Occasionally I encounter someone who asks, with breathless suspicion, whether I think we’re in the End Times. You can almost hear the capital letters when they speak the words. What they generally mean by the question is do I think that we’re in a special period of history foretold by biblical prophesy, that supposedly precedes the return of Christ and the end of the world.
I usually explain that for Catholics, the “End Times” stretch from the Ascension of Christ until his return in glory. So, yes, these are the end times, they’ve always been the end times, and they’re always going to be the end times. The Catholic understanding of the Scriptures is that what they call “prophesy” we call Apocalyptic literature. We don’t believe that God has left us a series of secrets or a trail of breadcrumbs to follow to figure out the time of Christ’s return. In fact, one of the hallmarks of Catholic Christianity is that we have no secrets. Everything that we believe is right out in the open for anyone to examine and consider.
I’m often astounded by people who base all of their religious belief on a supposedly literal interpretation of Scripture, and then ignore the words of Jesus in the Gospels, telling us plainly that the time of his return is not ours to know. In fact, he says that even he doesn’t know—that’s for the Father alone to know. That being the case, what’s the point of looking for hidden clues?
To my way of thinking, the more important question is: what difference does it make? I mean, I could be run over by a bus tomorrow, and for me, that’s the End Time. The truth is, we all have limited time. So am I going to live my life differently because Christ could return to me tomorrow, or because I could return to him tomorrow? What’s the difference?
There’s no point in living in fear. As followers of Christ we have work to do—a mission he left us. Excessive worry about the time of his return is an unnecessary distraction. The Scriptures tell us to be alert and ready for Christ’s return; not because we should be afraid, but because we should be working on the tasks he’s given us.