by Joannie Watson | November 12, 2021 12:04 am
Image: “The Last Judgment” (detail) by Fra Angelico | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Does it matter if we are living in the end times?
Is it the end of the world as we know it? If it is, as the song goes… I feel fine.
Each year as the liturgical year comes to a close, our readings are filled with themes like judgment, the end of the world, and being prepared. This weekend, it might be easy to focus on things like the sun darkening or stars falling from the sky. The phrase in the the first reading, “a time unsurpassed in distress,” might send our thoughts racing.
Rather than thinking about the wise shining brightly or some living forever, or instead of remembering that “no one knows” of the day Jesus speaks, thinking of the end of the world and judgment can bring us anxiety and consternation.
I have had several people ask me over the last few weeks if I believe we are living in the “end times.” My first answer, in the eyes of Scripture and Church history, is yes. We have been living in the end times since Christ ascended to the Father. But that’s not what they are referring to, naturally. They expect and deserve a better response.
At the same time, though, it’s important for us to remember our history. We have lived through countless times of expectation that Jesus was coming again – beginning with the very early Church! Peter had to address false teachers who claimed since Jesus had not returned yet, he was not coming at all (2 Pt 3). Paul had to reassure the Thessalonians not to be alarmed by false reports (2 Thes 2:2). We also should remember that as terrible as the world seems right now, we have lived through similar things and worse things.
So in response to their question, I remind them of both of those things. But the question remains: is the world about to end? And to that, I shrug. Does it matter?
Does it matter if we are living in the end times? It should not.
Whether or not the world as we know it will be ending tomorrow, or whether a great tribulation is coming, I do not know. What I do know is … my world is ending. Maybe not tomorrow, but definitely within the next fifty to sixty years. I must be living with that in mind, because it is a much more definite, known reality. Am I prepared for death? Am I living each day for God? If God came today, would I be ready to face Him? Would I be happy with the choices I made each day? If not, what do I need to do differently?
In the great scheme of things, it should not matter to you if we are living in the end times. You should be living each day ready to face Our Lord. And if you are, why does it matter when the world ends? Jesus’ advice to the Apostles is to be watchful, to stay awake, to be prepared. That’s his advice to us as well.
Jesus’ other piece of advice is the other reason it doesn’t matter if the world is ending. Do not be afraid. While that phrase is not found in the “parousia discourses” of Matthew and Mark that we are hearing in the readings, it permeates his entire ministry. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). Lovingly, he reminds us that we are worth more than many sparrows. He tells us to pray with faith and our prayers will be answered. He reassures us that he will not leave us orphans. Jesus’ teachings are not filled with fear and threats, but love and protection. If we are living for Him, why would we fear the end of the world? It is precisely what he tells us not to do.
Sandwiched in Matthew 25 between the parable of the virgins and the parable of the sheep and goats is one of my favorite parables: the talents. The story is familiar to us. Two of the servants used the gifts given to them by the master in his absence wisely, and one lived in fear of the master and hid his talent.
In a sense, all three parables tell the same story. At the end of our lives, we will be judged on what we have done with what God has given us. That may come tomorrow or in fifty years; it may come at our death or at the end of the world. Regardless of when and how, are we prepared with the oil of virtue and good deeds? Have we cared for the least of our brothers and sisters? Have we lived in the joy and goodness of the kingdom already on earth? Or are our lamps out, our neighbor neglected, and our talents hidden in fear?
Are we living in the end times? …Does it matter?
This is not a call to be passive about the end of the world. Rather, it is a reminder that the Lord does not want us to worry about it. He wants you to trust. He wants you to live each day, in the present moment, for Him. And if we are doing that, it does not matter when the world ends. It does not matter whether we are facing a great tribulation.
As Father Jacques Philippe reminds us, “It’s not about turning a blind eye or becoming irresponsible. Sometimes we do need to think about the future and prepare for it. But what we should avoid at all cost is the worry and the fear. These concerns upset us and stop us from being available for how we need to live today, being present to God, to ourselves, and to others.”
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