I knew one of my Hillsdale professors didn’t take himself as seriously as he let on when he insisted that Monty Python is indispensable for looking at history. Amidst all the claptrap about prophecies of apocalypse and collapse, this clip from Life of Brian comes to mind:
Most folks leaning towards the conservative side of religion and/or politics know people with some degree of obsession about the “end times.” I have seen this crop up in a few forms, from the stockpiling of food, the looming one-world government, the predictions of devastating earthquakes on [insert MM/DD/YYYY here], to the hoarding of precious metals. I couldn’t help but laugh (quietly) when, a few days after a friend purchased $3500 worth of silver, the silver price dropped significantly.
While we can thank the Left Behind® brand of Christianity for much of the modern-day fuss, the ideas are older than that and are by no means confined to the descendants of Luther, Calvin, et al. On more than one occasion I’ve been forwarded an email or handed something from a fellow Catholic about the 5th part of the 3rd secret of Fatima, some prediction from Medjugorje, or somesuch, warning us the end draweth nigh. Recently Mark Shea highlighted just this sort of hullabaloo from the website “Spirit Daily.” Insanity is ecumenical.
Not to be deterred, some remind us they mocked Noah while he built the ark. True enough. But they scoffed because they didn’t believe an end would come. The Christian knows the days of his life and this world are numbered, and lives accordingly. How? Not by building an ark or, as one friend remarked, by “stockpiling all things Ted Nugent,” but by living today.
Never mind that if the social order collapses, precious metals won’t be so precious anymore because there won’t be any food or fuel for which to trade them. Never mind that if you’re going to stockpile food you’d better stockpile a small army along with it, because that’s what you’ll need to prevent marauders from plundering you in the absence of law and order.
Usually I have to defend myself when I ruffle my brow upon seeing or hearing Catholic end-times stuff. Admittedly, there’s a very real temptation to look around at the sorry mess we have made and believe that the end is near. “The world is thus,” remarked the colonial official Hontar about the necessity of massacring South American Indians in Roland Joffe’s ‘The Mission.’ “No,” said Cardinal Altamirano, “thus have we made the world.” At times, I too am inclined to believe all is lost. But when asked why I don’t ultimately buy into the doomspeak, my answer is simple: I have neither the time nor the energy.
It takes all the time and energy I have, and more, to focus on today—on doing my job well, on fulfilling my responsibilities to my family and community, on preparing to be the husband and father I am called to be, on praying, reading, and writing. In short, it takes all the time and energy I have, and more, to focus on living the Gospel in all aspects of my life here and now. At the end of most days, I collapse exhausted and filled with the knowledge of my shortcomings in these endeavors. I see where I could and should have done more to empty myself for the sake of the Kingdom today. I simply don’t have the time or energy to worry about the innumerable catastrophes that could befall civilization tomorrow or the next day. But that’s just fine, because my Redeemer and my Church make it clear doing so would be fruitless.
Just as God became man in a specific time, place, and set of circumstances, so each of us is called to live the Gospel in a specific time, place, and set of circumstances. Each of us has our small corner of the vineyard, our place on the battle lines in the war between light and darkness. The Christian obsession with the end times is another example of the madness that ensues when Scripture is severed from the authority to interpret it and the Sacred Tradition that established its canon. Yet the restless among us continue to cherry pick verses and weave them through current events to show the end is tomorrow, or not much farther.
This is not to say the end of the world won’t come tomorrow. It could be tomorrow or 500 years from now. I haven’t the first clue, and neither does anyone else living on this planet today. I do know that to the Hebrew watching Roman soldiers sack Jerusalem in the first century, to the European peasant suffering the horrors of the Black Death, to the Jew being loaded onto a train bound for Auschwitz, or to the Sudanese Christian being hacked to death with a machete, the world as they knew it was ending. It would have been difficult for them to imagine something worse.
Every era has its horrors, atrocities, scandals, and apostasies, and every era has its share of folks who point to such things as indicative of the end. Ours may be unique by virtue of the scales allowed by modern technology, but perhaps the real curse of our time is the idleness afforded by abundance—idleness people fill with pointless speculation, fretting, and fear mongering about tomorrow when they should instead be living to their utmost today.
Mark Shea summed it up well:
“Musings” about “prophecies” like the stuff on Spirit Daily have one concrete, real world effect: they fill people with fear and suffuse their lives with a sense of helplessness against overwhelming evil while teaching them to become passive about obedience to Christ and active about obedience to quack prophets. That is not from the Spirit of Christ. Reject it, listen to Holy Church and not fear-mongering quacks, and get going, doing the work of the gospel.
Exactly. Our battle is today. Our place on the line is here. Hold the line today, and let tomorrow bring what it may. As Eliot said, “the rest is not our business.”
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