Here at the End of All Things

“In all that ruin of the world for the moment he felt only joy, great joy.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien

Today is the day after Thanksgiving. The table has been cleared, the extra chairs have been returned to the basement, and what is left of the turkey dinner (not much!) has been tucked into the fridge. The faint echo of last night’s laughter and chatter has faded into silence, following the taillights of cars that slowly disappeared into the darkness outside. Something you cannot quite place has ended, and something you cannot quite name has been lost—even if plans are already in place to put up Christmas trees, bake cookies, sing songs, and ring in the new year.

In those unattended moments, our hearts ache for something we cannot quite describe. Maybe we wish those happy times with loved ones could have lasted just a little while longer. Maybe we think of past holidays and grieve for those who would have filled the empty seats at the table this year. Or, maybe we tell ourselves that just one more smile or just one more hug would have been enough to stave off this feeling of an ending. For God “has made everything appropriate to its time, but has put the timeless into [our] hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). However much we may long for the timeless, or even for just one more page in the chapter, all adventures, seasons, and stories upon this earth must come to an end.

The recent apocalyptic readings let us linger in that ache as we come to the end of the liturgical year, weeks before the crowds fill Times Square—but not for long. We hear about the passing of the world, the end of time, and stories we may wish would end quickly: terrifying beasts, kingdoms falling, people dying of fright, and even heaven and earth passing away! Much as Tolkien describes, “Towers fell and mountains slid; walls crumbled and melted, crashing down; vast spires of smoke and spouting steams went billowing up, up, until they toppled like an overwhelming wave, and its wild crest curled and came foaming down upon the land.”

Yet, even amid the chaos and ruin of the world, and even in the sorrow we face in our own lives, these readings also give us an anchor to cling to: Christ the King. He promises us the permanence our hearts long for now and in those end times, saying that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21:33). “He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14). In a sudden turn that makes our breath catch and our hearts lift, there is something—Someone—that lasts.

In the upcoming weeks of Advent, we will wait for the fulfillment of this promise: for Christ’s coming at Christmas and in the last days. It is a period of joyful expectation, steadfast preparation, and patient endurance while awaiting “the point of intersection of the timeless with time” (Eliot). As Tolkien again writes, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” Each day we receive the Eucharist—or, thanksgiving—this joy comes from being with our beloved, our king. Even if our world is in ruin and our hearts yearn for more in ways we cannot quite describe, no one can take this joy, for our God is with us. And with him, we are called to watch and wait for the day we will see him as he is, beyond the appearance of bread and wine—for the day after thanksgiving, at the end of all things.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Scott Hahn, Joy to the World
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the KingOn Fairy Stories
Fr. Gregory Pine, O.P., The Xmas Soundtrack: Rudolph, Frosty, and Man’s Search for Meaning
Fr. Mike Schmitz, Joy to the WorldThe Promise

Emmanuel: The Strength of God With Us

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, 
Christ on my right, Christ on my left, 
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, 
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, 
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me, 
Christ in the eye that sees me, 
Christ in the ear that hears me. 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

LORICA OF ST. PATRICK

I’ll preface this reflection the same way I nearly always (need to) do: I am not a theologian, and all heresy is purely accidental. One of my favorite ways to reflect on Scripture is to follow various thought experiments and “what ifs” to try and tease out God’s intentions and motivations; as a cradle Catholic, most Bible stories were familiar and therefore fraught with foregone conclusions and a sense of heavenly fatalism. “Of course Moses parted the Red Sea, that’s how this story goes!” or “Jesus’ Resurrection is the happy ending that this story needs!”. So often I forget at just how radically shocking and unexpected the mind of God truly is. While the Passion might seem like a familiar, expected story to me, to the Jews of Jesus’ time, how devastating must it have been that their Messiah, their Deliverer, wound up being captured and crucified in a publicly humiliating execution?

The LORD’s ways are not our ways, and no mistake about that. So my mind likes to try rewriting the chapters to find more meaning in the story God wrote.


Today’s readings from Acts and the Gospel of Luke immediately stood out to me in one of their shared theme: The power of the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit he gave us

After all, what did the Resurrection that we celebrate so joyously accomplish? Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection accomplished our salvation, yes, but if salvation was the only goal, why did the LORD not bring us up to Heaven with Jesus when he ascended? Why are we left here below?

Let’s look at John 14 for some clues:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, 1the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.n

John 14:16-20

While I can’t give a great answer to the question, Christ gives us some food for thought here. While the world no longer sees Jesus, He lives, and we live. He is in the Father, and we are in Him. In short, he is as near to us our own being; perhaps even nearer still. The Advocate, the Holy Spirit was sent by Christ so that we were not left as orphans.

Perhaps there is a simple reason that there will be a Second Coming (i.e. that Jesus Incarnation was not the final judgment): There were still more to save! Not only were we left with the Advocate, we were left with a mission:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

In today’s readings, we see the radically transformative power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in us. The travelers to Emmaus’ hearts were set ablaze with a zeal for Christ, and a crippled man was miraculously healed by Peter in the name of Jesus. In both stories, all who were touched by the LORD left changed, wanting only to proclaim the goodness of God. Witnesses were left astonished.

How often do we believe the lie that things about our world, lives, family, etc. cannot be changed? This Easter season, let us take courage in the triumphant power of our savior’s Resurrection and call upon the Spirit to change these parts of our lives that we’ve sealed off in an effort to protect ourselves. The Spirit of the living God wants to renew your mind, your soul, your relationships, your work, your family, and your heart.

Maybe today, you can try a little thought experiment, a “what if”:

What if the power of Jesus can change our lives, here and now?