The final days Dn 12:1-3; Ps 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mk 13:24-32. Recently astronomers announced that for the first time, using an array of powerful telescopes in Chile, they were able to observe the dying of a galaxy in far outer space. The dying galaxy began emitting a stream of gases, a sign that the atmosphere of the galaxy was evaporating at a rate of losing the equivalent of 10,000 suns per year. As is usually the case, time factors are mind-boggling. This dying is likely the cause of a collision with another galaxy when the universe was only 4.5 billion years old. The detectable light from this event took 9 billion years to come into sight of the telescopes. Learning more about the fate of such galaxies, the scientists noted, will help us learn more about the destiny of our own galaxy. Neither the author of the Book of Daniel or the Gospel of Mark had access to the marvels of modern astronomy, but as indicated in this Sunday’s readings, they, too, were convinced that the world would come to an end. The reading from Daniel, which is a book composed sometime in the second century before Christ, describes a heavenly vision about the end time. He portrays a time “unsurpassed in stress” when “those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” Some “shall live forever” and be “like the stars,” but others, the unjust, will face a future of “everlasting horror and disgrace.” Daniel’s grim portrait of judgment is paired with a vision of the future that Jesus reveals to his disciples while seated on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the magnificent temple looming across the Kidron valley. That scene, taking place only a short time before his arrest and ultimate crucifixion, prompts Jesus to speak of the future. In words that echo the Book of Daniel, Jesus also describes something like the death of our galaxy preceding the appearance of the Son of Man: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” But at this point, there is a marked difference between the vision of our final destiny described in Daniel and that of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. When the triumphant Jesus comes, “he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.” The final moment will be Jesus’ worldwide embrace of people from every corner of the earth. In this same dramatic speech, Jesus proclaimed that the end of the world would not come until the good news is proclaimed “to all nations.” The gesture of the risen Christ at the end of time will be the same as the loving embrace of Jesus who healed the sick, fed the hungry and had compassion for the lost crowds. I am reminded of Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections on our final destiny in his beautiful encyclical “Spes Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”). He noted that while there are saints whose salvation seems assured and there are some human beings so consumed by evil that we fear for their fate before God, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. We are ordinary sinners. Noting the Catholic doctrine of purgatory, the Pope Benedict noted that purgatory will not be in the manner of torture by burning flames (as our popular imagination fears), but the “fires of purgatory” are actually the “fire” of Christ’s love for us. As we stand before the risen Jesus at that final moment, his love for us will be so intense that it will instantly purify us from anything that is without love. This echoes the famous saying of the great mystic, St. John of the Cross: “In the evening of life we will be judged by love.” It also fits the spirit of Jesus’ words to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, predicting that, despite chaos, our destiny will be a divine embrace. Who of us can really predict our ultimate future? We hope for the best and Jesus’ words encourage us to believe that will be the case.