Back in my high school and college days, I was a huge fan of Dave Matthews Band. I knew all their albums by heart, I obsessed over setlists, and I went to as many of their concerts as I could every single summer.
As soon as I moved here to Williamsburg, I started seeing tons of Dave Matthews Band fire-dancer stickers on cars all around town. So obviously… there’s a big fanbase in the area.
Now, if you’re wondering: YES, I still enjoy jamming out to Dave every once in a while, but I have to admit — ever since my deepening conversion towards the end of college and into my young adult years, I can’t help but notice themes in his lyrics that I never noticed in my younger days. Themes that… from a Christian perspective… I simply cannot agree with or celebrate anymore.
One of those themes in a lot of Dave Matthews Band songs is this one:
The idea that the world is going to inevitably get progressively better and better, if we all would just pitch in together and let history sort of take its natural course.
Listen to these lyrics from the title track of DMB’s latest album, ‘Come Tomorrow’ —
Let the children run the show
Not too long and we’d be good to go
All the girls and boys would sing
Come tomorrow we get everything
So as long as we survive today
Come tomorrow, we’re gonna find a way
At first, these words might sound upbeat and optimistic, but I think they reveal a LOT. I think they speak to a false belief — all too common today — that everything is going to get progressively better and better with every new generation.
…That history itself is hurtling along an upward trend and that — one day — we will eventually arrive at long last to an age of perfect harmony, with everyone getting along, everyone being nice to one another, everyone having a good time… An era of man-made political peace and happiness.
And yet in our gospel this weekend, Jesus delivers a much different prediction of what lies ahead in the future… and at first anyways, it sounds much less optimistic.
We pick up the story while some are pointing out all the radiant beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem — how it is “adorned with so many costly stones and votive offerings.”
Jesus seizes the opportunity to squash any idea that life was just going to progressively get better and better for his followers:
“All that you see here?” He says, motioning to the Temple all around them— “The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
His disciples are shocked. Maybe even a little scandalized. What does he mean the Temple will be thrown down? How is that even possible? But still, they ask him: “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
Jesus then proceeds to describe the End of the World: It will be fraught with wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and mighty signs in the sky, he says. There will be persecutions… rejection even from our closest family and friends! “They will put some of you to death”
All of this, Jesus says very bluntly. Not a very pretty picture you might say! “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven” as our first reading from the prophet Malachi put it.
As Dr. Ralph Martin reminds us, “The picture Scripture gives us of the ‘end times’ is not of the world becoming progressively more ‘advanced’ in what matters, but becoming increasingly more depraved, believing lies that lead to destruction.”
Even the Church isn’t totally exempt from this trend.
In one famous Marian apparition in the Japanese city of Akita, approved by the local bishop in consultation with Rome, our Blessed Mother Mary gave this stark message of warning of what lies ahead:
“The work of the devil will infiltrate into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres… churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.”
This isn’t anything new! Sacred Scripture, through the writings of St. Paul and the Book of Revelation, along with countless saints, prophets and mystics throughout history all agree that there will be dramatic tribulations ahead for the Faithful, including some sort of large-scale “apostasy” — a widespread turning away from the one true faith — before the End comes.
Not one stone will be left upon another!
I don’t share any of this to scare you. And I certainly don’t share any of this to make some sort of apocalyptic prediction as to when it might happen. I share these things for this reason, and this reason alone:
To strengthen you.
To give you an opportunity to prepare in hope.
So that if we do see these things happen (more than they already are)… that we won’t lose our faith.
That’s my job as a priest — to make available to you the hard truths, as Jesus did, so you won’t be caught unawares!
If we experience those final trials, I want all of you to be able to stand erect, and be confident that God is still in charge!
I want you to be firmly rooted in the Truth that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, even if they score a few battles along the way.
I want you to be utterly convinced that Jesus wins in the end!
That we have literally nothing to be afraid of!!!!!
Jesus said it himself: “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified!!!! […] You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.”
With these encouraging words, Jesus was and still is preparing His Church for what lies ahead. He is steeling all of us against the kinds of persecutions and tribulations that we are bound to face. Life will not go on getting more and more easy, comfortable, and agreeable for Christians…
Just the opposite in fact:
Before the End, before God’s total and definitive victory that will set all things right, and wipe away every tear from our eyes, things will look bleak! But do not be terrified. Don’t worry! Don’t be paralyzed by fear! Everything will crumble, yes — but not the Rock.
Not Jesus Christ, the Cornerstone. And not the Church He founded.
But really — whether we live to see the Actual End of Time or not, it doesn’t matter much — because one way or another, one thing is for sure: We WILL live to see the end of OUR OWN time…
I mentioned this in my homily last week: The month of November is a time for us to pray for the dead, yes, for all the souls in Purgatory. But November is also a time for us to grapple with the reality of our own mortality. “Remember your death,” the old saying goes: “Memento mori.”
As an Opus Dei priest once put it: “Have you seen, on a sad autumn evening, how dead leaves fall? My daughter, my son: be alive to eternity and don’t lose sight of the fact that ‘one day, the falling leaf will be you.’”
Over and against the “progressively better” lie that tries to convince us that our lives can get better and better through personal fitness, healthy eating, self-help books, and cosmetic surgery — the simple fact is that one day, we will inevitably decline. And things will start to look really bleak, until finally, it is the End.
How will we face that moment of death?
With bitterness? With anger and lack of forgiveness as the television blares in our hospital room? With disappointment that things didn’t get better and better like they all said it would?
Will we face that moment with prayerful courage — With a tireless Faith that even though this world in its present form is indeed passing away, we know that we were never meant to have a permanent dwelling-place on this earth! We are only exiles… pilgrims on the way to a far better hope:
Unending Life with God in the New Heavens and the New Earth!
That’s way better than anything this world could offer.
So as for the End of the World? I say — Bring it on! Go to Confession. If you fall gravely ill, call for the priest to be anointed. Be ready at all times.
With the whole Christian tradition, we pray: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Until that happens, we will go on working and living here in this passing world, raising our families, striving for holiness, pursuing Your Will daily.
But whenever it’s time, we will boldly face the End, knowing that You are Lord and that You love us.
Behold, You come to rule the earth!