The creed tells us that Jesus “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”
Many aspects of Catholic faith are not amenable to the modern mind and this is one of them. There is a distinct fairy tale quality to the doctrine of the Second Coming. Arthur, we are told, will come again in the hour of Britain’s greatest need. King Richard comes again just in the nick of time to rescue Robin Hood. Gandalf comes back “at the turn of the tide”. Fairy tale kings and princes often return when all hope is lost to save the day and bring about what J.R.R. Tolkien regarded as the central feature of the fairy tale: eucatastrophe, the sudden turn of catastrophe into joy—“joy, poignant as grief, beyond the walls of the world.”
Tolkien would say that there is a reason the Second Coming reminds us of fairy tales. It’s because fairy tales draw deeply from the wells of truth, but express it in mythic form—and Jesus is the Truth. In other words, Jesus is not like Arthur, Arthur is a little bit like Jesus. Arthur’s return is a sort of miniature portrait that captures in an image what Jesus’ return shall be in reality.
We find this hard to buy because we find it hard to believe that the universe—the whole universe!—could really be related to events on this speck of dust called “earth”. But, of course, this is to look at it wrong. We are not the center: God is. It’s not about us, it’s about God. But since God has chosen to become man, he has taken our race into the center of his purposes. We don’t know what he’s doing with the rest of the universe. However, him being God and all, we can trust that he’s got it under control. Meanwhile, though the sheer proposition of the return of Christ and the establishment of his kingdom is mind-boggling, we have to remember that’s an aesthetic perception, not an argument. If Christ rose from the dead (and he did) then that’s that. He is God and the Resurrection and the Life and all the opinion polls in the New York Times make not a bit of difference to the truth of that fact. He shall judge the world and His kingdom shall have no end because his life shall have no end.
Jesus’ return is guaranteed because Jesus is not a mere historical figure. He is God, the Presence who is, at this minute, on the very verge of breaking through the gossamer webs of what we call “reality” with all the force of the Big Bang and more. Relegating Jesus to Long Ago is to forget that Jesus is coming each day: in particular judgments, in awesome acts of mercy, in prayer, in the sacraments, in the strange, quiet, life-changing parousia of the Blessed Sacrament. Some seize on these little comings of Christ to deny that Jesus is Coming—big “C” Coming—at the consummation of all things to judge the world. But this is to make him entirely too small. The sacraments are foretastes of the glory to come. When Christ comes, every facet of creation, human and non-human, living and dead, will give glory to him!
That glory will be seen in judgment: another facet of the Christian story that we so often encounter in fairy tales. Our culture has a tortured relationship with the notion of judgment. We have managed to make ourselves into something incomprehensible to every culture that existed before us: judgmental relativists. A judgmental relativist is intensely moralistic about everything he disapproves while demanding total exoneration for everything he approves. Layered on top of this is the weird way in which our culture of Victimism has made a mysterious virtue out of being wounded. So long as one is a victim of something, one has moral carte blanche to be a jerk and hide behind the cry, “You don’t know what it’s like!” The problem with this strategy (as we shall all discover on the Last Day) is that God was the Ultimate Victim on the Cross and therefore can judge, because he does know what it’s like. No one ever suffered more injustice than did the One who will be pronouncing judgment on That Day. But the greatest miracle is that his judgment is his mercy and his whole purpose in his First Coming was to see to it that we receive, not damnation, but glory at his Second Coming.
How do we pass this ultimate test? It’s as simple and as hard as dying, because it is dying. Obey him as long as it is Today. If you do, you’ll be fine on That Day.