We Are in the Third Period of Human History

November 27, 2011: 1st Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63:16-17, 19
Psalms 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
First Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:33-37
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There are four periods in the history of the world, and we are in the third – Advent always reminds us of this. The first period was from the dawn of Creation until Original Sin. The second period was between Original Sin and the Incarnation of the Son of God, which coincided with the first Christmas. Since then, we have been living in the third period of world history: the Age of the Church. Jesus spent most of His public life laying the foundation for His Church by training His first Apostles. Then, with His self-sacrifice on the Cross, He reversed the self-indulgence of Original Sin and re-opened the gates of heaven, making God’s saving grace available to all people through the sacraments. After His Ascension back into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue guiding the Apostles and, eventually, their successors – the popes and bishops.

That’s the period we’re in now, the period described by the parable in today’s Gospel passage, where Jesus reminds the servants (that’s us) to take care of His household (the Church) until He returns.

But the main point of the passage is to remind us that this present arrangement will not last forever. Just as He came to earth on Christmas, the Lord will come again at the end of time, which may happen tomorrow or in another thousand years. And then the fourth period of human history will begin. The old heavens and earth will pass away, evil will be banished forever, and those who lived and died in friendship with Christ will enter into their everlasting reward.

Only God can give a history lesson that includes the entire future, and He gives it to us every year, because He loves us too much to let us forget about the big picture.

Some non-Christians use this understanding of history as an argument against Christianity.

If the Savior has already come into the world, they ask, then why is the world still such a mess?

Christ didn’t eliminate war, disease, natural disasters, crime, ignorance, or poverty – these evils existed before the first Christmas, and they have existed ever since.

Therefore, the critics argue, Christ wasn’t a Savior at all – but they are wrong, for two reasons:

First of all, Christianity has made a difference in the world. Historian Thomas E. Woods, tired of all these empty criticisms, recently wrote a book explaining some of the more obvious contributions of Christianity, including: the birth of modern science and the resulting technological revolution; the modern university system; the concept of human rights and international law; the gradual elimination of slavery in the West; the gradual emancipation of women from second-class status; the widespread growth of hospitals, orphanages, and general education. All of these emerged only in the midst of Christian culture, even though they are now being enjoyed throughout the world. If you would like to understand how Christianity made those contributions, I recommend Professor Woods’s book, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

The second reason these critics are wrong is even more important. He never claimed that the Age of the Church would create heaven on earth. That’s what the critics want, but it isn’t what Christ promised; criticizing Jesus for not keeping a promise He never made is illogical, but that’s what these critics are doing. In fact, Jesus specifically promised that the elimination of evil and suffering will only occur in the fourth period. The purpose of the present age, the third period, is to give people a chance to join His army, to fight at His side through prayer and virtue, earning a heavenly reward for when Jesus comes again.

Jesus is the Savior, so it is His right to choose how and when salvation comes about.

Some people like history, others find it boring, but this particular history lesson has at least two practical consequences for all of us.

First, it tells us where to find meaning. We don’t know exactly what reward the master of the house will give his faithful servants when he returns, but Jesus has promised that a reward will be given. And He promised it because He wants us to look forward to it, to be certain that obeying His moral teachings and following His example is worthwhile, even when it’s tough. No good that we do in Christ’s name will be forgotten or go unrewarded – it all has everlasting meaning. Just as children look forward to receiving gifts on Christmas Day, so we who strive to be Christ’s faithful friends can look forward to receiving unimaginable gifts on the Last Day.

Second, this Christian view of history gives us hope. Most of us recognize that we are not always faithful to our friendship with Christ. We lose our patience too often, we over-indulge in selfish pleasures too often, we turn a blind eye to those in need, we tell too many lies, spend too much money… And the list goes on. But because we live in the Age of the Church, all of those sins and failings can be wiped away by God’s grace. All it takes is a trip to the confessional to make a fresh start, as often as we need to. Be sure to take home a copy of the Sunday Bulletin so you will have a schedule of all the Advent penitential services within the deanery.

And that’s what Christ wants to give us as we begin this Advent season – a fresh start.

As we continue this Holy Mass, let’s lay all of our worries and cares at the foot of the altar, and when He comes to us in Holy Communion, let’s ask Him for the grace to see history, the world’s and our own, from His perspective.

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