By Msgr. Joseph Calise
Msgr. James Cooney was one of the most delightful priests with whom I had the privilege to work. He had already retired but agreed to help at Cathedral Prep as a Spiritual Director while I was Rector-Principal.
At that time, I was the only priest on the faculty and relied heavily on the kindness of some local pastors who came to celebrate the daily Mass. When Msgr. Cooney moved in, his presence was a great relief. Those who remember him can probably recall — at the mere mention of his name — a really corny joke. He was a master of the pun! One of my fondest memories with him took place as I was driving him to a meeting.
He wanted to know where I was hiding the woman who was giving directions. It took a while for me to realize that he was talking about the voice on my GPS. Even today, I remain unsure if he was joking or really thought there was someone telling me when to turn. I often think of that day when I hear “recalculating” to let me know I made a mistake.
Even on familiar roads, the GPS helps me be sure that I am heading in the right direction.
The dramatic signs we hear in the Gospel, the falling stars and darkened sun, are not new to the Gospels.
The first reading from the Book of Daniel talks about “a time unsurpassed in stress.” The Books of Amos, Joel, Isaiah and many other prophets use this type of violent and dramatic imagery to get the attention of their audiences.
In the Gospel, Jesus builds the tension, teaches a lesson from the fig tree marking the seasons and then says, “But of that day or hour, no one knows.”
We know it is going to happen, just not when.
The English director, producer and screenwriter, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, distinguished between “mystery” and “suspense” this way: “Mystery is when the spectator knows less than the characters in the movie. Suspense is when the spectators know more than the characters in the movie.”
For example, if you watch a movie and it begins with an explosion, the rest of the film is about figuring out who did it and why. That is mystery.
However, if the film begins with the audience watching a gloved hand attach an explosive device to something, then the audience remains on the proverbial edge of their seats waiting for the explosion as the characters go about unaware. That is suspense. The audience knows what is coming — just not when.
The Gospel invites us to an “edge of our seats” attitude towards the kingdom. This does not mean an attitude of fear but of awareness of its inevitability.
The motto of the U.S. Coast Guard is Semper Paratus (Always Ready). If we believe the Son of Man will return and acknowledge that we do not know the day or hour, the attitude of being always ready serves us well. Examination of Conscience, Spiritual Direction, Reconciliation are all tools that help us evaluate our preparedness in the moment.
Even when we believe we are in familiar territory, it is good to know we are heading in the right direction.
Readings for Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews: 10:11-14, 18
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.