In this section of the second letter of Peter the author encourages the letter’s recipients to stick to the ancient Christian expectation that Jesus will come again and set the world in order. People had been telling them that it wasn’t going to happen, that they were deluded. Most of us Christians don’t actually think much about the second coming ourselves. On the other hand, we profess to believe it when we recite the creed; we proclaim it in the acclamation after the consecration in the Eucharistic prayer. We say these things almost as if they were some kind of a mantra. I wonder if we pay attention to the words, and if so what they may mean to us.
If we think about it at all, perhaps those thoughts include the notion that we are talking about the end of the world. But that is not consistent with the New Testament or with the long tradition of Catholic belief on this topic. That belief is that what Jesus accomplished will ultimately transform the whole cosmos. The author of 2 Peter uses the phrase “. . . we await new heavens and a new earth.” Somehow all of creation will be made new. The world itself has been redeemed. St. Paul makes much the same point in his letter to the Romans where he speaks about all of creation groaning in labor. What a remarkable image! Again, reflect on that most familiar of all prayers, the Our Father – which, by the way, comes to us with unimpeachable authority. We ask God that He work His will “. . . on earth, as in heaven . . .” On earth. . . not just in heaven.
So it’s not simply “pie in the sky when we die”, but a new world in which human relationships, instead of being exploitative and self-seeking, will mirror God’s own self-giving. That’s not just an unrealistic ideal. We proclaim it as a future reality.
Do we really believe this? Does it have implications for how we live our lives? I believe it does. It was reported a few years ago that the Secretary of the Interior testified before the U.S. Congress that conservation and protection of the environment didn’t really matter, because it was all going to end soon anyway! I’m sure he was sincere in his belief, but that belief is simply not compatible with the growing understanding of our stewardship responsibility.
Just this past March the Vatican released what was described as a new list of deadly sins, one of which was focused on our responsibility for the protection of our earth and its resources. It declared that not taking care of the earth was a serious sin of omission. (The prior list tended to be more inward-directed, e.g., pride, envy, greed, etc., while the new list is externally oriented.) With a now crowded planet it has become clear that we can’t ignore the impact on the environment of what we do. Rome reminds us that it is not just an environmental imperative, but a moral one as well.
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