A faithful reader mentioned that one or two of my columns have been a bit dire of late, but one must not wonder, for the times lend themselves to such reflections. The point, however, is not that the end of the world as we know it is around the corner, but, rather, that the world, whose form was already passing away when Saint Paul wrote in the first century, will come to an end at some point, and we must not place our hope in that world, in its pomp, promises and circumstances.
Christ’s warning in today’s Gospel – vigilate, stay awake, be watchful and ready – does not apply primarily to the end of time, but rather to the end of each of our individual times, when we ourselves will cross that threshold into eternity, whether at the end of the world or, far more likely, in some other way in God’s good providence.
Just yesterday was the anniversary of the tragic Air New Zealand flight 901 disaster, on a sightseeing tour across Antarctica, which crashed into Mount Erebus in 1979, killing all 237 passengers and 20 crew. Due to an apparent mix-up in the flight path – about which there is still controversy – the pilots and everyone else on board thought they were cruising over McMurdo Sound, while in reality they were heading straight for the side of the mountain. In the white expanse, even the pilots couldn’t tell the difference until the last moment, with the cockpit recording the final words, ‘Pull up – pull…!’. The passengers likely never knew what hit them, and all 257 souls went in that one instant before their Maker, to that judgement we will all have to face, when our own Mount Erebus arrives.
Christ may indeed come like a ‘thief in the night’, but we need ‘fear’ only if we are not prepared, not in our wedding garment, not in a state of grace, immersed in the cares and troubles, or worse, of this world alone.
For those who do pray, who live a ‘liminal’ life, always poised on that threshold of eternity, any day will do, really. As Father George Rutler puts it in a recent column, we must be, like the Coast Guard and the Boy Scouts, semper paratus, always prepared. When Thomas More as he ascended the scaffold was asked by the headsman if he were certain he was going to paradise, the saint replied, ‘I don’t think Christ would refuse one so eager to meet Him’.
So fear not, dear reader, even though the mountains be cast into the sea. There may yet be much time, and much that must yet happen, before the end of the world as we know it. But whatever betide, if Christ is for us, and we for Christ, who or what can be against?