The End Times and Hope

There is only one thing more terrifying than the Mass readings we have as the end of the liturgical year draws near, and that is the people who claim to be able to understand and interpret them. Every generation tends to see signs of the approaching end. Calamity follows calamity, and we are plunged further and further into gloom and despondency. Of course, that is not the case for all. Our present political difficulties seem to be encouraging some to hope for high office for themselves, and I daresay some entrepreneurs are continuing to make money out of what others experience as disasters; but for most of us, there is a recognition that we are entering into a kind of darkness where old certainties are less assured. Our interior landscape mirrors the exterior, and it can be bleak.

It is at such times that the virtue of hope is both most necessary and perhaps most difficult to practise. We try will-power, with little success; we lecture ourselves (or even worse, someone else lectures us); then we grit our teeth and  just soldier on. There is something to be said for simply doing our best and accepting that it isn’t perfect. Hope is what I call a cinderella virtue. We tend not to notice it until we need it, but when we do , how hope can transform a situation!

Most of us have something we are hoping for. Some of our hopes are slightly absurd — wanting great wealth to fall into our laps, for example — others are more modest — being able to cope with illness or a practical problem, for instance — but, whatever we hope for, we know that wishing alone won’t make things happen. We have to pray and work. This morning as we listen to the words of the gospel (Mark 13.24–32), let us keep our hopes high and prepare for the end times with confidence in our Saviour Jesus Christ. There is no other way.

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Elijah and Extra-Terrestrials

The feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, which we celebrate today, set me thinking about Elijah, that strange and mysterious prophet whose story dominates the latter part of 1 Kings and the beginning of II Kings. Some sci-fi enthusiasts believe that Elijah was an extra-terrestrial, someone who visited earth from another universe. One can see why: he appears from nowhere, without introduction or ancestry, just like Melchizedek. He challenges the accepted order, works miracles and disappears in a chariot drawn by fiery horses. No wonder he has become associated with the end times. In both Jewish and Christian tradition, he holds an important place as harbinger of a new order.

On any other occasion I’d love to explore some of the themes associated with his name. This morning, however, my eye was caught by some speculation about the existence of life, perhaps even intelligent life, outside our own planet. What interests me is not principally whether such life exists (we’ll find out one day) but the enthusiasm many have for trying to make contact with it. I would have thought that the experience of a few thousand years of human history might make us more cautious. Can we assume that if life exists ‘out there’, it is beneficent? Are we so confident in our own powers that we believe we have nothing to fear and everything to gain? Might we not end up being exploited or enslaved, as human beings have exploited and enslaved their fellows at various times?

The enthusiasm for making contact is evidence of an irrepressible urge to explore the unknown, and I have to applaud the optimism and goodwill it suggests even if I sometimes wonder if it isn’t also a trifle naive. But I can’t forget Elijah, not this morning, anyway. He was not a comfortable man, happy with the status quo. The theophany he experienced on Mount Horeb changed him and made him an agent of change in Israel. Might not our extra-terrestrial be just as likely to upset our accustomed order, and would we really welcome the change?

Note for the literal-minded
The above is a little jeu d’esprit for a dismal Monday. 🙂 Please don’t forget to pray for all Carmelites today.

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