Hurricanes, earthquakes, terrorist threats, mass shootings – if you watch the news these days you could be tempted to go hide under the bed. These events bring on talk of the end times that we are warned about in the New Testament. The apostles expected Jesus to return at any moment, though He told them they “would not know the day nor the hour.” We don’t know it either, and every generation has seen it coming. Still, there’s no doubt that the events we’re experiencing today can bring on anxiety. So what do today’s theologians have to say?
“We’re definitely facing some ‘apocalyptic’ problems right now: the prospects of nuclear war, genetic manipulation and a breakdown of family life,” says Dr. Jared Staudt, PhD, the Catechetical Formation Specialist for the Archdiocese of Denver. “We can’t say for sure that we are facing the end times, but we are at least seeing a foreshadowing of those challenges.”
St. John Paul II also felt change coming, and said in a speech in 1976, “We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the Antichrist.”
Talk like that can bring on a sense of helplessness and even a temptation to despair, but that’s where faith comes in, because St. John Paul also famously said, “Be not afraid.” In the same address, he pointed out, “The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s plan.” Meaning God has us in the palm of his hand. He will take care of us.
“For Christians, the coming of Christ is not something to fear, but to expect with hope,” Staudt adds, pointing out that a central prayer for the early Christians was ‘Maranatha,’ meaning ‘Come Lord!’ As Christians, we do have to expect suffering and persecution. I say that so that we don’t despair when we face them. Jesus has promised to be with us and to give us His comfort and joy even in the midst of trials.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church also talks of the end times in a spirit of hope:
In the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God through Christ’s return.88 But, far from distracting the Church from her mission in this present world, this desire commits her to it all the more strongly. Since Pentecost, the coming of that Reign is the work of the Spirit of the Lord who “complete[s] his work on earth and brings us the fullness of grace.”89“The kingdom of God [is] righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”90 The end-time in which we live is the age of the outpouring of the Spirit.
And that’s the key. Without the end times there can be no Second Coming, there can be no “new heaven and a new earth.” We can find comfort in the very prayer that Jesus taught us. While we don’t know when, we do accept with faith that He will come again, He promised it, and we should mean it when we say, “Thy kingdom come.”