“It is simple. Either we will die before Christ comes again at the end of the world or we will live to see that day.”
This homily was first delivered in Italian this past Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 at St. Benedict’s Basilica, Norcia, Italy. After Mass I spoke with Father Martin briefly, saying, “Well, end of the world and whatnot, eh? Glad I’m not the only one thinking about it.”
Fr. Martin Bernhard, O.S.B.
Col 1,9-14; Mt 24,15-35
22 Nov 2015
Last after Pentecost
For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be (Mt 24:27)
I suppose there are those in every generation who think that their days are the last days, that they will see the end of the world and the coming of Christ in all His majesty and dreadful power to judge the living and the dead. Today’s haunting Gospel passage has essentially been read in every generation since the first coming of Christ and, when it is interpreted mystically, almost every moment in history since Pentecost could be made to fit this mystifying description of the end of the world. No wonder Christians have always thought the end of the world was near. Silly Christians, what fools they were; or were they?
If this generation, which we are living in now, is not their generation then it is because they are dead, and in fact, the world has ended to them, at least as they knew it. So, although the final consummation of the world and coming of Christ did not take place in the previous generations, those Christians have indeed died and left his world. In fact, in a way the world did end for them; and so it will for us who live in this generation. It is simple. Either we will die before Christ comes again at the end of the world or we will live to see that day. Either way we must be prepared. We must be ready. We must be vigilant.
Life is, in fact, short, if we keep the big picture ever before our eyes. Of course, it is difficult to remember that it is relatively short when we are experiencing trials and tribulations. Therefore, we must constantly be reminded that it is in fact short and singular — one time only. A tendency of our fallen nature is to only think of ourselves now in the present moment. However, there is much more to life than the now, there is the past and there is the future. Together these things make up the whole totality of who we are in relation to the eternal God who sees all things at all times as one.
Speaking of this Second Coming and the end of the world the Lord says, But of that day and hour no one knoweth, no not the angels of heaven, but the Father alone (Mt 24:36). Thus, we cannot know for certain when He will come again, nor should we listen to anyone who says, “He is coming right now! Now is the time!” And yet, although we cannot know the exact moment in advance, the Lord does tell us that we can see the signs that His coming is drawing near. Like a fig tree, that of the most scrumptious of fruits, whose branches turn tender and green marking the season of summer, so too the mysterious signs of which our Lord spoke in today’s Gospel will mark the season and the drawing near of the Lord’s second and final coming, the consummation of the world (cf. Mt 24:24).
What are these signs that speak to us like the ripening of a fig tree? They are too many for me to elaborate on now, but they include the abomination of desolation, false Christs and false prophets who deceive “even the elect” (believers), hatred of Christians, wars and rumors of wars, the abundance of iniquity and sin, the growing cold of charity and the Gospel having been preached to the whole world.
The abomination of desolation can have several meanings. According to St. Jerome, it can mean the setting up of an idol in the sanctuary of God, the Holy of holies. Taken this way, it symbolizes a kind of idolatry and destruction of the authentic worship of God. Thus, a sign of the final age is the replacement of a genuine liturgical worship of God with the worship of an image of man. It is also noteworthy to know that such a distortion of worship happened within the Temple of Jerusalem itself when an equestrian statue of the emperor Hadrian stood in the Temple at the time of St. Jerome. Hence, it seems such a falsification or distortion of the worship of God will take place within the Church herself.
Commenting on the abomination of desolations, St. Jerome also says that it signifies false doctrine arising from within the Church herself, which can be linked with false Christs and false prophets. In other words there will be those who claim to have something to say and teach, which in the final analysis perverts the true doctrine, teaching and charity of Christ.
And this Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a testimony to all nations, and then shall the consummation come (Mt 24:14). This sign seems to imply that in the final age there will be no nation or place in the world that has not yet had the Gospel of Christ preached to it. In other words, it seems to imply that there will be Christians throughout the world in all the nations. Then, there will be the hatred of Christians and the betrayal of the faith by many. Perhaps the most chilling of all these prophecies is the rise of sin and the growing cold of charity, which also implies a lack of faith. The elect, those faithful, will be a small remnant amidst a dark and chaotic world. The truly faithful will be the minority.
It seems to me to be a fundamental mistake to say or think that as time progresses through history things will inevitably get better. The notion that all progress is good and that the world and man will inevitably be perfected with time seems to me to be utterly false and opposed to the teaching and words of Christ. This is all the more reason we should live more faithfully and full of charity now while there is still time. Every moment is one moment closer to the end. After each and every second, we are closer to either our death or the consummation of the world. In the words of St. Benedict, “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Run while you have the light of life, lest the darkness of death overtake you.” (Prologue, Rule of St. Benedict) And remember, he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved (Mt 24:13).