Press the panic button.  2012 is not far away.  The world is going to end on the 21st of December 2012.  So says the Mayan calendar of South America.  You may have heard of the ancient Inca and Mayan civilizations.  But Hollywood's latest blockbuster "2012" has made the Mayan calendar a household word.  What should we do?  Is the world indeed coming to an end?  Maya in Hindi means illusion.  Is the Mayan prediction an illusion, delusion or is it just Hollywood again creating confusion?

What do different people think about the end of the world and time?  The three monotheist religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe in the end of the world and a final judgement.  The Muslims call it Qayamat Ka Din.  According to the Bible there will be a final judgement, with the Second Coming of Jesus, and the beginning of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth (cf Rev 21: 1-2).  How and when will that happen?  Hinduism does not seem to have a clear cut definition of a beginning and an end.  It leans towards a cyclic form, rather than a linear one.  It believes in four eons (yugs) - Satyayug, Trethayug, Dwaparyug and the present Kaliyug. Each yug extends for millions of years.  When the present Kaliyug ends we will go back to the Satyayug, and the cycle will begin all over again.  How can this be verified?

We also have seers like Nostradamus and Malachy who have prophesied about future events from a very Euro-centric, and often Pope-centric perspective.  What do they have to say about "The End"?

Michael de Nostradame (1503-1566), whose name was Latinized to Nostradamus, had made 942 predictions published in his book "Leo Propheties" published in 1555.  Like most prophecies, his too are so vague that "post facto" one may try to fit them in anyhow.  He does however refer to 3 antichrists, of whom two have already been identified as Napoleon and Hitler.  The third antichrist is yet to come.  Will his appearance signal the end of the world?

The prophecies of St. Malachy, the 12 Century bishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland are somewhat more specific.  They are 112 Papal prophecies.  By that count the present Pope Benedict XVI is the 111th one.  So there is just one more to go!  Too close for comfort?  This is what the final prophecy says:

"During the final persecution of the Holy Roman Church, the seat will be occupied by Peter the Roman, who will feed his sheep in many tribulations: and when these things are finished, the seven-hilled city will be destroyed, and the formidable Judge will judge his people.  The End."  So Malachy leads us close to judgement day and the end.  The end of what - the Church, Christianity, the papacy, the earth, the entire cosmos?  Malachy was in no way competent enough to address, let alone answer, such questions.

What does science or astrophysics say? The greatest living astrophysicist, after Albert Einstein, is believed to be Stephen Hawking.  I have studied in depth his best seller, "A Brief History of Time".  He quotes the philosopher Immanuel Kant and St. Augustine, who say that time did not exist before creation.  In 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was actually expanding.  From this evolved the Big Bang theory that time and space began about 20 billion years ago.  Scientific evidence points to a slowing down of that expansion till it comes to a point where the force of gravity will exceed the diminishing velocity of expansion.  This will result in the Big Crunch, the reverse of the Big Bang.  And that could take another 10 to 20 billion years!  So where do the Mayans, Nostradamus or Malachy fit into those billions of years?  Both these seers were Eurocentric.  But the entire cosmos has a diameter of 8 billion light years.  There are about a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars.  Earth is just one of this vast cosmos. And Europe is a small continent on the earth.  So Nostradamus or Malachy would be totally out of depth on any cosmic predictions.

What then of the Biblical understanding of the end? Several Christian preachers, especially the evangelicals, quote calamities like earthquakes, floods, famine and warfare from the last book of the Bible - Revelation.  They see similarities and arrive at the hasty conclusion that the world is hastening to its end.  Biblical scholars, exegetes, differ greatly from the evangelicals on this point.

Exegetes say that it is even unlikely that John the Evangelist wrote the Book of Revelation.  It has two focuses - secrets of the cosmos and secrets of the future.  It has two approaches - one terrestrial and the other celestial.  In the historical perspective it was written at the time of persecution of the Christians, especially during the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD).  It is a compilation from different sources, and lacks a single literary production, or progress of thought.  It is more symbolic than factual.  Hence it would be dangerous to make geographical or chronological predictions based on the often confusing symbols mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Many Christians refer to the Apocalypse.  This comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, which literally means lifting of the veil or revealing.  Hence the word Revelation, used for the last book of the Bible.  In no way does the word apocalypse means the eclipse or the end of the world.  No doubt Revelation talks of a new heaven and a new earth.  Is this an on going spiritual renewal or a finite moment in time?  Definitive conclusions are beyond human perception.

Even the great St. Paul erred when he advised people not to marry, as the "time was limited" and "this world as we know it is passing away" (1 Cor7:29,31).  Jesus, the Son of Man, who was limited by time and space, was humble enough to say, "Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.  But as for that day and hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, no one but the Father alone" (Mat 24:35-36). Perhaps it was for this reason that St. Paul later admitted that "Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face.  Now I can know only imperfectly, but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known (1Cor 13:12).

We could conclude with the wisdom of Cardinal Newman, "The distant scene I do not wish to see.  One step at a time is best for me."  Be it the Book of Revelation, or anything else, we should be more concerned with the words of Jesus that will not pass away, rather than the passing away of anything else.  Let us live the gospel of love and service, and leave the cosmic future to the Father, who alone knows.  Till then sit back and enjoy watching Hollywood's fictional "2012", with our without the Mayan Calendar.  Unveil error, and reveal the truth.