They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory (Mark 13:26)
When we hear these stories about the final conflict at the end of the world, I think as Catholics we may well feel a little uncomfortable. Just as we may struggle with stories about the creation, so the stories about the end of the world trouble our rational and scientific minds. They remind us of the extreme evangelicals, or the Jehovah’s witnesses who warn us - and have been warning us for centuries - that the end of the world is just around the corner. And so, just as we might keep a diplomatic silence about Adam and Eve, so we rarely mention the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power. Death and bereavement is enough for any of us, I guess. The idea that all will be destroyed is just too much.
But if we take such an attitude we miss out on something very important, and not something terrible, or confusing, or difficult to grasp - but something wonderful and marvellous.
These stories are found throughout the Gospels, in the prophecies of the Old Testament and especially the book of Revelation, and if we ignore them we lose an important dimension of our faith.
These stories and prophecies make two things clear above all.
Firstly, that the spiritual life is a conflict with evil all around us. Sometimes it is the hard and wicked power of evil, of cruelty and deceit. Occasionally it is the demonic action upon people’s lives and spirits. Our image of evil may frequently be of fire, and of heat. But very often, perhaps most often, it is a cold evil. Boredom, distraction, lethargy. It is the feeling that every idea is much the same, every belief just as valid. The numbing, dull conviction, as in the words Pontius Pilate, that there is no truth, and therefore ... no hope. And to embrace the truth means to be prepared for ridicule, and hardship and conflict, not only without, but also within. It may mean struggle in prayer, not being understood by family members, being ridiculed at work or school.
And secondly, the stories make another thing clear: that there will be a victory. These sorrows and hardships and persecutions, this lack of vision or clouded understanding, this stony hard heartedness is for a time only. Our lives are short, but eternity is very long. At the last, Michael will rise up and defeat the powers of evil, and Christ will come on the clouds of heaven to institute a new heaven and a new earth.
And this victory is the heart of our faith. We often think that the great hope is just that we will be reunited with our loved ones we will share eternal life with God. That is true, but too small, too narrow, too limited. Eternal life is this: a new heaven and a new earth, and the final victory of Truth and Love over coldness and hostility.
Pope John Paul II said these words:
"May prayer strengthen us for the spiritual battle we are told about in the Letter to the Ephesians: 'Draw strength from the Lord and from His mighty power' (Ephesians 6:10). The Book of Revelation refers to this same battle, recalling before our eyes the image of St. Michael the Archangel (Revelation 12:7). Pope Leo XIII certainly had a very vivid recollection of this scene when, at the end of the last century, he introduced a special prayer to St. Michael throughout the Church. Although this prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask everyone not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against forces of darkness and against the spirit of this world."'
Here is the prayer of St Michael. It is an old, and perhaps neglected prayer. We do well to use it:
Holy Michael, Archangel,
defend us in the day of battle.
Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Power of God -
thrust down to hell, Satan and all wicked spirits,
who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.