Somewhere deep inside one of the many science buildings at agreat university, a young research student struggles with an apparatus,which simply refuses to work as it should. It’s very late at night, but thathardly matters. The laboratory has no windows, and is bathed in artificialfluorescent daylight. Our student is faced with serious time constraints,and has been working ridiculously long hours. She’s exhausted,frustrated, and tempted to sweep her experiment off the counter, andinto the wastebasket. “Maybe,” she thinks, “I ought to give all this upand become a ski instructor in Switzerland.” But, in her heart, she knowsshe isn’t going to do any such thing. Tomorrow, and the day after, shewill be right here in the laboratory, looking after her experiment, just asshe was yesterday, and the day before.
Faced with this uninspiring prospect, she puts her head down on herarms, falls asleep, and begins to dream. In her dream she sees a beautifulyoung man in a glistening white lab coat. He walks over to her, greets herby name, and says, “Don’t be discouraged. One day you will make adiscovery that will save thousands of lives. You will have the gratitude ofpeople all over the world.” When she hears these words, our student isdelighted. When he sees her reaction, the young man hurriedly adds, I’mafraid the news isn’t all good. Your discovery will demand years ofpainstaking, disciplined research. You will ruin your eyesight with longhours of study. Academic politics will delay the recognition you deserve.Your family will resent the hours you spend on your work, and you willbreak your leg in three places while snowboarding at Mt. Hood Meadows.
Our student is wise beyond her years. She responds to the youngman, “Never mind all that. I’m still happy. These unpleasant things youmention, were bound to happen anyway. At least now I know that theywill finally result in something marvelous. And when they occur, they willbe evidence that your promise is true, and that I am closer to the daywhen I will make my wonderful discovery.”
Our Church year is drawing to an end. Soon it will begin again withAdvent, and then Christmas, and then the whole cycle of feasts andholidays will be repeated. But every time a liturgical year draws to aclose, our readings remind us that the cycle will not go on forever, for usas individuals, or for the Church as a whole. One day it will all end. And itwill end in a glorious reunion with Christ.
The Church conveys this Good News by means of apocalypticaccounts of the end of time. It can be difficult to recognize theseaccounts as Good News. They are full of predictions of persecutions,woes, scourges, cups of lamentation, and disasters. But anyone withexperience of human life knows that cataclysms of one kind or anotherare bound to occur anyway. The role of the apocalyptic accounts inscripture is to assure us that the terrible things that happen need notfatally undermine our faith. They are accounted for, and are even, insome sense, signs of our imminent sharing in Christ’s victory. This wastrue for early Christians as they faced the prospect of martyrdom fortheir faith. And it is true for us, as we watch the cable news channels.Ultimately, chaos and violence will not prevail. Victory will be ours, inChrist.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”