The wonderful news in our parish is that we are returning to life as normal as possible since the beginning of the pandemic. We pick up, as best we can, from where we had left off. Too many people had given up hope and some were badly predicting the end of time is near, just as the early Christians had the idea that Jesus, who had ascended to heaven, would return soon to usher in the Final Judgment, and thus the end of this world. This resulted in a real sense of urgency on the part of the faithful so that they might be prepared for that unexpected moment when the Lord would come back.
Nearly two-thousand years later, we are still awaiting Our Lord to return in glory. Although the Church doesn’t give much credence to these prophecies about the end of the world, she does acknowledge that we are indeed living in what we could honestly call the “end times.” In fact, we have been in the end times since the time of the Incarnation. The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ have brought about the definitive victory of life over sin and death, thus ushering in the New and final Covenant of God with man, a covenant which will find its total fulfillment when all the elect are gathered together in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It was Christ’s desire for all people to come to the knowledge of the truth of the Gospel, and so experience a share in this victory of salvation. It was to the Church that Christ entrusted this task of spreading that victory through the power of the Holy Spirit, which was poured out on the day of Pentecost, a feast we celebrated just a few weeks ago. This “time,” then, is the final phase in the Lord’s plan to reconcile all of mankind back to Himself. Since this takes place through the Church, this end time is also called the time of the Church. Our readings this weekend address that very topic of the Church.
The first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel uses the image of a tree that starts out small, but will “put forth branches and bear fruit and become a majestic cedar.” (Ez. 17:23). All species of birds, representing all people on earth, will be invited to come and “dwell in the shade of its branches” (Ez.17:24) pointing to the safety and rest given to those who are invited to dwell in the Church.
The Gospel uses similar language when speaking about the Kingdom of God as having a small beginning, like that of a mustard seed, and growing to become large, inviting all to come and share in its shade. The Church has understood this passage to speak of her, for the Catholic Church is the initial budding forth of that Kingdom, and while it slowly grows, the Church strains toward the completed Kingdom and, with all its strength, hopes and desires to be united in glory with its King.
These images, which point to the growth of the Church, reflect the desire of Jesus that His Kingdom not be limited to just a few, but offered to everybody. This is at the heart of the final instructions that He gave his disciples before He ascended to Heaven, when He told them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20).
Some people who ascribe to end-time prophecies use them as a justification to turn in on themselves in fear, doing only that which is necessary for them to be ready for the Second Coming, cutting themselves off from the needs of others. This is totally opposed to the Christian approach to the end of time and how we should prepare for the Lord’s return at the Final Judgment.
The Second Vatican Council, in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, states that “a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives.” In other words, the Council Fathers wanted to stress that the Church must take seriously the earthly duties entrusted to her by the Lord during this time of waiting.
As seen in passages such as the Parable of the Talents, we are to be good stewards of all that the Lord has entrusted to us, for a significant part of our judgment will be based on the stewardship that we practiced while in this life.
The Church has promoted the responsibility of taking care of our neighbor as a superb form of stewardship. Jesus speaks about this clearly and forcefully when He challenges us to recognize that “what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt. 25:45). Failure to provide for those who are in need among us can have significant consequences for eternity. As a result, we, the Church, must take our responsibilities to live God’s commands very seriously. In this way, we will be ready for the time He will call us forth.