A reflection by Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut
We are hearing the word “armageddon” tossed around the media and even out of the mouth of leaders on several occasions these days. While Armageddon has specific Biblical significance, it is a term loosely used to describe a cataclysmic battle signifying the end of the world. Between the Russian/Ukraine war and rising concerns with North Korea and China, one can easily wonder if world tensions are escalating to an alarming pitch and coming to a head. Political, religious, and ideological disparities, as well as many people giving voice to a general feeling of discontent with increased acts of violence, also cause many to wonder. Does everything happening indicate that the present world, as we know it, is coming to an end?
Jesus told us that the world would one day come to an end. On this point, he is very clear. He even goes on to describe some of what we will see. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified, for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place, and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” Even the prophet Malachi, chastising people centuries before, warns of a purifying fire. These themes are very evident in salvation history and must be acknowledged. It is certain that the world will one day end, and Christ will reign supreme. This is our faith.
Some people make it their personal ambition to determine precisely WHEN this event will occur. They read the signs of the times, cite scripture references, and consult popular prophetic predictions, some of which are centuries old. They even purport to have certain credibility in this discipline, gaining a hearing in some circles, even if just an entertaining curiosity. Is it all that necessary to know? It seems that if Jesus thought it was important for us to have that answer, he would have been more specific when the disciples asked the question. All Jesus acknowledged is what scripture already confirms: the end will inevitably come.
Jesus did spend some time detailing what his disciples need to do before the end comes. He is clear that we must remain faithful, face persecution, endure suffering, face wars and insurrections, and give testimony. However, we tend to become very attached to the things we create. It is only natural one can suppose. What we have established for ourselves tends to take on greater importance than it ought. Jesus firmly reminds us that everything we have created, no matter how beautiful and durable we may find it to be, will pass away. What is our level of attachment to earthly things? Even our houses of worship, shrines, and temples capture our attention and concern more than the One they are meant to honor. If what we seemingly will “lose” when the world comes to an end becomes a worry, obsession, or preoccupation, then we need to wonder how deep our faith is. Consumed with all of the things we have built and established for ourselves and seeking to preserve them, we forget that we belong to a different kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Are these things what we are ultimately called to preserve and serve?
The Gospel is always our guide. We can never tire or lose sight of our vocation to live just lives and be non-violent pursuers of peace. We are always and everywhere called to act on behalf of the poor, turning our cheek to those who hurt us most. But when dark, persistent, strong, and dominant powers override the path to peace and love that we hold so dear, we have to stand firm and realize whose kingdom we ultimately serve. We serve the kingdom of God! Jesus cautions that we do not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed or overly terrified by the agonies, power struggles, and disappointments of the world. Although we may be apprehensive and uncertain when faced with complex challenges, God is with us. God is the One who can never be taken away!
True, authentic, and unconditional love is not subject to time and seasons. It is always and forever. Our love of God must be the same. Our love of God must be solid and forever, not the “love of sometimes or when it’s convenient.” Otherwise, it cannot be said to be real, and it is certainly not sincere! What matters to us as we embrace a new moment or day in our lives? Preserving what we have established for ourselves or deepening our devotion to and relationship with God? If our relationship with God, the strength and integrity of our souls, and the steadfastness of our character are of utmost importance, then it matters little when the physical end will come. Our priorities will be in order, and we will be ready to go where God will take us. We will fall into the arms of Love’s Author and become who we wanted to be all along. As St. Ignatius of Antioch reminds us, “only on my arrival there (in heaven with God) can I be fully a human being.” God will give us the strength and inspiration we need. We will discover the necessary courage ahead, in spite of persecution and even death itself.
Sometimes knowing too much is a bad thing. It can take the adventure, wonder, and excitement out of living. Do you want to know the exact day, hour, and circumstances of your death? While the question is intriguing, the answer could cripple us. Knowing too much can bring one to apathy, disillusionment, fear, anxiety, dread, and cynicism robbing the soul of the love and freedom it needs to soar! Not knowing can be a beautiful thing! It allows for daily surprises, wonder and awe, new discoveries, playfulness, joy, contentment, and even laughter in the midst of the most dire of circumstances. The unknown of the future allows us to discover the riches and depth of God, who is the delight and joy of our souls.
Learning to balance life’s experiences is one of the goals of the spiritual life. Finding our way through death and life, suffering and bliss, war and peace, anger and acceptance, love and hate, violence and peace while still holding firm to God’s providential and unconditional love is paramount. Acts of violence and the brokenness of life can easily harden us and make us bitter. We have to resist this temptation and bring ourselves back to love. We must keep ourselves focused on what matters and not depend too much on the material, tangible and superficial. It is the only way we will find God and become who we are. Christians have to show others the path to unconditional love. The world desperately needs this message. People need to have their relationships with God, others, themselves, and the world restored to proper order so that all can work together in service of the Kingdom of God. This message is not always received with open and welcoming arms. But, it is a message that must be heard and one that must be preached.