For so long now, we have been numbering these weeks of Ordinary Time. Suddenly, however, it seems we are hastening toward an end. Indeed, this is our penultimate week of Ordinary Time, as next Sunday we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. When we encounter these readings, we may find ourselves confused…what do they mean in general, and what do they mean for us personally? Perhaps some may feel confident, knowing that in the end we will share in Christ’s final victory. Yet some may also feel fearful, wondering if we will make the cut with the good, and, if we do share in the victory, just how much suffering will it take? Regardless, we seem faced with a stark dichotomy in relation to the end; there is final judgment where the bad are punished and the good are rewarded.
Our first reading from the prophet Malachi warns: “The day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the proud and evildoers will be stubble” (Mal 3:19). The psalm response adds to the theme: “The Lord comes to rule the world with justice” (Ps. 98:9). And finally, in our gospel passage from Luke, Jesus tells us: “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” (Lk. 21:6). These images of “the end” are captivating for a reason; these descriptions pull us from our daily life, forcing us to realize the ephemeral nature of human life and the transitory aspect of earthly life. The end seems dramatic because it is dramatic, the culmination of the narrative we embrace. It makes sense that we feel some fear or awe about this end.
And yet, we often say we want to see justice in the world, that we see the mission of justice as a crucial component of the ministry of the Church. If this is true, then we can easily see the end times as good generally and for us personally. There will be justice in the world, the Lord ruling the people with equity (Ps. 98:9)–finally, the moment we’ve all been wanting! The readings also have this positive aspect. At the end of the passage from Malachi we have the words, “But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with healing rays” (Mal. 3:20a). In Psalm 98, we see that there is rejoicing when the Lord comes to rule the earth with justice. And in the gospel passage from Luke, Jesus concludes by noting that “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Lk. 21:19).
However, the dichotomy here between punishment for the wicked and healing for the faithful may be only part of the importance of considering these end times. Ultimately, we are reminded of our limited human perspective and the fact that we don’t know or understand the ways of God, whether that means the timing or the judgment. Many have tried to predict the day and the hour of this end. Some feel confident that they know exactly who will be condemned. In reality, it is not for us to know or judge. Our call is rather to be ready for the end, whether that be our own death or the end of the world.
As we bring the liturgical year to a close, we are invited to spend time thinking about the end of our life. And while we remember our beloved dead during the month of November, we may also envision the types of stories and virtues we hope will be associated with memories of us after our death. Formed by faith, hope, and love, we can look forward to the end. Where we fall short of living virtuous and holy lives, we can renew our efforts to embody justice, especially by giving to God what is due: the praise, thanksgiving, and love.