Apocalyptic Peace

by Fr. Denis Lemieux

All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down. (Luke 21: 6).

Ah, November—when the Church in its liturgical year turns its face towards the apocalyptic dimension of life, captured so evocatively in the above verse. This is the Gospel for the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time on November 13.

Then Jesus goes on here to talk of wars between nations, of persecution, of earthquakes and famines and plagues. He talks about the need to persevere, to trust, that not a hair of our head shall be destroyed (v. 18), and that our lives will be secure in him if we hold fast in faith.

When we hear the litany of calamities Jesus lists off in Luke 21 as happening before the end, we might be excused for thinking he is simply reading the headlines from our daily newsfeed.

Certainly, the world in 2022 has seen its share of calamitous events—war in Europe, religious persecution in so many countries, famine and the prospect of worse famine a living reality in many countries, natural disasters … well, here it all is. We all face an uncertain and perhaps fearsome prospect as we stand on the edge of 2023.

I don’t want to be misunderstood in this article as implying that the end of all things is nigh, and that events we have lived through in the past few years are the sign of the immediate coming in glory of the Lord Jesus. That would be foolish.

The world has had many such times of turmoil and great suffering, calamitous disasters, even utter breakdown of civilization. Whatever the next years hold for us, I have no opinion regarding the timing of the Second Coming except what the Lord himself told us: You know not the day or the hour (Matt 25:13).

It is the verse I quoted to start this article, that stays with me as I ponder this Gospel and indeed the whole apocalyptic dimension of our faith. This dimension is all about the fact that everything we see here is not the realest reality, certainly not the final shape of reality, and that there is not one thing in our current reality—not one!—that will not be “thrown down” without a stone left on a stone.

The word, “Apocalypse,” means revelation or uncovering. The apocalyptic theme running throughout Sacred Scripture and its subsequent presence in our Christian tradition has always served to uncover for us that there is a whole action of God, which is to say a whole way in which God is loving the world, that runs above, below, within, and throughout the order of the world that we can see, hear, touch, taste, know with our human minds.

That God is doing something, and this something is of such a nature that we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or know it except by an apocalyptic act of God to reveal it to our minds and hearts.

In other words, it’s not about the end of the world exactly, so much as it is about the fact that the world has an end. And this is in both senses of the word: that all things in this world will come to a conclusion in their proper time; and that there is a goal, a purpose, a final shape of reality towards which God is bringing the whole cosmos.

Our whole Christian faith is intensely apocalyptic. We do not obsess, in a healthy Christian spirituality, over the precise timing of the end of the world. We do live in a constant awareness that, as St Teresa of Avila put it so well, “All things are passing; God never changes.”

As we look at our modern world scene that can cause us some distress, and perhaps should cause us distress for there are many people suffering in it all, the apocalyptic nature of our faith should help us to maintain or regain our interior peace.

So the world may blow up? Well, there is another world after this one, and all we have been told of that world is that it will be a kingdom of justice, peace, and love, and we will be very happy there.

We may be persecuted for our faith? This is not a fanciful thought; there have been more martyrs in the past 100 years of Christianity than the previous 1900 combined.

There are many today who hate our faith or what they believe our faith to be. Well, the Lord promises us grace to persevere in faith, and promises us the kingdom if we so do. It’s not fun to face persecution, but it’s also (quite literally) not the end of the world.

The world may simply pass into such a time of deep affliction and social breakdown that we lose everything we own and face a life of poverty, hunger, dire want?

This is a prospect of great suffering that we, especially in the prosperous countries of North American and Western Europe where most Restoration readers live, face with some trepidation. I realize that we have many readers in other parts of the world for whom this has simply been the norm of their lives.

So I don’t wish to be glib, whether that kind of collapse into dire poverty is an unknown and terrifying prospect or an all too familiar lived reality. But our apocalyptic Christian faith bids us to look deeper and to take hold of the luminous words of Christ: Blessed are you poor… you hungry… you who weep, for we shall be consoled, filled, inherit the kingdom.

We live our lives under the love and providence of God, even when that providence seems to deliver us into destitution. Do we believe that?

At all turns, as we confront a world in crisis and a future of grave uncertainty, the Lord bids us to have faith, to take heart, to stand fast, to hold onto the hands of Jesus and Mary in all things so that our lives indeed may not fail in the very end of things, but that we may be secure in the love of the Father. He is the one sure refuge that abides forever, stone upon stone, a fortress indestructible for all who take refuge in it, a place wherein we can stand and persevere to the end in love and service to our brothers and sisters.