It was as if the apocalypse was upon us. The air was thick, hot and full of vapour; the skies were black, thunder rolled, lightning flashed, and the winds whipped. It was a storm of Biblical proportions. "See," says the prophet, "the Lord is coming with fire and his chariots are like a whirlwind."
The Lord was not coming. He was there. And the Lord appeared to be present in judgment. Black skies and bolts of lightning are not the most comforting signs one can imagine when going to stand in the middle of a field in Ontario. "He will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire. For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord."
For those of us standing in the middle of Downsview Park watching lightning descend from the skies, these were not idle words. They were a real concern. It was not hard to imagine that some of us—maybe all of us—would be slain by the Lord. The great balloons of light had already seen the power of the Lord's sword. They were snipped from their bearings and sent wheeling across the skies with seemingly little effort. Were we next?
And yet, as the hordes of every tribe and nation—including five young Reformed Christians not normally seen attending Mass—walked from Downsview station in the pouring rain toward the great Cross stationed on the grounds of the former military base, there was something else at play.
In the midst of the roar of the wind and the slapping of the rain, there was a choir singing:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will. We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you,
We give you thanks for your great glory,
Lord God, heavenly King, O God, almighty Father. Lord Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son,
Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father,
You take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; You take away the sins of the world, receive our prayer.
You are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.
For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.
The apocalypse was upon us and yet the choirs sang the Gloria and the nations streamed from Downsview station to sit at the foot of a massive Cross and to listen to a great man of the Church.
In many ways the power of that day came from its scope, from the spectacle. It's difficult to leave unimpressed when there are 850,000 people gathered from the four corners of the globe, each waving their own flag, each speaking their own language, and many wearing their native dress. The clamour, the glory, the excitement!
But I'm a good Reformed Christian, and if there's anything we know well, it's that a spectacle is only worthwhile if it is directed toward that which is most spectacular; otherwise it's worthless, or even idolatrous. So when, in the midst of the rain and the seething hordes, a hush fell and a frail man dressed in green came onto the stage and addressed that great crowd, I listened closely and carefully. And what did I hear? I heard the gospel.
"The greatest deception," said John Paul II, "and the deepest source of unhappiness is the illusion of finding life by excluding God, of finding freedom by excluding moral truths and personal responsibility... Jesus—the intimate friend of every young person—has the words of life."
Those words, and the Pope's call to the youth gathered to be salt and light in a dark and spoiling world, caused me to recall another passage about the peoples of the earth and the end of days:
"Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy..."
I recognize that it's a pathetic fallacy, but the Lord seemed to turn the weather to his glory as the Mass progressed. The thick darkness that covered the people in Downsview Park was split, and the sun shone bright and hot as thousands prayed and communed with God. It broke my heart—and still does—that my Protestant friends and I could not commune with our Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. But the joy of that day—the radiance of seeing Christians from around the world pray to the Light of the World—is something that will remain with me until I see Him in person.