The End of the World
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
1st Sunday of Lent, 1997
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, California
As the year 2000 approaches, there are more and more people saying that the world is going to end any minute. Apocalyptic destruction of the earth by asteroids is a hot topic right now. Why don’t we learn from history? Is it because we don’t know history? If so, here’s a double dose of things that actually happened.
Late in the year 999, people went nuts. They thought that the thousand years mentioned in the book of Revelation were now up, and the world would end at the stroke of midnight bringing in the year 1000. People went to mountaintops to be the first to greet Jesus at his second coming. People committed suicide in fear. People even got into barrels so they could float away in the inevitable flood. None of these people apparently thought about the fact that the book of Revelation wasn’t written in their time zone, and so waiting for the stroke of midnight was really an idiotic thing to do. Besides which, Jesus wasn’t born in the year 0 anyway. Matter of fact, there never was any year zero. In any case, the year 1000 came and went, and nothing happened, except a lot of silly people got out of their barrels.
Now, think about this for a second. If you had been one of these people, wouldn’t you have learned from your mistake? But they didn’t! Just 30 years later, there was another “end of the world” scare, since they said that maybe the 1000 years were measured from the passion of Christ instead of his birth! So they got back into barrels again. Midnight came, and morning followed: and the world did not end.
And did we learn? Of course not! In 1523, the astrologer Stoffler calculated that in February of 1524 the planets Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter would all be together in the sign of Pisces, causing a worldwide flood. Out came the barrels again, and this time some enterprising believers even built an ark! Of course, the project never got off the ground, not due to lack of funds, but due to lack of water.
Did we learn? Of course not! Stoffler then predicted a cataclysmic flood in 1588. But the only thing that water covered that year was the Spanish Armada.
Did we learn? Of course not! There was wide-spread fear that the world would end in the year 1666, due to its vague connection with the number of the beast of Revelation. The fact that nothing happened in the year 666 didn’t deter these Chicken Littles from crying that the sky was falling. In fact, London was destroyed by fire in 1666, but that only constitutes the end of the world if you live in London.
Did we learn? Of course not! William Miller kept an entire generation frightened by modifying his predictions of impending doom almost as often as Microsoft modifies its software, and possibly for the same reasons. Most of the English-speaking world was in a dither in 1833, having read Miller’s published proof of the end of the world. When the world didn’t end, Miller recalculated and found that it wasn’t 1833 but 1834! When nothing happened that year, Miller recalculated and discovered that he had switched two digits by mistake, and it wasn’t 1834, but 1843! When nothing happened in 1843, Miller proclaimed that the world would absolutely, definitely end at midnight of 21 March 1844. Millers followers were so devoted to him that when the predicted moment came and went, they formed a religion to perpetuate his lunacy. Today we call that religion Seventh Day Adventists. So now you know where they came from.
But did the rest of us learn? Of course not! Charles Russell studied the Bible and the Great Pyramid further than his brain could handle, and he discovered the amazing fact that the world had already ended in 1874, but nobody had noticed! He told his large herd of followers that Jesus had already returned but was right now lurking incognito in the world, and in forty years Jesus would get busy and annihilate everybody who didn’t join Russell’s church. This hilarious teaching swallowed up more and more gullible fools until the fortieth year came and went, at which time they changed their name to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. So now you know where they came from.
But did we learn? Of course not! Mother Shipton predicted that 1881 was the year that the world would end. It didn’t. So she changed it to 1882. It didn’t again.
Did we learn? Of course not. Charles Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer-Royal of Scotland, studied the Great Pyramid and got the world ready for its imminent demise in 1911.
Did we learn? Of course not. Colonel J. Garnier studied the Great Pyramid and discovered irrefutable proof that the world would end in 1920.
Did we learn? Of course not! Further studies of the Bible and the Great Pyramid (notice a pattern here?) revealed that the world would end in 1921. Then 1924. Then 1928.
Did we learn? Of course not! The Prophetical Society of Dallas, Texas, grew in size and fame during the 1920’s, predicting that the world would certainly end in 1931! The world didn’t end, but the Prophetical Society of Dallas did.
Did we learn? Of course not! In the 1950’s Mrs. Marian Keech became a household name. She claimed to be in constant communication with space aliens, that Atlantis would rise as America sank, and that flying saucers would ferry the elect to safety just a few months before I was born. I’m really glad she was wrong.
But did we learn? Of course not! Herbert W. Armstrong, in his fundamentalist magazine The Plain Truth, proved that the world would certainly end on 7 January 1972. When the world didn’t obey him, he wrote in his magazine with amazing gall, “Moses made mistakes, Abraham made mistakes, David made mistakes, Elijah made mistakes...”
But did we learn? Of course not! According to many commentaries on Nostradamus, Armageddon would begin in 1973. It didn’t.
Last year I showed you this copy of Sun magazine, whose cover boldly warns “Repent Now... World will End Next Week!” (October 8, 1996). What a gas.
Did we learn? Of course not! I have on file a hilarious proof that the world will absolutely certainly end for sure this year, 1997. If you want to see it, I’d be delighted to show it to you, because it’s good for a laugh.
Stewart Robb predicted a massive invasion of Earth by Martians in the year 1999. It won’t happen. The famous Dominican priest St. Vincent Ferrer counted the number of verses in the Psalms, found that there were 2537, and thus predicted that the world will end in 2537. It won’t. The Time-Life Science Series says that the sun will go out in 10 billion years. It might.
Nobody knows the day nor the hour. Jesus said so. What we do know is that we should repent. So listen: Repent; that’s your job. Leave the cosmic stuff in God’s hands. And never forget Jesus’ words: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Always.”