Few people give any thought to the end of the world

Father John A. Kiley

The end of the world is regularly thought to be a dreadful event. The end-times connote destruction for the universe, condemnation for sinners, even trials for the righteous.

Possibly drawing on the experience of Jerusalem’s being laid waste by the Romans in 70 AD, the New Testament does not spare the reader the lurid details of that catastrophic incident. Jesus himself predicts that even the magnificent temple will be reduced to rubble so that not even one stone will rest upon another stone. The tragic occurrences will be widespread: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” The end times are not pictured as a happy conclusion to salvation history.

Perhaps because of these dire Biblical warnings, the end of the world does not figure very readily into popular Catholic piety. Catholics and many other Christians profess Sunday after Sunday that Jesus Christ “… will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. …” establishing finally his kingdom of which there will be no end. Yet the prospect of this universal termination, while weekly professed in church, is rarely acknowledged in daily life.

There was a certain amount of hubbub as the 20th century passed into the 21st century. Y2K was all the talk, and there had been much commotion as the first Christian millennium prepared to cede to the second Christian millennium in 1100 AD. St. Peter Damian had all of Europe in an uproar. Some sectarian brothers and sisters in the present day await the end-times on remote mountaintops or in secluded wildernesses. But most Catholics, even devout Catholics, rarely give a thought to the second coming of Jesus and to the conclusion of history. Yet the end of the world is a revealed truth that God certainly intended for the edification of believers and not merely for their trepidation. The end of the world promises benefits as well as blame.

The Hebrew Scriptures anticipate the words of the New Testament by their early prediction of the end-times. The prophet Joel writes, “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire, leaving them neither root nor branch, says the Lord of hosts. But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” It is Joel’s forecast that the “Sun of Justice” will arise on that last day that should peak the reader’s interest. This sun will set all the activities of the previous centuries and millennia in their proper perspective. The justice that was so often lacking on this side of eternity will finally and solemnly be rendered by Christ himself as supreme judge.

The medieval scholastics readily argued that a God who was truth itself could not let history dissolve without setting the record straight on all of human activity. Those who suffered in silence but in faith would be fittingly acknowledged before the assembled heavenly court. Those who sinned grievously and unrepentantly would receive the scorn that their deeds have earned them. Secrets would be laid bare and idle boasts would be exposed as the shams that they were. The justice of God would triumph over the imbalances of history. Indeed the lowly would be raised up and the mighty would be cast down, as the prophetic words of the Virgin Mary visualized the final work of God.

God who is truth must see that justice is done. He will render to each one his due. Remember that self-pity is not the only reason that believers and other people sometimes feel put upon, cheated, or duped in this world. There are some legitimate gripes. Mankind has an innate sense of justice, somewhat flawed due to original sin but nonetheless reflective of the natural law and the moral law which reflect the divine law that is in God himself. This native sense of justice can lead mankind to hope that there will come a day when God, who is justice itself, will heal every wound and reveal all pretense. God will indeed set things straight; he will indeed rectify injustices and eliminate unfair advantages. In the end, justice will triumph and truth will be celebrated before every assembled creature – for weal or woe.