Heaven and Earth will Pass Away
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."
There are important elements of Christian life that our broken human nature makes us inclined to neglect: forgiving our enemies, giving the poor their due and going to confession might be on our list. Another one might be remembering that our journey on this earth is rather finite and we are, in fact, made for heaven.
As we rapidly approach the end of the church's liturgical year, she focuses our attention on the end of time. It's our certain faith that a day will come when the world, as we understand and experience it, will come to a dramatic end. Our own personal end likely will precede that moment, but we do not know for sure. At Christ's second coming, at the end of the ages, he will exercise a final judgment upon the world, separating the sheep from the goats. That is, he will send every human being to their final destiny, heaven or hell.
How much time do we dedicate to praying and reflecting upon the end of the world and the end of our personal, earthy journey? How much time do we devote to pondering God's extraordinary offer to us to spend all eternity united with him in heaven, gazing upon the loveliness of his face, and singing his praises with all the angels and saints?
The scriptures paint a picture of the end times as one of great chaos and anxiety, particularly for those who are not prepared. The prophet Daniel tells us, "It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress." The Scriptures commonly speak of wars, insurrections, earthquakes, crashing stars, thunder and lightning, etc. There is a clear understanding that for those who have neglected and rejected God, there is going to be tremendous anxiety and fear.
However, the people who believe in God and love him will have a very different experience. Those who have surrendered their lives to God and accepted his offer of mercy and life will wade through this time of trial with great trust and confidence in God's goodness and faithfulness to his promises. They will, in fact, rejoice when Christ comes again "in the clouds with great power and glory." Daniel says, "But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever."
The church, as our loving mother, invites us through her liturgy and choice of Scripture readings, to ponder these realities and radically commit ourselves to building a strong relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Lord and savior. She places before us the great truth of the end times so that we can properly prepare ourselves for the fact that our lives and this world are finite.
There is a strong sense of urgency in the church's message. This flows, in part, from the fact that life is fragile and we do not know the hour of our death or the end of time. "But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the father." Our liturgy screams at us: "Do not be caught off guard, be prepared."
I remember an elderly gentleman who was quite active in the parish where I served as a young deacon. He was present at every important activity at the church. He prayed regularly, visited the sick, assisted at Mass and served the poor and needy. I was intrigued by his manner of life and so I (somewhat boldly) asked him why he was so committed to the Lord. He told me that, some years before, during a major surgery, he had a profound faith experience. He was convinced that he had died, found himself going down a tunnel toward a bright light and encountered Christ at the end of the tunnel. The Lord offered him the chance to return for a longer journey on earth. He said "yes" because he wanted the opportunity to live his life differently. Consequently, I was blessed as a seminarian to encounter a true man of God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, obviously, we don't all get that kind of second chance. So, listen well to the church: "Do not be caught off guard. Be prepared."
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