The Final Exam. Homily for 33rd Week in Ordinary Time.

Next week is the last week of the current liturgical year. It is followed by the beginning of Advent. Next weekend we will celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Since we’re at the end of the church year, it’s a good time to take a final exam. Exams always have questions.

Take a look at the First Reading today. “At that time there shall arise Michael, the great prince, guardian of your people.  It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since nations began until that time. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; some shall live forever, but others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace.” Michael, Christ’s prince, will arise and begin to separate the sheep from the goats.

Sounds rather ominous, doesn‘t it?

Then we hear that “The wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”

Sounds a bit more optimistic.

But here is question #1 – Are you a sheep or a goat?

Here is question #2 – How do you know?

The Gospel today is from Matthew 13. Later in that same Gospel we will hear Jesus asking two exam questions:

Question #4 - “Who do people say that I am?” (Matthew 16:13)

Later Jesus asks question #5 – “And who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

Those two questions lead to two more.

Objectively question #6 is, “Who and what is he?”

Subjectively question #7 is, “Who and what is he - to me?”

If we are followers of Christ, these are questions with which we should have been wrestling over the past 12 months. The place where you come to wrestle  with God and these question is the church. The Greek word for church is EkklesiaI. Ekklesia has several meanings. It means the “rock.” Here is meant the parish, institution, the building, etc. Ekklesia also, and primarily, means a movement, a mission, a community of believers on a pilgrimage, a group of people reaching out to others. This can only happen if we are creating an environment where people can wrestle “Jesus questions” and where this wrestling has an effect and impact on their life.

Question #8 – is that us? Is that St. Monica, Berwyn? In order to answer that question, the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD, recognized the problem. The problem is that, throughout religious history, the nature of the church is to be insular (Pharisees, Judaeizers).

The church of Christ exists for its NON members. This parish self-defined itself as a church that “Reaches out to - and welcomes - “outsiders.” A church that UNchurched people want to attend. A place that turns ir-rreligios, de-churched and un-churched people into disciples of Christ.

A place where “church” is a culture we create rather than programs we run. A church where “The Great Commission” of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) is at the center: “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

How do you know if you got it right over the past 12 months? What are the S.T.E.P.S. to resolve that question? Here are the answers to the final exam:

SERVE – either in ministry (internal) or missions (external). Anyone who does not serve someone or something else over the past 12 months, will find that their spiritual growth will probably be stunted.

TITHE And Give. When it comes to giving, we have heard about “Time – Talent - Treasure” That’s nice.  That’s true. However, the bottom line is, it’s about the money. Money is the single biggest indicator of how much you trust God.

ENGAGE in some kind of small group/community. “Reverse peer pressure” will keep you on the straight and narrow moral path. Community will support you in good times and bad. Connections will provide resources and guidance in all parts of your life. Take a burning piece of coal out of the fire and the heat goes out, the ember goes cold and it eventually dies. No one can do it alone – not today.

PRACTICE Prayer and Sacraments. It is the way that Jesus set up to encounter you. As a Roman Catholic, it is the only way you can encounter Jesus.

SHARE your faith.  There was a recent New York Times article entitled, “It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God. How the decline in our spiritual vocabulary has many real-world consequences.” The article was a synopsis of a book by author, Jonathan Merritt called, Learning to Speak God from Scratch. Sure it’s difficult to talk about God or your faith but you can’t even find a way to talk about Pope Francis? Everyone can “speak Francis.”at least once over the course of 12 months!


It’s the end of the church year. How did you do on the final exam? The good news is – Jesus always, ALWAYS, give a re-test.

Audio version of the homily is here:

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