We are approaching the end of the liturgical year, so the Scripture readings we listen to these days address another end, that of history. They point to that time when Jesus, as he promised, will come again to gather all of his chosen people and bring history to its culmination according to the plan of the Father.
As we listened to one such passage on Sunday from the Gospel of Mark (13:24-32), typically filled with symbolic apocalyptic language, I was drawn to the signs that Jesus said will accompany his coming: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” What is the meaning of this?
At the time of Jesus, it was commonly held that the celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) exercised a determinative influence over the course of history. People would observe their alignment and draw conclusions as to what would unfold in their lives. To announce that, at the coming of Jesus, these celestial powers will be “shaken” is to say that they, in fact, have no determining force whatsoever. The power to guide the events of history belongs to God alone, a power he has entrusted to his Son, whom he has constituted Lord of all time.
This often begs the question: if God guides history, why are we in such a mess? Here we must consider the wondrous truth that the unfolding of history, guided by God, also mysteriously hinges upon the exercise of authentic human freedom. This brings me to the issue of alignment. Whereas the people of old sought to align their conclusions and projections with the alignment of stars, our call is to cooperate with the plan of God by aligning our wills with his. Only in this way will we have hope of seeing history unfold in accord with the divine purpose.
This insight brings into high relief the drama we are presently living. In our day, the tracking of the stars has been replaced by the monitoring of the self. The multiple messages we receive hourly through the vast panoply of social media platforms unite in a common call: align your life not with the stars, and certainly not with God, but with your own desires. In our age of radical individualism, the human person is understood not only as self-determining but also self-creating. The tragic fallout from this, often lethal, is obvious. If I am entirely self-referential, if I am my own moral compass, then the only way I can relate to others is via a conflict of wills. A profound misalignment vis-à-vis the truth of things is extraordinarily pervasive in Western culture today, and it is causing widespread fracture.
We need a radical realignment. It begins by aligning myself, in my particular time and circumstance, with the love and vision of Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all time and of every circumstance. In Christian terms, such alignment is called the act of faith, the decision to believe in Christ as Lord, and to surrender the entirety of my life to him.