Just days removed from the end of the liturgical year, the Gospel accounts take a more apocalyptic tone. The narratives of the end times — with stories of wars, insurrections, natural disasters, persecutions, family divisions and awesome sights in the sky — can cause one to believe that the end of the world will be anything but a joyful event. And yet, disciples of the Lord should look toward the end times with anticipation and joy.
Why? Because the end times will mark the fulfillment of everything that every believer longs for: union with the Trinity and eternal glory. It is the time in history when the just will receive their reward and the evil be cast away forever, never to burden the virtuous again. However, the realization of that glory will be preceded by a period of tribulation, purification and suffering.
We should make no mistake — Jesus explicitly warns us that faithful discipleship will incur the hatred of our peers. In order to secure our lives, we will have to persevere through tremendously difficult times. The authentic disciple must cultivate the virtue of hope, filial trust in God, in order to persevere. He cannot accommodate the spirit of the world or succumb to human respect if he wants to be saved. When all seems lost — when we witness the destruction of nations and the divisions within families to the point of death — the true disciple will remain anchored in his relationship with Jesus, the only person who can save us.
Our Lord's words present us with a cosmic view of the days to come. Living in a materialistic world where prosperity seems endless and we are easily lulled into a spiritual complacency, the essential message of Jesus with regard to the end times can somehow be ignored or dismissed. This attitude is not dissimilar to the Jews who were marveling at the beauty of the Temple, perhaps also thinking that that edifice would remain there forever. And yet, in less than 40 years, the Temple would be reduced to rubble by the Romans, just as Jesus had predicted.
The end of one liturgical year also means the beginning of a new one, and is a good time to make some "new liturgical year" resolutions. If there is any lesson we can cull from the Gospel, it is the realization that not only must we persevere to the end in the face of trials, but we must also be prepared for when the end times begin. Frequent Mass attendance and confession are the most certain ways to prepare for what lies ahead.
Pope Benedict XVI once commented that many people today live as if God does not exist. They live without hope because they cannot believe that there is life beyond what the human eye can perceive. The apocalyptic nature of this Gospel presents us with the sobering fact that not only is there life beyond this existence, but that suffering is a necessary component of reaching it. Armed with the virtue of hope, grounded in deep faith and steadfast in love, may we lift up our hearts daily, longing for the return of the Lord Jesus, who will take us to Himself in glory.