Only a day or so ago, I mentioned the dark prophecies of Our Lady of Fatima, La Salette and other places, and now I find Here at the End of All Things. The article is headed with an image that could have been inspired by William Blake or the poetry of Lord Byron.
We have distinctly returned to a new Romantic era as some of us feel increasingly alienated from this world and look to the things of God, what lies beyond the Veil, but which involve the dissolution of the body we know and even the beautiful things of this world. We exchange what we know for what is unknown or known only partially through communications with the souls of the departed and testimonies of those who have remained conscious despite the total inactivity of their brain.
We not only look with nostalgia towards the Kingdom which is within and beyond everything we know. We also contemplate the παρουσία, the second coming of Christ, the recapitulation of creation and the end of our world. The thought has always terrified all those who believe that our world and lives will end, though leaving us with hope for our salvation.
I have always disliked the systematisation of the apparitions of Fatima almost a hundred years ago. The story is simple, involving three children, two of whom died young and Sister Lucia who lived to old age in a Carmelite convent in Portugal. Many terrifying things were revealed to those children including a vision of hell and signs of the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Hitler and World War II. The messages suggested the crisis in the Roman Catholic Church and western Christianity in general. The question of the third secret is still controversial, but it might be possible that only a part was revealed by Cardinal Ratzinger under John Paul II’s pontificate and another part with information about the disarray in the Church or something like World War III or a comet hitting the earth was withheld. These questions can become very obsessive and unhealthy, replacing peaceful and serene hope with anxiety and fanaticism.
It is always when the world is uncertain and when things are not well in the Church that the eschatological theme comes to the fore. It is also a device of human psychology that can be used to absolve ourselves from the responsibilities we have here and now for our families, our flock if we are clergy with the cure of souls and for our communities.
It is a difficult one, because we know that our death is inevitable, and that all creation is finite. We are more likely to die from a common cause like illness, accident or human wickedness than face the end of the world whether it happens through the instrumental cause of a natural catastrophe or an all-out nuclear war. After our own death, we will no longer be concerned for this world but the world or universe in which we find ourselves without our bodies or physical brains.
Some have made a real system of eschatology: the stories of the Antichrist, what would happen should the Jews restore the sacrifices and the priesthood of the Temple, three days of darkness, a great chastisement, a great Pope and a great (French) Monarch. We are told that we must use the rosary for our private and family prayers and put in the right trimmin’s as devout Irish people used to say. We had the Rosary each day at seminary whilst on a walk outside, because in chapel it drove some of us to sleep. I have never had much of a liking for the Rosary, through I will occasionally pray with it in the car on a long journey or when on my own in some unfamiliar place. Why make things mandatory, when the Church has a whole range of devotions and ways of spirituality alongside the daily Mass and Office?
I have not forgotten that novel of Umberto Eco that has fired my imagination, The Name of the Rose, in which Fr William says to his young apprentice, “The only sign I see of the Evil One is everyone’s desire to see him at work“. I imagine that many devout souls in the fourteenth century, when the Papacy was at its most corrupt and the Great Plague raged, believed the apocalyptic events to be near as at the Sack of Jerusalem and the end of the Roman Empire. Every time there were changes, the Romantic imagination would fire up, as when Lord Byron wrote his harrowing poem in the early nineteenth century. Christ told us two thousand years ago that these events were near, and nearness may be more in terms of eternity than in time.
We look for coincidences and the meaning of numbers. Such speculations are often foolish and futile, yet they continue to fascinate us. The end times will come sooner or later, and the Scriptures and Tradition exhort us to be ready, each night when we lay down for our little death and say the prayers of Compline. Death can come at any time, and we are so fragile. There are terrifying signs of the times like totalitarianism and the Islamic Caliphate and a return to public executions and tortures alongside our complete loss of freedom and personality. Some of us get so worried about politics, President Trump, Brexit, the EU, a Pope who seems so un-Catholic – the list never ends.
Popes have exhorted us Be not afraid, but the fear and angst are always there. It’s not easy to allay our fear when we are afraid. I am a very anxious person and can so easily be overwhelmed by other people’s emotions, especially fear. We must learn to trust and love our Lord Jesus as he loves us. However it ends, his love and mercy will prevail as he teaches us in the Gospel. We have to shed our fear so that our souls may be filled with love and longing for the Kingdom. Our greatest nostalgia is what lies beyond the Veil and everything we know here.
Have faith and love and hope, and all will be well.