1st Sunday of Advent, Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the seas and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Cult leaders often gather a following through predictions regarding the end of the world. Indeed, this is a pseudo-science among certain Protestants who look through the newspapers to find “signs” of the end-times.
These “prophets” are little more than fortune tellers, since no man can predict the end of time and neither would such be profitable unto the salvation of souls.
A brief consideration of the theological tradition regarding the signs of Judgment Day will help us to realize precisely why Catholics ought not to spend any time or energy on premonitions about the Second Coming of our Savior.
There will be signs before the Second Coming
On account of the authority and the glory of the Judge who is to come, it is necessary that there be some signs preceding his advent so as to induce people to reverence and subjection before him. Further, our Savior desires to draw men more by the bonds of love than by those of punishment, and therefore it is fitting that he prepare men for the Judgment through certain signs.
Further, although there were not many signs before the first advent of Jesus as a Child who came to be judged unto the salvation of all, there will be many signs most manifest before all peoples when he comes as Judge. Indeed, his first coming was foretold by the prophets and so there were some who did indeed receive him, though many preferred darkness to light. However, his second coming will not be hidden but will be most open – since the Gospel is now open and spread to the whole world through the missionary work of the Holy Church.
Therefore, it is more necessary that his second coming be preceded by many great and marvelous signs, as he will return to judge all people in an open and public manner – this will be the Last Judgment in which the deeds of all will be revealed to all, and God will be greatly glorified in his saints.
The “signs” do not necessarily refer to Judgment Day
Still, while we must affirm that there will be great and manifest signs which precede the second coming, we nevertheless maintain that these signs are not necessarily those to which our Savior alluded in the Gospels.
Jesus speaks of wars and fears, as well as natural disasters and persecutions – but these have been happening throughout the whole of human history. Indeed, of these signs which are given in Scripture, some refer to the first coming of our Lord and to the sack of Jerusalem, others refer to the daily coming of Jesus into the hearts of believers through grace and the sacraments, and finally some may well refer to his return in glory on the Day of Judgment. But it is not easy to discern which signs refer to the first century, which to the final day, and which to all times in the era of the Church.
Furthermore, while we may well admit that there will be an increase in certain sufferings (as wars and persecutions) which will directly precede the Final Judgment, we must admit that it is quite uncertain in what degree this increase will foretell the imminence of the advent. Hence, throughout the history of the Church, there have been times of greater persecution followed by times of peace – and our Lord has not yet returned. Therefore, we cannot know whether any particular increase in signs will be the final warning before the end.
These signs will only be truly clear in hind-sight.
The Day will be unknown
The reason that the Day of Judgment will come in such a surprising manner – as a thief in the night – is that this Day depends wholly upon the act of God.
Indeed, God is the cause of all things, but he wills to communicate his causal power to creatures in many things. Thus, though God is the cause of light, he wills that the sun should function as a secondary cause which gives us light. And, in these things in which God wills to work together with creatures, men may discern something of the future – hence, we may well presume that the sun will rise tomorrow and that there will be a day following today.
However, there are other things of which God is the sole cause, and of these man cannot perceive anything of the future. This applies all the more to the end of the world which will not come about by any natural cause or even by the participation of any human or angelic power, but will be the sole result of the will and power of the Almighty. For, at an unknown day and upon an unknown hour (and hour and day which he alone will choose), the Master of the house will come.
While it is true that our Lord can most certainly reveal certain things about the Day of Judgment, we must offer a slight word of caution here.
In those apparitions and locutions which have not been approved by the Church, we must show great prudence. If it would have been better for us to know the time of the end, our Lord would have told us – thus, it is rather suspicious if a supposed visionary purports to predict the future, and especially the day of the second coming.
Even more suspicious are those who, without any private revelation but relying solely on their own reasoning, attempt to predict the time of the end. The second coming is wholly beyond any natural cause, and therefore the observation of supposed “signs” will not allow the human or even the angelic intellect to predict or foretell Judgment Day.
Why Jesus did not tell us and does not want us to know
It is better that we do not know the day and hour of the Second Advent of Jesus, because then we will be vigilant and will strive all the more to live a virtuous life.
Indeed, if we knew the hour of our death and the hour of judgment, then we would be tempted to put off conversion until the last moment – but what chance would we have of reforming our lives or making a true act of contrition at the last moment, if we had purposely remained in sin throughout our life? The sin of presumption would be so strong in us as to be overpowering – and we would not (for the most part) succeed in converting, but would be lost to our sin and vice. If we put off converting to the end, we will never convert.
Further, we add that virtue is its own reward – and we are happier if we live a life in union with God than if we live a life of sin. However, in the beginning especially, fear of judgment can be a great help to sever our vice and increase our virtue; and then we move from fear to love, as we gain more freedom from sin and freedom for God.
Therefore, it is good for us that we watch and pray. It is good that we know neither the day nor the hour. And Christ our Savior, who hid this knowledge from us, is very merciful indeed.
Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus!