Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

Reflections on the Readings
The Nativity of the Lord - Christmas - Mass at Midnight
December 25, 2009 - Year C
By Dennis Hankins

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7 RSV)

Tonight, the candles of Advent glow in unison, announcing the fullness of time has come; the Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.  

Nine months ago, the archangel Gabriel announced to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus."   

The Virgin, who was betrothed to a man named Joseph asked, "How can this be, since I have no husband?"   

And the angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy., the Son of God"

Even before Mary and Joseph were husband and wife, Mary was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit.  

This prompted Joseph to consider sending Mary away quietly.  
But as he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."

Now all of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel," which means, God with us.

The Messiah

What did Mary know?  From the beginning of her pregnancy, Mary knew that the son in her womb, was God's son.  From the beginning, she pondered in her heart how she carried in her womb the hope of Israel - the desire of the nations.  

The angel Gabriel declared from the very beginning:


-He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High!
-The Lord will give to him the throne of his father David!
-He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!
-And of his kingdom there will be no end!

I think it's safe to say Mary believed that her son was the Messiah.  Joseph also shared this understanding of the child lying under Mary's heart. Together, the ever Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph, and their relatives, lived with the understanding, this child would save his people from their sins.

As Mary pondered in her heart the destiny of her son, Joseph was content to live with Mary as a man appointed by God as guardian and protector, honoring his wife as the handmaiden of the Lord and raising Mary's son as his own. 

A Manger

There was no room in the inn for the Holy Family.  Mary went into labor, the fulness of time was upon her.  Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was full of hungry and tired travelers, and no room was left to rent on this Holy Night.  The Bread of Life wrapped in swaddling clothes was placed in a feeding trough.

Word would soon spread because of the angelic visitation to the shepherds.  Shepherds would not think it too strange to find new life in a manger.  Perhaps these nomads had laid one of their own newly born sons in such a place.  A rock hued out to place feed could very well serve as a new born baby's first crib.  

I suspect that not only the shepherds, but their families may have come to that special manger that holy night.  

And the Music

The announcement stirred the hearts of those shepherds:  A Savior, the hope of Israel, is born in the city of the beloved King David, who is Christ the Lord.  That announcement has been and continues to be the inspiration of music that reminds every person on earth he is a living soul. It is music that befits the new born King; music that stirs praise from the lips of all of God's children, young and old alike. 

And the heavenly choir is a choir without number. A multitude of the heavenly host we are told take up the refrain, praising God and singing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Let us join them this Holy Night, and continue for as long as the breath of God is in us, praising and  singing with all that is in us Gloria in Excelsis Deo!  Amen. 


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Radiance of Love’s Pure Light

Reflections on the Readings
Fourth Sunday of Advent - December 20, 2009 Year C
By Dennis Hankins

The Radiance of Love's Pure Light

...And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!... And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord."  (Luke 1:41, 42, 45 RSV)

In this fourth Sunday of Advent, it is love that lights our way to Christmas.  Mary is that love light who brings great joy to Elizabeth and to the baby she carries in her womb.  For six months now, Elizabeth, has pondered the mystery of the boy child growing in her womb.  As Mary enters the house, her voice resonates with her own mystery, for the baby in Elizabeth's womb stirs, as Mary's greeting reaches the ear, the heart, the womb of Elizabeth.  

Blessed are you among women!  

I remember the first time I attempted to pray the Rosary.  Being a minister of the gospel is all I had ever known, and now I was seriously considering resigning from being a priest of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  Only my wife and my spiritual director, a Hermit of the Trappist tradition knew what was going on in me. But now, here I was, on the verge of embracing a conviction I could no longer ignore.  I was seriously desiring to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.  

Nightly, upon going to bed, I began listening to Catholic radio in Buffalo, NY. As it turned out, going to bed and hearing the Rosary being prayed on the radio occurred at the same time. 

"What harm could it be," I thought.  I began to pray along.  Getting no further than 'blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your ....'   My voice trailed off.

"This is really dry stuff," I said out loud.  "How would you ever get people to do this," I continued.  

And then it happened.  I sat straight up in bed, and exclaimed, "Wow! What was that?"

It lasted for only a moment, but it felt, it seemed like, eternity. It was a Holy Spirit moment.  The impact of that eternal moment remains with me.

It seems to me, Elizabeth had a similar moment.  She is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims, "Blessed are you among women."   Elizabeth confirms forever Mary's place in history and the Church specifically and the blessings of womanhood and maternity for all time.

Blessed is the fruit of your womb!  

The womb of Mary is forever the vital affirmation of life in the womb.  It is poetic and pure to speak of babies as fruit.  Still these two thousand years later, it is the fruit of Mary's womb that is the joy of the world, the inspiration of countless prayers and endless hymns of praise.  Through the eyes of Mary we clearly see the blessings of babies, the sanctity of human life.

As we ponder on the wonder of our salvation, it is good to begin by reflecting on the womb of Mary.  It is from her our Lord assumed flesh and blood.  This young Virgin of Israel carries in her body the fulness of our life and salvation.  And from Mary's womb comes the blood that will flow from Calvary, thirty-three years in the future. 

Destiny resonates in the words 'blessed is the fruit of your womb!"  Every husband and wife who have been blessed to conceive and bring children into the world know the truth of what I say.  Joyfully, every Mom and Dad who have been privileged to adopt know children are the precious fruit of the womb.  In time, a woman who has aborted a baby, knows deep in her heart that what she possessed in her womb was fruit, not a blob.  It is these precious souls and the mothers who carried them we lift up in prayer. 

Blessed is she who believed!

She who believed is the mother of our Lord; she is the mother of us all.  Traditionally, the Church has understood Mary to be the new Eve.  In contrast to the first Eve, Mary, the new Eve, embraces the will of God.  

Many women in salvation history have left us testimony of their faith.  Notably we recall Sarah, Leah, Rachel, Deborah and Esther.  In Hebrews 11:35 we read of nameless women who received back their dead, raised to life again.  That's the power of believing.  It is this same kind of faith and believing Mary demonstrates.  And without her there is no gospel, no salvation, no hope. 

In Mary we observe the culmination of faith.  For in her believing heart she attains a preeminence that has captured the imagination of the Church for two millennia.  Important apparitions of Mary have occurred in the world.  Although not necessary for personal devotion or salvation, they are recommended to us for our support in faith and prayer.  

Mary embraces her exalted role not for herself, but for us.  She is unselfish, a humble handmaiden seeking first the kingdom of God.  Mary portrays a selflessness that beams with the radiance of love's pure light.  For without any thought for her own well being or reputation, she prays, "Be it unto me, according to your word."  

And in all humility, Mary also said, "For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed."

And so they have.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.  

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen. 


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Joy Lights the Way!

Reflections on the Readings
Third Sunday of Advent - December 13, 2009 Year C
By Dennis Hankins

...But one mightier than I is coming. (John the Baptist)

On this third Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of Joy.  Exactly what is it that we are joyful about today?  Since it is still Advent, we might call it joyful expectation.  We are in a season of anticipation, and the fulfillment of our joy is soon to come. Much like the anticipation that a woman experiences, who is great with child.  The time of birth is near; the child within her will soon be the child who nurses at her breast.

So we rejoice in the Lord, because He is near.  Although mightier than John the Baptist, this might, this power of the Lord did not diminish the ministry of John the Baptist.  Rather, it fulfilled it.  The Baptizer anticipated how he might respond in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene. Finally, he explained, "I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals."   Such is John's humility in the presence of the fulness of Joy.

May we reflect for a moment, on what 'one mightier than I' means for us?  For example, it is important to consider the question 'what would Jesus do?'  Taking that thought in a different direction, we should also think about 'who would Jesus be?'  
Is our joy based on a weak and anemic understanding of who Jesus is?  Or do our thoughts soar with the notion that Jesus' coming is with strength; one who will guard our hearts and our minds in his love.  (see Philippians)

John the Baptist, a man's man, a burly sort of guy, makes his lunch out of honey and locusts, sleeping out under the stars of heaven. In the desert, alone with God, his mission in life takes shape and form.  The vision of a world filled with God's joy, a world renewed in his love fills his spirit. (see Zephaniah)  For John, his life would find fulfillment in who Jesus is.  Thus, he did not feel diminished, but fulfilled.  Saying, "I must decrease, but he must increase," focuses on what John the Baptist should be, not on what he should do. And focused he was, for he was a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

The light of our joy gives direction to what manner of persons we ought to be.  St. Paul today exclaims, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I say, rejoice!"  Why?  Because it helps us to be the kind of person we ought to be.  Because if we will be who we should be, our kindness will be known to all.  That's what the Apostle Paul says any way.  

Do not be anxious, nor devolve to living by greed, hoarding our extra coats, nor buying more than we need.  That's what John the Baptist tells us today.  Rather, we should be found rejoicing in the one in whose coming we shall celebrate soon!  He is mighty to save.  He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, helping us to be his face of kindness, his strength of forgiveness, his heart of purity. 

"The One who is coming is mightier than I," said the Baptizer. This he proclaimed with great joy.  It must be our joy as well, for soon we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he truly is.  This is our hope, this is the light of the joy we walk in today.  And this holy light guides us to its source: Jesus.   For we shall gaze upon him, whose coming urges us to be less of ourselves and more like him.  

Shine on 'O great light of joy.  Bring us to the fount of all joy, even Jesus.  Shine, Jesus, shine through me. From my face, my words, my eyes, my hands, be the light of my life, a light through me for the whole world.  Amen. 


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Peace that Pierces the Darkness

Reflections on the Readings

Second Sunday of Advent - December 6, 2009 Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

..."And all flesh shall see the salvation of God." (Luke 3:6 RSV)

Today we light the candle of Peace.  How humanity needs it.  How improbable it seems.  Yet there it is, piercing the darkness within and without, announcing that, "All flesh shall see the salvation of God."  

It is John the Baptist's mission to prepare a people worthy to receive the One he proclaimed.  He did so by inviting his listeners to receive the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins.  He lived out his mission filled with humility toward the coming Prince of Peace explaining, "I am not worthy to unloose the straps from his sandals." (Mark 1:7)

We today, as John's followers did, must prepare ourselves if we are to receive him when he comes.  In the Eastern Church Advent is known as the Little Lent.  A time of Penance is encouraged during Advent in the parishes of the Roman Rite as well.  It is because the King is coming.  And if there is to be room in our hearts for him when he comes, we must prepare the way of the Lord; that we may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. 

Upon self examination, all of us would agree, there exists in each of us crooked paths that need to be made straight.  Valley's needing to be filled up.  Mountains of self exaltation, deceptive pride, and manipulative high handedness that needs to be brought low.  And the rough spots, for we are all diamonds in the rough, must be made smooth.  You see, the King is coming, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.  Every ounce of our being cries out to be filled with the fulness of God's salvation.

What about the inequity that is all around us?  Matters of justice for the poor, the vulnerable, the forgotten.  The distance between the haves and the have nots that screams for attention. The high mountains of bloated inconsideration for the multitudes living below, down in the valleys of inadequate housing, malnutrition, or not enough kerosene to keep warm during the cold winters.  Every ounce of our being cries out with the prophet, make his paths straight, stop complicating things, fill up the valleys and bring down the mountains, the King is coming and all flesh deserves to see the salvation of God!

It is a beautiful thing when the crooked is made straight and the rough ways made smooth.  Are we not called to bring peace and justice?  The whole world yearns for the morning dew of peace and safety.  Yet poverty and hunger, injustice and chaos prevails in too much of the world.  But let us not give in to the status quo.  With all that is within us let us proclaim the King who leads his Church in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and justice for company; for God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named the peace of justice, the glory of God's worship. (See Baruch Chapter 5)

How peace should radiate from deep within our heart, be visible upon our face.  The nature and dignity of this peace is that it befriends the fatherless and the widow, embraces the orphan, protects and defends the amputee, regards the dignity and image of God in the riddled body of the AIDS patient. Witness the smile that spreads across the face of a weary soul, all because of the peace we shared out of the treasure of our heart.  All because we chose to let nothing hinder us being the face of Jesus to that one who has never seen him. 

This Sunday in Advent we learn that God's peace and justice is not stagnant, unmoved or detached.  It is rather a drama filled with the inspiration of God's command that every lofty mountain be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground.  This is the way the Kingdom advances and advances securely in the glory of God.  

In ancient times much ado was made to welcome the king.  Every effort was expended to make the processional route amiable to the occasion.  How much more must we renew our commitment to removing every barrier to the King of Peace so that all may see him and receive him who is the very salvation of God. 

Let us probe the bottomless depths of the meaning of Advent.  Rather than Advent being an interlude to enable a jump start to Christmas, it is an opportunity to rid ourselves of every obstacle to the peace of God.  Not hoarding this rich treasure for ourselves, but rather letting it have every conceivable entrance into our world.  For this peace which passes understanding wills to capture the hearts and minds of each of us and our neighbor for Christ Jesus, until the glory of the Lord and his salvation shall cover the earth and all flesh see it together! (Philippians 4:7; Isaiah 40:5

Let us pray: Dear Father, pour out your Spirit upon all flesh, that we all may become evangelists of the Prince of Peace, until the whole world is crowned with the great salvation of God.  Through Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Light of Hope

Reflections on the Readings

First Sunday of Advent - November 29, 2009 Year C

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

..Awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ... (Titus 2:13)

The Advent wreath is in place.  Three purple candles and one rose colored candle stand erect and stately, as if paying homage to the white candle in their midst.  Their enduring message of hope, peace, joy, and love, inspire us to be vigilant and expectant.  They glow with a patience seemingly wanting to remind us that the joy of Christmas will come in the fulness of time, and not a day sooner.  So will the end of the age. 

So how do we conduct ourselves as we contemplate the reason for this season?  Perhaps the question from today's readings would be how do we approach the meaning of time in general?  That is, what manner of persons ought we to be when the powers of heaven are shaken and nations are in distress and men's hearts faint with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world (see Luke 21:26)?

Let's review again what is meant by signs in the sun and moon and stars, the roaring of the sea and waves. These are not literal events just as we know that the presence of the Lord does not literally cause the mountains to melt and the valleys to cleft (see Micah 4). What does happen is that nations foment like a roaring sea with its waves.  And the Lord will judge the nations and uncover their godless foundations.  Such is the poetic and prophetic language of holy writ.  

We use similar language, don't we?  For example, we might say, "One day this nation is going to stand before God, naked and bare."  Does that mean one day every body within the boundaries of this country are going to become immediately disrobed in the twinkling of an eye and at the last trumpet? You laugh! Why?  Because in this context we should not press the words naked and bare to be taken literally.  What we should think is that we will not be able to hide anything from our all-knowing Father.  

I do not mean to imply that the prophetic language of scripture is not important.  Just the opposite. It is so important that we need to get it right rather than wrong.  To get it right is to know how we are to approach the meaning of time in general; the meaning of Advent in particular.

What will dissolve hope in our hearts is careless living.  Jesus called it 'hearts weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness' (Luke 21:31 RSV).  We must be diligent and watchful so that the enticements of this world do not crowd out the hope, the blessed hope we have of standing before the Son of man, with strength and integrity.  

When the pagan Roman armies destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem about A.D. 70, it was a day of darkness, a day of foreboding fear.  The end of the age of the Old Covenant was over.  For the community Luke addresses they had the hope of the New Covenant to carry them through and into all the world.  Today, in our own country, great darkness is engulfing us like an insatiable dark hole waiting to devour us.  This darkness is encroaching upon our religious liberties, and the true meaning of marriage, as well as the most fragile and vulnerable among us.  How do we approach such times?  With hope!  We of all people must not allow ourselves to become weighed down with the cares of this life, to become hopeless.  

Advent begins just as the days are getting shorter and colder.  It is just as this occurs that we are called to be watchful, engaged, and in prayer.  We want to wake up every day during Advent ready to let the light of hope radiate from our lives, our words, our face. Such light is important when the darkness would want to diminish all hope.  If we let the light of hope shine from us, it will be as if the sun is shining brighter and longer.  

The critters of the darkness scatter whenever a light is turned on.  Likewise the enemy's of hope cannot long endure the patiently glowing light of hope.  Let your face glow with the message of what is our blessed hope...the appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.  

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, you give us the unfailing light of hope, even Jesus our Savior who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

King of Kings

Reflections on the Readings
The Solemnity of Christ the King
November 22, 2009 Year B
By Dennis Hankins

Jesus answered, "My kingship is not of this world..."(John 18/:36 RSV)

"You mean Jesus is not a politician, not a power seeker?"


"And if his kingship were of this world, his servants would fight for him to keep him from being handed over to the Jews?"


"And he really said his kingship is not of this world?"


"But you say he is a King?" 

"That's right!  And his kingdom is a kingdom of truth!"

"Truth? What is truth?"

And so it goes.  The question has been around about 21 centuries.  And for 21 centuries Christ's rule and reign has been a witness to the truth and the freedom his way, his life, his truth brings to all of us.  Unlike earthly domains of monarchs and rulers Christ's kingdom is not of this world; its citizens who are in the world also are not of this world.  

Let's hear that again. Here it is: Jesus and his followers are not of this world.  Never have been nor ever will be.  Our prayer every Lord's day is, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven."  As we celebrate the Kingship of Christ let us recommit ourselves to embracing in our hearts his Lordship, for the kingdom must first be in us.  

The first reading invites us to have a new vision of our King.  A new vision that his kingship is indestructible, and is open to all peoples, nations, and languages.  Under his benevolent Kingship is the mosaic of rich and poor, Kings and paupers, black and white, red and yellow, the halt and the maimed, the blind and the deaf, the hungry and the thirsty, all together saying by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is Lord and King forever and forever.  

We are called to carry this vision of our King everywhere we go, remembering that if we are ashamed of him, he will be ashamed of us.  How desperately our times need your friendship and the friendship of the one in your heart.  We need a new courage like St. Paul's that says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who has faith..." (Romans 1:16) If this generation is to turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the power of God and know in their hearts the forgiveness of sins then must the Church in this moment of history pray to be full of the life of her risen and ascended King.  

We know that the whole world is under the power of the evil one, (1 John 5:19) but greater his he who is in you than he who is in the world. ( 1 John 4:4) This is the faith of the earliest followers of this King.  And the King they followed is the same King we love even Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever! (Hebrews 13:8) 

This liturgical year ends as history will one day end, in the revelation that Jesus is the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of the earth.  We have this Solemnity of Christ the King to remind us that we don't have to wait until the end of time to know and to proclaim the Lord is king, robed in splendor  and girded with strength.  We need not wait till the last day to know today that Christ's Throne stands firm from all of eternity; that he is high and lifted up and that his glory fills our lives, our Church and all of history and time.  

He is the Alpha and Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.  Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Father whose kingdom is love, and whose Son is our Sovereign, kindle in us the fire of your love by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.  Now to the blessed Three in One be glory, and honor, and splendor, now and forever more.  Amen.     

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

Reflections on the Readings

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost - November 15, 2009

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, every one who pierced him... (Revelation 1:7)

The lesson of the fig tree is that when it puts forth its leaves you know that summer is near.  Likewise, Jesus said when all these things begin to take place, know that he is near, at the very gates. The predictions Jesus made were for a specific period in time and for a specific reason; occurring during the first generation of the Church.

We are familiar with the expression, "It's a dark day."  By that statement we could mean the clouds are hanging close to the ground, and its bleak, dreary, and dark.  

There is another way we use this familiar phrase.  For example we recall the events of 9/11 as a 'dark time,' as a 'dark day.'  It was a day filled with violence, treachery, and death.  In the language and poetry of prophetic scripture we might say the sun was darkened.

Jesus said some important things to his disciples before he ascended to forever take his seat at the Father's right hand.  Explaining that only the Father knows the day and the hour, he outlined the things that would befall his followers and the Temple of the Old Covenant within the first generation of the Church.  He said, "This generation shall will not pass away until all these things have taken place." (Mark 13:30

The beginning of those calamities upon the Temple began when Jesus was on the Cross.  You recall that the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the Temple was torn from top to bottom when Jesus cried with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. (Matthew 27:50-51)

Earlier in Mark 13 Jesus states this time during the first generation of the Church would be marked with great unrest.  Describing wars, famines and earthquakes as the beginning of sufferings, he also spoke of false Messiah's, persecution of Christians issuing from synagogues and political powers; betrayal and hatred heaped upon his disciples all because they bear the name of Christ.

The culmination of this time would be the destruction of the Temple.   In AD 70 the foreign and pagan Roman armies desecrated the Temple and destroyed it; the fulness of God's displeasure upon the apostasy that rejected the Son of His Love.  Jesus told his followers in that day, "Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."  

In Matthew 23 Jesus speaks of what will come upon 'this generation.'  Jesus laments, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!"  The house in this context is the Temple.

The shortening of those days was for the 'sake of the elect,' those immediately before him whom he had chosen.  Remember he said, "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you."

Upon the closing of the door on the Old Covenant and the destruction of the Temple, the Christian era came into full view.  A gathering of the elect from the four winds has been the mission of the Church for two millennia.  

The language of prophetic scripture is poetic.  The powers of heaven, meaning the sun, moon and stars, are symbols of the religious and the political entities on earth.  Given that, such scriptures continue to provide language to describe whenever the leadership of the Church becomes unfaithful or the leadership of government becomes oppressive.  

So for those looking for specific language in scripture to support theories of massive atomic blasts and or the invasion of the Killer Bees, or some other end time speculation, today's gospel is non supportive.  

No, the same stuff as always is what either plagues the Church or persecutes the Church.  Whenever the way of the Lord is rejected and unfaithfulness to the Lord is left unchecked, it's a dark time; a dark and lonesome night.  During systematic persecution, the political powers bring upon the Church a day when the sun is darkened and the moon turns into blood.  

But there is one thing we have not looked at, and that is the clouds.  The clouds are a symbol of the presence of the Lord.  Whenever 'these things' take place, the lesson of the fig tree includes the fact that the Lord is near.  During times of trial and tribulation it is the sustaining presence of the Son of Man who always comes to us in the bread and wine, his own body and blood and will one day in the fulness of time come in the clouds with great power and glory.  

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, the protector and defender of all who love you, ever protect and save us in the mighty name of Jesus who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.