“Our strategic plan is to leverage these assets and to create a disruptive solution that will enable us to expand into new verticals with our value-added deliverables.”
As the speaker, an earnest young man in a suit, clicked to the next slide in his presentation, I had a single thought: Come, Lord Jesus — before I die of boredom.
Bewildered by business buzzwords, I prayed the meeting would soon end. I was tired from a long morning at my laptop, and discouraged by heartache at home and in the headlines.
My mind wandered, and I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who fervently believed we were only months away from the Lord’s return. “Look at the state of the world!” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands. “How much longer can it go on like this?”
“It’s only going to get worse,” warned another friend, who was Protestant. “But we won’t be here for the tribulation; the Lord will rapture us first. My pastor said that we’ll witness the final persecution ‘from the mezzanine in heaven.’”
Heaven’s mezzanine was definitely preferable to my company’s conference room, and the world was indeed in a troubled state. But I sensed that neither friend was completely correct.
Since the Ascension, speculation about Christ’s final return to earth has been relentless. Over the centuries, we’ve lived in a kind of feverish tension between two perspectives — straining our eyes to search the skies and the Scriptures for signs, or averting our gaze altogether, believing that the Second Coming is simply too remote to occur anytime soon.
With equal validity, both sides can cite the Lord’s reminder that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
And denominational divides complicate the discussion. Unlike many of their Protestant brethren, Catholics do not profess a belief in the rapture (the sudden transport of the faithful to heaven at Christ’s second coming) or in the millennial reign (a 1,000-year period after the rapture, during which Christ will rule on earth before the final judgment).
So while the “Left Behind” books and movies make for exciting entertainment (and certainly for interesting speculation), the sequence of end-times events doesn’t synchronize with Catholic doctrine.
Rather, Catholic teaching holds that “before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675). In fact, “the Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover” (Catechism, 677). There’s no early exit for the faithful here.
But the desire for that escape and for a speedy second coming is certainly understandable, especially after a glance at the day’s top stories. How long before God calls a time-out on human history?
In our “news on the nanosecond” culture, though, we forget that other periods in history have been as troubled as our own, or even more so. Since ancient times, and still today, how often have the victims of war or plague or natural disaster looked heavenward through tears and believed the world was at its breaking point? Yet God in his mysterious providence has caused the sun to rise again.
Sometimes our reasons for wanting Christ to return are more mundane than spiritual. We vainly think we’re that special generation that crowns mankind’s lineage; surely ours will be the ears to hear the apocalyptic trumpet blast.
Or, bored and unwilling to finish our earthly tasks, we want the end to come just as we wanted a snow day to get out of doing our math homework in fourth grade.
Flawed motives and forgotten history aside, the Lord still commands that we “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:44). How do we remain alert for his return without losing perspective on the present?
“We have to watch and pray, keep our lamps lit — and bear in mind that our own personal encounter with Christ at death could take place at any time,” advises Francis Phillips of the Catholic Herald.
Living in such expectancy, without a specific date for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s plan, requires humility. For this reason, Jesus likened his return to that of an absent master surprising his slaves: “Be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:36).
Through the grace we receive in the sacraments, in prayer, and in meditating upon Scripture, we can keep watch while resting peacefully in the Lord. Refreshed, we can finish the work he has given us to do here on earth.
And that sounds like a strategic plan for leveraging our best assets.
Gina Christian is a writer in Philadelphia and a member of St. William Parish.