Sunday, January 3, 2010

To Await the Second Coming

Posted by Webster 
When I was a child, I worried about the day the sun burns out. When I was a teen, my worry was population explosion and in my 20s nuclear war. Now I think about the Second Coming. I don’t worry about it.

Skeptic alert: I do not have the date circled in red on my calendar. Not for 2010, anyway. Hear me out.

Today in the Catholic Church (at least in our diocese) we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany. (Some celebrate it January 6.) When I was 18 and a smart-aleck, I thought an epiphany was something in a story by James Joyce. Now that I’m a Catholic, I recognize it as the appearance of the Lord to the gentiles in the form of the Three Kings, the Magi.

I thought of the Second Coming this morning in connection with the reading from Isaiah:

Rise up in splendor, O Jerusalem! 
   Your light has come, 
   the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
   and thick clouds cover the peoples; 
But upon you the Lord shines,
   and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light, 
   and kings by your shining radiance.

I thought to myself: What must it have been like to live in the time of Isaiah, awaiting the coming of “the glory of the Lord”? My next thought was: This is the time of Isaiah. Or we need to live as though it were. This, dear skeptics, is what I think we can all consider—living as if the Second Coming really is coming, and soon. It changes everything.

Father Barnes’s beautiful homily for Epiphany confirmed this line of thought, as it often does. He has a way of answering a question I didn’t even know I was asking. He said that in the story of the Three Kings, today’s Gospel reading, we can learn many things about our lives as Christians, or skeptics. In particular, he said, we can learn three things.
  1. To look outside ourselves, and upwards, for the truth. The Magi did this. They followed the star. Today, we talk too much of following our muse, our gleam, our bliss—inside us. 
  2. To ask for directions when we lose sight of the star. I never heard this clearly: The Magi stopped off in Jerusalem to ask exactly where the King of the Jews was being born. Father noted that we often lose sight of the star. When we do, like stopping off in Jerusalem, we should ask the Church and its teaching.
  3. To adore God. When the Magi arrived where the child was, they prostrated themselves. We can do this at Eucharistic Adoration. We can do it every moment of our lives, wherever we are.
This, I’m afraid, is where we leave the skeptics behind. No God, no Second Coming. No God, and the world ends with either a whimper or a bang.

I worried, but I never panicked over any of my end-of-the-world scenarios—because even when I wasn’t a Catholic, I always believed in God. And I thought to myself, If God exists, then the world will end when He is good and ready, and not a moment sooner.

The year I turned 50 I worried about biological warfare erasing human life. (Remember 9/11?) That was still six years before I finally considered becoming a Catholic. Now I think seriously of the Second Coming. When I ask myself what changes have happened in my life since I became a Catholic, this is close to the top of the list.