With Power and Glory by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky. "Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that he is near, at the gates. Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
Every Sunday, Christians proclaim the wonders of God's mercy and celebrate God's ceaseless work of redemption. Throughout the church's calendar year, we cover the entire economy of salvation, from creation to the Incarnation to the end of the world, from the first moment of life to the gift of eternal life.
As we approach the end of the Church's liturgical year, it makes sense to that we focus on the liturgy on the end of the story of salvation. Next week we will ponder the consummation of the world and crown Christ as king of heaven and earth. This week, through the readings and the prayers of the Mass, we anticipate the end times.
The readings describe for us four interrelated realities: the end of the world, the second coming of Christ, the gathering of the saved and the condemnation of the damned. The evangelist Mark uses apocalyptic language to describe these events, such as depictions of great earthquakes and famines, and the stars falling from the heavens. The Book of Revelation speaks of seven-headed beasts and angels with six wings and eyes all over. "Apocalyptic" is a special style of writing which uses wild images and vivid symbols in order to convey realities beyond our experience. The images are not meant to be taken literally, but they are still very important because they point to deeper truths.
What are the truths that these images are teaching us?
First of all, the world as we know and experience it is coming to an end. Jesus speaks clearly: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Thanksgiving dinners, naps in front of the fire, Redskins victories (already happening?), exquisite sunrises. . . all these things will come to an end. Not because this world is bad. God made it, and He proclaimed it good. It will end because the Father has a bigger purpose for us; He has something much greater in mind for us. The blessings of this world are only a prelude to the blessings that God has planned for us in the life to come. "Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has in store for those who love him."
Secondly, Jesus will come again. "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." Jesus said on more than one occasion, "My kingdom is not of this world/" His kingdom will be brought to completion at His second coming. The first time He came, it was in great simplicity and humility. Jesus refused to force His kingdom upon any human being. He insists that it be our choice. At His second coming, Mark says that it will be "with great power and glory." There will be no question who is King of kings and Lord of lords. No one will wonder about the identity of Jesus Christ at the second coming.
Thirdly; Jesus will gather the peoples of every time and place, render His final judgment upon them, and invite the redeemed to share in the very life that He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our Lord will call to him those judged worthy of heaven. It will be a great and glorious day for His faithful followers. In Mark, Jesus says of the Son of Man, "He will dispatch his messengers and assemble his chosen . . from the farthest bounds of the earth and sky." The joy, peace and union with God will be beyond our wildest imagination.
Finally, for those people who chose until the last moment of their existence to refuse God's offer of mercy, love and new life, they too will receive the reward of their labors. As we know from the famous parable in Matthew: "Then the king will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was thirsty and you gave me no drink . . ."
When will this all happen? Tomorrow? 2012? A thousand years from now? Despite the messages of many prophets of doom, we do not know. Jesus makes it clear: "But of that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, and not even the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32) We should not be concerned with predicting the future as with living the Faith now.
A few years ago, I had a professional career planner come to lead a meeting with our students in campus ministry. He began by asking us three questions. What are your life goals? What are your five year goals? What are your one year goals? After some time to reflect quietly on all three, he posed another question: "If Christ said you had six months to live, what would change from that list?" It is this kind of reflection that the Church and the Gospels want to inspire today. If I knew that the end of my world was close at hand, what would I change? Would I go to confession? Repair a broken relationship? Finally figure out how to put God at the center of my life? Be more generous with the poor? Commit to the life of daily, serious prayer?
Let us all seek with renewed hearts to follow the path of Christ has laid out for us in the Gospels, even if it means making hard choices or rooting out bad habits. Then, when He comes again, He will look into our eyes with warmth and joy, and say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant! Come share your master's joy!"
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