There are signs all around us that point to things to come. For example, all around us we have seen signs in the weather that there is a change of seasons taking place – strong winds, blowing leaves, driving rain, bare trees, gray skies – all point to the coming of winter. And at the same time, our readings this week take on an apocalyptic nature as we approach the end of one liturgical year and the beginning of a new one in a couple weeks with the first Sunday of Advent.
These readings – in particular the first reading from Daniel and the reading from the Gospel of Mark – point ahead to the future, to the end of time, and to the fulfillment of all of history. So as we approach the end of the liturgical year our readings reflect upon the end times.
As a people of faith, we should of course be rooted in the present but also with an eye to the future. Not an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world but with an awareness of its reality. Unlike the pagan peoples who preceded Judaism and Christianity, or who lived alongside them, we do not believe that time is an endless, meaningless repetition of events. Rather, we believe that time had a beginning and will have an end and that all of history will eventually be brought to fulfillment. We believe that God created time and set everything in motion and continues to be intimately involved in his creation; that through Him the confusing mess that is human history will eventually come to an end and be brought to fulfillment. We believe that, out of love, he has come into the world to save humanity from the sin and death that had entered into creation. And these beliefs should reorient the way we think, the way we act, the way we see the world. After all, a person who sees time as a meaningless, endless loop would definitely have a different perspective on the world than someone who thinks that God has a purpose for his creation – that there is a reason behind the confusing mess of human history.
How do our Christian beliefs change our perspective? First of all, they give meaning and purpose to our lives. The events in our lives – the good, the bad, the indifferent – God can take all these things and eventually give sense to them. He can take what seems like meaningless suffering and give it meaning. It is still suffering, but it is no longer meaningless. Secondly, our Christian beliefs point to the fact that THIS IS NOT ALL THERE IS. There is more to our existence than this life. This life is not a destination but an antechamber to the next life, or rather a journey to the joyful rest of the next life. So with that in mind, we should live each day with the awareness that we are moving, constantly moving, toward the next life. As heady as all this may sound, we have all experienced this reality of being on the move and of the impermanence of this life. Every stage in life eventually comes to an end. We are all just in different stages in life. But often it feels that these different stages of life move so slowly that we can become complacent. Then we may seek gratification in the things of this world, none of which can give us perfect satisfaction. But even our own experience of life tells us that none of the stages of life last forever. Grade school seemed to go on forever. High school less so. College less than that. Every job, every experience, as onerous or as enjoyable as it was – sooner or later comes to an end. And then you move on to the next stage. So wherever we are in life, it is only temporary.
If we live with that in mind, how our lives will change! What will matter to us, more and more, will be our relationship with God. The love of God, which often seems so abstract, will become more and more real. It will begin to transform us little by little, or perhaps by leaps and bounds. This love will begin to direct our lives and change our relationships with others. The annoying events or people in our daily life will not bother us as much. The bigger house or nicer car or whatever it is that we desire and work for will seem so much less important or worthy of our attention. We will seek our own will less and less and will desire to do God’s will more and more. And please don’t misunderstand me, having this perspective towards the eternal, and not just being focused on this life, does not mean that we should become apathetic towards this life. It doesn’t mean that we should just forget about trying to help others or seek to do good. Rather, it should reinforce our desire to serve others and to do it out of love for them. And above all to be guided by what is God’s will and not our own. In other words, whatever works of mercy and of charity that we perform will be done out of a desire to fulfill God’s will, because it is his will that we spend this life in service to others out of love.
This world is passing; we are constantly on the journey through this life to the next. And we have the assurance that Jesus Christ will come again at the end of time. But we also have the assurance that He is always with us. For it is also God’s will that we offer sacrifice to Him: the one, perfect sacrifice of His Son that He has given to us. He is always with us on this journey to give us the strength we need to continue, and to transform us, beginning in this life, and brought to perfection in the next. So now let us go forward to offer up the one, perfect sacrifice and to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist.