Last week, we celebrated the Autumn Triduum—Halloween, All Soul’s Day, and All Saints’ Day. These three days welcome us to November, a month that is dedicated to eschatology and the contemplation of the last things. Many of us who are Catholic have thought about eschatology, and have taken part in discussions about it. Perhaps you’ve compared the particular judgment to the general judgment. Maybe you’ve pondered esoteric passages from the Book of Revelation. Some of us like to speculate about how awesome the Resurrection of the Body will be—wondering whether we’ll be able to bilocate or walk through walls! As the mom of seven kids, this is also the time of year when I make my annual joke about how my resurrected body will definitely give me a waist again.
This year, however, I’ve begun to reflect on eschatology in a different way. In light of all the events of 2020—both in the Church and in the wider world—I have been thinking about it in terms of how I can take part in building God’s kingdom today, here on earth. My new approach is, in part, inspired by Pope Francis’s unrelenting call for us to go out and spread the Gospel.
Certainly, the eschatological focus in some Catholic circles is based in end-times speculation and uses strong apocalyptic language. Many of these groups focus on prophecies, predictions, and apparitions. They often follow controversial and unapproved apparitions, such as Medjugorje or Garabandal, or self-styled prophets like Fr. Michel Rodrigue. It’s also common for members of these groups to reject—perhaps not coincidentally—the message of Pope Francis. But rather than dwell so much on possible future events, I believe the Holy Father would encourage us to more humbly meditate on eschatology in ways that challenge our souls to grow and that would encourage us to reach out to the world and our neighbors. He’d want us to apply our understanding of eschatology to our mission, not our fantasy.
The news this week has centered on the US election, which has polarized both the secular and Catholic communities. Throughout the campaign, I saw many social media posts saying things like, “Remember Jesus is King and this is not our kingdom.” This assertion is at its core an eschatological statement, and it is objectively true. But I question the underlying sentiment of this message. Yes, the promise of God’s kingdom should provide us with an inner peace. That said, is it possible that this message can lead us—perhaps unknowingly—to allow ourselves to become apathetic to the injustices of this world? We cannot turn inward and ignore our call to bring Christ to his kingdom in this world.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Christ tells us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This part of the Our Father is a fundamental reminder of our mission as Christians to bring the Kingdom of God to this world. I have never felt these words as powerfully as I did this year listening to voices protesting across our nation, highlighting so many injustices. The Kingdom of the Lord is one of justice, truth, and goodness, where no one goes without. As Catholics, it is not our job to hopelessly daydream for the day we enter heaven; it is our job to work with the grace of God to build his kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
While it is true that this will not be completely fulfilled until the end of time, we must resolve to work and sacrifice to that end. This is how we will be judged. Scripture is clear that our judgment will not only be according to our sins, but also according how we have loved. This love is not a feeling, but an action and a conscious choice that is directly rooted in how we practice the virtues—how we feed the poor, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.
Heaven is not simply a reward for living a good life, comparable to a transaction or a prize. Heaven is measured by the soul’s ability to withstand the love of God. Like eyes adjust to a bright light, the soul must adjust to the unrestrained love of God in heaven. We prepare our souls when we learn, know, and actively participate in God’s love in this earthly kingdom. God’s love is self-gift, and this is manifested through the gift of self to our neighbors. Scripture makes clear in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man: the love that prepares the soul for God requires us to give of ourselves. While the rich man did feed Lazarus, he only fed him scraps from his excess. Yes, he did feed the poor, but without authentic self-sacrificing love. In other words, the rich man did not prepare his soul to withstand the love of God and was turned away from the kingdom. Today, in this time of great civil unrest, cries for justice, and political polarization, have we only given our scraps, or have we truly challenged our souls to love the other—our neighbor—in ways that cost us?
Recently, I encountered a fellow Catholic on social media who, while justifiably angry, posted that he had no pity for those in our Church who actively oppose Pope Francis and who treat care for the poor as an irrelevant second thought. Yes, radical traditionalists absolutely harm both marginalized people and the mission of the Church with their alt right ideology and dissent from the Gospel. The damage they inflict cannot be overstated. And yet, when we consider our response to them through an eschatological lens, we will realize these souls are the ones most worthy of our pity because they are harming themselves and their own souls the most. The injustices in the world for which they are culpable will fade, but their souls’ inability to withstand authentic love will remain.
This is why we must continue to make efforts to reach these Catholics. Martin Luther King taught that the Black man’s freedom also frees the White man from his guilt. The beauty of our faith is precisely that we don’t decide between reaching out to the oppressed and the oppressor, we do both.
Applying these eschatological principles to the aftermath of the election, we’re faced with a challenge. If we are going to be judged—and judged severely by how we love in this earthly kingdom—who do we love? In this polarized, partisan climate we are consistently told we must make choices. How do we decide between the immigrant, the prisoner on death row, the person of color, and the unborn child? The kingdom of God sacrifices no one. Therefore, in order to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, we also cannot sacrifice anyone.
As Mike Lewis said earlier this week, we should try to work together towards the common good, regardless of how we voted. A vote is just one of many ways to achieve our mission, and because it is a matter of individual discernment and prudential judgement, our decisions in this area might differ. Our political disagreements don’t change our call to unity, charity, and holiness. We still have an obligation to the bring the kingdom of God to this world.
Because we are Catholics, our choices must be determined by our faith and not our politics. Going forward—and especially as we meditate on eschatology this month—I fervently pray that we begin the journey away from heated partisan divides and toward unity. We all share the mission of bringing God’s kingdom to this world in preparation for the next.
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Melinda Ribnek is a lifelong Catholic, originally from Savannah, Georgia. She currently lives on California's Central Coast with her husband Brian and their seven children. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Church and in her community.