"Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again." We proclaim that we believe that Christ will come again because it is part of that deposit of Faith which is our heritage. The second coming of Jesus, the end of the world and the last judgement: What images and emotions flow from your consideration of these events?
If you are among the vast majority, you do not consider them at all. If you are part of a very small but vocal minority, you are morbidly preoccupied with distortions of them. There is a third category to which most of you probably belong and which embraces the faithful, balanced, informed Christian, for whom, the second coming of Christ and the end of the world, as we know it, mark the beginning of the perfected leadership of God which is the ultimate object of the whole of creation and the final meaning of all human history.
That the world, as we know it, will come to an end is, for Catholics, a matter of Faith. Whether it will actually cease to be or simply undergo a radical change remains an open question. As for the interpretation of signs preceding this event, we are again faced with uncertain opinions. That Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead is, however, another article of Faith. In other words, you cannot deny it and still be a Catholic. But when Jesus will come and in what manner, we do not know.
History is moving toward a conclusion and God will do with history as a whole what He did with the life of Jesus. In other words, all of humankind will rise like the Lord and thus will be ushered in the new and universal era of eternity.
In Luke 21:5-19 we encounter Jesus as He concludes one of His many references to the last things. Prophetically and with considerable shock value, He points to the Temple of Jerusalem, the World Trade Centre of its day, as an example of the fragility of material existence. Most people considered the Temple to be virtually indestructible. And who could blame them? Just imagine solid marble pillars 40 feet in circumference. Ten thousand men laboured 9 years to complete it. To the Jewish mind, the destruction of the Temple could only be contemplated within the context of the destruction of the world itself.
Jesus assured His followers the Temple would go, but that the end of the world was in the more distant future. Thirty years later, Roman armies levelled the Temple. All that remains today is the famous wailing wall.
Jesus, with a combination of prophecy and metaphor went on to speak of the constant upheavals within society and the frequently devastating convulsions of nature as being further reminders of the instability of the present order. His purpose is not to frighten us but rather to impress upon us the fact that faithfulness to God and to our own sacred commitments will ensure our ultimate fulfillment, and that all of the floods, famines, wars, injustices and diseases cannot rob us of that destiny.
Some of the early Christians expected the end of the world to occur within their lifetimes. So they just sat around waiting for it to happen. This appears to be the cause of Paul's admonitions in 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 wherein he tells them to get to work and to live their humanity to its fullest. Whether or not he himself believed the end was near is hard to say.
Paul was being true to an established Gospel tradition when he preached a doctrine of self-realization in the face of risk, uncertainty and vulnerability. Could anything be more relevant to the present?
Some time ago the C.B.C television network ran a program entitled People of Our Times. One speaker was the German Philosopher and author Eric Hoffer. He spoke about life and I was struck by the stark aridity of his atheism. He spoke of "Mankind" as being alone in a vast wasteland and as being out of harmony to the point of being the one sour note in all of Creation. His description of humanity gave one the apparent choice of being either a bigger rat or a slower computer. And then, having spoken with considerable emotion, obviously dispirited by his own analysis, he continued by saying very softly and very calmly, what I believe to have been the words of a man on the threshold of Faith.
"I am not a religious man, I do not believe in God, but if I did, I would say that He has planted within us, capacities which must be realized and therefore I would say that my primary Job is to finish His work of Creation. This means self-realization. It means becoming what He knows I can be."