Beauty at the End of the World
User's Guide to Sunday, Nov. 15
Sunday, Nov. 15, is the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B).
Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Jesus says at the end of today’s Gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
He will remain with us, when everything else dies away.
But make no mistake: Everything else will die away.
There are 33 years in Jesus’ life and 33 weeks in Ordinary Time in the Church. After that comes the feast of Christ the King, and then the cycle starts over with the hope of Advent.
But first comes the 33rd Sunday, the dramatic end of the liturgical year. The Gospel for the day is dire, insisting that the end is really coming, and we should be ready for it.
If Jesus’ words in the Gospel came from almost anyone else, we would consider them unhinged.
He speaks about a tribulation, after which “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.”
But then “the Son of Man” will come “in the clouds with great power and glory.” The angels will be sent out to gather his “elect.”
Many commentators focus on the question of what he meant when he said, “This generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” This column dealt with the particulars of that question here, but the question has never troubled me much. That the Church has preserved those words from the beginning shows a commitment to the integrity of the word of God that only increases the Church’s credibility.
What troubles me is Jesus’ emphatic insistence that this actually will happen — there will really be an “end of all things,” when stars fall and the heavens shake. We should even expect it to be during our lifetime, though we shouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t.
The acclamation before the Gospel doesn’t let up, exhorting us: “Pray that you have the strength to stand before the Son of Man.”
The consequences of that are enormous: It means that God’s power really is the foundation of all things. It means that our relationship with God is really the one, true thing in our lives. It means that all of the things we often prefer to God fall short.
St. Augustine discovered this without the world having to end.
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved you!” he wrote. “I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you.”
But next came Augustine’s conversion, which he describes this way: “You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.”
This is what Jesus does in today’s Gospel.
We have become very comfortable with the things of the earth that he gave us. He is warning us now that he will take them all away.
All that will be left is Jesus is shouting, flashing, shining, breaking through our deafness and blindness, saying: “All that will be left is me.”
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas,
where he lives with April, his wife and in-house theologian and consultant, and their children.