Betty Duffy

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Bit of Conjecture About The End of the World

Shortly after Jesus receives the Cross on which he will be crucified, he meets the Holy Women of Jerusalem.

“A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’” (Luke 23:27-29)

Yesterday, I stopped in at a Parish, not my own, for Confession. It was an hour before the Saturday night Vigil Mass would begin, and the Sanctuary, the vestibules, and the line for Confession were all swarming with women. One woman counted out the hosts and prepared the gifts for Consecration. One organized missals. One put new bulletins in stacks by the exits. Two waited in line for Confession ahead of me, quietly thumbing their Rosaries. And one took a very…long…time…inside the Confessional.

You have seen these women before (you may be one). Their children have flown from the nest. They are the Holy Women, congregating wherever Jesus is to be found, giving succor to His wounds, and offering up their tears for the souls of their children.

Sometimes I want to laugh when I see them, because their presence at any act of Devotion is so predictable. Sometimes, I want to cry when I see them, because as commenter, Eaucoin, said, regarding the prayers that many tack on to the end of each decade of the Rosary:

I'm 52, and those prayers get longer in direct proportion to how little control I have in my children's lives. … Most of the older ladies I have met through church have suffered difficulties that one would not imagine by looking at them and no doubt there are some saints there already.

Mothers suffer over their children so much, sometimes it seems like motherhood is more a preparation for death than it is a bringing forth of new life. There is always a risk of losing our children-- to sin, to some kind of accident. It occurs to me occasionally that it would be better to never have had kids than to have to watch them suffer.

My kids are young still, not yet teenagers, and I know that our problems are currently very small. Still, I’m not above weeping for them, and the difficulties they have already experienced—not to mention those I imagine could be in their futures.

Birds have been falling out of the sky, fish dying in the sea. Conspiracy theorists are hard at work, and multiple people whom I consider reasonably sane have dropped the term “end times” in varied conversations. It’s difficult to ignore.

It’s crossed my mind that I should have some sort of plan in mind for gathering my chicks should the worst happen, but any kind of apocalyptic planning is sort of like having seatbelts on airplanes—you can buckle or not, either way, you’re dead when the plane hits the ground. And thank God. I can’t think of anything worse than having to survive an apocalyptic event.

“Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people.” (Luke 21:23) I don’t like to follow this train of thought for too long, not only because there’s no telling when it’s coming, but also, because there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it except be vigilant in prayer and my vocation, as I should be regardless.

I keep thinking of Hans Keilson’s assertion that man’s will to live is rooted in his will to suffer. The will to suffer is something I have always attributed to Saints, but the rest of us have designed our lives to avoid suffering of all kinds, because we don’t like it.

And yet, teenagers take razor blades to their skin in order to “feel something.” The suicide rate is at an all time high. People express disdain for the comfort and complacence of the upper classes. And these weird unprovoked shootings are still occurring.

We don’t want to suffer? Or maybe we need suffering, in order to recover our will to live and our respect for the lives of others.

The Holy Women at Mass have a will to live and to suffer on behalf of their children, their husbands, and likely all of humanity. I suspect that their greatest conceivable disappointment would be to have one of their children die in rejection of God.

Should the world end tomorrow while my children are young and somewhat incapable of knowing or choosing a life outside of the Light, I would have no choice but to consider it a tremendous mercy and privilege that as a family we could “Stand erect and raise (our) heads, because (our) redemption is at hand” (Luke 22:28).


Peter and Nancy said...

I just read Nehemiah, chapter 9, with my older boys. (We began reading through the Bible on Jan. 1, 2009, and here we are, 800+ pages later.) Nehemiah recounts the cycle of God giving his people good things, only to see them forget Him. Inevitably, the people experience pain and suffering because they've left God in the dust. And then He always, always compassionately welcomes them back.

That cycle is often true for me . . . pain is sometimes the thing that draws me back to God, which means that allowing suffering can be a compassionate act of a loving Father. I can be a slow learner in good times.

It was really strange and wonderful to see that spelled out for me. It helps me see the true nature of our loving, just God, when things here on earth seem so senselessly painful.

I love those older ladies. Both of my grandmothers were, and now my mother and mother-in-law are those ladies.

This Heavenly Life said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how little suffering there is in our lives. I mean, we have our little grievances, and our honest sadnesses -- but true suffering is not within my scope of knowledge. It's barely within our country's scope of knowledge. And I feel comfortable saying that I KNOW I'd be drawn closer to Jesus if I had some suffering to which I was clinging.

It's a weird feeling to think suffering would be welcome...

I don't even want to say it out loud, you know?

Lizzie said...

Suffering was the place I learned my real need of Christ and then as times have got better, I've lost the urgency of knowing how much I need a saviour until, thank God, this Advent and Christmastide where my complacency and pride hit me hard. Not for any particular reason but it crept up on me and I was shocked at what I was becoming.

Now, at the start of a new decade, I want to rediscover that zeal I had a decade ago but without the youthful sense of things being black and white and without the tendency to judge others' motivations and actions.

Hopefully, now, I bring a measure of compassion because of my struggles during this last decade - mental health issues, abusive relationship, becoming a single mum,among others...!

The problem I have now is that I can get complacent about my son's future - I look back at my story and see the way God gently drew me back and how He was there through it all and luckily, no major disaster befell me (mostly because of the love and support of family, friends and the Church).

I struggle to find the balance between implicitly trusting God's plan for me and my son and also knowing that I need to be vigilant, pray for my son, 'teach him the way to go'...

I guess that's the ongoing struggle of faith - trusting and yet stepping out and acting at the same time.

I love your comment at the end about 'end times' and small children - I agree, if it happened tomorrow, I'd be ok with that. My 6 year old and I could stand firm together before whatever purification God knows we need!

ps I really need to create a Google identity so I don't appear as a virtually anonymous woman from who knows where...I am real, honest.

karyn said...

I find that, ever since becoming a Christian, I actually fear suffering more. Some many stories of the saints are filled with suffering and people are always talking about how people grow closer to God through suffering. So I actually feel more scared that God's going to "test me" now that I believe in Him and am trying to follow His path.I know this isn't reasonable thinking, but it pops up in my prayers all the time.

Rachel said...

I referred Mary (J's mom) to this entry knowing she would find both sorrow and comfort in it as she "suffers" for her son right now, as I and many others hold her up through intercession in her suffering. That is what I believe I (and others)as childless single women ought to our longings in prayer on behalf of all of you who are mothers. What would happen if all Christian women did this on each other's behalves? Married with children, interceding for the single and/or empty-wombed...Singles interceding for for the married and mothering?

Kimberlie said...

I saw those Holy Women during our recent adoption trip to China. They are every where the world over. Thank God for them! No mother ever really wants to be a part of that group and yet it is inevitable isn't it? Already with my oldest only 9 yrs old, I constantly fret about doing everything "right" so that he and his younger siblings won't reject our faith.

As for end times, I heard a lot about that growing up Protestant. Here's what I came to realize lately: the end times began when Jesus ascended into Heaven. Since that time, we've been watching and waiting for His return. The point is to be ready and not to worry too much about the details.

Anonymous said...

I wonder who I'd be if I didn't have pain? I get migraine headaches that last for weeks at a time (enjoying one even as I speak) and I have rheumatoid arthritis. It doesn't make me want to live, it makes me wish I didn't have to keep on living. I would rather get closer to God in a different way, thanks.

Forgetful Susan said...

Thank you for writing what, it seems, cannot be talked about. To wish anything for my children but a long, happy, carefree life is considered (at best) odd by practically everyone. Dying young is a tragedy, and I can only dimly imagine the agony that would mean - but they would also be safely home... First, last and always I want them to get to know Jesus, and to love and serve him. And I thank God for every day I have with them.

Anonymous said...

Potent post. "Man’s will to live is rooted in his will to suffer." That seems in line with assertions I'd read that only those willing to suffer survived the Soviet gulag, who found meaning in their suffering.

What makes suffering such an interesting topic? Why is it that the miracle stories in the gospels are dominated, in terms of coverage, by the story of Christ's suffering and death?

Perhaps because we fear suffering. That which we fear is intrinsically interesting else Stephen King novels wouldn't have sold tens of millions of copies.

Perhaps it's because we think if we think, given our status as the most intelligent of mammals, we can figure out a way to dominate or domesticate it.

I heard a sleep expert recently say that part of the dreaming process is to take negative emotions experienced during the day and de-coupling them from the event itself, particularly fear. This will allow us not to automatically fear the thing that made us afraid in the first place. Or so he said. The ultimate decoupling of fear and the event must be death and resurrection. We don't have to be afraid of death in light of resurrection.

But where does that leave fear for our children rejecting Christ?

Anne said...

I'm only 45 and I'm already one of those old women constantly at church. I'm grateful to be one of them and for every second that I have to develop a close relationship with Jesus whether I'm in church, at home or at the grocery store.