With three states voting to redefine marriage, an impending contraceptive mandate, increasing tensions in the Holy Land, and the end of the Mayan calendar, the apocalyptic tenor of the liturgy for this last week of the Church year can excite us into a frenzy. Is Christ coming this year? Is this it?
A simple search for “end times” will reveal what a preoccupation the Last Days are. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins published a whole series of novels about what it would be like for those Left Behind. They even provide a handy timeline. And it’s not only Protestants, but there are also Catholics who see the events of Revelation unfolding around us.
In all of this frenzy it is easy to forget the Lord’s words to the disciples: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt 24:35-36).
The Venerable Bede, whose Explanation of the Apocalypse Br. Leo drew on for last year’s series, “Opening the Book of Revelation,” wrote in his Letter to Eusebius that in Revelation “God was pleased to reveal by words and figures the wars and intestine tumults of the Church.” Those tumults will not come only during the final persecution, but are an ever-present reality of the Church’s existence.
Christ warned the disciples that “they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Mt 24:9). In the Beatitudes Jesus taught, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me” (Mt 5:11). He also prepared them saying, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).
We have no reason to expect anything other than persecution. It is what the Lord warned us of, and it is at least in part what the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation is all about. Rather than seeing this or that event as a sign of the Second Coming, let’s live life always prepared to meet Our Savior and ready to face the persecutions of this age.
Image: Henryk Siemiradzki, Nero’s Torches Leading Light of Christianity