A few weeks ago an elderly lady spoke to me after Mass. She wanted to know if I believed in the ‘end times’. She’d been on a pilgrimage to Lourdes and this priest kept talking about the end times. I think such talk really upset her, as if the ‘end times’ were just around the corner. I quoted today’s gospel to her about ‘no one knows the day or the hour’ but I don’t think that satisfied her that much.
How many times have good people thought that the end times are happening to them? The death of a spouse or a child, the news of a malignant tumor, the breakup of a marriage, the loss of a job, the discovery that a son or daughter is hooked on drugs – any one of these realities can take the life out of a person, life will never be the same – for them it is the end.
Imagine what life must be like for the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children fleeing the war and turmoil ravaging the Middle East. Their old securities of home, family, schooling and work are gone. Their normal worlds are collapsing around them. Their futures are up for grabs. They are experiencing the end times of their normal lives.
Today’s scripture uses a literary way of saying things that springs from a rich imagination.
It is called apocalyptic writing, a distinctive branch of Biblical literature. They usually feature visions or dreams revealed to the writer, predictions of the future, using fantastic imagery, mystical symbols, and predictions of the end of the age. What we read in the Book of Daniel and the gospel of Mark are words of proclamation and assurance, believe or not they are words of hope and the promise of a better future. These words tell us that human history will not end without the universal human recognition of Jesus Christ as all humanity’s Lord and Savior.
Looking at the world around us with all its wars and destruction, with its racial and religious intolerance, its assault and exploitation of the life systems of Earth we see little sign of that point in human history where we all see Jesus as the Lord of our common human destiny. As the saying goes, ‘don’t hold your breath.’
Let’s face it, the end times will happen to us all, not only to each of us in facing our own death, but to all of us together as our generation passes into the mist of a disappearing age making way for a new generation.
Maybe we could hear these scripture readings not so much a warning about the end of the world but as a commentary on how we can live life in our world today. This day, this moment, this life, is our time to bear the fruit. As the saying goes ‘seize the day’ make the most of today. Today calls us to love and evoke love, no matter where we may be, from nursing home to classroom, work place. Today we can receive with full heart the gift of Christ’s once-and-for-all redemptive act of giving his life on the cross for each one of us. Today we are invited to sing, with the psalmist: “For you are my God, you alone are my joy. Defend me, O Lord.” Today we can open our lives to the grace and growth that each moment, each breath, each encounters with another person offers us. Today is filled with possibilities.
Since we do not know the hour or the day, let this be the hour, let this be the day, let this be the time that we live and die.