Friday, December 2, 2011

Our Annual End of the World Party

Back in the early 80s there was a certain amount of worry, due to the cold war, nuclear proliferation, and believe it or not--"global cooling" theories--that the world  might soon come to an end.

I recall from that era  a gallows humor cartoon in the New Yorker depicting  an upper crust cocktail party. A woman in pearls  and evening gown was saying, "Of course the world will probably come to an end in our lifetime. But really, darling, let's  keep our sense of humor about it."

Not a bad sentiment  for Advent, that.

Besides reflecting on the wonders of the Incarnation,  marveling at the glorious conundrum of  Helpless Infant = Mighty Creator of the Universe, there's something else we should be doing: longing. Joyously longing.

Longing for what? Not the birth in the manger. That's already happened. All that can't wait-can't wait-oh,will it ever get here?  happy impatience that we build up in the kids with decorations, trees, lights, and a final toy bonanza is to train ourselves to project that longing onto something else entirely.

The Second, final, coming of Jesus.  The end of the world. We're supposed to really want that to happen. So badly that just the waiting for it makes us giddy with delight and anticipation.

Which is not easy to do.  Although it's true we don't know the day or the hour, I can pretty much guarantee it won't happen today or tomorrow. There's a whole lot of bad stuff that has to happen first. Stuff that many of us would not  live through. Although the much popularized "rapture" is  heresy, the anti-Christ and  massive persecution of Christians is not. As the Catechism explains:
675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers.573 The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth574 will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth...
677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection.578 The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven.579 God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.580

And we're supposed to be  longing for this?

Yes. Think of Advent as a pep rally for the coming Armageddon match between good and evil.
The idea is to cultivate an attitude:
 the men marked with the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark....the men  that drink the blood of God go singing to their shame. (everybody else quotes Chesterton on their blogs, so this is my turn.)

In the event that we are not lucky enough to witness the end of all things,we can make use of the Advent Attitude  for our very own personal end  of all things, known as  death.

Check out today's (Friday, 1st week in Advent) Office of Readings, where St. Anselm helps us cultivate Advent longing. Here's most of it:

Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire. 

Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face?
Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you.

End of the World? Bring it on!
Or at least, let's keep our sense of humor about it. 


  1. But it's so paradoxical. How do I "want" the end of the world and at the same time also "want" the present world to become a better place? How do I "want" a future for my children? And most of us, if given a choice between death and life at this moment, would choose to go on living. We believe in the value of suffering, yet if we are suffering, we seek relief, and also, if others are suffering we seek to relieve their pain. I can only see it as *wanting* (trying to, anyway) God's will, in every circumstance, remembering that "God's will" is His wisdom and His love; it is His plan. That's the only way I can look at these things. What I pray for is to "want Him," according to His plan--which corresponds to what is truly good for me and for those I love.

  2. I agree it's a paradox. I remember, as a kid who didn't know any better, actually praying for the grace of martyrdom. Then I married, had my first child, and,suddenly recalling that idiotic prayer,saying, "I take that back, Lord!" Saying it repeatedly.

    But I do think the Advent Attitude is more than resignation to God's will-whatever-that-may-be. I think it's at least a little more on the side of trying to think about the end (be that normal death or apocalypse) with courage "for the sake of the joy that lies ahead".