PERFECTION THROUGH DESTRUCTION OR TRANSFORMATION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rev 14:14-19; LK 21:5-11 ]
At some point in our life, we cannot but ask the question about the end of our life on earth and creation as a whole. This is an inevitable question. As we come to the end of the liturgical year, the Church, in preparing us for the new liturgical year and new calendar year, journeys with us by inviting us to reflect on the end of life and the end of time.
Unfortunately, there are no clear answers with regard to the when and how of the end. Nevertheless, the what of the end is certain. We know that the world would be transformed and renewed. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.'” (Rev 21:1, 3-4) What our faith holds is that God will dwell in us, and there will be peace, joy, love and freedom from all pain.
In other words, the final outcome of creation is that God will establish His kingdom on earth forever. This is what the responsorial psalm declars, “The Lord comes to rule the earth. Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’ The world he made firm in its place; he will judge the peoples in fairness. Let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy at the presence of the Lord he comes, he comes to rule the earth. With justice he will rule the world; he will judge the peoples with his truth.” It will be a kingdom of justice, love and compassion.
When will it come? The disciples asked the Lord, “Master, when will this happen, then, and what sign will there be that this is about to take place?” At the harvest time when the grapes are ripe. “Put your sickle in and reap: harvest time has come and the harvest of the earth is ripe.” In other words, when the Lord determines that it is the time for Him to gather us all back into His kingdom. “Then the one sitting on the cloud set his sickle to work on the earth, and the earth’s harvest was reaped.” When is this time? No one knows. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24:36) God will determine when He will bring creation to its completion.
Does it mean the world would be transformed or destroyed when the time comes? There are two views with respect to how the world would be renewed. The apocalyptic view of this earth is that this age is so evil and rotten that what is needed is not just a renewal but a total destruction so that a new earth and heaven could come. This is the view of the prophet Joel. “Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near – a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! The earth quakes before them, the heavens tremble. The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining.” (Joel 2:2, 10) Jesus seems to hold this view as well. “All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.”
But this may not necessarily be so. It is more probable that Jesus holds a stronger inclination towards the prophetic view of the end of the world. When Jesus spoke of the destruction of the Temple, it was in reference to the fact that the Temple would be destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. It was not a reference to the end of the world.
On the contrary, He made it clear that the end is not so soon. “And when you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened, for this is something that must happen but the end is not so soon. Nation will fight against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes and plagues and famines here and there, there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven.” This is the prophetic understanding of the end of time. This world would be gradually transformed through the inner dynamics of the working of history, wars, revolutions, diseases, natural disasters. Humanity through such struggles will be purified in love and compassion eventually. This is the hope of Isaiah when he prophesied a new heaven and a new earth. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isa 65:17) This new heaven and earth is not another world but a world transformed when we will live a long life, there will be plenty, and even animals will live in peace together. (cf Isa 65:17-25)
Both views are acceptable and can be accommodated. Yet which view we adopt will considerably affect the way we look at life. Those who adopt the apocalyptic view will see life on this earth with a pessimistic outlook because this world is such a cruel, harsh and evil world that nothing can help to make it better. It awaits total annihilation because of man’s selfishness and sins. This is how some people view the world; that creation will destroy itself either because of the destruction of ecology or the use of nuclear arms. Those who hold such a view have a negative understanding of life. It leads to resignation and hopelessness.
The prophetic view is more hopeful; that in spite of the evils of this world, the grace of God is working imperceptibly towards gradual transformation until the whole world is established under His rule. Jesus speaks of this grace of gradual transformation in the parable of the Sower (cf Mt 13:1-9), the parable of the Mustard Seed (cf Mt 13:31-32), and the parable of the Growing Seed (cf. Mk 4:26-29). So the kingdom of God begins in small ways and through interaction with the world and society, the kingdom will grow. Good and evil coexist as they help each other to be purified and grow in grace. This is what the parable of the Weeds among the wheat is about. (cf Mt 13:24-30)
This will continue until, as St Paul wrote, when God establishes His kingdom over all “so that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28) “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.'” (1 Cor 15:24-27)
The answer will lie in between when we speak of the next life. There will be continuity within discontinuity. There is a link between this present life and the next. Yet it will be something also very new and transformed. A good analogy is the resurrected body. When Christ appeared after His resurrection, His body was so transfigured that only those with faith could perceive and identify Him. His body also transcended time and space. So the resurrection gives us a clue to what and how the earth will also be transformed. But just as we are not exactly clear what the resurrected body is, so too we are not certain of the real nature of its transformation. Mary’s assumption is also for us another clue to what the next life is like. Like Mary, we will fall asleep and rise to a new life.
The Church holds both views together. “We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, with death overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility. Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.” Gaudium et spes, 39.1) So what is more important is that we grow in virtue each day. “For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father.” (GS 39.4)
So this earth is the place of our transformation in grace and love. We are asking that God rules in our hearts. As to the physical outcome of creation, it is beyond human imagination. All we know is that there is a continuity and yet a discontinuity. “Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gains the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.” (GS 39.2) Consequently, “while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ’s kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God” (GS 38), we must therefore work towards the establishment of God’s kingdom, “‘a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.’ On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.” (GS 39.4)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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