The hope of God's coming kingdom should not tempt us to withdraw from earthly affairs. ``Far from diminishing our concern to develop this earth, the expectancy of a new earth should spur us on, for it is here that the body of a new human family grows, foreshadowing in some way the age which is to come.'' We must never confuse earthly progress with the increase of God's kingdom (as some forms of liberation theology, for example, have done). But ``such progress is of vital concern to the kingdom of God, insofar as it can contribute to the better ordering of human society'' (1049). Darby's notion of a Church that forms ``no part of the course of events of the earth'' is thus a spiritual fantasy.

In the meantime, Christ's presence with us through His Word, His Sacraments, and His Spirit draw us closer to the fulfillment of His promise. ``The Holy Spirit's transforming power in the liturgy hastens the coming of the kingdom and the consummation of the mystery of salvation. While we wait in hope He causes us really to anticipate the fullness of communion with the Holy Trinity'' (1107; see also 1100--1106). ``There is no surer pledge or clearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth `in which righteousness dwells,' than the Eucharist'' (1405).

This, in summary, is the faith of the Church with regard to the close of the age. Admittedly, it is a short outline compared to the endless volumes of speculation that have been published by end times enthusiasts. But that is because God has not yet clearly revealed to the Church details such as the precise nature of ``Wormwood,'' the identity of the two prophets, or the specific geographic locations, if any, of the nations Gog and Magog.Fruitless Speculations vs. Fruitful Debates

Unlike the Left Behind authors and many other fundamentalist ``prophecy scholars,'' the Catholic Magisterium does not spend much time speculating about who will be the Antichrist or whether he is now living on earth. It does not try to match up the vivid scenarios in Revelation and Daniel with the evening news and the mutually contradictory, ever-changing predictions of politicians, scientists, and economists. It does not seek to provide a definitive explanation of the millennium, or ``thousand years,'' referred to in Revelation 20.

Perhaps as events unfold, God will make known His plan to the Church more clearly, in more detail. But unless and until He does, where the Holy Spirit has left a particular matter as a mystery, the Magisterium faithfully remains silent. In the meantime, imitating the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church keeps within herself as a treasure all that God has said and ponders it in her heart (see Luke 2:19, 51).

If the rapture promoters (and some overly imaginative Catholics as well) would imitate such wise and modest reticence, they could spare themselves considerable embarrassment. After all, the plug-the-headline-into-the-Bible-verse game has always been a losing proposition.