Commentary on the Gospel of

Tom Shanahan, S.J. - Creighton University's Athletic Department


The ordinary readings for today focus on a theme that does not come up often during the Liturgical Year. An exception is the first two weeks of Advent that features this concept prominently. And now Advent is just around the corner, so, we can tell in our current daily liturgies that Advent is nearby. We are now officially involved in the subject of that issue.
The theme has some unusual focus; it also has some heavy-set theological terms that may boggle minds. The Gospel of Luke today centers on the Apocalypse, and a theology of eschatology. Two big words that need some explaining. Our dictionaries are of some help, but not nearly adequate for understanding these words in their Jewish/Christian religious context.

Apocalypse, meaning revelation in Greek, is the name of the last book of the New Testament. What is revealed in that book (as well as in other parts of the bible) deal with future things surrounding the “last days” of the world as we know it.

The “Last Judgement” is revealed as the final dot in the story of our existence here on Planet Earth. It is part of the overall context of “eschatology”, meaning literally, the study of the last things or the very final events in our individual and collective histories.

Lots of heady commentary there on two words! Not to confound but to help us all approach topics that can baffle us.

We are “doing” eschatology every time we read the obituary pages of our local newspapers. These pages put us in contact with the first issue of eschatology, death. I surprise myself as I peruse the obits each day. As we age the notion of death is more than just an idea; it is a reality we need to consider attentively. Finding our friends and relatives mentioned in the obits becomes more frequent and grabs our attention more intensely as we read the obits.

The rest of the eschatology quartet are: (death), judgement, heaven, and hell. Weighty issues for sure! Many of us may remember the painting of the pious monk contemplating a skull on his desk in his poor cell. Scary stuff, I thought then when I first saw the painting (and probably still do!) if my faith could handle the stark image on the canvas. The painting is a sober reminder of the truth that we all die.

Recently I spoke with a man on his deathbed and when I asked him, “what does death mean for you at this moment of your life?" Just as the words were coming out of my mouth, I thought to myself, what an invasive and awkward question to ask this good man. His answer cut off my brief revery with the matter of fact answer, “we all die!”. So much for bad questions ending in great answers!

He was ready to die and realizing it was coming soon (only two days later). I could only be led to pray with profound respect; I hope I am as ready when it’s my time to answer that question. My friend was “doing” Eschatology in our conversation, and I was the beneficiary of his solid answer.

His “readiness” seems to me to be the key to the impact on us all as we face our own ultimate dying and entrance into a new life. How does a person get ready for a moment like that? Maybe the painting of the monk praying in his severe cell with a human skull can be helpful.

The story may be a tad off-putting in our contemporary age, but it seems to me the monk’s action shows the way he faced his death. Like him we too are challenged by the death of friends/relatives when we peruse the obituaries. Let that challenge be a source of letting God into our minds and hearts as we contemplate our own situation and open ourselves to Christ’s ongoing call to us in faith and to the Holy Spirit who empowers us with fidelity and courage.


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