The first reading today from the prophet Daniel, was given during a time of great persecution for the Jewish people by a cruel pagan King. It is a reminder to live in the moment rather than waste our time worrying about the future. The Gospel reading from Mark, offered hope to those Christians suffering persecution and torture under the Roman Emperor Nero. It reassured those Christians suffering torment that Jesus would return to earth to judge the living and the dead, and the just will receive an eternal reward.
Jesus gives us the parable of the fig tree to demonstrate how we must always be alert to His return and be ready to give an account of our lives to Him. He tells us to read the signs of the times, whilst declaring that we cannot know ‘either the day or the hour’ of his ‘Parousia’, (Second Coming).
This doctrine of the ‘end times’ should not be a reason to fear. Rather, as Christians we should look forward to this, as it will be the culmination of the triumph of good over evil. We are not left alone to wait for this event, as Jesus is with us every day, along with the Holy Spirit, the ‘Paraclete’. We are asked not to worry but to live our lives in a state of readiness, serving God through service to others.
We are called to be agents of love, reconciling with our brothers and sisters, and striving to achieve the mission of the Church, the salvation of souls. Each year at this time, the Church asks us to consider the ‘four last things’ – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – as happening to ourselves. Understandably, we do not like to dwell on death. This is because we are so attached to this world and everything, we have in it that the thought of leaving behind our loved ones rightly leaves us feeling sad.
However, as Catholics we profess that we believe in ‘the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come’. This then, should be always at the forefront of our minds. There is a very old Catholic tradition called, ‘Memento Mori’, or ‘remember death’. This is a tradition that goes back many years, and devotees of it will often have a skull at home or in their workplaces to remind them of their death. Sounds morbid? At first thought possibly, but it reminds us to be ready for our own judgement, which may come quickly and unexpectedly. If we strive to love and serve each day, then this personal judgement should hold no fears for us.