You can also listen to the homily here.
A man gets a message from God telling him that there is about to be a terrible flood but that he is not to be afraid and that God will save him. Filled with confidence the man awaits the disaster. The waters rise and threaten to flood his house. An army truck then arrives and offers to evacuate him. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me. I will wait on Him.” The waters continue to rise and he has to move up stairs. A boat arrives and offers to rescue him. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me. I will wait on Him.” The waters continue to rise and he has to climb into his attic and out onto the roof. A helicopter arrives and a man descends to him on a cable and offers to take him to safety. “No”, he says, “God has promised to save me. I will wait on Him.” The waters continue to rise and so he drowns. He goes before the Lord in Heaven and he’s very upset. “Lord,” he says, “you promised to save me and you didn’t!” “My son,” says God, “I sent you a truck, a boat and a helicopter. It’s not my fault if you drowned.”
Cork itself is no stranger to flooding and some parts of the country have seen more than their fair share. I am sure that you, like me, have known people who lost their homes to flooding. How quickly the waters rise! How easily whole towns can be swept away and lives lost by the thousand. Modern media means that we can access the images of the tsunami that hit Thailand on St Stephen’s day twelve years ago or the one that hit Japan after the earthquake in 2011. Ancient mythology preserves many flood stories. They are powerful images of the sudden and irresistible destruction that a flood can bring. By using the story of Noah our Lord is using a powerful image with deep meaning.
To understand how our Lord uses this image of Noah and the flood I must explain the idea of typology. In typology all the major characters and events in the Old Testament are understood as anticipations, foretastes or types of what God will do for us in Christ. So Moses the law-giver is a type of Christ the true lawgiver. King David is a type of Christ the King. Likewise with Melchizedek, Abraham and the other major characters. In this use of scripture Noah is a type of Christ the Saviour and the ark is a type of the Church.
In our Lord’s retelling of the story of Noah the people were “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” (as if marrying were no more significant than eating or drinking) but they were doing NOTHING MORE – there is no mention of a place for the Lord. Their whole lives were consumed with doing their own wills and they ignored the warnings given to them through Noah until they were destroyed. At the very beginning of the Bible, in the book of Genesis where Noah’s story is told, the people are said to have conceived nothing but evil in their hearts. There was no room for good there anymore to such an extent that even the animals, wild and tame, were affected. So God decided to wipe the Earth clean and start afresh. Their minds and souls, their consciences darkened by the sin of indifference and so they remained blind to their own corruption and the coming disaster. Noah was a figure of fun and derision to them. Noah was mad and only a fool would listen to him.
In refusing to listen to Noah the people were refusing to listen to God speaking through Noah so in refusing to listen to Christ, in refusing to take the Gospel seriously we are refusing to listen to God Himself. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. Sin darkens the mind and blinds us to reality. When we refuse to make time for God and let Him cleanse our hearts and our lives we think we see and know the truth but we do not and so we cannot see the danger and avoid destruction.
The flood that we cannot avoid is the flood of death and judgment. Whether we like it or not it will overtake us at some point. For some it will come suddenly, for others there is ample warning, but it always comes and we cannot avoid it. We are offered a way to avoid total destruction, an ark to save us, to carry us over and through the waters of death. Christ is the true Noah, His ark is His Body the Church and those who take refuge in her are saved. We take refuge through repentance and conversion, through casting ourselves on the Lord’s mercy through repentance and confession, through prayer, abstinence, fasting and giving to the poor.
In saying that one will be taken and another left Christ means that death and judgment come to us in the ordinary events of our day and we cannot know when they will strike nor do we know who will live and who will die, disaster is sudden and takes people in the middle of their daily lives.
Therefore, He says to us, stay awake! Stay awake in the Spirit aware of the demands of discipleship and committed to the Lord. No one knows what day is set aside as the Day of Judgment and no prophet, no visionary can tell you. If any claim to know that stay away from them because they are deluded.
The Lord wants us to pay attention and so he says “Be sure of this!” How many victims of crime would love to have known in advance so that they could take some action to avoid suffering! Here we are warned about death and judgment! So we also must be prepared, spiritually ready, in a state of grace (free from grave or mortal sin) like soldiers ready for the call to battle – trained, fed, equipped and psyched up.
We must stand at the ready for He will come. The Lord gives us many chances to change but not forever. We need to decide to change and then trust Him to help us whether He comes by truck, boat or helicopter! Take the help that comes to you don’t wait for some spectacular miracle. If we do what we can with what we have we need not fear Him when He comes. He comes for everyone individually at death. He comes also at particular moments in history and acts in the world in a clear way but the Day will arrive when He will come in judgment for the whole world.
How are we to prepare for that day? Well don’t just sit there, do something! Take action to let the Lord draw you closer to Himself and to others. Prepare by doing works of mercy, spiritual and corporal. Be merciful to others. But don’t just do things, learn to sit with the Lord. Prepare by giving time to prayer and to listening to God’s word. Bring some silence into your day and clear out the distractions. Even a few minutes a day given to reading and thinking about a text from the Scriptures (e.g. the Gospel of the day’s Mass) will bear fruit in time. Time given to praying and meditating on the rosary is another way – I don’t meant rattling through the Hail Marys with one’s mind far away but actually keeping each mystery before our mind’s eye and in our heart. Prepare by making sacrifices however small and offering them to the Lord in union with His Sacrifice on the Cross. These are especially helpful if they benefit others, above all the poor. If you want to celebrate our Lord’s birth properly, with real joy, then make time for God and for others. The time we give to God and our neighbour we will get back a hundred times over. Don’t let yourself be robbed but heed the Lord’s warning. Get yourself right with God and your neighbour and when we calls you will have nothing to fear. As it said in the opening prayer of this Mass we will run out to greet Him our hands full of the good deeds we have done.