The Scripture readings we hear at the ending and beginning of the liturgical year present us with descriptions of what we call the “end times.” Both Daniel and Jesus use cosmic events as signs that will usher in a time of judgement and a time of redemption for the “elect.” Many of their hearers took this to mean that the end times were imminent, that they were just around the corner.
Throughout history there have been many movements that have tried to convince others that the end times were upon us. Some evangelists claim to be able to predict the end times based on their interpretation of the apocalyptic literature in the Bible. They seem to override the warning by Jesus that no one knows when the end will come except the Father.
The year 2000 was supposed to be just such an event — with computers crashing, planes falling out of the sky and all sorts of programmable coffee makers stalled and paralyzed at the turn of the century!
I still recall a childhood memory of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, as we children knelt and prayed the rosary while Moscow and Washington played a dangerous game of chicken each with the capacity to annihilate the other and thus begin a world war that could mean the end of our world. I also remember my mother stockpiling canned goods in the basement of our home in case there was a nuclear war. Meanwhile the radio blared with the song: “You don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction.”
End times can be frightening! But its not only the worldwide catastrophies that frighten us. Sometimes our brush with end times are more local, more personal. For instance, when someone close to us dies, or when we face a medical crisis that threatens our health, or even with a move to a new place, a close call with death in a car accident, or in a more subtle way, through the changing of the seasons, we can bump up against this deep mystery we call “end times.” One need only walk with a friend who has lost a loved one to know that end-time events change us. Our priorities change. Our perspective on what is really important changes. Even our measure of time can change. This reality is so close to us that we have embedded a reminder as we pray the “Hail Mary . . . now and at the hour of death.”
So the question arises: Is this fear of the end supposed to frighten us into doing God’s will? Is it some kind of an attention-getter? Will the fear of judgement and hell keep us walking the straight and narrow? Is this the purpose that Daniel and Jesus have in mind in today’s readings?
Daniel says that those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the sky. The Book of Hebrews reminds us that there is a transition from this life to the next that will be an experience of forgiveness and mercy. Jesus describes the end times as a great gathering of the faithful. The psalmist says there will be great joy in the presence of the Lord.
How many times have you heard Be Not Afraid sung at a funeral? How often did Jesus remind his disciples to “have no fear”? How many times has Pope Francis reminded us of God’s mercy and compassion and then shown it by his way of approaching the world? We are asked to trust in a loving God, a God filled with compassionate love for us. So when the end comes, as the baptismal liturgy says: “May we go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”
So as we close another liturgical year with shouts of joy for Christ our king, may we enter a new year with longing for that kingdom and that meeting with the Lord that will bring us healing, forgiveness and joy. If we can foster an attitude of expectant faith, then our “brush” with the end times won’t seem so scary.
Williston is a retired Parish Life Director for the Diocese of Saskatoon and a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.