May 21, 2020
One of the more predictable byproducts of the coronavirus pandemic has been an uptick in apocalyptic warnings that the end of the world is at hand. The folks who send me emails announcing that covid-19 signals the arrival of End Times mean well, and their eagerness to spread the news is understandable. But they’re missing the point – two or three points, in fact..
The first is that Jesus himself discouraged this kind of speculation. In Matthew’s gospel it goes like this: “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but the Father only….Watch therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come” (Mt 24:36, 42).
With that said, though, there really is a sense – point number two – in which we’re living in End Times. But there’s nothing new about that. For the End Times date back a good two thousand years – to the resurrection and ascension of Christ – and will continue until he comes again, whenever that may be. Meantime our only certainty is that each of us will be meeting Christ and rendering an account to him sooner than we probably expect.
The current apocalyptic furor has numerous historical precedents. People in earlier times reacted the same way to plagues and disasters. Now it’s the turn of the coronavirus. But – point number three – the real lesson of this pandemic isn’t that the End Times are here. Instead the pandemic is an especially graphic reminder that the human race is a global family, albeit a painfully fractured one, so that the right response to plagues and disasters is to seek divine assistance while simultaneously calling on the largely unrealized resources of human solidarity.
Popes have underlined the fundamental oneness of the human family often and forcefully. To take only one example among many, consider something Pope Pius XII, much maligned for supposed indifference to the Holocaust, said in his first encyclical.