Defining revelation for me is very challenging. I have broken it down into four levels and one huge spiritual barrier. It is more personal and real. It is not driven by the “Book of Revelation.” I am not a mystic – though I sometimes wish I could be. Than again, be careful what you wish for – you may get what you ask!
The first level that comes to mind is revelations that others have had (fathers of the church, the original apostles, martyrs, saints, Popes, and theologians). Their experiences hover above and out of reach.
The second level is the New Testament and the parables of Jesus Christ serve as a basis point for reflections. Interpretations by others help as well. These are more educationally inspired and didactic in nature. Scripture readings and the liturgy come into play here. As well as celebrating the Sacraments.
The third level has been times in my life where I believe the hidden hand of God or the Holy Spirit has gently or not so gently knocked me on the head. There have been fewer times when grace seemed overpowering. Those very rare moments that dim with time and are susceptible to later doubts and criticisms of authenticity. These have come at times of great turmoil or at times of extended and disciplined prayer life. On the latter I am a light weight and drift in and out of prayer filled life. The connectedness to an existential presence beyond my comprehension has been so fleeting and so rare that I can only call it a subjective spiritual journey.
Spiritual warfare comes into play for any revelation. The dimming of a grace filled experience or increase of self-doubt. There are many barriers to a sustained faith and openness to revelations. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are riddled for me with the challenges of historical context, biblical interpretation, purpose of literary devices, and the spiritual arc of development of people at the time of these revelations. The wealth of Catholic dogma that has come after these revelations challenges me as well, both in its scope and in its accuracy. Perhaps atheists are not born atheist – perhaps we create atheist with distorted scripture and over-zealous religiosity, institutionalized rigidity, and all too human leaders demonstrating unseemly hypocrisy? (Presumptuous as not all atheist are atheist as a direct reaction to over-reaching believers – but in many ways we do not make it an easy bridge for others to find faith). I contend with these contradictions by taking courses, reading, praying, and when I can get away on a retreat. The Catechism also has this disconcerting guidance:
“The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”28 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.[i]
For this we need the fourth level, outside all the above and guided by the unseen: revelations in the eyes of children, hidden in the sounds of music, in a stroke of paint on a canvass, in nature, in love and compassion between people, and in acts of selflessness that exceed any hint of personal motivation or glory. These are where I am most apt to find spiritual strength.