"Be not afraid." Pope John Paul II
I grew up in a family that was intently focused on the END OF THE WORLD. We knew all about the THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS and were convinced that it would happen in our lifetime. My parents were well prepared with blessed candles, a wood-burning stove and an amply stocked pantry. Even today, a family get-together can rarely be enjoyed without someone commenting matter-of-factly that these are THE END TIMES. Although my childhood was colored with this fear, and believe me, I have had many nightmares about the end of the world, overall my early years were happy and something in me resists believing in a God of wrath and punishment, but instead, favors a God of gentle love and kindness.
I used to think that my family was the only one who believed in an angry God for I had never heard of the THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS from anyone else, even the most holy of people. Then, shortly after 9-11, I went to the public school for a conference with one of the teachers, a sweet young girl who taught first grade. As soon as I walked into her classroom, she confided her fear to me that she was sure that this great tragedy was the beginning sign for the THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS. I was amazed to learn that my family wasn't the only one who believed in the chastisement.
I've tried to sway my family to my point of view, to help them understand that God does not want to chastise the whole world, but rather, He wants to embrace the whole world. I've argued, pleaded and prayed with them. We've even had a visit from a wise and wonderful priest who worked his way step by step through the erroneous prophecies in an effort to release the bondage of fear that tightly holds my family. But, despite my best efforts to convince my relatives that they should put aside worry and fear and focus on the love of God, I have not had any success and they cling to their beliefs like a blanket of gloom, and I am sure that they are not alone as my visit with that first grade teacher, as well as many comments that I have heard from other good and religious people, have confirmed.
We can look to the disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes and feel that it is just punishment from God for our sins. Surely for those who are in the midst of it, it is the end of the world, but is it just punishment or simply natural elements? What about all the good and holy people who suffer from these disasters? Are they being punished for their sins or do they just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I look at the history of the world and see that natural disasters and plagues have always occurred and individuals have always suffered through illnesses and the deaths of loved ones. Governments have always been corrupt and the poor have always struggled. Cancer is a fact of life for many people, innocent children die for no apparent reason, chronic disease plagues many. War has brought about its own horrific plights.
Through all of this pain and suffering, we can choose to dwell on the negative and live in fear, or we can choose to accept the fragility of a human life that includes a generous dose of misery and cling to a God of life and love who is with us through it all, crying tears of sadness right beside us in our grief. And that same God is waiting; waiting for the day when our earthly passage will end and we will be united with Him in eternal joy where death will be no more.
We are meant to suffer here on earth, not because of the just judgment of God for our sins, but because we are meant for something more glorious than what this world contains. These are the end times for each and every one of us individually, not collectively. We can worry and live in fear, or we can embrace the suffering of our own crosses, loving and supporting one another through it all and thereby prepare ourselves for our own individual meeting with our Maker when the time comes for our own personal end of the world. Over two thousand years ago a great prophet, St. John the Baptist, told us to "prepare the way of the Lord." His words still ring true today. We must be prepared for the end of the world, for the second coming of Christ, but that preparation shouldn't leave us trembling in fear, but instead, we should be rejoicing in the greatness of God and his triumphant mercy and love for us all, sinners, each and every one.
Oh God of love and gentleness, stay near to us in our suffering and trials. Hold us close. Cry with us. Steady us in our anguish. And when these days of sorrow are over, hold us even closer in Your eternal glory. Amen.
For more on the Three Days of Darkness visit the notable blogger Jimmy Akin.