In theory the world should end today. Scott Brodeur, a Jesuit theologian and professor at the Gregorian University, explains why the Mayan doomsday prophesy has enjoyed so much media success
While probably most people don't actually believe it, on television and on the internet more and more people talk about the “end of the world” allegedly prophesied by the Mayas, today, Friday, December 21.
Even Pope Benedict, in his typical scholarly yet warmly human way, weighed on the issue at recent Sunday Angelus, calling on Christians not to heed doomsday but to focus on “the right road to walk today and tomorrow to enter into the eternal life.”
On L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican's semi-official newspaper, Vatican astronomer José Funes explained on December 12 while it is true that, if current cosmological models are correct, the universe is expanding and will at one point "break away," this won't happen for billions of years, and "it's not even worth discussing" more imminent Mayan doomsday scenarios. More important for Christians, Funes added, is the belief "death can never have the last word."
But as the media and public frenzy over the impending end of the world grows as we approach the 'fatal' date, Vatican Insider asked American theologian and St. Paul expert father Scott Brodeur, of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, why so many people give their attention to these scenarios even if they clearly lack any credibility whatsoever - except maybe in the eyes of the most gullible.
“It as part of society’s obsession with the passing, the ephemeral, and most of all, with the sensational. If it had not been for some recent Hollywood movies that sensationalized the apocalyptic consequences resulting from the expiration of the Mayas’ calendar, none of this would be talked about right now. Of course it is so much easier for us to get caught up in this media-fueled hype and focus on pseudo-science and half-truths rather than deal with the world’s real, pressing issues, like peace in the Middle East, global terrorism, world hunger, gun control and violence in too many schools in the United States—to name but a few.”
But the world will eventually end...
“Scientists of course remind us that the universe will in fact come to a cold and dark demise billions of years from now. In the meantime we all need to roll up our sleeves and take seriously our day-to-day responsibilities. As a Jesuit priest and university professor, I have my students’ papers to read and correct in the coming weeks. I certainly plan on seeing each of them after Christmas vacation!”
For man, it's impossible to live without asking questions about the end of the world, and of a more lasting reality than the one we live in day after day. Why is it so?
“Those people who do in fact question the meaning of life and reflect on the end of the world can turn to the writings of philosophers and theologians who have been wrestling with these important issues since the beginning of recorded history. Jews and Christians of course can meditate and reflect on many moving passages in the Bible that also address these essential existential issues. God created the cosmos and all it contains out of love. The opening verses of Genesis show this so clearly and so beautifully. We are indeed God’s creatures and, as such, we are mortal and finite. But God did not create us for death and destruction but for the fullness of life and eternal happiness with him and with all that he loves. We have been created for heaven and God truly desires our happiness, well-being and ultimate salvation.”
In St. Paul's time people believed the end of the world was very nigh indeed...
“For him and for his communities the end time had already begun thanks to the Christ event. They also believed that the final completion of the divine plan would happen very soon, perhaps even in their lifetime. We no longer share their urgency, of course, and the passing of time—in fact, two millennia—has taught the church that the time of evangelization must go on.”
People, including dozens of Christian 'heretical' movements, have prophesied the end of the world countless times. How does the Church regard those predictions?
“Over the centuries that have been certain periods of time when people were caught up in anxiety and apocalyptic fear, especially around the year 1000 and even in 2000 with the Y2K scare and its resulting hysteria. False prophets take to the streets and the airways and announce that the end is near. The church of course can only repeat Jesus’ own words: 'Beware, keep alert. For you do not know when the time will come.' About twenty years later St. Paul would exhort the Thessalonians to be sober and vigilant. Today the Church continues to do the same.”
Yet, we cannot stop thinking about the end of the world and the 'last things,' even if we know there is no ground to Mayan or other prophecies...
“Reflection on the 'last things' is essential for our lives as Christians... It reminds us that we are creatures, that we are mortal, that we are part of a greater divine plan. Christians are called to believe in the goodness of God’s plan and to hope in it, all the while trying to do the good and to love their neighbor as themselves. Love that expresses itself in service. Love that entails sacrifice and hardship. Love that becomes concrete only if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and do our part.”