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Evangelization and signs of the end times

The Church exists at the heart of the human community. And one of the most important roles the Church plays in society is that of pointing beyond society, beyond the present day and the circumstances of our own time.

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“The end is near!” Our mental picture of a typical street evangelist often consists of a person standing in some public square and holding a sign with these words written on it.

In society’s rush to make fun of such a person, one awkward but critical fact is often forgotten: the end is near.

It is easy to live in denial of the truth that the world will end, and that it could happen at any moment. But our denial does not change the fact that it will end and that it could happen at any moment. As we approach the end of the Church’s liturgical year, we focus on the end of time and the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus. This focus continues during the first part of the Season of Advent, which begins a new liturgical year.

We need this period of sharpened focus on the end of time, precisely because we are strongly tempted to forget it. At a time of God’s choosing, all of history will come to its definitive conclusion. It will be, to quote the alternative rock band R.E.M., “the end of the world as we know it.”

To cite a more authoritative source, we profess every Sunday at Mass that Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Just as each of our individual lives end in death, so will it be for our whole world. And we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Jesus goes into detail about the end times and makes references to his Second Coming repeatedly throughout the Gospels. And the other books of the New Testament, not to mention significant references in the Old Testament, deepen our understanding of the end times and heighten our sense of urgency about preparing for the end.

I would like to make a connection here to the Church, and particularly to our parishes. Our parishes, among many other ways we could describe them, are what we might call “end times churches.” Such a name probably makes us think of cults, and we might rightly object that Catholics are not cult members! At least, we are not members of that kind of cult.

Nevertheless, “cult” is at the heart of “culture,” both linguistically and in its essence. The Church exists at the heart of the human community. And one of the most important roles the Church plays in society is that of pointing beyond society, beyond the present day and the circumstances of our own time.

The Church is an “end times community” because she is a living sign that this world is not the ultimate reality. To put it bluntly, there is more to life than smartphones and foodie culture (note: I have a smartphone and enjoy foodie culture). There is more to life than making money or who won the latest elections. There is another world, a greater world, to come. And the wall standing between this world and that one will eventually and definitively fall down.

Even now, there are chinks in the wall, through which the light of the world to come is already breaking through. And it is in the Church, especially, that these chinks in the wall exist.

What is true of the whole Church is true, in microcosm, of the parish. Each of our parishes is a sign to our local communities that our true citizenship is in heaven, as St. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20. We do not live for this world. And God wants all people to join us in living for heaven.

Remember these words from Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5:14-16) as we consider the mission of our parishes:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Each of our parishes shines with the light of heaven. We may think of them as ordinary places, filled with ordinary people, and in certain respects they are. But the presence of Jesus in our parishes and in all of us causes them and us to shine brightly in a world very much darkened by sin.

Here are five ways our parishes shine with the light of heaven, and thereby unleash the Gospel in the wider society:

(1) Community: At a time when many people are feeling isolated and losing both their sense of belonging and of the meaning of their lives, our parishes offer genuine community, as well as a deep sense of purpose and meaning. And we build community (or, rather, God builds our communities) through a unique combination of prayer, shared ritual practices, the observance of various feasts and seasons, and formational and social events for people of all ages and walks of life. Even on a merely human level, there is no other group that offers exactly what a Catholic parish offers.

(2) Conversions: While we are often preoccupied with the number of people abandoning the Church, we also have tens of thousands of adults who choose to be baptized or to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church each year in the United States. Each of our parishes has some share in this great blessing of new Catholics. Those who enter the Church give clear witness to the truth that this world is not enough. They bear witness to the truth of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council that Jesus Christ is the answer to which every human life is the question.

(3) Prayer: In a world of nearly constant noise and distraction, our parishes are sanctuaries of prayer. Particularly, when parish churches are open for prayer at various times during the day or night, people come to see the value of having a place to stop and spend time in quiet contemplation of God and their relationship with him. Plus, the presence of our parishes reminds our neighbors of our commitment to the Lord, that he is the center of our lives and that we happily dedicate our time, energy, and other resources to him and his Church.

(4) Truth, Goodness, and Beauty: These three “transcendentals” are present at each of our parishes, and are clear signs of the Kingdom of God in a world that has often substituted opinion or feelings for truth, convenience and pleasure for goodness, and efficiency and comfort for beauty. The New Evangelization presents us with a great opportunity to review what our parishes do well and what we need to improve on in showing people the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel. Do we share the teaching of Jesus and his Church without distortion, passing our Catholic faith on to a new generation of disciples? Do we show Christ’s love to all in need, with self-sacrificial generosity? And do our church buildings and grounds, our music and other elements of the Sacred Liturgy bear witness to the perfect beauty of heaven?

(5) The Eucharist: If there is one thing people know about the Catholic Church, it is that she is a “Church of the Eucharist.” Pope St. John Paul II used exactly this description of the Church for the title of his 2003 encyclical letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. The Holy Eucharist, as the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council teach us, is the “source and summit” of the Christian life and is more specifically the source and summit of evangelization. Catholics and non-Catholics alike know that the heart of any parish’s life is the celebration of Sunday Mass. At no time and in no place does the light of heaven shine more brightly as during Holy Mass. At no time and in no way are we more powerfully made like Christ and prepared for life in the world to come. By centering our lives on the Eucharistic Lord Jesus, we show our neighbors that we have a treasure and a destiny that are not of this world, and many converts to the Catholic faith have testified that it was the Eucharist, more than anything else, that attracted them to the Church.

It is often said that “life’s a journey, not a destination.” One of the keys to effective evangelization is helping people to see that life is a journey with a destination. God calls us to make this journey together, as pilgrims making our way through the joys and challenges of this world to the home he has prepared for us from the foundation of the world.


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About Fr. Charles Fox 48 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren, MI.

10 Comments

  1. The Second Vatican Council is mentioned here in a positive way. Was it not the very Council Fathers themselves the ones that destroyed all the good things said here. The article speaks of many conversions to the Catholic faith, I was reading that the converts are flocking to the Tridentine Mass. They say that is the Church they want. One day the world will end, I look at the end of the world as when my death comes. I need to think more about the actual final day when Christ comes again and we will all be judged in the presence of every Angel and human beings. All our sinful thoughts words and actions will be revealed. That’s scary!

  2. Andrew, how long since you been to Confession?
    The Catholic Church existed for 500 years till, it put the Bible together.. To that it was only 500 years back that the Printing press was available to make Bibles that people could, Dance a jig holding the Bible, profess all knowing what the Bible Says, and then tell’em to pass the plate.
    United in General Council, or through the Pope, proclaims a doctrine or morals, the Church teaches infallibly.

    • Lyle, Confession has the rule of secrecy and that includes when I went or didn’t go to confession. What sin are you accusing me of? The scriptures always existed, it wasn’t until around the year 300 that the Pope ordered that the sacred texts be canonically set. 3 categories, Inspired by the Holy Ghost, May have been inspired by the Holy Ghost, Definitely NOT inspired by the Holy Ghost. There are stacks of texts that are not included in sacred scripture. The sacred scriptures is the Word of God, not to be tampered with. Everything in scripture is mystical, so we must follow how the Holy Roman Catholic Church interprets it. The collection plate has nothing to do with it. Now on the Council, the Church said from the beginning that the Second Vatican Council was not meant to be a Dogmatic Council and yet Modernists went running around proclaiming it the super dogma of the Church. They contradicted everything it said with their own lies. Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre was a super intelligent treasure of the Church. He was demonized and now the experts such as Cardinals and Bishops are saying Lefevre was right all along. The Council texts do in fact contain heresies against the Church. But no one would listen to him as they were caught up in destroying the Church, they wouldn’t listen to what he was saying. Only now it is being recognized that it was not an infallible Council. We are living in the days of “The great apostacy”. The Council really seems to have been the beginning of that great apostasy.

  3. Claiming this to be, “End Times” is an evil, mortal sin.
    The USA has sold itself, its people, out…
    For in greed, they have waged wars of crimes against humanity, inciting starvation, pilfering of resources, extermination of women, children, and destroying nations, around the world. At a cost of our own children now suffer gravely in the fallout of being enticed to exterminate other humans in the most brutal and inhuman actions, that rages on today. Today the United States is a country of a minute few control the wealth. Yet the poor, in majority mere wage and debt slaves. A mass of debt and wage slaves, holding a significant amount of the nations debt on their shoulders, in their every day existence. The rick hoard the wealth, the poor work for an existence, yet denied by the political and religious leaders. With many acclaimed religious promoting the wars on the worlds poor, themselves, an insanity of mind.
    A repeat of the Roman Empire, in Human life has no value, and that directly focuses to the issue, of Children, unwanted. Families can no longer, afford to have children in the USA, as the Roman empire came to be.
    Its not the end times, but rather a nation that needs to face a repenting of its sins, and face the reality of the WRATH of God…. Turn way from bigotry, hate, revenge, to our Catholic Brothers and Sisters, most directly in Mexico who are suffering gravely. Suffering due to the USA children addiction, path of doom in consuming Drugs, to escape the futility of existence in a nation morally, ethically, and financially, bankrupt.
    Turn away from the immorality, the failure of denial of a nations greatest asset, is the Children. Yet the USA an entire generation has spread misery and discontent to the World, and reaps what it sows..
    Easier for a Camel to pass through the eye of needle, than a wealthy person to pass through the gates of heaven.
    The Catholic faith spread from the Germanic region, to the World. Because, the German region, values Education. The loss of value to education, will doom the USA for ages to come.

    The Catholic church, is the Mass, the Sacraments, the key, the essentials to salvation, the Bible, the Gospel is the Spirit.. Salvation is in the Sacraments, the Spirit of which is essential for salvation, the Catholic Church.

    All need to recognize, the Sacraments, existed for near five hundred years, as the Sacrifice of the Mass, before the Church, put the Bible together.. To exclude the Sacraments, is to eliminate the Church.

    • Claiming this to be, “End Times” is an evil, mortal sin.

      Un, no. And especially not in the way that Fr. Fox writes here. The end times and last days commenced with the Incarnation: “…but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Heb 1:2). That’s Catholicism 101. For more, see my article “Are We Living in the Last Days?”

    • Lyle, I agree on almost everything you say, it is the truth and the world must stand up and take a good look at it.

      Claiming this to be the “End times” is not a mortal sin, it is not a sin at all. How could you say that? From the beginning the Apostles and the faithful believed it was the “End Times”. Jesus had told them that before they die they would see His return. The early Catholics were awaiting the second coming of Christ at any moment which would be the end of the world. I believe that at any point in history Catholics could proclaim the end times were near. We don’t know when the end of the world will come, it could come right now. Jesus told St. Sister Faustina that we were living in the end times. Now this has become a great mystery to me. I now recognize that the term the “End Times” is a form of mystical words, with a mystical reality. Since the days of the Apostles the end times was being proclaimed.

  4. Just read Carl’s article “Are we living in the last days?” (see his above comment for the link).
    It clarifies all the issues and is strongly recommended. It especially shows what the Church teaches, what it rejects and what is left open to reasonable interpretation.

  5. If Jesus does not return he may not have to. According to scientists the world has been in decline because of human activity causing global warming. They estimate that if we do not reduce pollution and carbon emissions on our finite and population stressed planet by 2020 we will have a largely uninhabitable God given world. That is scary for sure. How can one not see the evidence in broad daylight? Just observe the melting icebergs and ice fields raising sea levels and killing off wildlife like the polar bear and seals and many other ice hunters and prey, emission of CO from fossil fuels eroding the ozone layer, more powerful and deadlier hurricanes that hover and kill people and costing $billions in destruction with no mitigation science in sight, wild fires flattening massive forests and killing people and communities, massive trash pollution, etc. Seems certain of our political leaders ignore the reality before us. Some don’t like facts. “It’s a hoax”. “You just want to scare the population”. Watch this space…

    • Yes. We’re all doomed from climate change. And the earth is flat, and I think the moon landings were faked on a movie set. I think the Brooklyn Bridge is also for sale, but they may have put that on hold due to Covid.

      Please stop. You’re just embarrassing yourself.

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