There’s a Gospel song, written back in the 1950’s, called “Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb!” It is a warning to be prepared for death. Here are a few of the lyrics:
Everybody’s worried ’bout that Atom Bomb. No one seems worried about the Day my Lord shall come! Better set your house in order, He may be coming soon, and He’ll hit like an Atom Bomb when He comes!
Playful yet clear. But what does it mean to set your house in order? If we’re not careful, we might come up with a long list of things to which we should attend. A long list might tend to overwhelm us and be difficult to remember.
Perhaps this is why Scripture gives us a clear, four-point plan that describes the Christian life. It is found in Acts 2. Peter has just preached a sermon in which he warns his listeners to repent and believe the Good News. He says to them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41). Now they are baptized and in the Church of the Living of God. (Notice too, that the verse does not say that they said the “sinners’ prayer” to be saved, it just says that they were baptized.) And unlike some of our Protestant brethren, who hold a kind of “once saved, always saved” mentality, the text does not stop there. These new disciples now have a life to lead that will help them be ready to meet God, and that will help them to set their house in order. And so in the very next verse we read:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)
So here is our “four-point plan” for setting our house in order once we have come to faith. There are four components listed below, four pillars if you will. Please note that the text says that they devoted themselves to these four pillars of the Christian life. They did not merely do them occasionally, or when they felt like it, or when the time seemed right. They were consistent; they were devoted to this four-fold rule of life. Let’s look at each pillar in turn, as we consider how to set our house in order.
I. The Apostles’ Teaching– This first pillar of the Christian life is fascinating, not only for what it says, but also for what it does not say. When we think of the “Apostles’ Teaching” we think first of the four Gospels and the New Testament Epistles. And these would surely be true components of the Apostles’ teaching for a modern Christian. But notice that the text does not say that they devoted themselves to Scripture, but rather to the Apostles’ Teaching.
For a Catholic, the Apostolic Teaching consists not only of the New Testament Scriptures, but also the Sacred Tradition, which comes to us from the Apostles, and which has been understood and articulated by the living Magisterium of the Church. The Protestants would largely interpret this first pillar as an exhortation to read the Bible every day and base our lives on it. This is a true understanding, but only a partial one. The early Christians, as you recall, did not have the New Testament in its final form from day one, and thus could not have lived this text in such a way. The Bible as we now have it was not yet completed, edited, or canonized. Yet they had received the Apostolic teaching, because it had been preached to them by the Apostles and their deputed representatives, the bishops, priests and deacons.
St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess 2:15). Therefore, the Catholic application of this first pillar is truer and fuller in that we are devoted to the Apostles’ teaching not in Scripture alone, but also in Sacred Tradition as passed down and interpreted by the living Magisterium of the Church.
To live this first pillar with devotion means to set our house in order by carefully and diligently studying what the apostles have handed down to us. We do this by the daily, devoted reading of Scripture, and/or the diligent study of the faith through the Catechism or other approved manuals. We should make it a daily habit to read Scripture and study the faith, attempting to grow in our knowledge of what God has revealed through his prophets and apostles, and then basing our life on what we learn, and repenting of what is not in line with the revealed truth. Pillar number one is being devoted to the Apostles’ teaching.
II. The Fellowship – the word fellowship may be a little weak here as a translation of the Greek τῇ κοινωνίᾳ (te koinonia). Most people who hear the word fellowship think of coffee and doughnuts after Mass. But the more theological way of translating this word is probably “a communion.” The sacred gathering of the faithful is better termed a “communion,” or in Latin “communio.” It is a gathering of the members of Christ’s Body the Church into one, a communion of Christ with his Bride the Church.
The early Christians, according to this text, devoted themselves to this communal gathering. Hence, the second pillar of the Christian life, through which we are helped to set our house in order, is “fellowship,” or even better, “communio.”
The Commandment is clear: Keep holy the Sabbath. It doesn’t make sense to think that we can disregard one of the Ten Commandments and then claim that our house is in order. Some argue that this commandment does not say explicitly that we should be in Church on Sunday. But Leviticus 23:3 says regarding this Commandment, “You shall do no work and you shall keep sacred assembly, it is the Sabbath of the Lord.” Sacred assembly means “Church.” It is the fellowship, the koinonia, the communio. There is no way around it. God expects us to be in his house on our Sabbath, which is Sunday. The Book of Hebrews also says, “And let us not neglect to meet together regularly and to encourage one another, all the more since the Day draws near.” See here how the Last “Day” and being prepared for it is linked to “meeting together regularly.”
So the second pillar of the Christian life is to set our house in order by going to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. In the Mass, we both encourage others, and are encouraged by them. We also receive instruction in the Word of God by the anointed and deputed ministers of that Word, the bishops, priests, and deacons. In so doing, we also fulfill the third pillar, to which we now turn our attention.
III. The Breaking of the Bread – The phrase “the breaking of the bread” in the New Testament usually meant the reception of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist.
The worthy reception of Holy Communion is directly connected to having our House in Order, for there are wonderful promises made to those who are faithful in this regard. Jesus makes a promise in John 6:40 that Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I will raise him up on the last day. That’s quite a promise in terms of being ready! Jesus is saying that frequent reception of the Eucharist is essential preparation for the Last Day. Jesus also warns us not to stay away from “the breaking of the bread” or Holy Communion. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you (Jn 6:53).
Without Holy Communion, we’re not going to make it. Gotta receive regularly to be ready! We cannot claim that our house is in order if we willfully stay away from Holy Communion.
By extension, we must allow this reference to one Sacrament (Holy Communion) to be a reference to all the Sacraments. Clearly, a Catholic approach to this third pillar of preparation would include being baptized and confirmed. It would also include weekly reception of Holy Communion, regular confession, anointing of the sick when necessary, and where possible, the reception of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders.
The Sacraments are our spiritual medicine. We have a bad condition called concupiscence (a strong inclination to sin). It is like spiritual high blood pressure or diabetes. Hence, we must take our medicine and be properly nourished. The Sacraments, as our medicine, help us to avoid dying from our sinful condition. So the third pillar of the Christian life is to set our house in order by receiving Holy Communion worthily every Sunday, and the other Sacraments at appropriate times.
IV. Prayer– This final pillar requires more of us than just saying our prayers in some sort of perfunctory way. The Greek word here is προσευχαῖς (Proseuchais), and is best translated just as we have it here: “prayers.” However the Greek root proseuche is from pros (toward or immediately before) + euchomai (to pray or vow). But the prefix pros would convey the sense of being immediately before Him. And hence the ideas of adoration, devotion, and worship are included.
Thus prayer is understood as more than simply “saying one’s prayers.” What is called for is worshipful, attentive, and adoring prayer. Prayer is experiencing God’s presence. Jesus says of prayer that it is necessary for us lest we fall. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation (Matt 26:41). Hence, the fourth pillar is prayer, through which we put our house in order through regular, worshipful, attentive, and adoring prayer of God. This serves as a kind of medicine lest we fall deeply into temptation.
So here are four basic pillars of preparation for the Day of Judgment. Follow them and then even if Jesus “hits like an atom bomb,” you’ll be able to look up and be ready knowing that your redemption is at hand.
Enjoy this video. Observe in it all the readiness preparations for the atomic bomb that some of us who are older may remember. In a way, all the preparations you see in the video are a little silly, since diving under a desk wouldn’t help much if an atom bomb really hit! But the preparations I have mentioned above really ARE helpful since God gives them to us. If the people in this video were trying to get ready with measures that probably wouldn’t help much, how much more important it is for us to do so, who DO stand a chance since God himself has instructed us! Set your house in order! !
5 Replies to “Set Your House in Order (in four easy steps).”
Glad to see the term “communion” used rather than the over-worked and abused “solidarity”.
Four points on which to build one’s life to be prepared to meet one’s Maker. (No man knows the day or the hour, except the guys on death row, I suppose.) Good article.
A very important reminder that we could all be called to come home by the Lord God at anytime!
What a timely homily for me, personally. I have felt a “quickening” in my soul for several months. It has led me to more frequent and better confessions with a deeper examination of conscience. Reading “The Dark Night of the Soul” has been a real mind opener for me. I really do believe that God is preparing me for something, either Jesus’ return, or perhaps my return to Him. Even though quite healthy, one never knows when their time will be.
Thank you so very much, Msgr. Pope, for all of your wonderful and insightful homilies. I must admit, having you hear my confession is the only item on my bucket list !!
Yes, you have an appointment; God can make appointments.
A timely message for this generation where God seems not to be reckon with.
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