloquially referred to as “kicking the bucket.” The reflection can be a healthy spiritual practice in light of today’s readings.

St. Paul addresses some concerns of the Thessalonian community in his letter. The common understanding was that Jesus’ return in glory was imminent. When Jesus told the Apostles, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom,” (Mt 16:28), they took it quite literally to mean that Jesus would return in power and glory before they died.

The section we hear from St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians in today’s liturgy expresses this belief clearly. He says, “We who are alive … will be caught up.” He not only expresses the common belief, but also his trust that he is going to be among the living to witness the second coming. The concern of the community was not for their salvation, but for the salvation of those who had already died. What was to happen to them?

A Different Kind of Grief

St. Paul writes to assure the community that they will be raised up to share God’s glory. He cautions them not to allow their grief to be like the grief of those who have no hope. They can grieve – grief is a real part of the process of mourning – but their grief must be different. The grief of the person of faith has to be acknowledged as selfish grief. In other words, we mourn our loss while we hold on to our faith that the one departed is finding peace.

The basic presumption is that Jesus wants all of us to live with Him in glory. The challenge of the Scriptures is to reflect on our own readiness. If St. Paul’s message and the common understanding of the time teach us anything, they teach us that we know neither the day nor the hour of Christ’s glorious return, but we do know that after birth the only thing that is certain is death. Whether that is cause for fear or comfort depends on how we live.

Linda Ellis’ poem, “The Dash,” tells the story of a man eulogizing a friend. He uses the metaphor of the dash that appears on his tombstone. This dash signifies the time passed between birth and death. She writes, “So, when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash…would you be proud of the things they say about how you spent YOUR dash?”

Bucket lists identify what we want to do before we die and provide interesting reflection. As people of faith, perhaps we need a different list. The Scriptures invite us to ask not what we want to do, but what Jesus is asking us to do to be ready for His coming. All 10 virgins in the Gospel knew the master would be coming for the wedding feast, but only half prepared well enough. They all went out to meet Him, but five found themselves locked out of the banquet because they were not ready when he came. The call of the Gospel is not to fear the Master’s return, but to use our time wisely enough that no matter when He returns, we will be ready.

The Book of Wisdom teaches us to not be disappointed as we watch for the dawn because we have kept careful vigil. The careful vigil makes the coming dawn joyful rather than ominous. The challenge facing people of faith is not how we will die, but how we will live: how we spend our “dash.”

Ellis writes, “For it matters not, how much we own, the cars … the house … the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash. So, think about this long and hard. Are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that can still be rearranged. If we could just slow down enough to consider what’s true and real and always try to understand the way other people feel. And be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before. If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile, remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.”

In 1792, Etienne de Grellet du Mabillier was sentenced to execution during the French Revolution. He escaped to the U.S. and joined the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. He became a leader and often reflected on death, salvation and eternity. He encouraged his community to use the reality of death and judgment as an inspiration to live a good life.

Passing Through But Once

Although some question whether he was the one who said it, he is often given credit for the quote: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.”

The master did not want to keep those five virgins out of the banquet.   They did not enter because they were unprepared. May people of faith be sure that enough oil to keep the lanterns burning bright is on our bucket lists.

Readings for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 6: 12-16

Psalm 63: 2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 or

1 Thessalonians 4: 13-14

Matthew 25: 1-13

Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.