Thursday, November 19, 2009

The End is Near!

33 Sunday B #158

Dn 12, 1-3
Ps 16
Heb 10, 11-14. 18
Mk 13, 24-32

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
November 15, 2009

Deacon Tom Cornell

“All the leaves are brown, and the sky is gray.” The year is dying. Toward the end of the year the Church reminds us we are going to die. Not just you and I, but the whole world will come to an end. The Jews who first heard these words of Mark’s Gospel thought the end of the world was right around the corner, and they were right, in a sense. Their world did come to an end, the Temple was destroyed, Jerusalem was razed, the people were scattered.

Walking the streets of Rome or driving through the mountains of Sicily you can’t help but be reminded, even haunted by the memory of a world that is gone, ancient Greeks and Phoenicians and Romans and Moors and Arabs and Normans. A Greek temple stands there on a hill in Western Sicily, not even completed before its builders fled invaders over 2,000 years ago, and an amphitheatre, Segesta. It’s serene. There is no one to be seen on the mountains but a shepherd and his sheep in the distance, and hills and sky. Our ancestors’ world collapsed around them, but they remain. It’s magical. We know them by their ruins. We today face threats at least as severe as they did, no, much more severe.

How are we to think of the End? With fear? With hope? We pray “Thy kingdom come,” and we pray the last words of the New Testament, “Come, Lord Jesus,” “Maranatha!” looking forward to the end. But that does not let us off the hook. We will be held accountable for how we have treated God’s great gift to us. Our neighbor down-River, Pete Seeger, sings, “One blue sky above us, one ocean lapping at our shore, one earth so green and round, who could ask for more? And because I love you, I’ll give it one more try, to tell my rainbow race, it’s too soon to die.” It’s too soon to commit suicide.

Our sun is half-way through its life-cycle. We have thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of years to go, if we care for and build this world that God has given us instead of pillaging it, polluting it, poisoning it, pulling it down. We are near the crisis point, scientists tell us. If we do not make substantial changes in the ways we produce and use energy, and do it soon, we will arrive at the tipping-point, when nothing can be done to forestall massive die-off of species, including our own, a world that is unlivable.

When we were young it was the nuclear threat. The Cold War is over but that nuclear threat is still with us. We still have enough nuclear weapons aimed at Russia and Russia at us that, if a crisis escalated out of control, if there were a mistake, or if a madman got his finger on the button, this planet would be a fit home for cockroaches and not much else. The Popes, our own bishops and our President have called for progressive and complete nuclear disarmament, but it hasn’t happened, nothing near, not yet.

Nations may soon fight over control of water as they do today over oil. No one doubts that oil is why we are in West Asia. Water is becoming a major international problem, worsening rapidly. Too little water here, too much there, all due to climate change and that due to human activity. Five degrees rise in atmospheric temperature will inundate much of Florida, Manhattan and all of Venice. If you have the chance, see Venice while it’s still there. Your grandkids may not have the chance, so take some pictures. The government of the Maldives Islands Republic is setting aside tax funds every year in anticipation of transporting their entire population to another country when the Indian Ocean swallows theirs. They are buying land in Australia. But Australia may soon become a vast desert.

Surely, God does not want us to fear the End. How many times do we hear in Scripture the words, “Fear not!” “Don’t be afraid!” Jesus will come again to perfect the Messianic Kingdom of God. Your names are written in the Book of Life. There is nothing to fear. But just as surely, God does not want us to despoil the earth, the water, the very air we breathe.

The right to life is very important to us as Catholic Christians. We value every human life including the unborn. How then can we deny life to future generations? And that is precisely what we do when we live as irresponsibly as we do! We think nothing of flushing a toilet even though there is nothing in the bowl but a half cup of urine while whole villages in India will soon run out of water altogether. The Himalayan snow pack that feeds the Indus, the Ganges, the Yalu, the Brahmaputra, the Yang-tze and the Mekong Rivers is melting at a rate never known before and it is not being replaced. You think we have an illegal immigrant problem now? Wait till tens of millions of South Asians and Chinese have no place to live and come knocking at our door, or creeping under it. Too little water where it is needed, and too much where it is not.

We don’t seem to have a problem spending a billion dollars a week on an insane war in West Asia. That money should be spent on educating our children, making college affordable for all qualified students, helping old people stay in their homes when they can no longer pay ever rising property taxes, re-building our infra-structure, our bridges and highways and railways and research into sources of renewable energy, so we can do what must be done. We worry about paying for health care for all those people who insist upon getting old and sick! Aren’t priorities a little askew when we cry about taxes to care for our sick and we don’t scream about pouring our wealth and our sons’ and daughters’ blood down a bottomless pit half-way around the world?

What are we to do? Take personal responsibility! For a start, install a low-flush toilet and don’t flush for everything. Do you really have to take a shower every day? How about a low flow shower-head? Lower the thermostat and put on a sweater. Our house was sweltering in the summer heat, so much so that I thought of installing an air conditioner. Then Monica planted some maple trees for shade. It took a while, but it worked! Eat less meat. How about going back to meatless Fridays, and maybe Mondays too? Don’t take the car out unless you have at least three errands to do. Wash your clothes in cold water and dry your laundry on a clothes-line in the sun and breeze; they’ll last longer and smell better. Look for ways to live more responsibly and let your representatives know what you think. Learn about these issues. See, judge, act. That’s an old Catholic slogan for how to bring about social change through personal responsibility. It’s going to take a massive effort and international cooperation to avert catastrophe, but every giant leap starts with small steps by individuals like you and me.

The End will come. But when it comes, when Jesus comes again, let him find us building the City of God, not tearing it down. Before the lights go out, for they will go out, let us do our best to honor God in his creation by loving it and tending it and loving and tending each other and being light, each one of us light to the other. God loves this Earth, and Jesus loves the children.

The Universe is immense, a sign of the immensity of God. He will bring all things right in due time, for the worst has already happened and been repaired. The worst? Our sin nailed Jesus to a cross. And repaired? He is risen! Alleluia!