Fr. Bryan Howard
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 17 November 2019
There are a lot of movies and books about the apocalypse or the end of the world, like “The Walking Dead,” “Left Behind,” and “Avengers: End Game,” now the highest grossing movie of all time, not adjusted for inflation. Our culture is fascinated with the apocalypse or the end of the world, but as Catholics we don’t really talk about it all that much. We typically prefer to talk about more positive sounding things, life in Christ, prayer, faith, hope, and love, and heaven, but it’s good to think about the last things sometimes, too. In his “Rule for Monks” St. Benedict writes, “Keep death ever before your eyes.” This advice wasn’t meant to be morbid; in fact, he included it in his list of “Instruments of Good Works.” It’s meant to remind us that heaven is our goal and we get there by staying close to Christ and following Him here on earth. So, let’s talk about some common myths about the Second Coming and the Catholic answer to them.
Myth # 1: We’ll know when it’s coming. Despite the many times that people have tried to predict the end of the world, Jesus Himself said that we won’t know when it’s coming. It true that He gave us signs to look for, including war, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and “mighty signs in the sky,” but when has there been a time in human history when these things weren’t happening? There are always wars, natural disasters, solar eclipses and things like that. The whole point is that we should always be ready to go, but we never know when our last moment will be. Make sure your family know that you love them, don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today, and avoid mortal sins like the plague.
Myth # 2: Jesus will come to establish a thousand year kingdom. This is the idea that, as one person put it, “Jesus promised the Kingdom of God, but all He left us was the Church.” Some people believe that Jesus will come again to establish a Kingdom on earth for 1,000 years before the final end of the world. However, Jesus never intended to establish the kind of earthly kingdom that they’re thinking about, but rather a kingdom of service and of prayer. We come together in Mass to pray, then we go out to spread the Kingdom of God through acts of love for one another. At the end of time, when Jesus Christ comes in glory, some will be resurrected to eternal life in Christ, and others to eternal death in hell. On that day, we’ll realize that the Kingdom of God was in the palm of our hands all along, and all we had to do was reach out and accept what God has been trying to give us.
Myth # 3: We will be like the angels in heaven. This one is based off on an actual quote from the Bible. We often imagine that, when we die, we’ll be like angels with wings and harps floating on little clouds. I’m sorry to burst your bubbles if you were looking forward to that, but we won’t be angels, we’ll still be human. God made us as humans, and God wants us to be humans, even when we’re glorified in heaven. We will have glorified bodies, but they will still be our own, human glorified bodies. How will God unite all of the dead back with their bodies? I don’t have any idea, but if anyone can do it, it’s probably God. Besides, I’m still holding out hope that we’ll be able to fly anyway, even without angel wings.
Myth # 4: I’ll be judged again at the Second Coming. In Catholic theology, we speak of two judgements. Our personal judgement happens at the moment of our death, when we have to answer for our lives, as St. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” This is where we will either go to heaven or hell or purgatory, and if you get to purgatory you will eventually make it to heaven, but you should definitely not shoot for purgatory. That’s like trying to get the lowest passing grade on a test, “If I just get a D- I’ll be fine.” If you aim for that and fall just short, that’s it, game over, but if you try to be a saint, then, even if you fall short you’ll probably still make it at least into purgatory. At the end of time there is a general judgement, where all the souls are divided into sheep and goats, as Jesus describes in Matthew 25. You won’t learn any new at the general judgement that you didn’t find out at your personal judgement.
In the psalm, we sang, “The Lord comes to rule the earth with justice,” and we often talk about the Law of God,” meaning the moral law, the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ New Commandment of Love. We sometimes think of the Laws of Nature, like the Law of Gravity, as hard and fast rules that can’t be broken, and if you try to break them you’ll pay the price. If you think you can break the law of gravity, it may end up breaking several of your bones. Then, we think of the moral Law of God as being soft and malleable, so we feel safe in breaking it. We may not pay a price immediately, but we will pay one eventually. Broken bones are easy to heal compared with broken lives and broken relationships. Instead of trying to see how much we can get away with, let’s try to see just how saintly we can become.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.