In speaking of the end times, our Lord mentions “great tribulations” (Mt. 24). “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for my name’s sake.” For a political animal, it is hard to tell which threat is more fearsome: being put to death, or being hated by “all” of one’s fellows.
It is not surprising that “many” shall be “scandalized” by this state of affairs. To be scandalized is to stumble in one’s faith. If we are not cautious, scandal can cause us to lose the path of salvation and wander into the “deserts,” where “false Christs” attempt to deceive us with “great signs and wonders.”
How does one tell a false Christ from the true? Our Savior tells us that those who are scandalized “shall betray one another: and shall hate one another.” “Because iniquity has abounded,” he explains, “the charity of many shall grow cold.” Though it is tempting to repay hatred and contempt in the same coin, those who encourage us in such a response are “false prophets,” since they lead us to reject the God who is charity (1 Jn. 4:8).
If we are “to be saved,” we must “persevere to the end.” As St. Paul teaches, we must “preach the word” (and live it) “in season, out of season.” As nations “turn away their hearing from the truth,” they will condemn us for refusing to follow the “fables” with which they rationalize “their own desires.” Despite such afflictions, we must remain “sober,” and stand “ready to be sacrificed” for love of God and neighbor (2 Tim. 4:1-6).
When the “tribes of the earth . . . see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much virtue and majesty,” they shall “mourn,” because it means the passing away of the world in which they vainly sought happiness (Mt. 24:30, 35).
For those who have “fought a good fight,” the time of their dissolution will have an altogether different meaning. To those who have “kept the faith” that works through charity, the advent of “the Lord the just judge” is a time of triumph and joy. For he comes bearing “a crown of justice” for all those who, amidst the coldness of the world, “love his coming” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
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