The fact that I am writing this, and you, dear reader, are reading it, means the world did not end on Saturday last at 6pm. Now we do have strong winds and torrential rain here in Ireland, and another Icelandic volcano is erupting but, as one wit said to me, that is probably because Obama is coming. Quite. Anyway, apparently the prophet who predicted the end, Harold Camping, is very confused these days and is at a loss for words. But I suppose he'll come up with something: you can't keep these evangelical preachers down, nor do their minions lose faith.
While the media people were laughing, I always get the sense they feel a little nervous because, though they do not believe, they are not quite sure either and there is always a chance something might happen. G.K. Chesterton once wrote than when you stop believing in something you end up believing in anything. How true that is: modern man rejects God, but then runs around worshiping nature, feeling the power of crystals (aka bright stones) and reverently consulting their horoscopes or tarot cards.
For us Christians, we are reminded of a few things. First, we will not be able to predict the coming of the Lord - the end of the world. There will be signs, as Jesus said, but his coming will be sudden. It will take many by surprise, but it should not take us by surprise: following Jesus' words, we have to be ready at a moment's notice. The end, the Second Coming, will be our moment of triumph when we look up and see Our Lord and Saviour.
Second thing: we must be aware that death can take us at any moment, and that our lives must be in order so as to go as Christians, faithful servants of the Gospel. There should be no leaving things until tomorrow for, as Garth Brooks once reminded us, what "if tomorrow never comes"? And we shall die as we live now: sudden death bed conversions are rare.
Thirdly, while Mr Camping was wide off the mark, he does remind us that we need to think about the Last Things. At one time Catholics were aware of the Last Things, priests preached on them, retreat directors included them in their talks and pious spiritual exercises led us to meditate on them. But no longer, a presumptious people do not like to be reminded of such negative things, nor do they accept the reality of purgatory and hell. When I was teaching, just up last year, my students (Secondary/High School students) knew nothing about the Last Things. Despite having had years of Catholic formation, been prepared for and recieved the sacraments, they knew nothing about basic Christian doctrine.
In my years with them I tried to remedy that, and they were interested. They loved the Last Things. Brought up believing that there is only heaven and everyone goes there the second they die, they were challenged by the concept of Judgement - they had signed up to the modern Catholic concept that no one, not even God, is allowed judge you or your actions. Purgatory was problematic - though they could see the logic of it. As for hell - they did not believe it existed and did believe. This is the interesting contradiction which we find in contemporary Christians - they do not believe hell exists because of a loving God, but then evil people do not go to heaven, they go to....hell.
Of course all of this betrays a dismal failure in catechesis, and the resolution of this requires solutions far beyond the classroom. So time to address that.