This is the Last Sunday of the Church's year, and each year we end with this Gospel that describes the events that will take place at the end of the world. Our Lord left us these words so that those who actually find themselves in the end times won't be caught completely by surprise.
Of course there is always a bit of uncertainty in knowing whether this prophecy refers to our era, or to another era some time in the future. Over the past centuries there have been events that made people of those times feel that perhaps things were then at the end. With good enough reason, many people didn't expect the world to last much beyond the death of Christ; and others again had reason to worry about the end when the year 999 gave way to 1000, as the first millennium turned into the second.
And, many of our own people feel apprehensive, even though we are almost a year into the third millennium. Certainly, we have seen forces that can aptly be described as "Antichrist" challenging Christendom in an attack that will not soon be forgotten. To be honest, though, it is hard, any longer, to describe our own society as "Christendom." Perhaps at no time in history have our Lord's words about an "abomination of desolation" seemed to fit the current situation. The phrase originally referred to the Jewish Temple, where invading forces stopped the Jews from offering sacrifice to God, and substituted sacrifices to the false "god" Jupiter. We Catholics have a right to ask if we are not seeing our Lord's prophecy fulfilled in all of the abominations that we have seen taking place in our churches over the past 35 years. Has not the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass been replaced with something foreign?
And certainly, our era has had more than its share of false Christs and false prophets. The nearly two thousand year old teaching of the Catholic Church is being stood on its head in so many churches and schools -- and there is no shortage of pentecosstalists and "visionaries" ready to claim that all of these perversions of the truth are somehow approved by "heaven."
But yet, we don't know for certain what the future will bring. God has delivered His people from similar, seemingly impossible situations in the past. He has raised up good and holy men and women to deliver His Church through prayer, and penance, and exhortation, and good example. He has raised up armies of Christian warriors when that was His way of dealing with those intent on wiping our Christianity; and He has raised up armies of nurses and physicians and other charitable people when it was His plan to spare a world that seemed about to end through diseases like the black plague. The world will end in God's good time; both for us as individuals, and some day for the entire planet in the more literal sense.
Perhaps it is because of the importance to prepare for our own end, as well as to meet the need of having holy people to cooperate with God's plans for the world in the larger sense, that the Church has us read St. Paul's words in today's Mass. His words are extremely important, since they tell us what we must do to prepare for either eventuality: they tell us how to go about living the spiritual life.
"Cease not to pray ... that you will be filled with the knowledge of the will of God." This is the very beginning of living life as a Christian -- we need to know what it is that God wants of us. Almost by definition, "holiness" is conforming our wills to the will of God -- and no amount of good intention will enable to do that without coming to a knowledge of God's will. We must pray, and study, and reflect in order to receive this "wisdom and spiritual understanding" of which St. Paul speaks.
And, he goes on to pray that we may "walk worthy of God - - - in all things pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." That, once we have come to know the will of God, we will make it our will. That we will do the good works that He expects of us. And that by continuing to live this life with God, growing in love of Him we will also grow in knowledge of Him; better able to love what we know, and better able to know what we love.
Through this process, Paul tells us, we will be strengthened according to the power of God's glory, becoming long-suffering and patient and even joyful in doing His will, in spite of every obstacle. That we will give thanks to God for making us the partners of the saints in His light.
God has paid the price of our redemption with the Blood of His only begotten Son. He has delivered us from the power of darkness; liberating us from the captivity of the devil, translating us into the kingdom of His love. We have only to respond by doing these things urged on us by Saint Paul today:
If we follow St. Paul's simple directions we will be fully prepared for the end. Whether that end be quite personal and individual, or even if it is truly the end of the age and the end of the planet. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but [God's] words shall never pass away."