Preparing for the end may be easier than you think
What if I told you there was an exam you had to take, an exam you had to take and pass—or else. Would that get your attention?
What if I told you this exam was the ultimate “pass/fail” exam, and you could not afford to fail. Would that get your attention?
And what if I told you that you could ask me one of three questions about the exam:
- When is the exam scheduled?
- How many people are likely to pass the exam?
- What is the most reliable way to prepare for the exam?
Which of those three questions would you choose? Well, it seems obvious that the most helpful question, if your goal is to pass the “Ultimate Pass/Fail Exam,” is number 3. But if we’re talking about Christians and—call it what you will—“Last Things” or “End of Days” or “Eschatology” or “Parousia” or “Apocalypse” or “the return of the Lord in glory to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire,” then by far number 1 is the most popular question, with number 2 an object of fascination with those with a pre-disposition toward anxiety. Perhaps an illustration will help.
Right around the time I was discerning my vocation, I happened upon a book with an intriguing title: “Soothsayers of the Second Advent,” by William M. Alnor. An evangelical, he noted with embarrassment that the biggest bestseller in the evangelical world in 1988 was called “88 Reasons Why He’s Coming Back in ’88!” That was followed in 1989 by an even bigger bestseller in the evangelical world: “89 Reasons Why He’s Coming Back in 89!” As I recall it (it’s been about 30 years since I read the book), Alnor quipped, “Presumably the 89th reason why he’s coming in 1989 is because he didn’t come back in 1988!” The moral of the story is that we would do well to remember that our Lord said no one knows the day or the hour “except the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)
What about question 2? The disciples asked Jesus, “Will only a few be saved?” His answer was startling: “Strive to enter by the narrow gate; for many, I say to you, shall seek to enter, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24) Moreover, many saints have stressed how few make it through that narrow gate. To read some sobering thoughts from saints on this matter, go HERE.
So, how about question 3? What is the most reliable way to prepare to pass the exam? Wouldn’t that be the most important question? The Church has an answer to that question—and I am afraid that most people will not like it. It’s simple, it’s obvious, and, I must confess, it’s really hard. The best way to be prepared for that ultimate final exam is:
- Do the duties of your state in life;
- Do them to the best of your ability;
- Do them with great love for God and neighbor.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it: Parents should strive to be good parents. Priests should strive to be good priests. Doctors should strive to be good doctors. We are called to love God and to love our neighbor as our self. (Luke 10:27) Saint Ignatius Loyola said that the hallmark of spiritual maturity is when we love no creature in its own right but only in relation to its creator and Lord. In other words, we must able to say to each and all, truthfully: “Because of who God is, and because of who you are to God, I choose to love and serve you.” That sense of proper priority, expressed through corporal and spiritual works of mercy, done with diligence and perseverance—that’s what is needed to be ready for the test that is coming for us all.
When I write next, I will offer some reflections on the season of Advent. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Will Heaven be a big disappointment?