Imagine you are responsible for leading a community in both its daily civic life and in its spiritual commitment and dedication. You are held with great esteem by the community in and outside the church. You serve as an adviser for the politicians, a confessor for sinners, and a counselor and spiritual director for many. Your days run into each other with rapidity and threats to the practice and purity of belief among Christians seem to outnumber birds in the sky.
Just another day in your calling. A papal package arrives marked urgent and demanding your signature alone. It is a fiat from Saint John the Divine delivered to you secretly years after his death. You are aware by oral tradition that John was plunged into boiling oil by the Romans, but did not die. He was then sent to prison on Patmos Island. And now your receive this letter containing the vision of the Son of Man;
“I, John, both your brother and your companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 9)
You continue reading and become immersed in a style of writing that is unlike any previous early Christian writings. It is an apocalyptic manuscript filled with dire warnings, spiritual guidance, and a description of the final battles between good and evil. The author makes use of extensive figurative and symbolic literary devices that defy the writings intent – to unveil or disclose (Apocalypse) things only known to God. Is this John of Patmos writing? Is it the John the evangelist or John the elder? Is it authentic an unblemished all these years later?
Jesus Christ already left us as the final messiah with plenty of parables and teachings to guide us until his triumph return. Why would he appear before this John of all places in Patmos prison? It is troublesome to receive this letter. Beyond inconvenient.
It does have terrible details on the current failings of members of our community and some of our churches that we cannot deny:
- placing higher value on things other than God,
- abandoning sharing our faith in fear of persecution,
- compromising the faith by blending our teachings with that of other false Gods, corruption among our own clergy,
- fallen into praise and belief without actions (dead churches),
- and questioning the very existence of God himself.
These things are certainly true today. But what can we do with this talk of Seals, Trumpets, Beast, Lambs, Angels, Bowls, Horses, and Satan himself? Perhaps I can send this letter onto someone else to consider? If we try to preach these things and teach their meaning we will lose many that sit in our pews. Many are seeking consolation and hope for relief from such terrible suffering today from wars, poverty, disease, and countless preventable and unjust deaths of our brothers and sister’s today. And yet this book speaks of just that, four horsemen released by Lucifer himself to plague the earth with war, famine, pestilence, and death?
I have immense difficulty now explaining suffering and injustices today to the mourning and suffering. Opiate addiction is ravaging our nation. Racism and hatred is returning with a vengeance. Extreme nationalism is on the rise. Greed and sloth have not disappeared.
Not a day goes by that I am asked How can God stand by (and do nothing) in the midst of this suffering? And this book tells us to prepare for more! And how will we actually present its meaning and defend its authentic holy nature so many years later? Why did we have to get this letter today?
I have a mind to throw it in the fire. Alas I cannot. It is a call to armor ourselves in the Glory of the Lord. It is a call to live our daily lives as if heaven was indeed on earth. It is a call to prepare for what we do not and cannot understand – the eternity of time and our existence after our mortal selves crumple into ash.
I do not have the strength to share its despairing misery and reign of temporal terror and tragedy. Sure it ends nice with ultimate victory – but I can give no assurances that members of my community will ever see this victory in their day or possess the moral character and discipline to be on the right side of history when the final judgement comes. Surely we will need more Mercy than is humanely possible to imagine from God. Just look at us and what we are doing to each other every passing second. Why me God? Surely this book will not be accepted alongside the Gospels, Acts, and the Letters to the Apostles. I must none the less bring it to the council.
If you are reading this post, consider it me placing before you as my council this calling to God from “I, John” in the book of Revelation:
It is a mysterious read unlike any other reading in the bible. You have been chosen to lead your family, your neighbors, and your community! Do not fret or fear.
After you have read it I recommend “The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn.”[i] This may help your initial apprehension! He proposes that we are in Heaven when we are properly prepared for and participating in the gift of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist. He draws out the symbolism and figurative language into modern day representation in the Mass that we celebrate today 2000 years later. In an elegant and simplistic manner he educates on the multiple interpretations, political implications, and controversies without drawing one into the unnecessary theological debate on what I would say, has yet to be revealed to us!
I would argue if each of us attended weekly Mass with the proper preparation, understanding, reverence, and intent to live our lives as authentically and humbly as we could our society would have a have a spiritual transformation of biblical proportions. At the end of the day though, most of us are not saints and are simply called to be as good an apostle as we can be within our human limitations and count on God’s mercy for the rest.
The Holy Mass and the presentation of the Eucharist is filled with symbolism, figurative, and literal actions that bring to you the mystery of Christianity here in the present, on earth, in the midst of our every day chaos. It is both God’s presence here and now and a calling for what we cannot understand that lies ahead of us in eternity and behind the immense veil of father time and our mortality.
The book of revelation speaks to the immensity of suffering and misery that we see and experience in a prolific narrative style that can bewilder and confuse the reader. Even more frightful is an outright presentation of confrontation with Satan and evil. As modern day Christians we have an aversion to acknowledging spiritual warfare.
We in general are as inept at describing Satan as we are God. The invisible becomes visible by the hands of man – we just do not know at any given moment which entity is influencing our actions or directly pulling the strings. Angels or demon, who art thou pulling at my emotions, beckoning me forward with a whisper or a push?
We recognize evil and good today in their extreme forms and to a lesser extent in our actions and faults. We prefer to think we are completely self-reliant and able to choose or not choose our destiny. We deny any direction or influence from “spirits” or forces we cannot see or define. Or if we have a glimmer of grace we find it hard to accurately decipher these influences with a high degree of confidence. God’s ways remain a mystery to us and Satan’s ways even more so. Yet they are revealed to us if we look for them.
Apocalyptic interpretations, theological proofs, or becoming a profound mystic is not available to most of us. Simply being open to the immense gift of the word of God and to applying it to our every day lives in concert with the church teachings provides us with external reference points to guide our belief and practices. Still it is not that simple. At the end of the day there is no simpler form of grounding belief than the Holy Mass, the Eucharist, and daily scripture.
I say to you, believer or non-believer, that we have heaven and hell on earth now, here, today. I say to you each of us plays a part in the scales of justice and that you can weigh our collective evil acts versus divinely inspired acts of loving kindness and genuine goodness. You can weigh your own actions or better yet bring them to a priest for confrontation with God’s ideals. Perhaps a daily Ignatian Examen?
We may not live to see the final encounter, but we are soldiers nonetheless of one side or the other.
The book of revelation is a reality today as it was when it was first written and remains a timeless message for believer’s that follow us in the faith after we have gone to ground. Serious scholars and apocalyptic watchmen are routinely attempting to define John’s revelation and chain it to an epoch of time and worldly events in the past, present, or future despite the Gospel of Mark informing us “concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” It’s elusive nature today is as intriguing as Jesus Christ parables were in his day. God is not elusive if you look for him.
You cannot give away what you do not have. Giving with true divinely inspired love is the greatest gift of all. It is worth the journey to search for God if you have not met him, to double back on your journey if you have lost him, and stay close to him if you are graced with awareness of his presence. He is always there for us – it is more a question if we are truly ready for his presence.
If you received a profound vision today from God, shattering your world, and dictating the a message and vision similar to the Book of Revelation would you trust your own sanity 15 minutes after God’s departure? Would you dare write it down and share it with the world knowing you will face ridicule and speculation from every sphere and ultimately maybe rejected or perhaps even killed? In fact you have probably already been given countless opportunities to have a personal relationship with God but may have been too distracted to hear and take to heart the soul crying call for your attention?
I believe in mercy and love before I do in fear and pain being an instigator of true holiness. However, if I ever see the four horsemen I pray I have the Holy Trinity, all the angels and saints, and you my brother and sister, by my side.
In the face of human tragedy and senseless violence in our world today I seek consolation in the mercy of God and pray for strength when I have none. And even in this I am amiss as my troubles are not worthy of God’s attention relative to other’s that are in the grips of disease, addiction, homelessness, violence, starvation, imprisonment, and soul deprivation. But I ask and seek nonetheless.
Seek life eternal but remain grounded in everyday activities and actions here and now,. The end will come soon enough for each of us.
[i] The Lamb’s Supper The Mass As Heaven on Earth