End Times?
How should we live in light of the end times?
See Also: The Rapture and the End of the World

    The fact we are in the end times - the final age of human history - has implications for how we live our lives. Since, from one perspective, the "end times" are synonymous with the whole of the Christian age, it means we get the chance to live as Christians!

    We have the fullness of revelation that God has given, for the Faith has been "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). We have the full means of grace, which are available to us in the sacraments. And we get to be members of Christ's mystical body, the Church. How blessed we are to live in this age, for as Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matt. 13:16). From another perspective, the "end times" are yet to come, and people naturally wonder how close we are to the grand finale of human history.

    We could be close! According to the Catechism, "Since the Ascension Christ's coming in glory has been imminent, even though 'it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority' [Acts 1:7]. This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are 'delayed'" (673). The Catechism then goes on to note the signs that will precede the Second Coming, including a widespread conversion of the Jewish people (674) and the final persecution of the Church (675-677). Many have tried to calculate just how close we are to the end, and they have repeatedly set dates for Christ's return or other apocalyptic events.
So far, every one of them has been wrong.

    The practice of date-setting has a poor track record, and the Church warns the faithful against it: "The Last Judgment will come when Christ returns in glory. Only the Father knows the day and the hour; only he determines the moment of its coming" (CCC 1040).

    We can say with confidence that we are closer to the end than we used to be, "for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed" (Rom. 13:11), but this has been true all through the Christian age. The mere fact that we are closer doesn't mean we are close. The final end could come soon from our perspective-or it might not occur for centuries.

    Part of the problem with date-setting is that people often misunderstand how God fulfills prophecy. Think about how many people missed the first coming of Christ because of how they misunderstood and misapplied the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. They assumed that these would be fulfilled in certain ways, but God surprised them and did the unexpected, for "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:9).

    Knowing this, we should be very careful about how we suppose remaining prophecies will be fulfilled. Our ability to read "the signs of the times" is limited, and fulfillments may happen unexpectedly. Thus, the Catechism says, "We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed" (1048).

    Part of the folly of date-setting is the fact that God does not view time as we do. As St. Peter says, "Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:8-9).

    This provides the key to how we should live in the interim: we should repent. That is why God delays the fulfillment of prophecy, so that more souls can repent and come to him for salvation. "Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).

    Scripture emphasizes that the day of the Lord will come "like a thief in the night" (1 Thess. 5:2; cf. Matt. 24:43, Luke 12:39; 1 Peter 3:10, Rev. 3:3, 16:15), and it emphasizes the need to repent. Thus, St. Paul says, "You are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all sons of light and sons of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation" (1 Thess. 5:4-8).

    Whether we live close to the Second Coming or not, we will all stand before the Lord, and we do not know when this will happen. We must repent and make ourselves ready not only because the Lord could return soon but also because we could die and stand before him in individual judgment at any moment. "You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4:14). And "it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27).

    The proper response to living in the end times-whether we are close to the final end or not-is not to be preoccupied with precisely when the Second Coming will occur or precisely how prophecy will be fulfilled. We must leave these matters in God's hands. As Jesus told us, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day" (Matt. 6:33-34).

    What we can, should, and must do is live as he has called us to, practicing the virtues of faith, hope, and charity-seeking to serve God and do good for our fellow men.

    Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:7-10).

    Our present life is one of limitations. We do not know God or his prophecies perfectly, but one day the mystery will be revealed to us, and our task in the meantime is to live lives of love and virtue. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:12-13).

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