Saturday, November 14, 2009

The End Times

(33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

As they do each fall as we approach the end of the liturgical year, the readings and prayers today invite us into a reflection on the end of the world and the Last Things. This creation had a beginning, and it will have an end according to God’s loving and gentle purpose.

Great care must be taken when we begin to talk about the end of the world. In the whole history of the faith and down to our own day, there are many who have preached the end of the world. They proclaim dates and issue warnings, but often what they imagine is a vision of the ‘end times’ made in their own image; one that provides vindication for them and their associates, and punishment for everyone else. Always run—don’t walk—from self-serving apostles!

In fact, it’s hard to for us to know and understand what the end will be like. We are creatures and this creation is the world we know, and just as it would be impossible to explain the breadth and variety of this world to an unborn baby whose whole world is her mother’s womb, so it’s hard for us to wrap our limited minds around the “life of the world to come” to which we look forward in the Creed.

But we do know some things. Perhaps more importantly, we know what we don’t know. We know that we don’t know when the end will come. Jesus himself says it in the gospel today: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Even Jesus doesn’t know. Now this has never stopped people from setting dates. As the year 1,000 approached, people were so afraid of the end times that peace movements sprang up all over and many wars were stopped. Sadly, we know how much that takes for us. Back before the year 2,000 we had a little taste of the secular, technological fear of the end times as we looked forward to the end of society when Y2K would come. Right now the stylish date for the end of the world is December 21, 2012. If no one has informed you already that the world will surely end on that day, no doubt you will hear about it soon. Jesus cuts through all of this needless anxiety and speculation. We know that the end times will come, but—at least in this gospel passage—Jesus doesn’t know when and neither do we. So, we shouldn’t be surprised if the end comes later today, tomorrow, in 2012, or somewhere long after we have gone to our rest.

Though we don’t know exactly what will happen when the end times come, the readings today give us some idea what it will be like. Jesus’ advice that we “take a lesson from the fig tree” helps us to understand that the end of the world will be something like the annual transformations of the changing seasons. Both the gospel today and the first reading from the prophet Daniel let us know that the end will be something like a gathering or a harvest. At this time of year when we look forward to Thanksgiving, the image of the harvest is very much with us. It is a rich and encouraging image for the good news of the coming end times. Through our communion with God through Christ, God promises that the destiny of creation is a harvesting and gathering of all the love, care, and goodness we are for each other, preserving it unto eternity.

This recalls to me one of my favorite prayers from the entire Liturgy, which is the introduction to the Vigil for the Deceased, commonly called the wake service: “We believe that all of the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel in death.” This is the gospel, the good news of the end time, whether it’s our own end at our personal death, or the final destiny of all of creation at the end of time: Because we are lifted up into the life of the Blessed Trinity by our baptism into Christ and our Communion with him here at Mass, all of the love and goodness we are for each other in this life does not just evaporate into nothingness when our pilgrimage on earth is over. On the contrary, in God’s great gathering and harvest, all of the loving good we were created to be is not only preserved, but made indestructible as God draws it lovingly into his own eternity.


Bless said...

Father Charles... This is a very good reminder to have more faith in God. The media and the belief on the Mayan calendar is getting to be out of control.

4narnia said...

this was an excellent homily, Fr. C! and, i was glad to hear it in person! thank you so much for your inspiration! we all need to be reminded to "be ready always." if we live "in the moment," and live as simply as possible, and remain "open" to the graces of God all around us, then we will be ready! PEACE! ~tara t~