By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
My friend Father Josh Whitfield of St. Rita Catholic Church recently wrote a fine Dallas Morning News op-ed in which he suggests that America is experiencing a political and cultural unraveling, both of which are symptoms of a more terrible spiritual malady.
I agree with his analysis of the state of our affairs, and I share his melancholic suspicions of a gradual unraveling. But I also appreciate his desperate plea for courage “if we’re to avoid our apocalypse” — to confront the forces fraying the fabric of so many lives and hardening so many hearts to the urgency of a common good and goal worth living for.
Many Christian forecasters of disaster over the centuries have looked to the book of Revelation (also known as the Apocalypse) for inspiration and imagery as they craft their prophetic rants. Much public discourse today is saturated with references to “apocalyptic” images of grim reapers, antichrists and death by decadence and/or violence for the wicked (who are inevitably the people we don’t like or agree with); such vivid imagery is great fodder for the hyperactive imaginations of our screened age. Father Whitfield, fortunately, does not succumb to such tempting but bad theologizing with the last book of the Bible. I trust that he would wholeheartedly support my contention that this famously cryptic biblical book is precisely the apocalypse we need right now.
The book of Revelation is essentially a pep-talk for first-century Christians located in areas of persecution, or surrounded by groups with competing distortions of the Gospel. The author, St. John, shares his visions of God’s ultimate triumph over the forces of evil in order to console his fellow sufferers and exhort them to persevere in their Christian faith. It is the nature of the apocalyptic literary genre to provide hope, not literal predictions, to a persecuted group by means of obscure and fantastic visions — Revelation illustrates the meaning of all history by summing it up in the heavenly and endless Eucharistic feast.
Christ the Lord is the one “who is and who was and who is coming” (1:4, 8), uniting all time in himself as the victorious lamb who triumphs over sin and death by his sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection. He allows us to share in that victory even now in our Eucharist, the “hidden manna” (2:17) which he brings to the door of our heart, desiring to join us for a meal (3:20). John receives his visions on Sunday, “the Lord’s day” (1:10), when the first communities gather to worship the risen Lord. He concludes his book with the final unveiling of the heavenly glory awaiting us at the consummation, “the wedding feast of the lamb” (19:9).
But Revelation is not a book which calls us to ignore our earthly realm and dream only of a lofty and distant Heaven. On the contrary — when Jesus asserts that he is coming soon (22:13, 20), he certainly means his curtain call at the end of days, but he anticipates that ultimate act by his constant coming among us at every Eucharist, and he silently desires that we meet him in that mystical union of time and eternity.
The apocalypse we need has already happened, and is already here. The Eucharist is the new and unveiled Ark of the Covenant, the very dwelling of God around which the angels exclaim “Holy holy holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Rev 4:8). Nothing impure can stand in the presence of the Holy One. That is why constant exposure to the rays of the Eucharist inevitably counteracts the cultural poisons that Father Josh points to: the filth of sexism, pornography, anger, pride, etc. Find Christ, then, in the tabernacle; he is waiting for you. And when you find him there, you will enter into the perennial now of God’s time — a glory that encourages you to persevere in faith and hope, and offers you the illuminating love and grace to regard your own fallen and redeemed nature in Christ’s eternal glow.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.