Monday, May 23, 2011

It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ

May the Grace and Peace from our resurrected Lord be with you as we continue through this Easter Season. I’m a little disappointed. I don’t know if you had heard this but I heard that the rapture was supposed to take place today/yesterday at 6:00 pm Eastern Time so I didn’t think I was going to be preaching this weekend. Of course, it’s not too late. It could happen now. (pause) Or now. (Pause) How about now? (Pause) I guess God really is in charge of when and how it will take place. The Bible doesn’t contain a secret code contained in disparate passages that only fundamentalists can read explaining exactly how it will all come to an end. Oftentimes, what the fundamentalists read as things that will take place at the end times are passages describing what life was like living in a world where both Jews and Gentiles hated us and wanted to kill us. And yet, we are still faced with the whole issue that, as we say in the creed each week, we believe that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead. How should we prepare ourselves to be judged?

Believe it or not, two of our readings deal with the end times. The first one, the gospel, is easy to see. Jesus speaks words of comfort to us to give us an insight into the end times. To me, this is the difference between the Catholic approach and the approach of Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins, writers of the Left Behind books. Jesus tells the disciples that they will know the way to the Father and the Apostle Thomas, still doubting, asks how they know the way if they have never been there. Jesus responds to Thomas that he is The Way. He has to repeat this statement to Philip later who still thinks that Jesus can just give him GPS coordinates to heaven. Jesus is The Way. He isn’t just going to show us the way to the Father. He IS the way to the Father. Our responsibility, then, shouldn’t be to be seeking signs of Jesus’ return or trying to predict when it will take place. We should be trying to get to know and love Jesus so that we can get to know and love the Father.

The other reading that points to the end-times is the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. At this point in church history, the disciples thought that Jesus’ return would happen within their life-times. So, they have combined up most of their property in preparation. But, in order to make sure that everyone is fed in this group that is constantly increasing in size, the Apostles are taking more and more time each day giving out food and less and less time each day for prayer. We can all probably sympathize with this. Remember in High School and College when all you had to do each day was study and work a couple of hours at a job? Some of you never had this experience so bear with me for a moment. If you did have this experience, you probably had your parents to rely on to take care of the bigger problems of bills and repairs around the home. Do you remember that time when you looked around and realized that your life got a lot more complicated? You have to pay all the bills and make sure you’re not late or else you don’t have insurance or lights or gas. It’s so easy in these times of stress to quit doing things like reading books, praying, and studying. The Apostles knew they couldn’t let this happen so they asked the community to appoint deacons to assist them by bringing food to the Greek-speaking widows who felt neglected in the daily distribution. The point was that prayer needed to be a central place in each day for them to survive. It reminds me of a monastery visit I made in which a monk who had an hour of work still to do, put everything away because he knew it was time to pray and, had he finished, he would have missed prayer. He knew he had to spend time with the Way to the Father if he intended on being ready for eternal life.

In the end, as Catholics, we don’t get wrapped up in looking for the rapture or the beast or any of that stuff. We aren’t going to get lost looking in the Bible for clues to the end-times, as though the Bible were a mystery novel and we’ve been sent to solve it. Instead, through the sacraments and our prayer life, we draw closer each day to the one who alone knows how it end because he is the Way that leads to the Father. We take comfort in Jesus’ words: Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God, have faith also in the way.