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

13 November 2016

Apocalyptic Pills

The last couple weeks of Ordinary Time and the first couple weeks of Advent feature what we call the “apocalyptic literature” of the Bible. The consummate example of this is the book once known as "The Apocalypse of St. John," more recently called “Revelation.” This style of writing employed an intense imagery and rhetoric to depict the battle going on between God and His celestial enemies. The immediate audience were Christians who were fighting their own battles with enemy nations, especially Rome, the granddaddy of oppressors. The voice of God rose clearly above the din to assure his besieged beloved that He was in charge, that victory would be theirs, and their current anguish would be alleviated.

Apocalyptic literature has been compared to painkillers like Vicodin or Percocet: in the prescribed doses they provide needed relief for seriously distressed people. For those who aren't really in that kind of pain–perhaps, in the spiritual realm, those who only imagine they’re being persecuted–the apocalyptic mindset usually ends up more harmful. It gets them loaded, and makes them lose touch with reality. It can even make them very hard to be around, a challenge to support.

Consider the events of the past week. I don't mean the death of Mrs. T's founder Ted Twardzik or of famed musician Leonard Cohen, as noteworthy as they are; I mean, as you might have guessed, the presidential election. Our nation, and a few others besides, have been holding their breath before and since. Either “holding their breath,” or “hyperventilating”– I'm not really sure. If there's ever been a moment where people of every political stripe have been popping apocalyptic pills, it's now. Popping more and more of them, to less and less good effect. Division and fear rule more than their constituencies care to admit. No wonder the campaign sign for “Giant Meteor” was so popular! I wonder it if got any write-in votes.

In most situations, we’re not advised just to take medicines without attending to what we are currently capable of doing. Pain relief is supposed to promote freedom of movement, but abusers often end up inert or ineffective. St. Paul told the Thessalonians, “If anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” Work, with a sense of purpose and direction. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity says that no person or force should do for another what they can do for themselves. More and more it seems that this is a tall order, and the culture of death makes hearts smaller. Forward movement today will require perseverance, by which, St. Paul says, we will secure our lives.

The Lord has not promised a placid and carefree existence, nor does He keep anyone from sowing willful division in their relationships. Jesus spoke His words today as a prediction, and we can see how they have played out. Either way, they are not pleasing to the ears. We must ask: is God God or not? Has Jesus conquered sin, suffering, and death or not? And what’s more, does He not offer us the grace to participate in that victory by, as He put it, “giving testimony”—courageously raising our voices or pens or typing fingers, or raising our hands in prayer or virtuous action, against injustice? By seeking to learn and spread the truth? By loving the unlovable in everyone, and even ourselves, enough to help them recognize the freedom to change?

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