History, someone once said, is just ‘one dam-ed thing after another’. Millenarian and Marxist believe it has a direction, and it is certainly possible to arrange your evidence so that it suits your theory – but thus far, Christ has not come again (despite numerous claims that ‘the end is nigh’) and the dictatorship of the proletariat seems to have got lost on the long march. Most generations have seen such claims, and the early Church was no exception. St John’s disciples clearly thought that the parousia would come before he died; he did not – and he, as usual – was correct. Both St John and St Peter had to explain why the ‘second coming’ had not ‘come’ It is certainly possible to read what Jesus said as promising an imminent second coming; but here we are, two millennia later and nothing – but is that so? Are we not ignoring the obvious?
Jesus ascended into Heaven, but he did not leave us alone. At the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles and Mary, and from thence the Spirit has been and remains, in this world. I cannot recall where I read it, but I recall a comment to the effect that ‘pneumatology’, that is the study of the workings of the Holy Spirit, was the least developed part of Trinitarian theology, and for all we read about the first two Persons of the Trinity, there is much less written on the Third.
If the presence of the Spirit in the world is one obvious thing we may miss, the other one is the imminence of our own encounter with God at the hour of our death. When I pray my Rosary, the words ‘now and at the hour of our death’ always have an impact on me. Though we eat, drink and make merry, tomorrow we may indeed die. The New Testament is eloquent on the folly of piling up riches in this world, for we know not the hour our soul may be required. Prudence and wisdom might suggest that for us, the meaning of the words ‘the kingdom is nigh’ should be taken literally – our experience of this world could end at any moment.
Life is either about nothing in particular, and we are simply animals who are born, reproduce and die, or it is about something. That does not mean that history in a wider sense has a purpose – except as an example of what Gibbon called the follies and crimes of mankind – but if you believe in Christ, your life has a purpose. We are made to love and to know Him, and as Augustine said, our heart will have no rest until we rest in Him.
But what does that mean in practice for us? At the minimum, it means that our love for Christ prompts us to love others here in this moral life, and to help those in need, to feed the widow and the orphan, to succour all those in need – at least those we can reach. It means being mindful of God’s presence, and the witness we give in our every day conduct. It means, too, I think, remembering to spend time in conversation with God. Like a river surging to the sea, time presses relentlessly, and we shall soon be gone; but until then, let us make time to love one another and to reflect, as far as Grace allows, the image of God in all of us.
With the end of the Advent season, we can turn from thoughts of waiting and actions of penitence to an awed contemplation of the vastness of the gift we received at the Mass of Christ.