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The New Age
Shall I tell you the signs of a New Age coming?
It is a sound of drubbing and sobbing
Of people crying, We are old, we are old
And the sun is going down and becoming cold
Oh sinful and sad and the last of our kind
If we turn to God now do you think He will mind?
Then they fall on their knees and begin to whine
That the state of Art itself presages decline
As if Art has anything or ever had
To do with civilization whether good or bad.
Art is wild as a cat and quite separate from civilization
But that is another matter that is not now under consideration.
Oh these people are fools with their sighing and sinning
Why should Man be at an end? he is hardly beginning.
This New Age will slip in under cover of their cries
And be upon them before they have opened their eyes.
Well, say geological time is a one-foot rule
Then Man's only been here about half an inch to play the fool
Or be wise if he likes, as he often has been
Oh heavens how these crying people spoil the beautiful
The question of the Divine Judgement is a key question for those who believe in the immortality of the soul. It was certainly on the mind of the man or woman in the crowd who asked Jesus, "Lord, will only a few people be saved?" (Luke 13:23). It is on the minds of those Christians caught up in the flurry of end of the world predictions (despite Jesus's commands not to listen to these false teachers). There is a sense that concern for the end of the world, the final judgement, gives meaning to the moments we have now. Unlike the speaker in Smith's poem above, the people he or she is making fun of get that thinking of humanity's end does not make you a fool, it makes you wise. The "sighing", "whining" show we understand that there is a deeper purpose and order to things, and our frame of reference does not merely begin with ourselves or our planet's cycles, but with the Author of All. Our lives achieve true beauty only when they are in line with the will of God. If most people were honest, they would realize that they are not in line with God, and that realization is a sad or frightening discovery, perhaps mostly frustrating or mysterious.
I remember when I was hospital chaplain a little over a year ago in Albuquerque, a patient I was visiting for the first time was upset and worried about this very topic--not for himself, but for everyone. He believed only a few would be saved. I chose to respond to his concerns by talking about the message of Divine Mercy--the promises made by Jesus to St. Maria Faustina--but later, I reflected on what I had said, and today's gospel came to mind. Jesus himself declares: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, 'Lord, open the door for us.' He will say to you in reply, 'I do not know where you are from.'" (Luke 13:24-25). Dreadful words. They indicate that the ultimate goal of eternal life with God is not easily obtained, even by those who "ate and drank" with the master, and seemingly belonged to group of believers. It seemed to me then that perhaps I was wrong to emphasize Divine Mercy, as if all the worry about sin would ultimately be a waste, since God was just going to decide to be merciful.
It hit me, now, that view I had was an oversimplification of the Divine Mercy message. A specific line from St. Maria Faustina's diary illustrates the point: "I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners. Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning Me--clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls...Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at My insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain; despite My inexhaustible love for them they do not trust Me. Even My death is not enough for them. Woe to the soul that abuses theses gifts" (Paragraph 50, Notebook I, 22 Feb 1931). It isn't that Jesus does not want to have mercy on sinners, rather it is that unlike the questioner in the crowd from the gospel, or the patient in the hospital bed, or the mourners in the poem above, most people are not interested, even Christians who should be.
What an odd thing, because, as St. Paul says in yesterday's reading from Romans, "Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God...that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:19, 21-23). He goes on to say that we Christians are a people of hope; that is, a people focused on what we cannot see and what we believe is coming. We're precisely the people concerned with salvation, judgement, the end of the world, but on a larger scale than just our own happiness. As St. Paul shows, a Christian is a part of the whole created world, and as last part of Jesus's answer to the question implies, this project of salvation involves all people.
For a global community to think as does the speaker of Smith's poem would be naive. It may alleviate for a time that nagging worry called the human conscience, but it would not succeed in silencing it altogether. Our very purpose as humans is to, in slag terms, "give a damn" about what it all means, in relation to God, to the planet, to each other, and to ourselves. And we have our awareness of our mortality, our fragility and preciousness--not simply Christian eschatology--to thank for giving the question such urgency.
"Lord, will only a few be saved?" That's a good beginning question. If it is overwhelming, take time to sit with Romans 8:26-30, which teaches us that the Holy Spirit is with us to help us. Salvation is God's work from beginning to end.
Br. Paul, OP