Images of the Second Coming include some scary stuff: End of the World, the Final Judgment, the Anti-Christ, and Jesus coming down on a cloud amidst apocalyptic earthquakes, floods and lightning. Not an easy doctrine to teach our children. But there’s a big danger in leaving this “hard stuff” out of the picture, especially at Advent.
It’s tempting to just focus on the Nativity, remembering the birth of the babe in the manger. A plump baby fits so neatly into the “gentle Jesus, come and squeeze us” images of our loving Lord. But Jesus is also the Just Judge, whose Kingdom will be complete at some point, when the world passes. His love will be fulfilled among His Creation.
Tips for teaching children of all ages the Catholic understanding of the Second Coming:
In the Lord’s Prayer we say, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. We also say, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Jesus is the deliverer; He will deliver us from evil.
Encourage their imaginations. Have them picture a moment of great love: the day their Dad put their newborn baby brother in their arms, the day their big sister played dolls with them, the day Mom set aside her work and played Monopoly with them. Have them remember a moment when they felt perfect love and healing in a way they longed for: a moment of perfect love and harmony with another.
That moment will come again, and remain for all eternity when Jesus comes again. He gives us glimpses of this joy in such special moments. He reminds us of our longing for more loving, kind and unified relationships with others.
All the bad times, when we feel hurt, angry, afraid or alone will vanish. Jesus will not only “set things right” at some point, but He’s constantly working on us and through His Church. Encourage the children to strive for those moments of heaven in their midst, and to notice and appreciate them when they come. And, in the midst of the hard times, they can be reminded of what will come.
When kids hit 8 or 9 they become aware of a wider world. They have reached the age of reason, and, not only are they capable of sin, but they glimpse evil at work in the world. They learn that the world can be a scary place. Waldorf teachers talk about the “neurotic nines,” this age when children can become fearful and self-conscious. They see a lot more, and it frightens them.
No doubt, they’ve had periods of being deeply afraid. They’ve been rejected by peers, and accumulated hurts. They’ve wanted what they could not have. School has more pressures. They used to be able to explore and discover; now they have timed multiplication tests and word lists they must know. This pressure only builds through middle school
They recognize evil. They know its face in cruel people they’ve encountered. Perhaps they’ve glimpsed it in their own raw, selfish natures. We don’t need to sugar-coat the reality of evil. They are aware of what hurts when they don’t feel loved. They are aware of shame when they’ve done something horribly unkind to another.
So talk about what’s evil in human relationships. Keep it related to people, rather than focused on uncontrollable variables like “climate change,” severe weather or wars. Those are frightening because the children have no control over them. But they have control over how they behave toward others. Teach them the difference between a loving and unloving act or response. Role play. Let them offer their own examples. They will be abundant.
How do we help Jesus’ Kingdom come? By choosing love and rejecting evil. Make it practical and specific. Encourage their grace-filled desire for goodness. Feed their thirst for virtue in their lives, and their desire for closeness with their family, friends and communities.
One of the worst teen flaws is their assumption of immortality. They assume they have “plenty of time” to turn things around in school, to get their rooms clean, to get their homework done, to get off the computer or TV. Their sense of time becomes warped by their own self-centeredness. Some teens engage in life-threatening risks. Many, especially when they leave home, stray from Church. Some accumulate regrets which may last a lifetime. They assume they have plenty of time to get things right with God.
Advent provides an antidote to such misperceptions. We’re told Christ will come “like a thief in the night.” We are told to be ready. Advent’s purple season reminds us of penance. We get ready for Christ’s Coming by turning our lives around, converting (and re-converting) our orientation to Christ. In the process we help build His Kingdom on Earth.
It’s hard to pull out of a teen’s self-focus to focus instead on the invisible God. It’s hard for teens to connect God to the ever-present material world. And this world is a noisy place. God’s voice comes to us in stillness. It’s hard for teens to hold still and stay quiet.
St. Peter provided a perfect model for how we should respond to the reality of the Second Coming, a model which teens might connect to:
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. . . . Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire! But according to his promise we wait for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you wait for these, be zealous to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Pet. 3:8–14).
Teens understand blemishes, not just the ones that pop out on their faces, but the ones that pop out to fracture their integrity. Their sins are the pimples they should pick. The Church heals them in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Forgiven sins lead to a stronger will to “do good” and resist evil. This process becomes the means for peace in our lives.
St. Augustine reminds us that our hearts are known only to God. In this life, the Earth is like a simmering pot, where those striving toward heaven and those falling toward hell coexist in a cooking process that shows moments of frozenness, boiling and warmth. We choose our place in that mix, and St. Augustine said you can discern what others seem to be choosing in any given moment of time.
The saved are motivated by a passion to serve others. The fallen seek to dominate others. Teens know friends who lift them up and those who push them down. They know the kid on the team who passes the ball and let’s others’ shine. And they know the ball-hog, who brings down the team by trying to be a self-glorifying hero. They learn that club leaders who don’t listen wind up ruining the club. They know the difference between a helpful student and one who puts down others or shows off in class. They understand St. Augustine’s critical teaching in concrete ways.
Teens can participate in serving opportunities to help them identify with the poor, but they must take that spirit of service into their hearts, and let it change how they relate to others in the mix. God is the Creator and pours his Holy Mix over and through us continuously, especially through the Eucharist. They have what it takes to change themselves and their relationship with others. The Divine Physician heals and restores.
As a parent or teacher, Advent gives us a chance to brush up on our understanding of The Second Coming of Christ. We are reminded in the midst of the Eucharistic prayers:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We get that He died, every time we glimpse the cross, find healing and forgivness, and while we carry our own crosses day-by-day. We know His resurrection, amidst Easter joy and glimpses of heaven in the day-to-day. Advent reminds us we also really need to “get it” about his Second Coming.
Brush up on our Catholic understanding of the Second Coming. And share this knowledge in age-appropriate ways with your children and students. That’s one of the best ways to get ready for Christmas.