Fr. Charles Irvin
Malachi 3:19-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:15-19
The liturgical year of the Catholic Church covers all times — past, present, and future. In Advent we get into the mood and vision of people who were waiting for the coming of our Savior. From Christmas to Pentecost we walk with Jesus in His earthly ministry while He was among us. In Ordinary Time we live out the mysterious presence of God’s grace among us by the power of the Holy Spirit in our ordinary human day-to-day living.
Today’s readings direct our attention to the End of the World, otherwise known as the Last Things, or the Day of the Lord. How does the Catholic Church want us to think about that event? What’s the right attitude and vision to have as we look to that certain future?
Well, first of all, we should recognize that every age in human history has had their doomsayers proclaiming that that the end of the world was about to happen. Every age has had its wars, earthquakes, famines, and calamities. With them there have always been preachers who wanted to whip up anxiety and fear in people. By the time St. Luke wrote his Gospel he had to deal with them. The early Christians to whom he was writing were already being filled with anxieties and worries by preachers who were telling them that the end of the world was about to happen. St. Paul was dealing with the same situation as reflected in today’s passage from his Letter to the Thessalonians. And so do we. There are preachers in our time, especially on TV, who spend a lot of time talking about the Last Day, the end of the world, and interpreting the Book of the Apocalypse to fit their messages.
The Catholic Church certainly does not ignore the fact that the world will come to an end and that Christ will come again in judgment on the Last Day. But our Church asks us not to spend too much time pondering about exactly when He is coming again so much as our Church asks us to place our ordinary living in the context of the fact that He will come again. The important thing is to recognize the certainty of His coming again and not let our thoughts get all caught up and diverted by calculating exactly when He is coming again.
Why is that so important? Because in any human endeavor the goal in front of us determines how we will get there — the path and the steps we must take to achieve our goal. If we recognize that then we will recognize that death gives meaning to life. If we ignore our own death, our own personal last days, then we will ignore how we should be living now. The Day of Judgment and the End of the World ought to cause us to think more about what is valuable to do today rather than to cause us to neglect what we do today. You see, the Thessalonians, the folks to whom St. Paul was writing in our second reading of this Mass, were giving up on caring about this life because they were preparing so much for the next.
Caring for life has always been at the forefront of the Catholic Church’s mission from its beginning until now and forward forever. A mountain is a great and glorious thing; a mountain range fills us with awe and wonder. But a newborn baby fills us with love; a baby fills us with awe and wonder at a far deeper level. A mountain is static. It will remain what it is so long as it exists. A living human life, however, has a destiny far greater than simply “being there.” A living human life is called into being by God to grow, develop, mature, into all that God created it to be. Our ultimate and personal destiny is to love God face to face. A human life is called into being to love God and to be loved by God. God called you into life, endless life, in order to come to know Him, love Him, and to spend eternity in His love personally and individually. No mountain can do that. Only a human being can do that.
The Church puts the Last Days in front of our eyes so that we can judge what is right and what is wrong in what we are doing in the present days of our lives not only to give God the love He wants from us but also to share His love with all His sons and daughters. A popular writer back in the Sixties, Rollo May, once observed, “The most effective way to ensure the value of the future is confront the present courageously and constructively.” That bit of wisdom helps us put our present day values in a proper picture. Why? Because the more beautiful the world will become through our efforts today and tomorrow, the more it will shine on that great Day of Glory. The more beautiful we become now the more we will be preparing for the day when glory will be ours for all eternity. You may think of yourself as insignificant but God thinks you are of infinite value, so much so that He sent His son among us so that you could live in union with Him forever. God created the universe, the stars, the earth with all of its glorious wonders, but a human being is the only creation God wanted for its own sake. You were created by Love for love.
Let me state my main point to you again in a different way. The end of the world should be terribly important to us because it makes our earthly responsibilities and values important today, tomorrow, and all of the days of our lives. If we don’t care about our own personal judgment when we die, and if we don’t care about the Final Judgment at the End of the World, then we won’t care about what we’re going to do today, tomorrow, or the next day. If our finality isn’t important to us then ordinary life won’t be important to us. Ordinary time won’t mean anything to us and ordinary life will slip into neglect, anarchy, crime, drugs, violence, and so forth. We will abandon this life and let the Devil have it. Apathy allows Satan to have his day.
It’s true that you may die tomorrow. But your value in death will depend upon what you do today. We should plan and work like we’re going to live forever, and live like we’re going to die tomorrow. Today is not only the first day of the rest of your life; it is likewise the first day of your eternal life. So don’t hide your light under a bushel. The more beautiful you become today and tomorrow, and the more beautiful you help others to be, the more we will all shine in glory when the Lord comes to us to take us into the fullness of His time in everlasting life.