November 15, 2009
The End is the Beginning
Quarrels of siblings are common among little children. We were three brothers in the family. We would always play together, but then quarrels would suddenly erupt. On such occasions, my mother would effectively stop us with these words: “Wait till your father comes home.” The time between that warning and the time my Dad arrives would seem like eternity. How we wished he would not come home. We dreaded his arrival knowing that our wrongdoing deserves some punishment. Yet, despite the pain of punishment, we appreciate the return of order, harmony and peace in the home afterwards.
During the Mass, after the Consecration, the priest declares, “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.” And we respond: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The readings this Sunday are about the third declaration: Christ will come again. These come from the apocalyptic chapters of the book of Daniel and the Gospel of St. Mark. We can expect to hear these readings at this time because we are now nearing the end of the liturgical year. Next Sunday is the last Sunday of the year, the celebration of the Feast of Christ the King. The end of the liturgical year is an opportunity for the Church to remind us about the end-times, the eschatological reality of our lives. At the end of time, Jesus will come again, not anymore as a helpless baby in a manger, but as the glorious Lord, “the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I am sure many of us are troubled by the words about the sun being darkened, the moon losing its light and the stars falling down from heaven. Let us just be reminded that this is part of apocalyptic literature which is full of poetic images, metaphors, symbols and double meanings. This kind of literature comes out during times of extreme difficulties for certain groups of people. It uses veiled language to hide the message from the enemies. Hence, it is a big mistake to interpret these words literally. On the other hand, it is also a mistake to dismiss them altogether as hollow poetry or literary idiosyncrasy. But it is a much bigger mistake to be terrified and move about in panic. If we are convinced that it is Jesus, the Incarnate God, who is coming, why be afraid? To be afraid of the coming of Jesus is a big insult to him. What we must be afraid of is to continue living in this world without God, to be away from Jesus.
Instead, let us look at the message as a warning, an encouragement, and good news for all of us. It is a warning against complacency and wayward life. Like children being warned by the mother, “Wait till your father comes,” so also we are warned that Jesus will come again as the Eternal Judge. Now is the time to make our paths straight, and to do everything right. Though it could be terrifying to the guilty, it is actually an encouragement to those who are suffering and persevering in doing good. Their sufferings and sacrifices are not in vain for they are assured that the Lord will reward them for their faithful love and service. And it is good news because the coming of the Lord will mean final victory for us against evil, the restoration of peace, order and justice, and the full reign of God in this world. Instead of being ominous portents, these are signs of our forthcoming glorious victory. Jesus said: “When these things begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand” (Lk 21:28).
Let us also remember that Christ’s coming is actually not a remote event in the future. When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus said: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:21). In other words, we can establish God’s kingdom right in our midst. The Lord comes wherever people treat each other with kindness, love and care: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me” (Mt 25:40). A quotation said: “I sought my God; my God I could not see. I sought my soul; my soul eluded me; I sought my neighbor, and I found all three.”
The end will come, and that’s for sure. We will all die, and that’s for sure. The best way to prepare for death is to live fully. The best way to prepare for the end is to begin taking the right path to salvation. After all, based on the Gospel, it is clear that the end is also the beginning of something more glorious and perfect, the coming of the kingdom of God in our midst. That is the prayer we say to our heavenly Father:“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002