Preparing for the end? Stockpile on grace and sacraments
By Nissa LaPoint
Photo by Joern Haufe/Getty Images News
The doomsday movement is convinced—the dawn of Dec. 21, 2012 will bring the end of the world.
Drawing on the world’s upheavals and the Mayan Long Count calendar—based on cycles 5,126 years in length that expire on that day—doomsayers predict violent earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, polar shifts and planetary collisions will usher in the last day, leading them to draft survival plans, stockpile supplies or contemplate an earlier end.
Are the end times really approaching? How should Catholics react?
Theologians and biblical scholars say don’t drink the doomsayers’ Kool-Aid.
“We should not at all be disturbed by that. We should not even be distracted by that,” said Father Andreas Hoeck, academic dean and Scripture professor at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary, about the apocalyptic scenarios.
Rather than amassing canned goods, Catholics would be wise to stockpile graces.
“The bottom line is that as Christians, especially as Catholics, the best thing we can do is to strive to live a virtuous life, to find Christ in the Church and in the sacraments,” Father Hoeck said. “To be vigilant, yes, and be watchful, but at the same time very serene, almost laid back, doing the things we have to do well and in union with Christ. When he returns, then we’ll be prepared.”
The end of time—or as Christians call it, Christ’s second coming—is imminent but it’s uncertain when.
Jesus Christ told his disciples, “As to the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor even the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32).
Many groups are obsessed with pinpointing the last day. They’ve set the dates, and then re-set them.
The Mayans didn’t have special knowledge about end times. Their calendar ends Dec. 21 but is cyclical. Reports show they believed a new era would emerge.
Picking a date is not an option for Catholics.
“Any speculation with regards to a calendrical pinpointing of a return is always unacceptable in the eyes of the Church,” Father Hoeck said. “We know everything else except the date.”
Catholics declare together, in reciting the Nicene Creed, that Christ “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”
A real belief in the end times and Christ’s bodily return is affirmed in the Church and Scriptures. Two themes emerge in the synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke.
First, Christ talks about the signs. “The sun will be darkened, the moon will not shed her light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the hosts of heaven will be shaken loose. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (Matt 24:29-30).
The Church’s readings at the end of November, when the liturgical year is completed, focus on the end times and are apocalyptic in tone.
The “days of vengeance” and prophesies of anguish and fright should be considered in their historical context, said Ben Akers, director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and Catechetical School.
“The language that Christ uses in his Mount of Olives discourse is deeply rooted in images and symbolic language found in the prophetic tradition of Israel in which he firmly stands,” Akers said. “The language wasn’t primarily about the end of the world on a macro level, but was highly charged language to describe the ‘ending’ of a particular city or nation’s ‘world.’ In the worlds of the Old and New Testaments, time was kept by observing the cycles of the sun, moon and stars.”
The second theme is a description of the coming of Christ himself.
“After that, men will see the Son of Man coming on a cloud with great power and glory. When these things happen, stand erect and hold your heads high, for your deliverance is near at hand” (Luke 21:27-28).
The apostle John goes into more detail in Revelation.
“It’s the most complete theology of history that the Scriptures offer,” Father Hoeck said. “He goes into lengthy discussions of the anthology of history, discussing the ongoing battle of the lamb and dragon, the forces of good and evil.”
Christ’s Second Coming in Scripture
1 Thessalonians 4-5
The Book of Revelation
Christ does not act as a seer, Pope Benedict XVI said in his address Nov. 18, when discussing the end times with his apostles.
“On the contrary, he wishes to prevent his disciples in every epoch from being curious about dates and predictions; he wants … to point out to them the right way on which to walk, today and in the future, to enter eternal life,” he said.
These readings and predictions about the end shouldn’t cause anxiety but prompt Catholics to consider the question, “How would I live if I knew I was going to die today?”
“On a spiritual level, we should all have a ‘plan’ in place for keeping a healthy spiritual life,” Akers said. “This would include commitments like staying in the grace of the Lord, frequenting the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist, praying every day, being faithful to our vocation and the duties attached to it, (including) the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
The sacraments, especially the Eucharist, are eschatological in character and orient us to communion with God. So the Church’s message to the faithful is to not have a fatalistic or despairing view of the future, but to be watchful and hopeful for that unity with Christ.
Until then, living in communion with Christ and the Church and not giving into the distractions of the present culture are important, he said.
“Watchfulness means focus. You can do all the things of this world as long as your eyes are kept on Christ,” Father Hoeck said.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is a prime example for how Catholics can approach the end. She said on her deathbed she looked forward with joy to meeting Christ, her bridegroom.
“Catholics don’t have to be afraid,” Father Hoeck said. “On the contrary they should be joyous. (St. Thérèse’s) note of joy is a good antidote for our times.”