End times and last things: Archbishop Comensoli

Sunday 17 November 2019

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli

I see that there is a new TV version out of the medieval who-done-it movie ‘The Name of the Rose’. It’s a story of a Franciscan friar, with his young assistant, who gets caught up in intrigue and murder inside an isolated monastery. In a place full of sinister happenings, one of the inhabitants is a creepy looking monk, who spends his time scaring all the other monks by claiming that the anti-Christ was among them and the end of the world was happening there and then, inside the monastery.

Even today there are lots of people predicting the end times. (Just think of the Extinction Rebellion protests of recent weeks.) Their voices can take hold of us and raise our levels of fear. We are indeed in a time of serious climatic concern, tied to our own human follies, yet self-appointed prophets have been predicting the end of the world since the world began. So, we might be appropriately cautious of such hysteria, while not neglecting a proper moral consideration of the directions in which humanity is going. Our true responsibility is to learn to live our lives now in ways that are directed towards God’s redemptive plan for creation.

End-of-the-world images do have one benefit. They can remind us of our own Christian belief in eternal life with God. Our Sunday worship is full of words that remind us of this belief. In the Creed we say: He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. After the Consecration, we say: We proclaim your death O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again. And in the Lord’s Prayer we say: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done. Our focus is not on the past or even the present – a Christian’s focus is on the hopeful future to come.

Over the past couple of weeks, our liturgies have focused our attention on the ‘last things’: death, judgement, heaven and hell. This is particularly the case this Sunday. It’s not hard to put ourselves in the picture of today’s gospel. We’re in a temple – this place of worship – and we can look around to admire the surroundings: the history of the building, the stained glass and the statues, the brass and vessels, and other trappings. These are the things of beauty that can inspire us – we derive a sense of pride that we have such a place in which to honour and worship God.

But Jesus then brings us back to earth – or more accurately, to heaven. It is not such earthly treasures and material things that he wants us to be attracted to: it’s the things of heaven and of eternal life that really count because these are the things that truly last. Jesus warned his disciples – and he warns us – not to be deceived by false voices. In our culture where so much is immediately available to us, there is a temptation to be lulled into a false sense of priorities. We live at a time when the things to come have never seemed so far away.

But these attachments are like the Sirens of ancient Greek legend, luring us with their seductive voices deeper into their hold until they dash us against the rocks of emptiness and fear. To the entrapment of the things of now – to the lure of material comfort and social standing – Jesus gives us the following advice: your endurance will win you your lives.

If our focus is on the horizon of eternal life with God, then this will be the point towards which we aim all our decisions and actions now. If our focus is on a different horizon – on here and now – then our lives will reflect a different set of goals. Our faith constantly reminds us of the need to renew in ourselves a desire for the great return of Jesus Christ in glory. Where our attachments are, there our hearts will be.
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