Our parish was a primary witness to an event that was seen by the entire city: what has been called the “Astoria Borealis”. Shortly after 9 pm on that fateful night, all the electricity in Astoria and beyond went off and on. As I went to the window and put up the shade, the street was lit up as in daytime. A low rumble could be heard. It was a sound like nothing I had ever heard. A terror ran through me: Was the tower of the Church on fire? Was that the source of the light? As I ran outside another possibility formed in my mind: terrorism? When I looked up 29th street, there was what seemed like a huge wall of white light two blocks away. It was at that moment the ultimate fear came upon me: I listened for the Archangel Gabriel’s trumpet of doom!
The end of the world, like the end of our individual lives, is a forbidden topic. Even though we now have the capacity to end the world ourselves, we still pretend that the world is eternal, that our country is eternal and that we will live forever. What is eternal is God alone and our immortal souls. Therefore, it makes sense for us to show great care over these two realities.
But, alas, we live in a time of disbelief. With no God and no souls, we are seen as biological accidents that have no surety or stable future. If the proponents of this godless theory truly believed that, then morality would go right out the window. Why be good? No one is keeping tabs. It is purely the survival of the fittest. And the backers of this view of life are called ‘enlightened’ or the ‘smart’ people!
As believers, we have a more comprehensive, intellectually articulate way of seeing the universe and our daily lives. For us, everything coheres and is connected to God. We are responsible to God for our every action and even for our inactions. Transparency and accountability are part of our view of life—not theirs.
We are all familiar with the dismissal of religion that was articulated by Karl Marx when he said, “Religion is the opium of the people.” By that, he meant that religion has been used by the upper classes to alleviate the hopelessness of the masses by a false promise of relief, like how a drug gives a false high for which the user will have to suffer more in the future.
What has not been adequately expressed is the fact that the atheist has a way out of moral responsibility as long as he can get away with something without being detected. Since there is no god, there is no ultimate judgment and no final justice. There is no all-knowing being to whom we must render account at the end of things. So, if you can get away with something, you win! Disbelief, therefore, becomes the opium of the atheist! No heaven or hell for him; just the caught and the free.
For the believer, everything we do has eternal resonances. Everything will be revealed by an all-knowing and all-judging God.
I remember one of the Sisters that taught me in grammar school explaining the last judgment as everyone sitting in a huge movie theater and each person’s life, down to the most hidden and intimate details, would be shown on the screen for all to see. Everyone will see us with our hands in the cookie jar! That was a scary picture!
But, it is essentially true. In this era of the importance of the transparent, God is the most transparent of all. So every detail in our life is important to God, and it should be so for us too since how we live day in and day out defines our life and makes us who we are. It is not the external circumstances of our lives that matter (i.e. how rich or poor we are), it is what we do with what has been given to us.
Hence, our every moral (and by extension our every human) decision is noted and counted because they are ultimately important to who we are and what our eternal destiny will be. There is no escaping it. Life is morality and we will be judged and held accountable for all that we do.
While we tend to look upon this statement with foreboding, considering the bad things that we are responsible for, it also works with the good that we do. Every act of kindness or generosity is noted by God and is also recorded. I rather think that we will be surprised at the judgment, not by all the evil actions we have done, but by all the good that we have done that we were not even conscious of doing since we did it automatically because of our faith.
So even though the Astoria Borealis did not produce Gabriel’s summons, perhaps, when the end-times occur, we may be delighted in meeting our Lord and Maker and not be filled with fear.