Are we in the "end times"? That is a question that has been asked in every age. But we believe, as Christians, that human history is not just a series of meaningless, random events, but that we are part of a Larger Story - one that is being written by God and accomplishing His purposes. Every story has a Beginning (Creation & the Fall), a Middle (Christ's Incarnation and Paschal Mystery), and an End (Christ's triumphal return). So are we in the End? We are certainly well past the middle - about 2,000 years past the middle - which is about how far Abraham was from Christ, historically. The question that no one knows is how close we are to the end - it could be a year, five years, a hundred years, a thousand years. But "the end" is not just a moment, it is a process. In a sense one could trace the beginning of "the End" back to the 1400s with the rise of the Renaissance, because it was a system that began to take the attention off of God and put it back on Man, seeing the creature without a relation to the Creator.
Thinking of ourselves in "the end" is, to me, just situating ourselves in the Larger Story. You talk about the mundane and the boring - and certainly all of our lives are full of mundane, boring things. But not unimportant things. I'll never forget what my sister said to me one day many years ago. We had just watched the first Lord of the Rings together in the movie theater, and I'll never forget that we were driving home and we were looking out into a brilliant sunset when she sighed deeply and said, "Oh, I wish life could be like that! An epic quest, a thrilling adventure!" I've often used her quote in talks that I've given, because I think she had a profound insight into the human heart. Human beings want to know that their life is not just a random chance accident, that our presence here on this planet isn't just unnoticed and unimportant. This desire of the human heart was placed there by God, because we do play an irreplaceable role in a grand epic - the epic of Salvation History. So those mundane, boring tasks, when seen through that lens, take on monumental significance. Consider: when you clean a dirty diaper or make dinner for your kids, you are taking care of the physical needs of immortal souls who will someday spend eternity as an eternal triumph of glory or an everlasting tragedy of horror. These immortal souls in your house will someday either advance the Kingdom of God here on earth, taking back ground for the King, or will participate in the Kingdom's further destruction. For all of the mundane tasks that we do have ramifications in history and into eternity. We are part of an epic tale, a battle between good and evil, which is fought in every soul, in every home, in every nation, in every age.
And so I do find it spiritually helpful to be aware of what role we might be playing at this critical juncture in history. One thing that such reflections have taught me is how much of the stuff I worry about on a daily basis won't matter in the grand scheme of things. I mean, that traffic jam, that jaywalker, that worry about money - will it matter if the end is near? Because, after all, whether or not the end of the world is near, the end of my world is near and guaranteed. It's just a memento mori writ large, I think. It helps me to remember that life is bigger than my petty worries and that I have to focus on the truly important things - being ready for when Christ comes for me.
One thing that has always struck me being a priest versus being a layman is how much our liturgy talks about Christ's Second Coming. I never really noticed it until I started celebrating Mass, but all of the Eucharistic prayers and the Memorial Acclamations - and even much of the New Testament - is all about awaiting His return. We are an eschatological people, always looking for the culmination of all things. In a sense, Christ's death on the Cross was an incomplete redemption - not that He has to add anything to it, but sin continues to multiply even with the tremendous outpouring of grace. The Cross allowed us to be reconciled to God if we respond to the grace - but He has not yet exercised His full dominion over creation. The dominion is His, but He awaits the fulfillment of all things in order to display His full might and power. That is why the Church has cried in every age, "Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!" As Catholics we are all longing for that day when His redemption will be complete, when "the last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:26).
As we await that final victory, Christ calls us to be vigilant and to observe the signs of the times. Every age has had to wrestle with the question, "Is the end near?" Our age is no different. And so, prophets and wise men and those who have the mind of Christ would do well to continue to discern that question. I do think there are some fundamental differences between our age and the ages past (that's a whole 'nother blog post...) but every person in every age is called to discern wisely the signs of the times. Although we can't draw any solid conclusions yet, we should always prayerfully consider the evidence in geopolitics and the philosophical winds that blow. I think it can be quite helpful, spiritually. The number of times we are called in Scripture to be vigilant, watchful, keeping our spiritual eyes open - it's a constant theme in the New Testament. Rather than taking us away from the duties of our state in life, consideration of "the end" can help us to perform them with more diligence, knowing that if we are half-hearted or sleepy, the Bridegroom will return and leave those foolish virgins outside. If I (wrongly) believe that my life is just full of boring, meaningless things, or that Christ's coming is so delayed that I will always have time to repent and draw close to Him, then He will arrive like a thief in the night. This is true not just for each individual but for the world as well. Is the Church ready? Is the world ready? If not, what do we need to do to prepare ourselves for His coming?