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“The world’s coming to an end and I wanna do my part!” Or, more theologically, “What is the Apocalypse and how can I help?”
Plague, famine, war and death are on my mind now—and not just because I’m writing the night before the U.S. presidential election. I’ve just read “Unveiling the Apocalypse” and “The Five Beasts of St. Hildegard: Prophetic Symbols of Modern Society.” And, as the liturgical year wanes, the apocalyptic tone of the Mass readings promises gloom and doom preceding glory. But I won’t speculate about the conversion of Russia, the meanings of recent earthquakes, or whether the new American president is a sign of God’s mercy or chastisement. But I must offer some thoughts I hope you’ll find sobering and inspiring.
Christians know: 1) We’re mortal; 2) Jesus Christ will return in glory. We can’t avoid 1 or 2. So, how shall we live?
The Church teaches that the most reliable way of holiness is to do the duties of our state in life, to the best of our ability, with great love. Easy to know—hard to do.
We cannot live life and be prepared for every possible contingency. We cannot simultaneously prepare for nuclear war, hyperinflation and invasions from space aliens. We can, however, be faithful stewards of the people, truths, and goods entrusted to us. Then, whether the Lord comes for any one of us in death, or comes for all of us in His triumphant return, we can be found vigilant, and therefore pleasing to Him. And what could be better than that?
Growing up, Jesus was presented to me as a superhero. All we had to do was avoid mortal sin, await Jesus’ return, and then He’d clean up the mess and get rid of the bad guys. Consider Malachi 3:19-20a: “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.” That seems to settle the matter, doesn’t it? God is coming to mow down the bad guys, so all we have to do is keep our own sin on a short leash, and all the wickedness will be mopped up by God.
Now, that view has a certain appeal, especially if one is inclined to be scrupulous rather than courageous, but in fact it isn’t right. The proof of that is found in the Sign of the Cross. John Senior wrote: “It is a dangerous thing to make that sign because it says: I commit myself to that death. Catholics do not trace the descent of the Dove upon themselves, or the Star of Hope, or any other sign.”
Who marks himself with the Sign of the Cross declares before God and the world that he will not be a passive bystander in the war with darkness. The Sign of the Cross reveals that the only way to triumph is to be willing to lose everything, up to and including your life—otherwise evil will have dominion over you. Yes, our Lord will win in the end, but the multitudes of Christians who have died before us will remind us that Christ returning in glory before you die is not guaranteed.
The Culture of Death rages against the Culture of Life. The State has declared that the Church is unwelcome. Those who should know better brand as “Christian” what no Apostle would recognize. Is everything falling apart? William Barclay wrote, “If the Christian message is true, the world is on the way not to disintegration but to consummation.”
Consummation over disintegration? Is that hope or wishful thinking? Hope is the choice to make oneself available to God without reservation, ready to greet Him and cooperate with Him when and as He chooses to come to us. Wishful thinking is the delusion that all will be well even if I do nothing, because I’m such a lovely person. Our wishful thinking is Satan’s fondest wish.
For the love of God and neighbor, we must act courageously against sin and evil, starting with the sin that resides in our own heart. We can each start by looking in the mirror.
Between now and Advent, let’s pray for three graces. First, pray for honesty—so that we might admit the root of sin within our own heart. Second, pray for clarity—so that the evil around us might be truly seen and named. Third, pray for courage—so that marked with the Sign of the Cross we will remain faithful until our death or Christ’s glorious return.
When I write next, I will speak of an aspect of spiritual warfare that is often overlooked. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.