THERE is, across cultures and eras, a vision of the end times—one that is almost always preceded by cataclysmic events before a new order reigns. We see this in today’s Gospel.
For those who remember the 1993 movie “Little Buddha,” recall the scene where different elements storm around Prince Siddhartha as he, in peaceful meditation, sits through all the turbulence and comes a step closer to nirvana.
We see a similar pattern in Elijah’s experience in the mountain of the mighty wind, the fire and the earthquake, before he feels the quiet, serene presence of God.
In more contemporary stories, this showdown between good and evil is played out in the epic battles in “The Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” or in the more personalized battles of Harry Potter.
It is the epic battle between good and evil and the resolution that comes when a hero takes on the cudgels for the forces of good.
In the ancient classic Greek tradition it is the deus ex machina moment, the deities come to the rescue of humanity and crush the forces of evil.
We love these dramatic representations of the end times, of the battle between good and evil and of the eventual triumph of good in a hero whose character is likewise of epic proportions. Cinema most certainly helps feed this penchant for the epic; this is why some of the biggest box-office hits follow this mold.
Seeing the core truth
But to fully appreciate this and personally appropriate the grace of the transforming power of this battle that occasions our redemption, we need to see the core truth behind the drama. We turn to the central mystery of our Christian faith to experience this grace: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
As we come to the end of our liturgical year, we are asked to “cleanse,” and next Sunday we are represented in the vision of the future in the Feast of Christ the King. We then usher in a new beginning, the First Sunday of Advent, to prepare for the coming of Christ as man, to be God-with-us, the Emmanuel.
This begins a new cycle that will allow the restaging, so to speak, of the drama of the Cross and Resurrection. This is ultimately the most cataclysmic of battles and the most definitive of victories. As Fr. Randy Sachs, SJ, put it, in the Cross and Resurrection God’s word became definitive; he said everything he wanted to say.
Thus, the only event and experience we can encounter that will transform us radically is the Cross and Resurrection. The “personal drama” of Christ’s loving obedience to his Father’s will deals the epic death blow to sin and death itself. From this “drama” Christ emerges as the new Adam, the new creation, and ushers in the era that will culminate in the new heaven and the new earth.
While this epic drama is often told as a battle between good and evil “out there,” there is also this battle within us. The pattern and process of Christ’s Paschal Mystery is to happen within us, a personal and interior battle within us that is resolved in our transformation in allowing Christ to enter our core, and our entering the core of our relationship with Christ by sharing in the pattern of his Cross and Resurrection.
Very often in the process of a personal journey of spiritual formation, this is the transition point from self-awareness to self-acceptance that leads to transformation, an experience of personal healing and reintegration.
As David Brooks describes it, our Adam II (our eulogy virtues) emerges as our Adam I (our resumé or curriculum vitae virtues) no longer suffices as the source and core of our identity and meaning or mission.
This is our personal “end times cataclysmic” experience when the transition from Adam I to Adam II, from self-love to a more sublime love that expresses itself in service of God and others, takes place.
Brooks writes, “And so, finally, love impels to service. If love starts with a downward motion, burrowing into the vulnerability of self, exposing nakedness, it ends with an active upward motion. It arouses great energy and desire to serve.” Yet many of us fall short of as we cut short the “downward motion… into the vulnerability of self, exposing nakedness.”
We stop dead in our tracks as we face the painful yet graced moment of self-acceptance of our blessings and liabilities, our strengths and weaknesses. Those who choose to deal with this and enter the core suffer through the pain of personal transformation that purifies them into their authentic self, their Adam II.
Brooks continues: “Love ennobles and transforms… Occasionally you meet someone with a thousand-year heart… who has made the most of the passionate, tumultuous phase of love. The person or thing they once loved hotly they now love warmly, steadily, happily, unshakably. They don’t even think of loving their beloved because they want something back. They just naturally offer love as a matter of course. It is gift-love, not reciprocity love.”
This is the final transformation that makes us live in the kingdom of God in the here and now. We live love; our whole life is to love and to serve God and others—and this is enough hope and inspiration for us to go through the interior “end times cataclysmic” events in our life.