Have you heard the phrase “the end times” recently? In the gospel we just heard Jesus talks about signs of the end times--wars, insurrections, nations rising against nations, powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, and religious persecutions. There were such signs in the time of Jesus, and those signs are also happening in our world today. On the cover of the recent Time Magazine (Nov. 14, 2016) was a composite photo of the two candidates for the presidential election holding a sign together that read, “The End is Near.” In one sense, the phrase meant that two years of grueling and contentious campaigning were about to conclude. In another sense, the sign reflected the sentiment of exasperation and fear in the people of our nation about the prospect of one or the other candidate becoming the president of the United States.
As we observe the signs around us, should we be worried or anxious? Jesus offers us this advice, “do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Does this comfort you or make you more anxious? A spiritual writer put it this way, “Look around you. Everything in the world passes away. Each day evening comes, and evening drops so quickly. Every life has a sunset that quickly falls, yours too!” Most of us will face the appointed time for our death long before the Second Coming of Christ. In the time of St. Paul, some believers were convinced that Christ’s Second Coming was so imminent that they stopped working and did not do their fair share to support themselves and help the poor in the community. St. Paul had to admonish such persons.
How are we to make sense of events that are happening around us in respect to what God is asking each of us to do? About 50 years ago, a woman in our area faced a tremendous challenge. Her husband had just had a heart attack and was facing uncertain future in the hospital bed. The desperate wife made a plea to God, “Lord, if you heal my husband from this heart attack, I will make a sacrifice to you for the rest of my life. I will not eat sweets except on Sundays.” Her husband survived and lived another 20 years. She kept her side of the bargain by fasting from sweets for 6 days out of the week. Giving up sweets was a tremendous sacrifice for her because she was a chocoholic. She recently celebrated her 100th birthday and has been faithful to her sacrifice for 50 years. This lady lived through numerous signs of end times--World War I, Great Depression, World War II, Cold War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, 9-11, several devastating hurricanes and Great Flood of Baton Rouge. She has dedicated her life to serving God, attending daily mass, and offering her sacrifice thus placing her hope in Him through trying times.
The central message of the gospel IS NOT that the world is coming to an end. Though we recognize that this world will pass away, we live in the hope of the world to come. Jesus said to us, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matt 28:20) He kept that promise by instituting the Eucharist, His resurrection, sending of the Holy Spirit, and establishing His visible Church on earth which the gates of hell will not prevail over it. Regardless of what’s happening in the community, nation, and the world, the right response of a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be an instrument of peace and hope. We are to trust Jesus who will work in us through the Holy Spirit. If what we say and do instills fear or division in others, we need to prayerfully discern what kind of fruit we are bearing. Fear and division are not of Christ. Our mission is to bring compassion, joy, peace, and gentleness to this world.
Going back to the 100 year old lady. She saw her doctor not too long ago for a checkup. He was her 4th or 5th doctor--her former doctors all have past. Looking over her blood work, the doctor asked her whether she was eating sweets because her blood sugar was high. She said she have been fasting from sweets the past 50 years. He then asked her whether she was adding sugar in her coffee. She said no, because sugar is considered sweets. She then revealed that she added condensed milk in her coffee--she didn’t consider that as a sweet. When asked how much, she said 3 cans per week. He nearly fell out of his chair. He wondered how she didn’t die of diabetes the past 50 years.
We worry about many things in life including fear of the end times. Nothing happens without God’s consent; He counts even every hair on our head. Knowing this we cannot fear what’s ahead of us. In Jesus we find a new hope, a new strength, and a new confidence. When we live by faith, we realize that Our Lord who wrote the history of mankind accompanies us in our own history as well.