Gray Novembers make us think about the passing nature of life, the certainty of death and the hope of eternity. We begin the month with celebrations honoring the saints and praying for our loved ones who have gone before us. We prepare for the end of the liturgical year and the end of the Year of Faith.
In these shortening days of darkness, cold and barren trees, nature surrenders herself to the death of winter. Every November is a dress rehearsal for the end of our lives and the end of the world.
Many people seem almost obsessed with determining the precise timing of the world’s end. How often apocalyptic groups have gathered in some location, awaiting the demise of this planet with some combination of fear and hope? While we can easily dismiss such predictions as delusional, these folks have a fundamental point.
Our individual lives and the collective life of this world have an end point. Our time is limited, framed by the mystery of death and the end of all created things, at least as we know them to be now.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches “at the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed … Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth.’ It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in Christ, things in heaven and on earth.” #1042-1043
I find this vision of the final consummation of human history to be remarkably exciting. It means that God – his Christ, Kingdom, love, forgiveness and mercy – wins in the end, defeating all powers of evil, sin and death forever. In his goodness, God allows each of us to make our small yet significant contribution to this fullness of the Kingdom.
When we become discouraged with the state of the world and the weakness of ourselves, we can trust in that infinite and mighty power of God who is directing the course of world events toward their ultimate and triumphant conclusion.
We live in the tension between the inauguration of the Kingdom and its fulfillment. In the person of Jesus, the Reign of God has been unleashed, set loose to permeate every fiber of the cosmos and every detail of our human nature. We see its growth and progress wherever faith, love, mercy, justice, respect for life and generosity flourish.
We know that the Evil One plants weeds among the wheat, as we feel the pain of violence, sin, injustice and hatred within ourselves and the world around us. And so we dare to hope in that final, glorious conclusion of the triumph of Christ at the end of the world. The Kingdom of God is so beyond us that we can never bring it about ourselves, let alone even imagine it; yet we catch glimpses of it and feel called to make our own vital contribution to its growth.
While I confess I do not often think about the end of the world, I increasingly think about my own death and the brevity of life. With every passing year, there is less time and opportunity to do all the things that I feel called to do and to become fully the person I know that God wants me to be.
Such reflections can fill us with the same wistful melancholy as a November walk through a gray and leafless woods as we ponder the beauty of summer days gone by, but there is a vital and necessary good that comes forth from reflecting on the certainty of death.
By befriending Sister Death, as St. Francis of Assisi calls her, we feel the urgency of becoming a saint now, of living in the beauty and truth of the present moment, of not postponing the most important things for some date that never quite arrives. If I knew that I had only one year to live, how would I embrace the next 12 months? I would pray more, pay the restaurant bill more often, let go of resentments and anger that amount to nothing, give away more time, money, possessions and love, and savor the beauty of each day, because I knew that it was all coming to an end so soon.
In the light of eternity, our earthly existence is a breath, a blink of the eye, a moment in time. Relatively speaking, we will all be standing before the judgment seat of Christ in about 15 minutes and he will ask us:
What did you do with your life?
Did you hand it over?
Did you give it away?
Did you make a gift of yourself for others?
Did you become the person that God called you to be from the beginning?
Living the answer to these questions is the best way to get ready for the end of the world, as we await a new heaven and a new earth. Savor this November in all of its death and resurrection promise.