It’s that time of year—the end is nigh. The airwaves are choked with nostalgic retrospectives for the year that was, and the newspapers print long lists of the great and the good who have gone to meet their Maker (Margaret Thatcher, RIP). I take down my Chick-fil-A 2013 calendar (farewell, Tsar Nikoloin Roastanov), and think back to the year that was. A disappointing dénouement in the culture wars, the resignation of Pope Benedict, the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage . . . well, let’s hope the 2014 cows leave happier memories.
New Year’s Eve often brings a sense of finality, affording a pause to appreciate the historical moment of the past year’s events. Perhaps it’s the pessimist in me, but thinking about the course of history of the last few years reminds me of Yeats’ poem The Second Coming: “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Surely all these portentous happenings—acts of God and man, long-term trends and revolutionary choices alike—must be leading somewhere. Could it be . . . TEOTWAWKI?
Perhaps this sense of “the end of the world as we know it” need not be one of popular apocalypticism, of paranoia or political messianism. Christ assured us that “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Mt 25:13). There’s no sense in the pious Christian working himself up into a lather on account of the false prophets of doom and gloom. Our sense of “the end” this New Year’s Eve should be infused with hope. After all, we just finished the season of Advent, in which the Church continually prayed “Maranatha—Come, Lord Jesus!”
TEOTWAWKI in 2014 can be the start of something new in our lives—but less in the manner of World War Z and more like The Passion of the Christ. Every new year brings a sense of fresh possibility, of a clean slate—and what better time for conversion of life? This newness shouldn’t simply be a matter of our willing a change—after all, consider how most New Year’s resolutions work out. No, the only genuine, lasting transformation in our lives comes from cooperating with God’s grace at work in us, allowing ourselves to be reordered in His image, by His power.
How do we do that—or, better yet, how does God propose to accomplish that in us? He wants us to live this life with one foot in the world to come, being stretched spiritually so that we can experience the more intense reality of heaven—an experience that C.S. Lewis imagined in The Great Divorce, in which the very landscape of heaven is too painfully solid for the unrepentant to trod. There are a few simple ways that we can start living for heaven here on earth:
+Go to confession: It can’t really be TEOTWAWKI if we’re still held captive by our sins. Christ is waiting for us in the confessional in order to remake us anew by means of His divine mercy. It can be frightening and intimidating, whether one has been away for two weeks or two decades—but the power of shame and embarrassment is broken by the joy and relief that follow the words of absolution.
+Try praying part of the Divine Office: When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, we pray with the whole Church. It’s choir practice for joining the celestial chorus in heaven, preparation for the beatific vision. Make the Divine Office part of your prayer life, and you will never lack for conversation with God—whether in the morning or in the evening, at noon or at night. A good place to start is with an adaptation of the Office for laypeople, such as Magnificat.
+Carve out time for contemplation: It is a worthwhile practice to take time each day—even if only five or ten minutes—to speak with God in the silence of your heart. This needn’t involve detailed steps or predetermined spiritual exercises. A simple way is to begin by acknowledging God’s presence, then to speak to Him as a Father, following the model of the Lord’s Prayer. Secret prayer breaks us out of our internal monologue and draws us towards contemplating God’s goodness. Dominicans often practice this time of mental or “secret” prayer with the rosary, meditating on the mysteries of salvation history in the life of Christ, and Eucharistic adoration in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
+Make Holy Communion a highlight: Whether one has the opportunity to receive Holy Communion every day or only on Sundays, it is always the means by which God proposes to give a foretaste of future glory, inviting us into His inner life. Yet how easily reception of Communion becomes routine or unthinking. As one of our friars recently recommended, the next time you attend Mass, receive Holy Communion as if it were the first, last, and only time.
These are but a few examples of how we might find TEOTWAWKI in 2014. After all, as St. Paul writes, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
Still, this next year, as in every year of human history, men will claim that if only we followed so-and-so or did such-and-such, then all the wounds of this world would be healed, and all would be well at last. We should know better—the effects of sin will always be with us this side of paradise, and we ourselves can’t build that paradise or single-handedly make it come any faster. All we can do is pray to be configured to the image of Christ, to be made ready in this imperfect world for the perfection of the next. We would do well to follow Eric Voegelin’s wise counsel: whatever you do, don’t immanentize the eschaton!
Image: Benjamin West, Death on the Pale Horse