Ever since the start of the pandemic, each morning our friary has been celebrating a conventual Mass (i.e. Mass with just the friars of the house). We've continued this communal celebration even after public masses were reinstated later in the spring, and the ordained friars take turns presiding. Although I'm a brother, and thus do not preside at Mass, I offer a reflection on the Scriptures in lieu of a homily on Fridays.
Not accustomed to delivering memorized or off-the-cuff speeches, I prefer to write out my reflections. It's not the most riveting style of preaching, but then this is yet another reason why I appreciate my vocation to the brotherhood. I have, however, garnered much more respect for my confreres who are ordained priests. Preparing homilies is a lot of work, and they preach more than just on Sundays. Moreover, preaching is only a fraction of what they do as priests, so have some gratitude for your local pastors. They do quite a bit that goes unnoticed.
Anyway, since I write out my reflections, and since today's readings were apocalyptic in nature, I thought I would post what wrote up for this morning's Mass. It seemed fitting, given that my last couple of posts from early this summer were about apocalyptic literature. That, and we come to the end of a liturgical year this weekend and begin a new one with the season of Advent. This tends to be a time when the Church's liturgy has a bit more of an eschatological bent. So, without further prelude, my reflection from the Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time (November 27, 2020).
Here we are at one of the climactic, final scenes in the book of Revelation. We have the capture and imprisonment of the dragon (a.k.a. Satan); the martyrs and faithful ones enjoying the reign of Christ; the final judgement; death and the underworld are at last destroyed, and there’s a completely new creation, with a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem. In just these few verses, this section covers most of the major themes in apocalyptic literature: cosmic upheaval, the kingdom of God, judgment, and renewal. But is this about the past, the future, or times concurrent with this book’s composition? The answer is, “Yes.”
In the book of Revelation past, present, and future are sort of fused into one, but ultimately, though there are cosmic battles, and earthly disasters and suffering, Christ is always triumphant and the members of the Church enjoy and are actively a part of that new creation. Yes, Christ was definitively victorious over sin and death on the cross and in his resurrection, but this victory is an enduring reality, for Christ lives on in his Church. Just as our ancestors in faith struggled against the all-pervasive political and cultural system that was the Roman empire in the ways that it opposed Christ, so too do we today struggle against a culture of indifference, consumerism, individualism, hate, and injustice.
Personally, I find the dualistic character of Revelation rather off-putting. I’m wary of a cut-and-dry, black-or-white worldview, and yet we can’t deny that things are not right in the world, and there really never has been a time when truth, justice, and goodness reigned entirely. One of the values of Revelation is that, though the battle has already been won in Christ, and Christ is indeed King - as we celebrated this past Sunday - we are still part of that living story. There are still forces and prevailing attitudes, both outside of ourselves and within us as well, that stand against the work and the Spirit of God. We might not use the same imagery as apocalyptic authors, but the Paschal Mystery is being lived out in the members of Christ’s Body - in those who are crucified when profit is prioritized over human life, when power is chosen over people. We do continue to fight against evil in our world today. But evil is not so much a thing in and of itself; rather evil gets its nature from its opposition to God. I certainly would not say that there are evil human beings, but there are human actions and inactions that are in conflict with goodness, peace, charity, self-control, and the like.
Naturally, the wrathful violence of the apocalyptic narrative can be a bit unnerving for many folks. But we also know that history, from the stories of the Old Testament even until now - have shown us that destruction, disaster, war, and death give way to renewal, resurrection, and new life. It’s a shame that we live in a world in which we needed a civil rights movement, but where would we be without those men and women who risked their dignity and their lives for equality under the law? But, of course, we still have a long way to go. Even as we look back on this 2020 year, we remember those awful deaths that reignited the Black Lives Matter movement - these killings were unjust tragedies and should not have happened, yet I think we are seeing a new creation of sorts being formed in a movement striving for a more just society. I’m reminded of the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who said, “If they kill me, I will rise in the Salvadoran people.” The mystery of dying and rising is written into the fabric of the human story and is very much at the core of our faith where Christ is always victorious - and even death itself has no power over us. This is why we need apocalyptic, not because we look forward to war, death, and destruction, but because it gives us a lens with which to view the human story, and it reminds us that, after enduring the travail of pursuing goodness and righteousness, Christ will reign.
In today’s Gospel we are told to consider the blossoms on the fig tree. We know this is a sign that summer is near, so likewise we should read the signs of the times to recognize that God’s kingdom is at hand. I think with so much that has transpired in the last several months, not least of all the pandemic, we are experiencing a God-moment in our world - a nearness of God’s kingdom. I don’t think it’s the linear end of the world or signs of Jesus' second coming, for we’ve experienced rays of God’s kingdom like this before in history and in our own lifetimes. God’s Word, both spoken and incarnate, has endured all kinds of risings and topplings of kingdoms, nations, movements, philosophies, and technologies. And now, with everything that has been going on, I have apocalyptic hope that new life is budding forth - though not without challenges and forces of opposition. I don’t know what it might look like or even how long the struggles might last, but I believe that Christ and his kingdom will prevail.