“The End.” Watching old movies we see these words at the conclusion of the show. Sometimes authors will conclude their novels, stories or plays with these simple words. Obviously, the words indicate that the work is completed and all is done.
As we near the completion of the liturgical year we mark the end of one year and the beginning of another. In this case, the Solemnity of Christ the King is the final Sunday celebration of the year while the First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the new year.
Moving toward the end of the year, the readings at Mass point not to the end of the liturgical year but the end of the world. Now we have to be careful here about what we mean by “end.” There have been a lot of movies out the past 10 years or so about the “end.” Many times there is a horrible aspect to them, almost apocalyptic. Perhaps they reflect a struggle in our world today.
The conflicts between good and evil are real to us especially when we see the plight of victims of mass violence, the force of nature out of control (for example the spread of COVID-19), the hopelessness sensed by various segments of society as they deal with the struggles of the day. The resolution, in this genre of movie, is that somehow the good of the whole will survive and mankind will continue its existence on Earth or in the universe.
Jesus and the Scriptures sometimes use “cosmic battle” imagery to point to the end where evil will meet its end, good will triumph and victory will be had. There are a number of differences, however, between the scriptural imagery and the popular.
The faith perspective of the end is tied to a goal. God’s vision for creation, and with special emphasis on mankind, reaches its completion. At times the word “perfection” is used to mark this. In other words, in the “end” creation and humanity will be “perfected.” Evil will indeed be eradicated but unlike the movies this will be permanent.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday’s liturgy is one example of this type of reading. It speaks of “days of tribulation.” Cosmic events like the darkening of the sun and moon will precede the arrival of the “Son of Man” who will send his angels to gather the faithful and lead them to glory.
The title “Son of Man” is used in the Scriptures for the divine judge. So when there is a reference to his coming, it is also pointing to the Day of Judgment — the time when justice is accomplished for all and the divine order of love triumphs over hate, indifference and self-absorption.
The first reading from the Book of Daniel also uses this type of imagery for the end. Michael the Archangel, who had already cast Satan from heaven, will bring that battle to its conclusion. In this case he will deliver the faithful from the turmoil “unsurpassed in distress since nations began.”
The faithful will escape, “everyone who is found written in the book.” (The reference being to the book of life, a reference to God’s judgment of every person whom he knows by name). These are the “wise” who “shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament, and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.”
The second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, and roots us, in Christ’s victory on Calvary. He is the priest who offered himself on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. He sits at the right hand of the Father and “now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool” (a reference to the final judgment and victory).
The author reminds us that it is by Jesus’ self-offering on the cross that he has “made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.”
Approaching the end of the liturgical year, our minds look forward to the “end” of time and the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the new heavens and new earth. As we do so, we are invited to fill our lives with hope and vigilance.
Hope because in the end God’s victory will be complete. Vigilance because faithfulness prepares us for a share in that final victory – whenever it may be.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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