We are at the second to the last Sunday of the church year. Next week, we will celebrate the feast of Christ the King. So now is a time to wrap things up before Advent begins and we head toward the coming of Christ at Christmas.
There’s another coming we need to prepare for and today’s readings remind us of that. We hear warnings about blazing ovens for the wicked, rivers shouting, mountains clapping, the destruction of the Temple, and prison, persecution and death for followers of Christ. Not exactly happy or festive images.
When I was little, the street department still used smudge pots. These round black pots, filled with kerosene, gave off sullen flames and lots of black smoke. Before modern orange and white “Road Closed” signs with winking yellow lights, smudge pots warned people that there was a rough, or even closed, road ahead. You proceeded with caution, and at some risk, if you wanted to get safely to the other side.
The readings today are sort of like smudge pots warning us that we proceed at some risk because there is danger ahead so we need to take the safe path.
What images do you see in church that remind you of the Day of the Lord — a traditional name for the end of the world and time of judgment? Is it something big and awesome, like Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” painting where Christ comes in fearful power to cast sinners into hell?
Is it something gentle and quiet, like the holy water that reminds us of our baptismal promises?
Maybe it’s the cross with the body of Christ that reminds you of that final day that comes to each of us.
Next week’s Gospel for the feast of Christ the King will show us Christ hanging on that cross and forgiving the repentant thief. Do you see images around you of the good thief? There’s the confessional, the bottle of the oil of the sick used to anoint those in danger of death, and even the images of saints who turned their lives around and took the path that led safely to the other side.
Listen to see if any song verse reminds you of the coming of the Lord. Hear the words you say during the creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Even the penitential rite reminds us of the dangers of life and our need to turn to God for safety.
Smudge pots are all around, lighted and warning us of danger, but also pointing out the safe path that leads to Christ.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of “Linking Your Beads: The Rosary’s History, Mysteries and Prayers.”