As we move through the dark, short, leafless days of November, our thoughts may turn toward the brevity of summer (where did it go?), the inevitability of death (All Souls Day) or the feared anticipation of another hard winter (it can’t be as bad as the last one!)
We’re nearing the end of the liturgical year, and the Mass readings speak about the ultimate accounting we must give of our life, the final judgment, the end of all things as we know them.
As Christians, we believe the world will end someday, human history will draw to a conclusion, the Second Coming of Christ will definitively destroy the forces of evil, sin and death, God will pronounce a final decision on human conduct and the Kingdom of God will shine in resplendent fullness forever.
A casual reader can easily be confused by the Book of Revelation with its fantastic accounts of terrifying plagues, cosmic signs, hard-fought battles between good and evil and heavenly images beyond our imagining.
Catholics interpret this final book of the Bible far differently than some of our Christian brethren in that we see its meaning as symbolic, rather than literal. So what does the Book of Revelation or the Apocalypse say to us? What are its lessons?
1. The struggle between good and evil, Christ and Satan, will go on until the end of the world. Why God allows evil to seemingly have its way may often remain a mystery to us, especially when we bear the brunt of its power.
Our individual lives and the history of the world are a complex mixture of divine grace, human freedom, generous love, tragic sinfulness and true evil. The parable of the weeds among the wheat comes to mind.
But we know how the story ends. God wins in the final triumph of Christ; this conviction gives us hope and meaning in the darkest of nights.
2. Our earthly liturgical worship is a participation in the life and activity of heaven. In “The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth,” Scott Hahn writes movingly how his conversion to Catholicism was triggered by the startling realization that most of the prayers and rites of the Mass come from the Book of Revelation.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we step out of the chronological timeline of history and enter into the eternal timelessness of God; we walk into the vast and beautiful world of the resurrection of Christ.
At Mass, if we could put on a supernatural lens, we would see angels flying around and observe the saints worshiping the Lord with us. When we participate in the Eucharist, we have already entered into the “end of the world.”
3. Our actions and words in this life radically matter and we will be judged on all of them. Many people think everyone will be automatically saved. “God is all good, he loves me and will forgive me everything in the end.” Obviously, God is rich in mercy and pardon, yet he is also just.
Remember Jesus’ words: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” Mt 7:13-14.
The Book of Revelation speaks often about the general judgment of the world and the particular judgment of every human person. While we trust in God’s mercy and compassion, we also strive with our heart, mind and soul to love God, to live virtue and to grow in holiness.
How we live, what we do, the words we speak, the choices we make impact eternity and our final destiny. How important a regular examination of conscience, the sacrament of reconciliation and a radical commitment to live the Gospel and the teachings of the church become in the light of God’s mercy and justice.
Some Christians seem obsessed with the end of the world, trying to decipher the signs in Revelation, gathering at a particular place on a specific date awaiting some cosmic eruption, talking about the great tribulation to come.
When we look at natural disasters, the Ebola crisis, the horrific violence in the Middle East and our own cities, the apparent rise of atheism and secularity, we may be tempted to think the end has come. Yet, the world has endured worse and has continued its course.
The sufferings, tragedies and evil of this life should propel us to a deeper relationship of love, trust and service with God, whose definitive apocalypse or revelation is the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ: His saving life, death and resurrection.
Jesus is the fixed point, the North Star, the Alpha and the Omega who will love us forever! Remember, we know how the story ends.