We’ve all heard predictions about the impending end of the world.
We are often fascinated with the possibility of the end of the world, but this interest can easily become distorted and misconstrued. When we obsess over trying to solve the puzzle of when the world is going to end, we miss the Gospel message the Jesus was really preaching.
In our readings for this Sunday, the Church invites us to reﬂect on this call to approach each day as our last, to strive continually to hold absolutely nothing back from the Lord because we assume we’ll have another chance tomorrow.
First Reading Reflection
The short reading from Daniel is often interpreted to refer prophetically to the end of time. If we consider the number of TV shows and movies that concern the end times, we might be tempted to think that we are overly obsessed with thinking about the end of the world. This preoccupation, however, does not properly reverence the Second Coming of Christ. The Benedictine liturgist Adrian Nocent, in commenting on this passage from Daniel, gives us a profound insight into the proper Catholic orientation toward the end of time:
“Christians today do not think enough about the parousia, or second coming of Christ; we tend to reﬂect exclusively on our death and our appearance before the judgment seat of God. This is because we are not suﬃciently conscious that we belong to a Kingdom that must someday enter its ﬁnal and deﬁnitive state. This does not mean, of course, that we should be uninterested in our individual, personal salvation; it means only that we should view this in the perspective of the ﬁnal and all-embrac-ing passage of this world to its ﬁnal state and condition at the last judgment.
The ‘last judgment”’ is in any case more than simply a judgment and should not be approached purely in a spirit of fear lest we be punished. It is also God’s great act of reconstruction, and we can be sure that God will produce something unimaginably new and great. The Christian expectation of ﬁnal redemption should take the form of a lively, joyous hope of that great act of reconstruction” (The Liturgical Year, vol. 4, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 1977).
This prophecy of ﬁnal redemption from Daniel is given to Israel in the midst of exile in Babylon. She will face further conquests by other powerful nations, Daniel is told, but in the end, “The wise will shine brightly like the splendor of the ﬁrmament.” There is a twofold coming prophesized here. The ﬁrst is the coming of Christ into the world, who will bring redemption to the people. The second is the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world. Despite the fact that those hearing this prophecy in Daniel’s times would not live to see the ﬁnal vindication of Christ at the end of the world, there is still the great hope that we will rise again with Christ someday.
Second Reading Reflection
Hebrews 10:11−14, 188
The author of Hebrews contrasts the priests in the Temple who make a daily oﬀering with Christ, who, after his one sacriﬁce of his life on the Cross “took his seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:11-12). Christ, as the High Priest of the New Covenant, oﬀers only a single sacriﬁce that is suﬃcient for the redemption of all our sins. The merit of the sacriﬁce of God’s eternal Son is of inﬁnite value. What could possibly be added to an inﬁnite sacriﬁce?
Christ’s sacriﬁce is once and for all. Nothing could add to it; complete atonement has been made, and we have received forgiveness of all sins through the merits of Christ’s sacriﬁce on Calvary. So why do priests oﬀer up the Mass daily? Does this not repeat the sacriﬁce of Calvary? The Mass does not repeat Christ’s sacriﬁce, but rather re-presents the one and same sacriﬁce on the Cross. In such a way, the priest does not re-sacriﬁce Christ. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this clearly:
“The redemptive sacriﬁce of Christ is unique, accomplished once for all; yet it is made present in the Eucharistic sacriﬁce of the Church. The same is true of the one priesthood of Christ; it is made present through the ministerial priesthood without diminishing the uniqueness of Christ’s priesthood: ‘Only Christ is the true priest, the others being only his ministers’” (art. 1545).
Some commentators believe that this passage, along with its parallels in Matthew 24 and Luke 21 as demonstrating Jesus’s confusion about the end of time. “I assure you that this generation shall not pass away until all these things take place.” Some argue that Jesus was here indicating that the end of the world would come soon, even though that did not actually happen, which proves that Jesus did not fully understand when the world would end. This interpretation, however, ignores the internal evidence of the text. Chapter 13 begins with the disciples and Jesus discussing the destruction of the Temple (not the world), and the disciples ask when this destruction will occur. Jesus replies that it will occur within a generation; at this time, a “generation” was thought to be forty years. This was the length of time, for example, that it took for the “generation”, which had deﬁed Yahweh in the exodus from Egypt, to die oﬀ before Israel could enter into the Promised Land. So Jesus was suggesting that within forty years of that time (roughly 30 A.D.) the Temple would be destroyed. And indeed, the destruction of the Temple did occur in 70 A.D.
Why then does Jesus speak of the sun and moon being darkened and the stars falling from the sky? One commentator suggests that, since the Jewish people (as did all ancient people) identiﬁed the heavenly bodies as the governors of time (see Gen 1:14-19), such calamities in the heavens would suggest an end of an age. Unusual astronomical occurrences may have accompanied the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but there is probably a symbolic signiﬁcance to Jesus’s words here as well. Even though Jesus did not come in judgment at the destruction of the Temple, did this mean that he was not predicting the end of the world in Mark 13?
Well, not quite. For the Jews, the Temple and Jerusalem were understood to be symbols of God’s whole creation. The early Church absorbed this understanding and saw in the events of the period we’ve been discussing the end of one world and the beginning of a new world, the Christian world or age. We still divide time into two ages: “B.C.” and “A.D.,” which mean, “Before Christ” and “Anno Domini” (“The Year of the Lord”). And so, when the Church looks ahead to the return of Christ at His Second Coming, she believes that the events of that time will parallel the events of 70 A.D. Just as the old world passed away with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple=, the whole world will pass away at some future time, the day and the hour of which remain unknown to all but God.
Reflections reprinted here with permission from Augustine Institute.