PRE-NOTE: I recommend an essay by Lyle May, about daily life on Raleigh, North Carolina’s Death Row.https://www.preacherexchange.com/justicepreaching.htm
We are near the end of the Book of Revelation. Next week we will hear its closing verses. Over these weeks John, the author, has been speaking to us from his place of exile on the island of Patmos. He was there because he had refused to bow before Rome and call Caesar "Lord." So he was banished. His sister and brother Christians, whom he left behind, were also being persecuted (1:9).
Naturally questions had arisen: Why would God allow such good people to suffer? Why do evil people prosper? Who will have the final victory; God, or God’s opponents? John wrote Revelation to help respond to such faith-challenging questions. These are timeless questions, aren’t they? They are the questions the people of Ukraine could well ask. They are also the questions of compassionate people around the world as we watch in horror the devastation the war has wrought on so many innocents.
Revelation shows John’s attempt to comfort those persecuted churches. It is filled with coded clues the churches would understand, but their persecutors would not. Writing to the afflicted churches John encourages them to persevere and have hope. Persecution still threatens Christians in parts of the world today and so Revelation may also offer them comfort and hope. It has an encouraging word to our modern church as well, as we suffer internal wounds from the pain and humiliations caused by the scandals we are enduring in many dioceses throughout the world. Reflecting on Revelation can also strengthen our resolve as we face unbelief and indifference from our surrounding world.
Revelation is an "apocalyptic" piece of literature. Apocalypse means "unveiling" and so it is an attempt to "unveil" the meaning of history for those going through terrible and painful times. What Revelation is not, is what fundamentalists try to make of it – a precise prediction of future cataclysmic events. Remember, Jesus told us that we cannot precise exact dates and times for God’s intervention in world history (Mark 13:32).
The Book of Revelation began at God’s throne in heaven (1:12 ff) – where human history began and will end. John narrates the visions he had of the struggle between good and evil. In the book’s coded way he makes allusions to Rome ("the Beast") and Caesar (chapters 13-17). He depicts them as God’s enemies – as are all earthly powers that attempt to replace God’s ways with their own. "The Beast" is any power that yields to evil; it is God’s enemy in each generation and has many minions who say, "yes" to its allure.
Remember, Revelation is an "unveiling." It helps us see our past and present sufferings through the eyes of faith – faith in God’s sustaining goodness, love and power. Revelation is also about the future; not in exact predictions, but with assurances. John reminds us that, while we have no control over the future, God does.
In today’s selection from Revelation the story is coming to an end and its message of hope is emphasized. As we heard last week, God will wipe away our tears and banish death. There will be no more mourning and all things will be made new. Today we are given the vision of God and the Lamb permanently dwelling in our midst–a central tenet of our incarnational faith. (A theme also found in Hebrews 11-10.) In the heavenly Jerusalem, God will consummate what God has begun and there we will be in full communion with our God and one another. A new heaven and a new earth will appear and the New Jerusalem will come down from heaven, as Ezekiel envisioned (40:2). In that city God will live with us and comfort all those who suffer. As John will say in a later verse, "Night will be no more..." (22:5).
The Lamb, who enfleshed God’s love for us and shed his blood on the cross, will also be in the New Jerusalem. We could not save ourselves from sin; nor could we overcome evil in the world. But what we could not accomplish on our own, God has done for us. We are the recipients of God’s grace. God has triumphed and taken away our sin.
The period of great trial and tribulation was not unique to John’s time, it continues to this day. Yet he ends his "unveiling" with a hope-engendering vision of what will be ours someday. We are not being asked to interpret all the symbols in Revelation. That would make for interesting speculation in times of leisure. But implied in the ending of this visionary book are questions put to us at this Eucharist. Do we believe the ending of this story: that through God, good will conquer evil? Can we maintain our hope in God, even when the current evidence of that coming triumph is bleak? Revelation is also an invitation to respond to what we have heard and received in our lives. In Jesus Christ we have personal experience of God’s self-sacrificial love. Will our lives be another kind of "unveiling": will they witness to others, by our demeanor, words and actions, the hope we have in our gracious God?
John is inviting us to turn away from the false values and powers of the world and turn instead to the new Holy City where God dwells. Trusting in his vision and its completion someday, why would we choose anything, or anyone else? John has parted the veil for us and we can look upon the holy of holies with God as its center – the center of our own lives as well.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/052222.cfmx
(for the feast of the Ascension)
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds.
We do not hear the portion of Hebrews sandwiched between the text read today that elaborates on Jesus’ mission and the second covenant that God establishes, in which the Spirit testifies, "I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them upon their minds." This is part of the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 that the knowledge of God will be so generally shown forth in the life of the people that it will no longer be necessary to put it into words of instruction. What did Jesus teach us by his life that we are to show forth in our lives as our mission? The bishops, in the 1971 "Justicia in Mundo" (Justice in the World), state:
"From the beginning the Church has lived and understood the Death and Resurrection of Christ as a call by God to conversion in the faith of Christ and in love of one another, perfected in mutual help even to the point of a voluntary sharing of material goods" (32).
"The Church has received from Christ the mission of preaching the Gospel message, which contains a call to people to turn away from sin to the love of the Father, universal kinship, and a consequent demand for justice in the world. This is the reason why the Church has the right, indeed the duty, to proclaim justice on the social, national and international level, and to denounce instances of injustice, when the fundamental rights of people and their very salvation demand it. The Church. . .has a proper and specific responsibility which is identified with her mission of giving witness before the world of the need for love and justice contained in the Gospel message, a witness to be carried out in Church institutions themselves and in the lives of Christians" (36).
"Her mission involves defending and promoting the dignity and fundamental rights of the human person" (37).
"To promote the common good as do other citizens. . .Act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life. . .In this way they testify to the power of the Holy Spirit through their action in the service of people in those things which are decisive for the existence and the future of humanity" (38).
Can you imagine a world filled with lives expressing love and justice consistently?
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS, Director,
Office of Human Life, Dignity, and Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Book of Revelation reading:
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain
and showed me the holy city Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven from God.
Revelation keeps our feet firmly rooted in our present struggles to live the Christian life; but it also focuses our eyes on what is to come. The world’s indomitable powers, despite present appearances, will be overcome. In the meanwhile, John is inviting us to turn away from the false values and powers of the world and focus on the vision of the new Holy City where we will dwell with God and one another.
So we ask ourselves:
I don’t want a moratorium on the death penalty, I want the abolition of it. I can’t understand why a county [USA] that is so committed to human rights doesn’t find the death penalty and obscenity.
----Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, P.O. 247 Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
On this page you can sign "The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty." Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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