Waiting For the World to End

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

This well-worn truism, keystone of so many commencement speeches this time of year, made its way into my meditations on Sunday, May 22 this year. Not that I’d actually expected the Rapture to happen the day before – Catholic theology has never dwelt too much on the end-times. We believe that someday everything will end, that we’ll all be called upon to give an accounting of our lives on this Earth, and that we won’t have any way of knowing when it might happen so there’s no point in worrying about it.

But apocalyptic predictions have a way of exciting the public imagination. In times like these, trusted institutions crumbling, society coming apart at the seams, our world broken beyond repair, it’s tempting to imagine a Great Cosmic Reset Button. It’s easier, more comforting, to believe that this world will be swept away and something better will magically take its place. It’s a spiritual death, really, a walking suicide.

“We’re waiting for the world to change,” says one recent popular song. It’s always irked me, that song and its attempt to put a positive spin on a defeatist attitude. As we wait for the world to change, or for a Deus ex machina to change it for us, our God-given talents lie buried in the ground. If we can’t be trusted to look after this world, can we really expect to be entrusted to the next? At the very least, maybe we can try and tidy up some before He gets here.

Looking ahead in our liturgical calendar, toward the end of the Easter season, I’m struck by the readings for the upcoming commemoration of Christ’s Ascension into Heaven (June second). As the Apostles stand in awe, staring at where they’d seen their friend and Lord disappear into the clouds, they are admonished by two angels; “Why are you standing around staring into the sky? Don’t you know he’s coming back?” It reminds me of that old bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming. Look busy.” It isn’t as though there’s any shortage of work to be done.

If anything, there’s too much work to be done. It might seem overwhelming, but that’s when I like to turn to a reflection attributed to the late Archbishop Romero. No one, it tells us, can do everything, but everyone can do something. And only then, through hundreds of thousands of somethings over the course of time, the work gets done. Changing the world is like planting a tree – we plant today what we will never see the fruits of, and future generations will carry on the work we started. Just as we cultivate what previous generations have planted. This wider perspective gives us the freedom – but also the responsibility – to do what we can.

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