Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

17 November 2013

Apocalypse Eventually

First, a commercial for a brother priest in the blogosphere, "A Concord Pastor Comments." Fr. Austin Fleming offers daily prayers in print and audio. This link takes you to today's post, a prayer for the victims of the Philippines' Typhoon Haiyan. This link enables you to make a donation toward the efforts of Catholic Relief Services.

Second, a reflection on today's readings: selections from the "apocalyptic" genre. The sacred writers of apocalyptic works (e.g. later prophets, Revelation) used startling imagery and strange expressions to give hope to persecuted people. One commentator, Jesuit Father Jim Harbaugh, considers apocalyptic a strong pain-relieving medication for the soul. If you take too much of this medicine, especially when you're not in such grave pain, you can start to "need" it when you really don't--feel like you're being persecuted when you really aren't.
Consider the excitement over various apparitions, locutions, etc. Pope Francis had something to say just the other day about this craze. Now, we clearly affirm the numerous apparitions that have gained ecclesiastical recognition. Most apparitions contain nothing contradictory to the Faith, and indeed emphasize the "basics" of repentance and prayer, the unique role of Our Lady in the divine plan; but the Scriptures, Catechism, and Liturgy have all the revelation I need. Knowing my personality, I could easily get caught up in extraordinary iterations; the ordinary does enough to me.
The prophet Malachi foretold the coming of the "Day of the Lord" in terms of an all-consuming fire that would reduce sinners to stubble but reflect well on the righteous. Jesus sternly warned about the destruction of the Temple and related upheavals on the national and family levels. Read such Scriptures out of context, add your own anxieties and fears, and you have a prescription for madness.

The key to understanding the first reading and Gospel often can be found in the second reading. Today, Paul addresses the Thessalonians, many of whom were caught up in the possibility that Jesus should return soon. In the face of rampant persecution by the Empire, the Second Coming was a welcome prospect! Unfortunately these people also prematurely withdrew from daily concerns, contributing nothing but grief to the larger community.

Addicts, self-centered people--to some extent, all of us--share the traits of "apocalypse junkies": a penchant for excitement ("drama"); preoccupation with our feelings, especially those we label "bad";  a desire to medicate (with food, alcohol, pornography, spending, even prayer at the expense of tangible needs!).  If everything is just "going to hell in a hand basket," why bother caring?

Instead of losing patience with how slowly events unfold and people change in this world, St. Paul suggests quiet and steadfast work: efforts of daily prayer and service, fidelity to worship and obedience to the Lord's commands. With a return to responsibilities, curiosities fade away.

Perhaps the clever insight of a modern humorist, (+)George Carlin, can illustrate the point: "Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that..."

Of course, we don't necessarily have to be employed; we just have to get out of ourselves. A friendly phone call, e-mail, or visit--or any spiritual or corporal work of mercy--is a great restorative that heals us as much as its intended recipient!

As with potato chips, one doesn't tend to suffice: hence Jesus' prescription for "perseverance" (Lk 21:19). One "I love you" doesn't count for the duration of a marriage, unless you want it to have Kardashian longevity. One workout doesn't render you physically fit. One prayer does not maintain communication with God until our last breath--unless, of course, we happen to be praying at our last breath.

It's one of many crazy paradoxes in our holy faith. We have to take it seriously, but take it easy.

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