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The enduring attraction of the End Times

The best advice has always been Jesus’: “Watch therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come” (Mt 24.42).

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As I stood in line waiting to go to confession recently (yes, I still do that), a man who’d lately exited the confessional approached me and in a confidential tone of voice said, “I’m beginning to believe we are in the End Times. Do you think that might be true?”

This is not a question I get asked every day. “I guess there’s some evidence for it,” I said. “Anyway, we’ll all find out soon enough.” I might have added, but it didn’t occur to me just then, “In a sense, we’re always in the End Times, and I suppose we always will be.”

There’s a lot of interest today in the End Times—the appearance of the Antichrist, the Second Coming of Christ, the Last Judgment, the end of the world, the inauguration of a “new heaven and new earth,” and associated events. As you might expect, a casual check of the internet shows many sites dealing with the subject. I chose one at random, and the first thing I saw was the flat-out statement, “There can be no doubt that we are living in the last days.”

Reading that, I wondered how the writer could be so certain. After all, Jesus in the gospel tells his disciples when they’re fretting about these things, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven” (Mt 24. 36). It must be pretty gratifying to have the inside scoop on something not even the angels know.

Make no mistake, interest in the End Times is hardly knew. It is sometimes associated with millenarianism (or millenarism, if you prefer), which concentrates on thousand-year intervals. Think of the hubbub that accompanied the run-up to the year 2000, as well as the disappointment in some circles that the world didn’t end as they’d apparently been expecting when the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.

Historically, the End Times have had their share of prophets. One notable figure was a Baptist preacher named William Miller who, based on his study of the Bible, predicted that the Second Coming was going to arrive in 1844. The time came and went, and the Second Coming failed to occur. Some of Miller’s followers morphed into the Seventh Day Adventists, who retain the original interest in the Second Coming but set no specific date for it.

The End Times also appear now and then in literary sources. A notable instance of that is Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 apocalyptic novel Lord of the World, which is a favorite with Pope Francis. The story, set in a dystopian world of the not so distant future and featuring an Antichrist figure, makes disturbing reading. This is the only novel I know of in which, at the conclusion, everything really does come to an end. [Editor’s note: For more on Benson’s writing, see the July 2015 CWR essay "The Fiction of Robert Hugh Benson”.]

Most of the speculation about the End Times is accompanied by a certain amount of fear and trembling, and up to a point there’s nothing wrong with that. But the Catechism of the Catholic Church also offers the consoling thought that the Last Judgment will show “that God’s love triumphs over all the injustices committed by his creatures and that God’s love is stronger than death” (CCC 1040).

As for getting ready for the great event, the best advice has always been Jesus’: “Watch therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come” (Mt 24.42). Which, truth to tell, is one reason I was standing in that confession line.

About Russell Shaw 169 Articles
Russell Shaw was secretary for public affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference from 1969 to 1987. He is the author of 20 books, including Nothing to Hide and the highly acclaimed American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America.

3 Comments

  1. Jesus declared, the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church. He also said, he would send the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has given much revelation to the Church. During the time of St. Malachy, the pope of that time did not believe that the Church would continue on because of the difficulties of that time. Yet, St. Malachy was given visions of all the Popes that would continue for centuries. Interestingly, this pope is the last on the list. St. Malachy states: “In extreme persecution, the seat of the Holy Roman Church, will be occupied by ‘Peter the Roman’, who will feed the sheep through many tribulations, at the term of which the city of seven-hills (Rome) will be destroyed and the formidable Judge will judge the people. The End.” Is this Pope Francis? It seems so. A judgment will take place in the 2030s but is not the end.
    We live in a spiritual storm that is growing with intensity. We are in a battle. Pope John Paul II had visions of the future, while convalescing after an attempt on his life and was aware of a great storm on the horizon: “Precisely at the end of the second millennium, there accumulates on the horizon of all mankind enormously threatening clouds, and darkness falls upon mankind.” An awakening is coming!! Pope John Paul talked about the Lamb (Jesus Christ), who is the only one able to open up the seven seals: “That scroll contains the whole series of divine decrees that must be accomplished in human history to make perfect justice prevail. If the scroll remains sealed, these decrees can be neither known nor implemented, and wickedness will continue to spread and oppress believers. Hence, the need for authoritative intervention: it would be made by the slain and risen Lamb…to take the scroll and to open its seals.”
    According to Catholic prophecies, this 5th Church age is “coming to a close”, after 10 events unfold that Mary, Mother of Jesus has predicted at some major apparition sites throughout the world. This information also comes from canonized saint’s prophecies. A 6th Church age of peace will come, the Triumph of her Immaculate Heart and there will be more Popes. There are 7 ages for the Church.
    A book and web site called, After The Warning To 2038, has prophecies from credible sources that are predicting these kinds of events.

  2. Vigilance rightly advised by author Russell Shaw since we know not the inevitable time when we meet the Eternal Judge. Standing on its own a requisite value. Does the time call for further vigilance? As priest and Sentinel for the faithful my contention is yes. The reason is urgency. The present time is exceptional in Church history for reason all except the somnolent are aware. Never has the entire body of Christ’s revelation the Apostolic Tradition been subject to revision, a new paradigmatic change initiated by a Roman Pontiff. Not by Magisterial pronouncement rather by suggestion nevertheless taking hold universally evident in change of practice of the faith tolerated and encouraged from The Chair of Peter [The Lawless one will seat himself in the Sanctuary 2 Thess 2]. Most Hierarchy, clergy the somnolent are disarmed precisely due to the historical submission owed the Pontiff. Counter to that is the alarm of credentialed prelates Cardinal Burke, former Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop Eijk [Utrecht], Cardinal Brandmuller, Archbishop Vigano credentialed Laity Josef Seifert, Roberto de Mattei. Historical scriptural context places End Times post The Great Apostasy, which can be argued from Shaw’s American Church. Here practice down from approx 75% to 35% globally particularly Europe dramatically lower except Africa. A Remnant Church faithful to tradition remains. The victory nonetheless will not be that of Church triumphant over the Satanic. Rather the victorious reentry into our world of Christ. Urgency for the Catholic priesthood involves the possible sudden and universal judgment of Mankind. Few seem prepared. Whether these are End Times will be determined by God. My mission in any event as that of all clergy is to teach the faith, address error, identify truth with greater sense of urgency.

  3. I believe people want the world to end because these are terrible times. Look at how people live. Divorce rates are high. Suicide rate is high. People are in despair. There’s a comfort in knowing that one day this will end and that we could, assuming heaven is the destination, be with God with the angels, saints, Jesus and Mary. Who wouldn’t want that?

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