Sunday, Nov. 18, is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Christians aren’t the only ones who think about the end of the world. Many people are terrified of the end of the world.
The fear might be sparked by the Aztec calendar that says the world will end this year or by the California pastor who said the world would end one weekend last year.
Others fear the end of the world for the end of the world: global warming melting the polar ice caps or a more general “climate change” sparking terrible storms. Still others say it’s only a matter of time before a giant asteroid crushes the Earth.
But the Christian take on the end of the world is far more terrifying — but also potentially reassuring.
Consider what Jesus says in today’s Gospel:
“The moon will not give its light; the stars will be falling from the sky; the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
Or consider Daniel: He foresees “a time unsurpassed in distress since nations first began.”
How is that for terrifying? It sounds like everything we know and love will be torn away from us.
The reason the fears of the end of the world are so powerful is that we know their basic premise is true: The Earth is fragile. Everything we see is destined to die and decay. The world as we know it will certainly end.
But the reason the Christian’s end of the world is far more reassuring than those who fear mere global warming or asteroids is that we know of something that is not destined for destruction or decay: Jesus Christ.
He is, as St. Paul puts it, the one who “offered one sacrifice for sins and took a seat forever at the right hand of God.” He invites us into his indestructibility: “y one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”
If we love Christ above all things, then we need not fear that everything we know and love will ever be torn from us. Quite the contrary: The things that keep us from what we know and love the most will be taken away from us.
Says Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
If a storm is coming, we stay in our shelter; when darkness is coming, we stay by the light. With the end of the world coming, we should stay by Christ.
These readings come on the last day of the liturgical year, late in the fall, when the days are growing shorter, and the trees are growing bleaker. All around us is darkness and decay. The Church is ready to comfort us against this background, but not with a false comfort.
As Daniel says in the first reading, “Some shall live forever; others shall be an everlasting horror and disgrace. But the wise shall shine brightly, like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the way to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
In other words, we need three things to stay close to Christ: wisdom, virtue and a willingness to lead others to justice — to Christ.
We know how to gain these things. For wisdom: Pray regularly. Start each day with prayer. Use the daily meditation in the Magnificat or simply read from the New Testament. For virtue: Go to confession regularly, especially in Advent. Bring your sins to God, and pray for the grace of a firm purpose of amendment. Know yourself and your weaknesses, and ask for God’s help. To lead others to Jesus: Speak up in conversations that touch on important matters. Don’t be cowed into silence by people’s scorn. Be willing to stand foursquare with the truth.
Where will Christ lead us after this world ends?
God says a father would not give a snake when his child asks for a loaf of bread, and neither will he. We love this world, and fear that a different world will be foreign to us, but we can be sure God will not thrust us into a world that is foreign to our nature. The world will not be replaced by something empty or strange.
God will lead us to a place perfectly suited to us, especially because it will be a place built by, for and of him. There, with his grace, we will shine like the splendor of the firmament. Forever.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.