By Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick
If you're convinced (or are in the business of convincing others) that the end of the world is upon us, that the Great Apostasy is coming, that your country is about to collapse, that your political system is on the verge of takeover by a hostile force, that a vast conspiracy is at work, etc., then you can justify a lot of very bad behavior for yourself and others.
But if we look at what the saints of the Church did in moments when such collapses really were happening, we don't see them engaging in that behavior.
Even the most outlandish of them -- the holy fools -- would not be harmful and cruel to people. They also did not try to break up parish communities to try to "purify" anyone who would listen to them. And most notably, they accepted with love and patience the suffering that came to them for their anti-social way of living.
Most millenarian analyses and predictions really are nonsense. Some are not, of course. But let's assume for a moment that they're all true.
If all the conspiracies are real, if all the bishops of the Church are heretics and apostates, if our government truly has become totalitarian or fascist, if the world truly is ending, what is God looking for in the midst of this?
He is not looking for the rabble rouser. He is not looking for the one who destroys relationships within communities. He is not looking for the pundit. He is not looking for the revolutionary. He is not looking for the complainer. He is not looking for the Donatist, the Novationist, or the Puritan. He is not looking for any such hopeless, dark spirit.
He is looking for the faithful. He is looking for faithfulness and hope in the midst of hardship. He is looking for the voices that see that large-scale suffering is an opportunity and means to repentance. He is looking for the beauty amidst the destruction. He is looking for the righteous man and woman.
He may call some to be prophets and fools for Christ. You will recognize them by their humility and their willingness to suffer. You will recognize them by the fruits of their words and deeds, that they are fruits of repentance, that they lead to increase of love, joy, peace, sobriety, and self-control. You will recognize them because they will look and sound like the saints of old, who always strove for the unity and holiness of all in Christ. They will call people to repentance, and the holiness of their lives will shine out brightly with love, joy and peace.
Most of us are not called to be prophets. But all of us are called to faithfulness. All of us are called to hope.
In other words, even if the world (or some world) really is doomed, the mission of the Christian remains exactly the same. There is never a warrant for bad behavior, because the ends do not justify the means, because an evil time does not justify evil words and deeds. Extreme circumstances may call for extreme measures, but the only truly justified extremity is an increase in our repentance. We do not battle monstrosity by becoming monsters. Christ told us that in this world we would have trouble. And the response to that trouble that He enjoined was not to be angry, to divide, to tear down communities.
It was to be of good cheer. Because He has overcome the world.
When the saints talk about the end of the world, they always point toward the life of the world to come. And that's why they build beauty even in this world, to draw everyone to life in Christ.
It's easy to be a critic. But let's be builders. Look for the beauty, the humility, the creativity. And nurture more of that.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. So let's do what that requires.