Sister Mary Lucy was a blind hermit, and being comfortable in the border lands between this world and the next, she was always intriguing to visit. One day she asked me if I thought the end of the world was nigh.
“I grew up in a fundamentalist church.” I explained, “where we heard terrible prophecies about the Great Tribulation and the end times. An impish evangelist named Jack Van Impe would visit our church and scare us with stories about Armageddon and the big computer in Brussels called ‘The Beast,’ which tracked everyone, and how the European Community would merge with the Catholic Church to become the head of a New World Order, and the Jesuits had the names of all the born-again Christians, and they had taken a blood curdling oath of total obedience to the Pope, and when he gave the green light they would round up all the true believers.
Then they showed us a kind of Christian horror movie called “Left Behind,” in which the Lord Jesus returned and took all the true Christians to heaven in a flash, and airplanes fell out of the sky because their pilots had been raptured, and all the sinners were left behind, so you better get saved quick, and then we sang a lugubrious song called, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” with the refrain, “There’s no time, to change your mind. The Son has come and you’ve been left behind….”
When I became a Catholic the apocalyptic stories were even more stupendous. The three days of darkness were just around the corner, and only blessed candles would be able to be lit. There were the prophecies of St. Malachy, which said the number of popes was running out fast, and why on earth couldn’t the pope consecrate Russia to the Blessed Virgin the right way? Didn’t he know the fate of the world was dependent on it? The exciting thing about the Catholics is that they actually had visions of Mary, stigmatics, visionaries, mystics and miracles, which raised the stakes and made it all so much more vivid.
Then in 2011 Pastor Harold Camping told us he had read his Bible and done the math and the end was nigh. Meanwhile, the New Agers prepared for the end in 2012 because the Mayan calendar told them so.
Then there are the secular doomsday prophets. Not too long ago we were all going to freeze in a new ice age, but now because of global warming we’re all going to fry and cry as we watch the baby polar bears drown. The world was going to crash in the year 2000 when the computers would all go haywire. And there was going to be a population explosion, and we were all going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and starve and probably resort to eating each other, but now there is going to be a demographic winter in which there will not be enough children, and we’ll all die of old age, sans teeth, sans taste, sans money to pay the rest home, sans everything.
Don’t forget the imminent disasters of a one-world totalitarian regime, global economic meltdown, the danger of Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, Yellowstone erupting in a massive volcano, meteors hitting the world, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, famines, terrorist outrages, or Hillary becoming president.
I don’t really know if we’re headed for apocalypse now or apocalypse then, but what interests me more than the actual possibility of apocalypse is the apocalypse mentality. What is it in human nature that loves a doomsday? Why are we so full of fascination and fear about the end of the world?
Two reasons: First of all, because there will be an end of the world. This physical realm is bound up in the matrix of time. There is an Alpha. There will be an Omega. Time began, and time will end. One day it will all happen in a crash, in a trumpet’s clash. The lights will go out, and deep down we know this and are always watching and waiting.
Secondly, and more importantly, we know for sure that one world will end, and that is our world. In other words, one day for each of us the lights will go out. Naked and alone, we’ll gasp our last and, our own sun, moon, and stars will be shaken, and the dark sea of death will roar and overwhelm us.
It is our own end of the world that we fear, and knowing this, yet denying this, we do a very not so subtle mental trick and avoid the imminent catastrophe of our death by projecting it on the whole world. Apocalypticism is therefore a kind of sick obsession. It’s a spiritual disease afflicting the whole human race.
What’s the cure? Momento mori: Remember death.
If we daily remember that we will die one day, and if we live each day as if it is our last, and if we learn to fear eternal death and if we strive to live each day in the life giving presence of the one who is Life itself, then we will be amazed at how we will have no fear.
This is why wise men used to keep a skull on their desk or a skeleton in the cupboard. The grinning death head echoed the words, “I was what you are and you will be what I am.” With a healthy reminder of mortality, apocalyptic worries dry up, and we’ll be able to say with a cheerful abandon– “The end of the world? Bring it on!”
Shall we just grin and bear it? What if the message is to grim to bear it? Then we also remember that there is that small white bird called hope—“the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” There is the Phoenix. There is the empty tomb. The fire rises from the ashes and behold, he makes all things new.
So on an Easter visit, this is what Sister Mary Lucy had to say in her quiet, sweet way: “I’m always excited to think that Our Lord said he ‘makes all things new’ and not that ‘he makes all new things.’ I think it’s much better that he will bring it all back to a more glorious existence out of the destruction we bring about. That’s much better than him just starting again, and if he is going to make all things new…well, that includes me too.”
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