Sunday, November 15, 2015

Preparing for the End of the World

Jesus today is giving us some weird apocalyptic imagery as he seems to be discussing the end times. In November, the month that we specifically call to mind and pray for the dead and those who have gone before, and as our liturgical year winds down and we prepare for the liturgical new year at Advent, our readings often go this route where they have us thinking about the end times. No one really knows what the end times are going to look at. Anytime the scriptures speak about it, they seem to speak in veiled and figurative language, so we don't want to take it too literally.

As Jesus is talking about the events that will happen "In those days," it seems he's speaking on multiple levels. He's actually talking about three different events, so we don't want to be too preoccupied trying to take everything he says and match it up with predicted literal events at the end of time. So what are these events? He seems to be alluding to and speaking metaphorically about 1) the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, 2) his own death, and 3) the actual end of the world that hasn't happened yet. Let's look at these three events.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 ad, indeed less than a generation after Jesus spoke these words. For the Jews, the Temple was a microcosm of the universe. The veils in the temple were decorated with patterns of the stars and constellations, and the seven candles on the menorah represented the sun, the moon, and the five known planets (according to "The Gospel of Mark" by Mary Healy). For the Jews, the Temple was where heaven met earth and where they went to meet God. The destruction of the Temple in 70 ad was a cataclysmic event, and in many ways marked the end of Judaism as it was practiced in Jesus' time.

But the temple also prefigures Jesus, who is the definitive meeting place between heaven and earth. And at Jesus's crucifixion, the sun was indeed darkened and the great temple veil with the stars on it was torn in to. So Jesus is also referring to his own death when he talks about the days of tribulation.

And finally, Jesus is talking about the literal end of the world, but he's using veiled language. Now, a lot of people have gotten very rich throughout history proclaiming that the end times are upon us and they have discovered the key for understanding the these veiled texts in the Bible. Time and time again they have been proven wrong, so don't listen to them. Because here's the obvious fact that we shouldn't have to state: the end of the world hasn't happened yet, so we don't know what it's going to look like. Also, they try to turn Jesus into a liar when he says that "of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Jesus himself claims to not know when the end of the world is near, so why would we listen to a street preacher saying the end is near?

But sometimes we get preoccupied with trying to figure out the end times and whats going to happen and when. And to that I just have to ask, "Why?" Why are you so worried about it? If you practice your religion and strive to live the life of virtue and go to confession, you have nothing to fear. If you're not practicing your religion, not striving to live virtuously, and not going to confession, then maybe you do have cause for concern.

St. Augustine said in one of his many commentaries, "Let us not resist his first coming, that we may not tremble at his second." If we accept the ways that he is present to us already, then how he comes at the end of time won't have cause to frighten us. But if we do resist the ways he offers to be present to us today, then we might have reason to be worried about his second coming.

We don't need to be preoccupied with how he's coming in the future, as long as we are doing what he commands today. So that's what we want to do, we want to live the life of virtue that Jesus commands today. We want to accept the ways that he is present to us today, that's the first coming that Augustine is talking about. He comes to us through the Church, especially through the Sacraments of the Church. That means Mass and Confession. To receive communion regularly without also going to confession is a dangerous thing, because what you are doing by your actions is proclaiming before God, the sinless one, that, "I am not a sinner." And when you proclaim before God that, I am not a sinner" then you are staking your eternal destiny on your own deeds rather than on God's mercy. This is a dangerous thing because to stake your eternal destiny on yourself is to build your house on sand. So we need Confession, even if we're not in mortal sin. Even without mortal sin, to receive communion without regularly going to confession makes that communion less fruitful for your soul, it makes it tougher to grow in grace. But together, confession and communion are the two fundamental building blocks of our relationship with God. One without the other leaves us terribly, even dangerously, disadvantaged.

And the tragic events in Paris on Friday highlight why it's so important to build this life on God. Any time something tragic happens in the world, we all take to social media and post our "Pray for Paris" pictures and hashtags, but we have to realize this isn't just one of those things that happens with no explanation like a hurricane or earthquake. This was the result of a group of men who chose to enact one of the core tenets of their religion which calls for the destruction of anything that is different than them. There are people in this world who hate you for worshipping Jesus, and they hate you enough to kill you for it. And they're gaining ground. But you have a God who loves you so much that he died for you, and he will never be overcome. World leaders are inept at stopping them, but your God has given you the means to take care of your soul and the souls of those in your care.

So we do not fear the dangers of this present world or the end of the world in whatever form it will take, because Jesus has given us the Mass and Confession, he's given us the means to take care of our souls. With these two tools, you can face any danger in this world, and you can build a relationship with God that will one day bring you home to heaven.

1 comment:

  1. What a lot to consider...thank you for the all encompassing look at this passage. It gives much food for thought and I have benefited from reflecting on the perspective you shared!