End Time

A friend recently wrote that this is the “end of the liturgical year.”  In the readings of Mass and the Breviary, we are given selections from Daniel, Joel, Matthew, and others that call attention to the truth that time, as we know it, will end, and, it seems, not always very pleasantly for everyone.

We are told that time will end at a moment when we least expect it. Women will be working in the fields. There will be marriage and giving in marriage, weeping, and there will be gnashing of teeth. Need we pay any attention to these bizarre accounts? Few if any of us expect this end to fall on Advent or on New Year’s Eve. In the book of Joel, the final event is scheduled to happen in the Valley of Jehoshaphat (sometimes identified with the Valley of the Kedron).

This “end time” is pictured not merely as an end, but as a judgment, a word we do not like even though, if we lacked the capacity to judge, we would cease to be human beings endowed with reason and will.

It pays to be careful about what we do not like. The phrase “judge not lest you be judged,” was not designed to reduce us to complete silence or to idiocy. Further, we know not the day nor the hour, but we should be prepared. Our lives are “purposeful.” They are not given to us just so that we can pass the time of day waiting for something to happen.

How is it possible that an account can be made of the being and actions of our lives? This “all-knowing” postulates a divine intelligence. A major purpose in denying any deeper consideration of this issue is to avoid facing the suspicion that we are not completely alone. Yet the first intelligence is not part of the universe. The things we are and do make a difference. They are both known and remembered.

We are at first sight tiny, passing beings, but not insignificant beings, none of us. Our significance includes lives that deliberately reject what is right and good. Evil in the universe is not the result of some horrid divine plot, but of a glorious estimation and elevation of the kind of being we are.

     The Last Judgment by Jan van Eyck, c. 1435

At first sight, this approach might seem preposterous. Yet even science and science fiction are full of speculations about making contact with the voices and deeds of past earthly and cosmic dwellers – if our instruments are delicate enough or set in the right direction. Men are reluctant to accept their loneliness and finiteness in the universe. Is such reluctance silly? I suspect not.

Is it possible that an order or plan makes sense of this expectation of the “end time”? If there is, where would we find it? It is at this point that Christian thinking about what its scriptures say on the subject comes into play. In the beginning, as I like to say, God did not create from nothing a cosmic order, then, seeing it sitting out there, wonder what He would do with it.

It is the other way around. What God was initially interested in was not the cosmos. The cosmos as cosmos knows nothing. It may be a product of God’s creative intelligence, but it cannot, as it were, “do” what God is. Christian revelation has two basic things to tell us about God, both of these things relate to wonderments of the philosophers pursuing reason as far as it could go.

The first thing we are told is that God is not monolithic. Otherness exists in God. So God does not need the universe to give Him something He lacks. How is this otherness described to us? As a relation of Persons in the being they are. It is best described as love. God “needs” nothing further than himself. Thus, as Plato said, we are the “playthings” of God. This wording is not flippant, but delightful. It is a word that gets us to the essential relationship we have with God, namely that He created us because He first loved us, not because He needed us.

But if this is true, the second part of Christian revelation, the redemption, comes into play. God had to give us an opportunity freely to know and love Him. That is what goes on in this world. It grounds what happens in the cosmos. The “end times” close God’s purpose. This is why there must be judgment. What did we do in our time, whenever it was?

Redemption was God’s response to our not loving Him, one final effort to enable us freely to see and love the truth. This is why Christian revelation says: “And after this, the Judgment.” This is the divine acceptance of our freedom; however we chose to live it.

James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019), who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, was one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. Among his many books are The Mind That Is Catholic, The Modern Age, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, Reasonable Pleasures, Docilitas: On Teaching and Being Taught, Catholicism and Intelligence, and, most recently, On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018.

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