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Your GPA and the end of the world

Fr. Lou DelFra | Thursday, November 19, 2009

 Each mid-November, just as the perma-cloud settles in over South Bend, the days get depressingly shorter, and due dates for papers and exams start looming on the horizon — the Church starts talking about the end of the world. And while the Church Fathers who set the calendar surely couldn’t have predicted the weather patterns or exam schedules of the university that Fr. Sorin had not yet founded, this talk about the end of the world these days seems somehow to, well, fit.

“The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds …”  Take out the Son of Man surfing on the clouds, and you pretty much have a South Bend winter. “All of heaven and earth will pass away.” Excellent, any chance we can have that happen before the Orgo Final? 

Of course, beneath the joking is a bit of nervousness. The reminder that the world will end is not feel-good stuff. I personally hope I am long gone before the world blows up. I think I’ll enjoy it more if I can watch it from the afterlife (preferably from the upper level, if you know what I mean), rather than sitting in the attic of Dillon with molten lava bubbling up around me. 

If taken seriously — and there is no indication in the Gospels that we are not meant to take these words seriously — the fact that this world and its history, achievements and evolution will have a termination point, can lead us into fatalism.  If all passes, then nothing matters.  Why even get up in the morning?

Yet, fatalism is certainly counter to the spirit that Jesus has been in recent weeks generating within his disciples — one of fearlessness, boldness, zealous work to build up the Kingdom on earth, untiring care for one another. How do we reconcile the two? Can one be boldly committed to the Kingdom of God on earth, against a horizon of impending finality? 

Three spiritual realities help me fit all this cataclysmic talk into the rest of my life and faith. The first positive effect of Jesus’ teachings about the end of the world is that, if all things pass away, then nothing in this life can become so important that it will completely define or determine me. Of course, not money, not the lack of money, not any material possession. But also, not GPA, not career, not others’ perceptions of me. All of these have their immediate importance and impact. But, in the light of Jesus’ end-time teachings, none have the power of final determination of our worth.  Cultivating such a spirituality can free us from all kinds of entanglements that might otherwise prevent us from loving, and being loved by, God and others. 

Second, when I imagine the end of the world, I must admit that my images are largely determined by scenes from “Independence Day,” and I look forward to updating them after “2012.” I have images of the Dome melting under red-hot magma, all the little towers on the Disney castle shattering into a million pieces and the house where I grew up bursting into non-existence. Again, taken seriously, such thoughts are not going to get me out of bed tomorrow, ready to spread the Gospel. On the other hand, along with the end of the Dome, Disney and my childhood home, the end of human history also means the end of war, world hunger, disease, injustice, poverty, homelessness, fractured relationships, abuse, sex trafficking, addictions, mental illness. And while we are absolutely obligated, particularly as Christians, to devote our lives to ending such realities now, there is also something tremendously liberating about knowing that no suffering or injustice is permanent. No limitations we currently experience define the totality of our human existence. All will be taken up in God, where God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. 

Finally, Jesus’ words about the end-time make it clear that (apart from God, of course) only one thing from this world will endure — us. In this spiritual space, we can hear Jesus’ teachings about our personal, end-time encounter with God in all its sublime simplicity and beauty: When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat.  When I was thirsty you gave me drink; naked, and you clothed me. Here is our totality, the summary of our human worth.  There is no place here for what we have acquired, achieved career-wise, or gained in the admiration of others. Instead, the sum total of our worth and existence is composed of one thing alone: our ability to feed, give drink, clothe.  Here is the ultimate liberation of Jesus’ teachings on the end of the world: In the end — and so, too, right now — all that matters is our ability to love the only realities of this world that will remain after all else passes — God and one another.


This week’s Faith Point was written by Fr. Lou DelFra, CSC, Director of Bible Studies and ACE chaplain. He can be reached at delfra.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.