The four last things

Readings: Mal. 3.19-20; Ps. 95; 2 Thess. 3.7-12; Lk. 21.5-19

Today and next Sunday are the 33rd and 34th Sundays of the Churchís liturgical year. These last two Sundays of the liturgical year always focus on what is known traditionally as "the four last things": death, judgment, heaven, and hell. These four last things, we associate with the last times, the final times, the end times.

The first reading from Malachai warns us about the end times: "The day is coming Ö when all the proud and all evildoers will be Ö set on fire. Ö. But for those who fear my name, Ö the sun of justice with its healing rays will arise for them." We know, of course, there is no fire in hell. The Church teaches that fire is a material reality, and nothing material exists in heaven or hell. But the Church teaches us to prepare for final judgment.

At Thessalonika, in the second reading, some Christians had stopped working, because they thought the end of the world was imminent. St. Paul had told them to prepare for the Final Judgment. But St. Paul had told them too that we donít know when that judgment is coming. He writes, "If anyone does not work, that person should not eat." Live each day as if it could be the last day, but we donít know when that day will happen.

In the gospel, while people were admiring the jewels and general beauty of the Temple at Jerusalem, Jesus preached to them that "the days will come when there will not be left one stone upon another stone." The crowd asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" Jesus says, "People will come saying, ĎI am he,í and Ďthe time has comeí." Jesus comments, "Do not be deceived by them. Do not follow them." He continues, "You will hear about wars and insurrections. Do not be terrified by them." He adds, "There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, plagues, Ö and mighty signs from the sky." But neither do these signal the end times. He adds, "There will be persecutions. You may be handed over to authorities by family members and friends. You will be hated because of my name. Ö By your perseverance you will secure your lives."

Jesus advises us, in effect, "Donít be worried about external things like self-proclaimed prophets, wars, storms, or persecutions." Concern yourself with internal things, namely, your relationship with God and your goodness in relating to your neighbor. If I humbly might attempt to summarize the message of Jesus and St. Paul: "Focus on the things that last forever and which matter forever. Focus on eternal things." You and I, we are rightly attracted to and sometimes distracted by earthly things, like our needs for food, clothing, shelter, education, health, our jobs and our leisure. Those material things are wonderful; they are gifts from God, and necessities for us. But letís develop a vision that involves not only short-term needs but also long-term realities that last forever.

Throughout human history, different peoples have thought and taught that the end of the world was coming. This happened in prehistoric times when eclipses occurred, in the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages when plagues and famines occurred; it happened in our own age, when leaders of cults have led their peoples to commit mass suicide in anticipation of the End Times. Millenarists, people at the turn of the millennium, believed that at the year 1000 and again in 2000, that the world was going to end. I suspect that across this country there are some people now who have basements stocked with canned food and water supplies, in preparation for the end times. Many people still read the predictions of Nostradamus and apply them to our contemporary events.

Let me read from the Catechism of the Catholic Church what the Church teaches in summary about the end times, and I will comment briefly.

680. Christ the Lord already reigns through the Church, but all the things of this world are not yet subjected to him. [VOM: Christ has founded the kingdom of God on earth, but this kingdom is not yet completed. The Church serves as leaven for the Kingdom of God.] The triumph of Christís kingdom will not come about without one last assault by the powers of evil. [Evil will be with us to the very end of time; donít be surprised by its presence.]

681. On Judgment Day at the end of the world, Christ will come in glory to achieve the definitive triumph of good over evil which, like the wheat and the chaff, have grown up together in the course of history. [Jesus has already defeated death by his resurrection, and now we await his final victory over evil at his coming in glory.]

682. When Jesus comes at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the glorious Christ will reveal the secret disposition of hearts and will render to each [person] according to his works and according to his acceptance or refusal of grace. [The gospels say, "There is nothing hidden that will not be made known." And each of us will have to answer for our response or lack thereof to the call and teaching of Christ.]

In conclusion, "While we focus on real concerns of the present, letís not be distracted by the things that do not last, but extend our focus to those things that last forever. Letís focus on spiritual and eternal things.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley