Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory."
When, as a youngster, I first learned about the end times it was the early 1960s. At that time, the dire prophecies of Fatima were in the forefront of the Catholic imagination. As well, there was the Cuban missile crisis, the fear of imminent nuclear war, the building of fallout shelters and the erection of air raid sirens near our neighbourhood.
The whole kit and caboodle was scary for a young tyke and the notion of Christ coming in glory was not something for which I willingly prayed. To me, the Second Coming meant destruction. Everything that was good and familiar would be annihilated and the final judgment would determine each person's fate for eternity. The sheep might receive eternal bliss, but there was always that other possibility that raised concern.
St. Paul's two letters to the Thessalonians do not, at first glance, undermine that trepidation. "The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night," he wrote. "Sudden destruction will come . . . and there will be no escape" (1 Thessalonians 5.2, 3).
A few months later, the apostle described the Second Coming as "the Lord Jesus revealed from heaven with his angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of God and from the glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1.7-8).
Admittedly, all this was for the bad guys. The followers of Jesus are "sons of light and sons of the day." When Jesus comes, he will be "glorified in his saints."
Pope Benedict took all this up in his Nov. 12 audience talk about St. Paul. He admits, "it is difficult to pray sincerely for the world to perish so that the new Jerusalem, the last judgment and the Judge, Christ, may come."
"We do not desire the end of the world. Nevertheless, we do want this unjust world to end. We also want the world to be fundamentally changed; we want the beginning of the civilization of love, the arrival of a world of justice and peace, without violence, without hunger.
"We want all of this, yet how can it happen without Christ's presence? Without Christ's presence there will never be a truly just and renewed world."
Good point, Your Holiness. Humanity is making the world a mess and it will take more than a few more government programs and another Camp David summit to usher in the Age of Aquarius. Maybe the arrival of angels of vengeance in flaming fire is not such a bad alternative after all.
But what the pope has done – and what St. Paul does too – is turn our expectations away from a disembodied other-worldly heaven to the transformation of this world.
Christ's Second Coming will destroy the dissolute and decadent world that cowers in darkness. It will also take what people have done that is in harmony with God's plan and raise it to glory. Christ's resurrection is a harbinger of things to come.
Jesus "will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3.21).
He will also change our lowly society to be like his glorious society. Division and discord will be replaced by unity and harmony. Try to imagine what Question Period in the House of Commons will look like then.
Only Christ can do this. We will never succeed on our own. Why? Partly because our powers have been atrophied because of original sin. But also because even without original sin, we could only glorify the world by working in union with God.
Christ's Second Coming is not something to fear. We should look forward to it with eager anticipation. Jesus Christ is not the Destroyer; he is our friend and the source of our salvation. The work he will do when he comes again will bring us to fullness of life.