At the End of Time
by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation 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. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
The month of November sees the liturgical year of the church draw to a close by directing our thoughts to the last things. The beginning of the month offers us the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, so that we consider the rewards and company of heaven, as well as the love of God for all of the dead. The end of the month focuses on the end of time and the culmination of all earthly life, in the vision of Christ the King, Lord of the Universe.
This week, we also set our minds on what is to come, listening to Jesus teach us about the signs of the end. This always a delicate topic for us, no doubt, since conversations about the end of time can easily fall into almost pagan divination, pious terror or mere sensationalism. Our task in reading this passage is to calm our desire to know and control the future, and instead to receive what the Lord wishes to tell us.
First, to make sure we have everything in perspective, what do we actually teach as a church regarding the end of time? We do indeed teach that this world will have an end, and that this end will come after a series of great tribulations, particularly, a series of trials for the church. We would be wrong to over spiritualize the witness of Scripture and pretend that this will not be the case. Christ and the apostles teach us to expect that "nation will rise against nation" (Mt 24:7) and that many "will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Tim 4.1). They warn that "every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of god (but is) the spirit of antichrist" (1 Jn 4:3). Yet, we also know that "for the sake of the elect those days (of trial) will be shortened" (Mt 24:22) and that the church, even if she must appear to die, will endure and remain faithful to the Lord. In the end, Christ will return in triumph, and the Father will put "all thing in subjection under his feet," so that "God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:27-28).
Considering what we believe, and the ultimate triumph of Jesus, the heart of this Sunday's Gospel passage might not actually be the individual signs of the end, but the enduring truth of who the Lord is. Rather than getting lost interpreting what it means that "the sun will be darkened" or that "the stars will be falling from the sky" Mk 13:24-25), we should focus our attention on the fact that we will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory" (Mk 13:26), the one whose "words will not pass away" even when heaven and earth do (Mk 13:31). Christ is telling us that before the end, we will see and come to understand that all created things are temporary, but that we do not need to fear, because he and his kingdom outlasts them all. He alone is eternal but he is indeed eternal and wishes to share that eternal and divine life with us as his chosen friends and family.
So, then it becomes clear what we should do with regard to the end of all things. We do not need to fuss about exactly how the scriptural prophecies will be fulfilled. We do not need to live in terror of what is coming, we know not when. What we must do is with divine help, remain in friendship with Christ Jesus our God, and, with reverence and peace, walk courageously with him toward the life of heaven.