I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of the second coming of Christ – with “End Times” – although not in a “Rapture” sort of way or in a trying-to-figure-out-the-exact-date sort of way.
Fall is consistently my busiest speaking-engagement time of the year. I receive the most requests during Advent where the obvious theme is preparing for the second coming of Jesus. It makes sense, then, that the change of seasons here in the beautiful Midwest begins to sharpen my spiritual focus and intensify my understanding of what it means to live more fully for Christ. I’ve been conditioned to this transformation over the past half dozen years.
Lately, with all that is happening on the world’s stage, the idea of preparing for Jesus’ return, and the Church’s teaching on prophets and prophecies, has truly become front and center for me.
But what does the Catholic Church teach about Prophets, prophecies and the second coming of Christ?
The Church recognizes that Old Testament prophets were given the dual task of teaching God’s people how they must change their ways to prepare for God’s coming into the world while these same prophets also revealed the future. Naturally, a prophet would be able to make statements about behavior that would have been seen as common sense – while other issuances would have been divinely inspired. Amos is such a prophet whose visions were considered divinely inspired. Prophets spoke the Truth without regard to their own popularity or appeal. They chastised God’s people and called them to repentance and change – a message far more important today than attempting to “read” events in which the fulfillment of Revelation can be predicted.
In the New Testament Jesus makes clear that the day and hour of judgment is known only to God while it also reveals signs that will precede this event. And while the Catholic Church has always remained clear in its teachings against participation in fortune telling, divination, tarot cards and any other attempts to “see” the future, we are nonetheless able to look at the signs as a way in which we keep the realization of judgment and Christ’s second coming in our hearts and minds.
Today, the Church recognizes saints such as St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila for the ways in which they shed light upon the mystical journey. Others, like John Paul II, have clearly helped “unpack” Scripture in a way that studying it and living it has become a reality for millions of Catholics.
These anointed souls help us better understand how to live as faithful Catholics and thus prepare for the second coming of Christ. While the Catholic Church does not give the name “prophet” to those who have shed light on the Christian path, we see the evolution of prophets to be those inspired individuals who share wisdom in an edifying and enlightening way.
Along with those who have been elevated by God to inspire us, the Church does speak to the end-time signs as given in the Book of Revelation – but in proper context of their significance for our daily living.
Many of the signs given in Revelation are quite difficult to understand which makes any real effort to determine a date for Jesus’ return unattainable, try as some might. For instance, identifying the anti-Christ has been a serious point of contention. Throughout history this moniker has been applied to many a tyrant – from Nero to Hitler to some in our recent past – and all seem to have been equally able to carry the label. Since one of the signs is the reign of the anti-Christ, who will be embraced and loved by many nations, not being able to affirm his or her identify makes recognizing this reign impossible.
On the other hand, preaching the Gospel to the ends of the earth seems clearly evident with the missionary efforts of both the Protestant and Catholic Churches along with the rapid development of computer and Internet technology. Consider the ways in which our own Vatican makes use of such popular sites as Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, our beloved Pope encourages us to use technology to spread the Word of Jesus to all.
The nearing of Christ’s second coming will also be witnessed by the return of Enoch and Elijah. Enoch walked with God – he was a friend of God in the same way that Moses was – and we read in Genesis 5:24 that God “took” Enoch with the implication being that he did not see death. Like Enoch, Elijah was spared the experience of death as he was whisked away into the heavens on a fiery chariot. Elijah also has the great distinction of being integral to the transfiguration of Christ as it was Moses and Elijah who stood with Jesus, on Mount Tabor, before Peter, James and John.
While the Catholic Church recognizes other signs of the Lord’s return, ultimately, we should see that the signs are God’s gift to us as they remind us of the fruit we are to bear for Him and His kingdom. As Catholics we live in hopeful anticipation of this time even while the world around us may seem to grow darker. We use the words of prophets, mystics, saints and popes to heighten our own interest in serving God over self; to live in a way that we welcome judgment; and, as a means to aid us in our desire to spend eternity with our Creator.