The "End Times" Are Here! A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson
"We are living in the end times!"
Its the sort of statement you might expect to hear from a televangelist or a street-corner preacher. "The end is near! The last days are upon us!" Such apocalyptic ideas are for Fundamentalists and dooms day watchers. Right?
Not necessarily. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews writes that God "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." And the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in commenting on the Lords Prayer, states, "The end-time in which we live is the age of the outpouring of the Spirit." When did the outpouring of the Holy Spirit occur? At Pentecost, some two thousand years ago. So not only are we living in the end times, but so to were the Christians in the catacombs, in the medieval monasteries, and in the seventeenth-century Vatican.
The Church does teach that there will be a final time of trial and that Christians living then will endure great tribulation and persecution. But for Catholics, contemplating the "end times" is not primarily about figuring out when, or even how, the world will end, but anticipating the full and final establishment of Gods kingdom. And so we pray, "Thy kingdom come," three short words heavy with meaning, both for the present and for the future.
In the New Testament, the word "kingdom" is used as an abstract noun, a concrete noun, and an action verb. In other words, the Kingdom is a grand concept, a specific reality, and an ongoing activityall at once. When we pray that the Fathers kingdom will come, we recognize that Jesus established that Kingdom during his first coming, that the Kingdom is growing at this very moment, and that the Kingdom will one dayat a time that God only knowsbe fully revealed in power and glory. Of the various meanings of this second petition of the Our Father, the primary reference is to the return of Christ, when the one who established the Kingdom will finish that work.
The Lords Prayer, then, is a prayer for the final and glorious appearing of the Kingdom. It is an anticipation of when Christ, crowned with thorns and crucified during his first coming, will return crowned with glory and revealed in all of his majesty. This kingdom is the messianic Kingdom, present in the person of Jesus, the Messiah. At the present time, until that final hour, the Second Vatican Council teaches, the church is a priestly kingdom in "which the kingdom of God is mysteriously present, for she is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom on earth."
Meanwhile, we live in a state of tension between the first and second comings of our Lord. We are pilgrims on earth, but also citizens of heaven, which means there will always be some tension in our lives. The Holy Father has written about this fact, and specifically describes it as "eschatological tension," the tension caused by living in temporal history between the "already accomplished"the Incarnationand the "yet to be completed"the return of Christ and the fullness of the Kingdom.
This can be felt and experienced during Lent, when we seek to free ourselves, by Gods grace, from the evil of this world while being witnesses to the Gospel in the world. While yet on earth, we live with the knowledge that we are meant for heaven. We understand that we are spiritual and material. We know that we are sinful and saved. We recognize that we are dying and graced with eternal life.
This can be either disconcerting or exciting, depending on how we choose to respond to it. We can always choose to ignore, or try to ignore, that The End will come for each and every one of us. We can choose to say, "My kingdom come," and seek to fulfill ourselves through material means, pursuing earthly pleasures without concern for eternity. Or we can say, "Thy kingdom come," and live in deeper communion with the Father. Lent is an aid in our quest to say this petition with our entire being. The acts of confessing, repenting, fasting, and giving are all meant to free us from unhealthy attachments and refocus our hearts and minds on the will of the Father and the reality of His Kingdom.
One vital way to better appreciate that reality is to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament during Lent and rest in the presence of the King. "The Kingdom of God has been coming since the Last Supper," the Catechism reminds us, "and in the Eucharist, it is in our midst." The Eucharist, our Holy Father tells us in his recent encyclical, is "a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ; it is in some way the anticipation of heaven, the pledge of future glory."
The King has come and He is with ussilently awaiting us, calling for us to spend time with Him. He understands the tension in our lives and one day He will rid us of it. But for now, it should drive us to Him, and through Him, to the fullness of the Kingdom.
Unfortunately, there are many Christians, including some Catholics, who become obsessed with the end of time, their imaginations filled with bloody scenarios and violent visions. The incredible sales of apocalyptic-oriented fiction is evidence that people want to escape this world and flee from the temptations, difficulties, and trials that inevitably come our way. But for disciples of the crucified King, escape is not a consideration and the Cross is not an option. If Lent tells us anything, its that we must share in the sufferings of Christ. "Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner," Paul exhorts Timothy, "but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God."
However, these sufferings and the tension of living in the present are not reasons for despair, but for hope. John Paul II writes, "A significant consequence of the eschatological tension inherent in the Eucharist is also the fact that it spurs us on our journey through history and plants a seed of living hope in our daily commitment to the work before us. Certainly the Christian vision leads to the expectation of new heavens and a new earth, but this increases, rather than lessens, our sense of responsibility for the world today."
The King is here. The Kingdom is at hand. We are living in the end times.
(This article was originally published in the March 7, 2004 edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children. Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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