It seems Hollywood has the itch.... really bad. She can't make the budgets big enough for these gloom and doom dramas about the End of All Things, from Armageddon and Deep Impact to The Day After Tomorrow and last weekend's latest installment "2012."
The box office seems to be saying something as well; people love it. People want to see it. It may be out of a morbid desire to see historic landmarks crumple under a 900 foot tsunami, but behind that, I think there's a bit of good 'ole fashioned Catholic spirituality at work.
Memento mori, as the saying goes. "Remember death."
As creepy as it sounds, we're invited to reflect on our death many times throughout the liturgical year. We're actually entering into the season for this right now. Advent is beginning, and it is more than just a glance backwards to the Birth of Jesus two thousand years ago. It's a glance to the future, to the End, when we believe He will return. This story, History, will indeed end... and simultaneously.... begin.
The readings from this week's Mass matched up quite perfectly with the debut of "2012." (I wonder if Hollywood was reading the lectionary?)
Jesus said to his disciples: "In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.- Mark 13:24-32
The twist however is that Christians look to this End with, now get this, joyful expectancy. "Lift up your heads, Scripture tells us, for your redemption is near at hand!" Now this doesn't mean we sit around with hands up high like kids waiting for Daddy to pick them up and take them to his warm chest and carry them home. (Although that sounds like the orans position of prayer and a great way to live to me!) It means we keep our feet on the ground and keep working. And we whistle while we work, too, like little dwarves, keeping the Palace of our hearts clean for the arrival of our King and Queen. St. Francis was once approached by a nervous brother friar, who was a bit stressed about the End and perhaps more so, about his conscience. Francis looked up from the patch of earth he was tending in the garden. "Brother Francis, what if our dear Savior were to return this very day. What would you do!"
"I would keep gardening, until He found me" smiled the saint. Now that's peace.
For the believer, the End is not at some remote or proximate point, not a number like 2012, or 3012 for that matter. The End is... here, now. The Kingdom of God is within you, here, now. It is already, and not yet. All of the world that we see is simply a veil pulled over the Eternal Now where God abides. Why should we be afraid?
Can the unborn child in its dark and watery womb imagine the vibrant life that moves about just past that veil of mommy's flesh? Can it be so near and yet seem so distant? Perhaps our End is closer than we think. Maybe our true birthday is about to begin, as it has for the saints. Their death is remembered as their feast day, their birthday into Eternal Life.
In the meantime, as we close off another liturgical year, and step closer to 2010, 2011, and 2012 (wink wink), let's not panic, let's pray.... and keep smiling, with our heads and hands busy in the garden of this world, preparing a harvest of good deeds and much love for the World to come.