The last days are upon us. The prophet Daniel describes it with these words. “It shall be a time unsurpassed in distress since the nations began until that time.” Jesus describes this time in the gospel with these words. “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.”
Apocalyptic imaginations abound. On the History Channel or Discovery Channel, various doomsday docudramas abound. One program called “supervolcano” describes how the world would come to a crashing halt if the Yellowstone Caldera erupted. A website I recently discovered called “geoengeneeringwatch.org” presents a theory that world governments are manipulating the weather and are causing ecological collapse in an effort to contain global warming. Then there are those who present the theory that certain financial doom is imminent because of the global debt load.
From the political point of view, we have been watching chaos spread throughout the middle-east and into Europe. Film-footage of refugees on foot streaming into western nations have been on our television screens. On Friday we were shocked to receive news of the terrorist attacks in Parish France. War and instability continue to spread and many say that we live in dangerous times.
From the religious point of view, there are many alleged mystics and visionaries who claim that we are in the last days of the present age, and on the cusp of a new era. Various people claim that they have received messages from Jesus, or the Blessed Mother, or angels. From the visionaries in Fatima, to the Divine Mercy messages, to the alleged messages from Medjugorje, a host of others join their voices to say that we are living at the end of the age.
Many points of view line up – the ecological position, the political position, and the religious position seem to proclaim that we are in the last days.
And so we are. We might as well admit it. For it has been this way since the Resurrection of Jesus and will increasingly become this way. We are in the last days.
Furthermore, our own personal last day is rapidly approaching. Each and every person in this room will someday die – some sooner, and some later. No one can escape our own personal tribulation and our own death. We can then definitively say that both in our personal lives and in our lives as a global community, the end is coming.
There is a very important point about all of this – one which Jesus wisely brings to our attention in today’s gospel. No one knows the day or the hour. We neither know this about our own lives, nor do we know it about the world either.
So how do we respond to all of these things? This is easy. The three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love mark our way.
Consider, when Jesus spoke of the great tribulation and the end of the age, he described how “he would send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” What a great promise!
And who are the elect? These are the ones marked with the sign of faith– who have both received the great sign of baptism – or who desire it. And we know that God himself desires salvation for everyone. Those marked with the great sign of faith and who are the elect are the ones who choose to live according to the grace of baptism. These are the ones who strive to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and who love their neighbor as they love themselves. These are the people who live according to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.
What of the tribulation that Jesus mentioned? Certainly it is the case that from time to time each of us will face a time of tribulation, a time of personal purification. And certainly it is the case that nations, and even the entire world pass through tribulations, much of which we bring on ourselves because of sin.
The bible tells us that Jesus came to conquer our sin and our death. The bible promises that we are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb. The bible promises that God offers us the gracious gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus. Remember the words of Jesus in today’s gospel. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
When our minds and hearts are transformed by knowledge of these things, we cease to fear those times when we must carry the cross of suffering. We can let go of fear when we understand that we are the people who wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we proclaimed in today’s psalm – “you are my inheritance, O Lord.”
The last days are continually upon us, which means that the Day of the Lord, the day of our salvation, quickly approaches.
And so we are encouraged. We are encouraged to remain vigilant at all times and to pray. We are encouraged when we take up the mystery of faith and say “we proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.”