I am coming to see clearly a great importance of the concept of ‘realized eschatology’ – transformation of life and of [human relations] by Christ now (rather than eschatology focused on future cosmic events)… Realized eschatology is the heart of genuine Christian humanism and hence its tremendous importance for the Christian peace effort, for example. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the call to repentance, the call to see Christ in [others], the presence of the redeeming power of the Cross in the sacraments: these belong to the “last age,” which we are in. But all these do not reveal their significance without a Christian mission of peace, the preaching of the Gospel of unity, peace, and mercy, the reconciliation of [human beings], and so with God. This duty, however, does not mean that there will not at the same time be great cosmic upheavals. The preaching of peace by a remnant in an age of war and violence is one of the eschatological characteristics of the life of the Church. By this activity of the Church the work of God is mysteriously accomplished in the world. – Thomas Merton
Eschatology is theology that concerns itself with the end times. In his reflection quoted above, Merton calls the church in his day to enter into a ‘realized eschatology.’ His call is into a time of making the declared promises of Jesus real and alive in the now. Merton called the church to an eager willingness to live and witness in such a manner that the phrase ‘thy kingdom come on earth’ are enfleshed and made real in the Christian community. Those words have their greatest power when the mission of peace, unity and justice are made real in the communities in which we live.
Lent is a great time to ask if we can embrace a realized eschatology. Is it possible for us to work on making a new heaven and a new earth in our world? If that seems too big, perhaps we can ask some hard questions about creating a new heaven and a new earth in our relationships. Do we need to work on peace with one another? May we be called to show mercy to someone who has hurt us? Might we need to reconcile wars in our own circles and in our own realities?
So I believe that we can all try to embrace the importance of a ‘realized eschatology.’ How you ask? I think we come to realized eschatological living when we begin to ask those difficult questions about our relationships and more importantly when we address the answers to those questions with mercy, peace and love.
We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time. – Henri Nouwen