Christ’s return and final judgment are a certainty—let’s be ready for it.
Today as we “eagerly await” Christ our Savior, there is some good news and… some really good news. For those who await him with hostility, there is some bad news and some even worse news. But even this is an opportunity for them to turn that bad news into good news by repentance.
The apostle in this lesson from Hebrews established a parallel between Christ the Lord and all the individuals of the human race whose sins he came to wipe away by his death on the holy cross. This is the Good News, and also a warning, which I will explain here.
But before I do, I will tell you a little story. Thirty years ago and a little bit more, I was finishing up my graduate studies in Rome. One day I was stopped on the street by a Jehovah’s Witness. He was Italian and had once been a Catholic, but had discovered that the Catholic faith could not be the true one because, he said, “I Cattolici non credono nel secondo avvento del Signore”—“Catholics do not believe in the second coming of the Lord.”
“Wow!” (a universal word understood in every language!) I said. “Did you go to Mass when you were a Catholic?”
“Yes,” he said, “every Sunday.”
“Do you remember reciting the Credo?”
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you remember saying these words: ‘And he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.’?”
“Why, yes I do,” he said. And then he paused and looked at the ground. Then he said, “They must have told me wrong at the Kingdom Hall, maybe because they never had been to Mass, but I will have to tell them that it is true that Catholics believe in the second coming. Sorry, Father, I should have remembered; good evening.”
“I will pray you come back to the faith of your fathers,” I said, and he smiled a made a little shrugging gesture and walked away.
In listening to you or me talk, or in examining the way we live, would anyone be able to tell that we believe that the Lord Jesus will return at an unknown time to judge the world by fire, and then usher in his new and everlasting kingdom in a new heavens and a new earth? Or even that we are aware that some day we must die?
We are immersed in the news, in economic and medical woes, in fears about the future of the planet, and the threats to the security of free nations, not to mention our own personal and family troubles. We need to see all these things in the light of what the Savior teaches us about the ultimate future.
When we die, we will be judged by the Savior, as the apostle tells us today: “It is appointed to man once to die and after that the judgment.” We will be judged by the one who came to take away our sins, and so we have the happy confidence that if we have the least repentance we will be mercifully judged and reach heaven even, as St. Paul tells us “as if by fire”—that is, through a purification after death. We know that the moment of our death will certainly come. It is each moment of our lives coming closer and closer.
Are we preparing and looking toward the day of our death? In her wisdom, holy Church is constantly reminding us of by putting on our lips the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” That “now” and the “hour of our death” are each day getting closer and closer until the time, known only to God, when “now” is “the hour of our death.”
And whether we have already died or are still living on the earth, Christ the Lord will come again at the end of time to judge the world and usher in his definitive kingdom and triumph over sin, death, and the devil. The time immediately before this will be a time of great trial for the human race and especially for believers. The Catechism, echoing Our Lord in the Gospels, is very clear about the reality of the Antichrist and the persecution of believers and the false world view and false religion that will be promoted at that time:
Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth 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. the supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (675).
But then the end will be glorious; just as our own individual death was crowned with our encounter with the Risen Lord, so too the end of the world, at the whole Church’s share in his death, when she will appear to be extinct. He will come forth in glory, raising all the dead and judging the whole of history, purging his kingdom of evil just as he purged our own souls. And then all will come into the kingdom body and soul, alive, glorious, and incapable of suffering, and the triumph over evil will be complete in the eternal bliss of the heavenly homeland.
The Catechism again, summarizing the teaching of the scriptures:
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 The kingdom will be fulfilled… by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (677).
At holy Mass, made aware of the certainty of our own death and of the even more certain coming of the Lord Jesus in glory and judgment, let us never ignore or forget the words we are about to say in our profession of faith: “And he shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead and of his kingdom there will be no end!”
And as he comes to us under the appearances of bread and wine, let us sing with conviction those words “until you come again!” This is really Good News.