We are nearing the end of the liturgical year this week, and the readings for Mass have been focusing on the end times. The first reading from the book of Revelation describes the harvest of souls at the end of the world. It describes “one like a son of man” sitting on a cloud, and two angels come out of the temple in heaven, to tell him to swing his sickle and harvest the earth.
This kind of imagery is a little hard for many of us to relate to. In fact, the entire book of Revelation is confusing and it’s meaning is not clear sometimes, but we get the basic idea in today’s reading. At the end of the world, Jesus will gather his people unto himself. Not everyone will be gathered into his kingdom though.
The book of Revelation is also very different from the gospel that John wrote. One reason for the new literary style in which he wrote, (aside from the vision that he experienced) is the apocalyptic style that he used. Apocalyptic story telling had become popular with the people of his time, during the period that he recorded this vision. John changed his style of writing to fit in with the new, popular literary style at the time.
The images and the vision itself is very profound and unlike anything we have experienced in our lives. But, the end of the world will also be on such a wide scale that we can’t imagine that either.
Jesus spoke of natural disasters, wars, famines and plagues that would occur in many places throughout the world. We have certainly experienced a lot of these events in the past decade or two, but the Lord says something unique in the very last sentence of the gospel today. He said that:
“Awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.”
This sounds a lot like meteors or asteroids hitting the earth. No one knows for sure what will happen at the end of the world, but Saint Peter wrote:
“The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” ~ 2 Peter 3:10
Peter said the earth will be destroyed by fire and Jesus mentions the awesome sights and mighty signs that will come from the sky. This sounds a lot like a meteor or asteroid will hit the earth. Whatever disaster hits the earth though, it will be on a magnitude that we can’t even imagine.
If it were to happen, say next week, how would you want to spend your last day on the earth? It’s really pretty interesting to ask people this question and hear their answers. Some people want to spend their last day on the beach, or another place they are attached to. Some want to be with their family and friends and have a last meal together. Others want to be with the rest of the church, praying together and facing the end of the world, the end of their lives, supported by one another in the faith that they have always believed in.
How would you spend your last day? What is really the most important thing in your life? Is your faith strong enough to face the end of your life with hope, courage and trust in the Lord Jesus, that he will do what he said he will do?
Another trap that Catholics can easily slip into though, is basing their faith too much in the rituals and external aspects of our religion. Beautiful buildings, stained glass windows, fine religious art, gleaming altars and tabernacles, etc. help draw us into a deeper reflection of our Christian beliefs. Do you ever feel holier just being in the sacred space of the church? Really? Does a building actually change any of us the moment we step through the door? The real test of our faith, is when all of the eternal trappings of our Catholic faith is gone.
In today’s gospel, Jesus mentions the importance of not putting too much stock into the buildings we worship in:
“While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus was of course referring to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem that would occur after his death. However, he did make a point to remind the people of his own time, to not put too much stock into the outer trappings of religion. What is more important in the long run? People? Or the buildings that contain the people? The same could be said of our homes too. Things should never come before people in our lives, or draw our focus away from our personal relationship with God and with His son, Jesus Christ.
When Jesus comes for us, our families, and our faith community, it is only our souls that he will gather. The rest will be destroyed by fire. Our souls are the most valuable thing in the entire world to him. The same should be said of us. The people in our lives and our relationships with them, should be our most valued treasure in life, other than God himself.
How to protect that treasure is the hard part, but our faith in Jesus Christ and our relationships with our family, friends and faith community are worth working to preserve. The devil is our constant adversary. We can’t let him gain a foothold of division in our families, friendships or in our faith community. Persevering in unity until the very end of our lives is our goal, because heaven is our true home.
Daily Readings for Mass:
Rev 14: 14-19; Ps 96: 10-13, Lk 21: 5-11