Today we begin that part of every year when we as a Church recall the end. This is a statement of faith that the end (which is the end of the world, not of us) is not foreign to us, not unimportant for our lives right now. We have to live in a way that conforms to the end that, one way or another, we will all participate in. We don't know when, but we know for sure it is our common fate.
I just spent four days this week beginning a 1½ year process of continuing formation in the priesthood, and we spent these days mostly growing in self-understanding and self-growth so that I can be a better priest. No promises yet on that! But I can say that I saw somethings more clearly about myself. I don't like change, I don't like interruptions, I don't like taking huge risks. I can handle these things, but they are a little harder for me to do. Well, imagine that I was receiving phone calls and e-mails or text messages from my parents asking if they can visit a couple days up here before Thanksgiving. What would happen if I never responded to those calls or messages? How would I feel when I have to go see them on Thursday? I'd feel bad, embarrassed, ashamed for not giving them the time of day. They may even pull out the old wooden spoon again!
Well that is what God is calling us to now as we look forward to the end of our days. If we prepare for it, there is nothing to fear. If we ignore it, we will be embarrassed and ashamed.
The prophets we so often hear from are individuals whose main goal is to save us from that kind of shame in our relationship with God. Others may suffer from the terror of cosmic aloneness, but the prophet is overwhelmed by the grandeur of divine presence. He is incapable of isolating the world. There is an interaction between man and God which to disregard is an act of insolence. Isolation is a fairy tale. ...God came first, and the task is how to live in a way compatible with His presence. Man's coexistence with God determines the course of history. The prophet disdains those for whom God's presence is comfort and security; to him it is a challenge, an incessant demand. God is compassion, not compromise; justice, though not without clemency. The prophet's predictions can always be proved wrong by a change in man's conduct, but never the certainty that God is full of compassion. The prophet's word is a scream in the night. While the world is at ease and asleep, the prophet feels the blast from heaven. (The Prophets, vol I. A. J. Heschel, Hendrickson, 17)
That scream in the night at the world's injustice is supposed to be a wake-up call, a spark that ignites a blaze of transformation. If it doesn't, we can be sure our hearts are hard, our ears are deaf.
We hear today the various uses of apocalyptic language – which speaks of cosmic warfare and the intervention of God to set things right, even the acts of decreation like the stars falling from the sky in the Gospel. Although these extreme images are meant to be shocking, they need not be all that frightening for us. As we said, if (like the scenario with my parents) we respond to the wake-up call, and are in right relationship with God, there is nothing to fear. Because the great battle of heaven and earth has indeed already been fought on Calvary Hill; God has intervened in the world and conquered sin through the Resurrection; and we are baptized into that mystery, we are the body of Christ. Moreover, the archangel Michael is still with us to defend us in this battle for our salvation.
Furthermore, as scary as the end might seem, let us not forget that the end is not foreign to us, because the End is already here. Every Mass we see the last battle and the great victory of God's love. And in the Confessional we experience the judge whose mercy is great for those with sorrowful hearts and the resolve to change. May the Eucharistic Lord prepare our hearts anew to live in the present with the heaven always in our minds and hearts.