The Rapture? Uh. No.

Rapture predictionJust in case you missed it, last December came and went and the world didn’t end. Just so you know. The Maya may have been good at lots of stuff, but predicting the end of the world wasn’t one of them. And they’re not alone. There have been dozens of groups of people over the centuries who’ve busied themselves with trying to discern the end of this world. Some of them were out for fame or for money. Some were just sadly-deluded fringe-dwelling nut jobs. Others seemed motivated by genuine concern for their little flocks and in helping them prepare for what they truly perceived to be some kind of private revelation which they believe God had shared with them. The one thing all these groups have had in common is that they’ve been wrong.

Here’s what the Catholic Church teaches on Christ’s return and the end of time: “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matthew 24:36).  Jesus says it, we believe it. Our Catechism teaches us that Christ already reigns in glory through His Church (paragraphs 668-679).  We profess the Nicene Creed at Mass every Sunday and we affirm that the second coming of Christ is something we look forward to with great hope. Jesus will come in glory and the dead will rise and each one of us will stand before Him. The symbolism of the “rapture” and the thousand-year earthly reign of Christ are lost on those who read the Scriptures too literally. Jesus spoke many times about us being prepared for His return. When He comes is less of a concern for us Catholics than our work here and now, in our own hearts and lives. Are we making room for Him? Are we living as He taught us to live? Here’s the truth: we’ll meet Jesus at His second coming whenever that may be. But we’ll most certainly meet Him at the moment of our death. It seems a more prudent use of our time, our talent, and our treasure to prepare for that encounter than to worry about the “rapture.”

Instead, we should be like the faithful steward that Jesus described (Luke 12:35-48) who waited on his master’s return from a wedding feast. He kept the lights of his house burning to welcome the master home. Everything was in order; everyone was busy doing their job to make the house ready. The steward wasn’t fearful of his master’s return because he was ready for him. He had done all that had been asked of him. He wasn’t concerned with being punished because he knew the master would be pleased with him. We affirm this in another prayer of the Mass when we pray that we “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior.”  This hopefulness sets us apart from those who dread the end of their earthly journey out of fear. Someone has said that your attitude about death depends on whether you imagine Jesus  as your judge or as your friend.  Of course, He is both. He is Friend, Creator, Savior, Redeemer, Shepherd, and Judge. Yet we sometimes persist in fear of our friend and our “Abba.”  Surely the parable of the good steward should be our guide as we anticipate meeting Jesus face-to-Face.

Moreover, we know that we encounter Him in our daily lives in the many “distressing disguises” He wears. When we serve the poor in our communities and visit the sick and the imprisoned—we meet Him. When we make time for a lonely person or care for a child in need—we make time for and we care for Christ. We’re called to actively participate in building the Kingdom of God which has come to us in Christ (Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20) and these works of mercy are one way we do that. Catholics believe we live in a kind of “middleness” between the Ascension and His second coming at the end of time. Our salvation is a gift won for us by Jesus on the cross, but we are as St Paul says, “to work out (our) own salvation” (Philippians 2:12) until He returns. In this tension between the “already” and the “not yet” we find the purpose of our lives. We feed the hungry; we love our neighbor; we help bring healing to a hurting world. This purpose and our work are gifts from God and fill us with great joy and sustaining hope.

And so at Sunday Mass when we pray for Christ’s return it is in that same joy and hope. On that day we’ll know the final victory over death and sin and evil. The dead will rise in their newly-glorified bodies and the Church, the Body of Christ, will realize the fullness of Her true nature in Him. I love how St. John describes it: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.’ ” This is our hope and our destiny. Until then, we must be about our Father’s work, like the faithful steward, our lights kept burning.

“And the One seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new’ “
                         —(Revelation 21:1-5)

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