It’s Christmas: Time to Talk About the Apocalypse

The Catholic Church divides the liturgical year into six seasons, the first of which, Advent, lasts four weeks (this year only three full weeks) and has what the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes as a “twofold character”: a season during which Catholics prepare to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, but also a time of preparation for his second coming and with it, the final judgment to which all humans will be subjected.

The liturgies of the final Sundays of the year includes warnings, like those in a letter from St. Paul to the Thessalonians, about what to expect when “the Lord Himself, with a cry of command, the Archangel’s call, and with the sound of God’s trumpet will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Those “who are alive, who are left,” we are told, “will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (which sounds remarkably like the “rapture” many evangelicals expect to experience.)

Last Judgment, Michelangelo, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“Last Judgment,” Michelangelo, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There’s a warning from First Corinthians that when Christ returns “every ruler and every authority and power” will be destroyed; a reminder from the St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night,” and a parable, from the Gospel according to Matthew, of “five foolish maidens” who were not prepared and had no oil for their lamps when the bridegroom arrived. They were very quickly told by the bridegroom (read: Jesus) that he “knew them not” and they had best “keep awake for you know not the day nor the hour.”

Jesus was much harder on the poor slave in another reading from Matthew, who buried his one talent while his two fellow slaves doubled the ones they had been given by the master. The slave was read the riot act for not having banked the talent, thereby ensuring that the master would have “received what was my own with interest.” And so the one-talent slave was ordered to give his talent to the slave who had doubled his five, so that “to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” And then, of course, came the infamous punishment “as for this useless slave, throw him into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Matthew’s final Gospel of the liturgical year speaks of how the final judgement will see the sheep separated from the goats, the goats being those who saw Jesus hungry and did not feed him, thirsty and did not give him drink, naked and did not clothe him and sick or imprisoned and did not visit him because they did none of these acts of kindness and concern for any of their neighbors, and therefore would “go away into eternal punishment.” But the sheep, “the righteous,” who apparently carried out all these acts of kindness, will go to “eternal life.”

 

So what, exactly will the “end-times” consist of and will our generation be the one to endure whatever they bring? A review of the various prophecies in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke reveals a definite response from Christ to the question as to when the end-times would happen. Matthew has him responding with “a description of conditions and events” that would mean his return “would occur within one generation.” The signs are decidedly apocalyptic: “You are going to hear the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away…countries will fight each other, kingdoms will attack one another there will be famines and earthquakes everywhere.”

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Albrecht Dürer, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Albrecht Dürer, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons. (Click to enlarge.)

According to Matthew, Christ warns his disciples of the “many false prophets” who will appear and “fool many people,” and  “a spread of evil so that many people’s love will grow cold.” Those “who hold out to the end will be saved, and the Good News will be preached to the whole world and then the end will come.” A similar prophecy in 1 Corinthians states that “every ruler and authority and power will be destroyed,” and further, “He will put all His enemies under His feet.”

Now, those who take the Bible literally and believe whatever is put forward as “The Word of God” might have to backtrack a bit, as scholars examine with an eagle eye much of what is written within its covers. Matthew writes, as noted above, that Christ predicted the end would come within “one generation.” It’s been pointed out, however, that a generation at the time would have been approximately 30 years. St. Clement decided, in 90 CE (that’s “Common Era,” often substituted for AC, Anno Domino or in the year of the Lord) that it could happen “at any moment.” Well yes, it definitely could, but it didn’t.

Most religions have their predictions for when the earth will come to a sudden, violent and inglorious finish but, fortunately I guess for us, none of them has yet proved accurate. Jehovah’s Witnesses called for the world to end five times between 1914 and 1925; Pope Innocent lll added 666 to the date of the founding of Islam and decided on 1284 for annihilation.

Some see modern phenomenon like nuclear weapons and even the internet as proof that Christ’s prophecies are coming true. Others, of course, see such dates of doom as fundraising activities — when doomsday passes and the sun comes up as usual, a new date is chosen.

I have to admit though, that watching what is happening in our world today with war, famine, sickness, bombings and brutality, along with the startling and undeniable effects of climate change, it’s hard not to wonder just how long we can survive. Our own end-time could come “like a thief in the night,” or it could come as “predicted” — not by preachers but by scientists.

If there is to be a final judgement, I figure the goal is to establish oneself as a sheep rather than a goat. My plan? Follow the Golden Rule, an integral tenet of most religions, one we see practiced so generously at this time of the year: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Seems like the most realistic way forward to me.

Merry Christmas!

Featured image: “Last Judgment,” Jan Mandyn, 1550 (Cropped)

 

 

 

Dolores Campbell

 

Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.

 

 

 

 

 

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