Jesus said to his disciples:
"In those days, after that tribulation,
the sun will be darkened,
the moon will not give its light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavens will be shaken.

"And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds'
with great power and glory,
and he will send out the angels,
gathering his elect from the four winds,
from the ends of the earth to the ends of the sky.

"Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
When its branches become tender and sprout leaves,
you know that summer draws near.
In the same way, when you see these things,
know that he is near, at the gates."
MK 13: 24-32

The Apocalyptic imagery is terrifying -- and perhaps even more so to a contemporary audience than it would have been to Jesus' audience. While Jesus' followers may have experienced first-hand or at least heard about earthquakes and other natural disasters, humanity has now witnessed the terrible damage that weaponry can inflict on vast population centers. After the decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, we can never take life for granted again. At 10-20 kilotons, the innocuously named bombs -- "Little Boy" and "Fat Man"-- caused unprecedented damage and casualties, yet today nuclear warheads are vastly more powerful (some ranging in megatons of power). One atomic bomb would cause catastrophic results; a nuclear war in which multiple bombs are fired would most likely destroy civilization. What makes this even more alarming is that all it would take is one false alarm for someone to press the button that launches inter-continental ballistic nuclear warheads; also, if terrorist groups were to gain access to nuclear technology, there is no telling what the consequences would be.

In addition to our well-justified nuclear insecurity, we are witnessing one environmental catastrophe after another, along with a mind-boggling array of natural disasters ranging from floods to fires, from tornadoes to hurricanes, from mudslides to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Then, of course, there is conventional warfare which brings blood and destruction upon the nations. For one reason or another, then, whole populations are being displaced; caravans of misery move from one border to the next in search of safety and a better life. And no one is exempt -- disaster does not distinguish between the poor and the wealthy, the educated and the illiterate, the white and the brown. In a world at risk, life is tentative for everyone, celebrities and billionaires included.

In spite of all the terror, uncertainty and threats to existence itself, the biblical message is consistent: "Do not be afraid!" As Christians, we believe that God holds the power and the glory and that Divine Might is greater than any weapon or force of nature. We are not meant to be a "Doomsday People" but a People of Faith who continue striving to change the world for the better and to pour ourselves out for the sake of God's Kingdom. Nothing can happen without God's permission; nothing can make Death the end of the story. Even if the worst were to happen, we know that God does indeed hold the world and that not one sparrow can be lost without God allowing this to happen. Instead of building bunkers or hiding under the blankets, we need to assess what the world needs and how we can best respond. Through faith and action, we can make a difference, whether this involves volunteering at a shelter, sending donations to disaster-stricken areas or bringing about much-needed legislative changes. We need to give, to love, to march, to speak out, and to demand a better world from our leaders. We need to listen to the call of the Holy Spirit and see what each of us can contribute. Yes, the world is indeed groaning, but let this be the groaning of a new creation about to come to birth rather than the groans of death and destruction (Rom 8:22-27).

  1. What fears do today's readings awaken in you?
  2. When you think about the end of the world, what images come to mind?
  3. Are there any words of comfort in today's readings?
  4. How does your faith help you move beyond fear?