End of the World

December 07, 2019

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, Bishop and Doctor of the Church;
National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (USA)

In the weeks leading up to Advent, the Mass readings took an apocalyptic turn. Kingdoms fell and judgment came to the world time and again, as prophets alternately interpreted past events or proclaimed future ones. It hasn’t been bad news though.

Although Christmas signifies a new Creation, each year in the Church actually begins with Advent. At this point in the calendar, the readings shift from premonitions of downfall to promises of wonder. Redemption has not yet come, but the fall of unjust regimes has made room for something better to emerge. Advent provides the in-between time of empty spaces and dark but starlit skies. The anticipation of this season is not so much about passive waiting but rather active preparation. None of our fretting can make Christ arrive any earlier, but maybe we can be ready for him by the time he comes.

New birth requires a certain kind of dying—the return of the Israelites to their homeland required the defeat of their captor Babylon. We can imagine the complicated feelings that overshadowed the journey back to Jerusalem: joy and excitement, but also uncertainty, anxiety, and even fear.

The end of the world shouldn’t scare rational Christians. After all, it is supposed to be the time when all that is evil and unjust shall be dismantled and the world be put right. As long as we are well-prepared, we should not fear. Yet how many of us in truth would be terrified?

Many of us have benefited greatly from injustice even if we’ve never greatly harmed anybody directly. If this world were miraculously fixed in an instant, what would be the cost to me personally? Would I be among those lifted up or among those brought down? What would that be like? Abandoning the familiar can be difficult, especially when we don’t know what comes next.

Nonetheless, the world is always ending. Or rather, worlds are always ending.

The world in which Jeanette’s son lived, the world in which Frank was married, the world in which Sam was sober and healthy—all of these ended tragically. The world in which AIDS was an automatic death sentence, the world that legally approved of chattel slavery, and the world without Lucy also ended. What if we saw each change as a passage from an old world toa new? What if we saw each past moment as a signifying a dead world and took on the responsibility of choosing the next world to come?

Inertia is a powerful force by which still objects remain still and moving objects remain moving along an unchanging trajectory unless some external influence determines otherwise. The difference between inertia and dynamism is that of death and life. To choose vitality is to deny inertia and sometimes to overcome it.

Advent reminds us that we live in a dynamic world. We can mimic the dead past as much as possible and by so doing choose the death of lost times and fallen kingdoms. Or we can serve as catalyst co-creators. We can try to make ourselves and this world as inert as stony corpses, or we can claim our inheritance of abundant life and live like the lightning.

Any single one of us lacks the ability to fully effect whatever new world is coming into being. Whatever newness we hope for though, we can each do our bit to prepare the way.


This week’s ear candy is an upbeat song about the end of the world… because again, the end of the world isn’t always a bad thing. Depending on which world is ending, it can be a good thing or a painful inevitability that still makes way for new growth. The brain food is about some young people who are in transition space. Are they trying to end the world in which our Church acts to exclude? Or are they trying to co-create a world in which our Church acts to include?

Ear Candy: “It’s the End of the World” by R.E.M.

Brain Food: “When their LGBTQ Teacher Was Fired, These Teens Turned to Their Faith” by Susan Salaz

Come back next Saturday for a new post!