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In this Sunday’s Gospel (the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C), Jesus paints a dire picture of the end of the world. There will be much suffering on earth as the world ends. Today’s short-and-sweet first reading from the prophet Malachi matches Jesus’ tone, if not the particular details:
“Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the LORD of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
It would be a comforting reading if it were not so terrifying. The world will end one day, and the pretense that we are our own masters will go up in smoke. Some of us will be healed by the rays of the rising sun and some will be burned up by it.
The liturgical year has a lot of high points —we cheer the baby Jesus and other birthdays, we celebrate the resurrection and we extol the glories of Mary. But it also has dark moments — Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Beheading of John the Baptist. The liturgical year this Sunday definitely ends in a dark mood.
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper,” wrote T.S. Eliot. He could say the same thing about the liturgical year — but not about our lives.
Our lives will end with a bang — either a glorious entry into grace or a fiery horror.
We are studying the end of the world with our confirmation students and came across two excellent C.S. Lewis quotes in the YouCat (Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church).
“Nature is fleeting; we will outlive it,” says one. “Even when all suns and mists are gone, each one of us will still be alive.”
It is fascinating to think of the world as less permanent than ourselves. We like to talk about the generations who have gone before us and those that will come after us, as if we were a blip of nature. But Lewis reminds us that we are not a blip of nature. We are the permanent thing; the world is passing.
And at the end, he says, we have heaven to look forward to. “Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it,” he said.
Once the world passes away, we won’t be in a strange inhuman wasteland. We will be in our true home, finally and forever. It won’t be a place that feels awkward and takes getting used to. It will be more natural than nature.
But as today’s Gospel reminds us, it is by no means a given that we will be there, and getting there won’t be easy. It will entail standing up for Christ to persecutors of many kinds who try to undermine our faith.
“You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death,” he says. “You will be hated by all because of my name.”
But, “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on love,” wrote St. John of the Cross. As Ordinary Time gives way to Christ the King (next week) and then Advent, we should take up the study of God’s love once again.
If the future looks terrifying, we should know we can enter it hand in hand with a Father who is as anxious to get us through it safe and sound as we are.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).