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October 30, 1987     The Message
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October 30, 1987
 

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October 30, 1987 Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana i Mass Readings ' By FATHER DONALD DILGER Book of Revelation not meant as blueprint for future events Mass readings for Sunday, Nov. 1, 1987 Book of Revelation 7:1.17 This Sunday, the Feast of All Saints, we take a break from commenting on the Gospel and look at the first reading of the day, from the Book of Revelation. It is unfortunate that in our time some Christians emphasize this book to the extent that for them it replaces the gospels in importance. They look for signs, wonders, and visions. No book of the New Testament lends itself better to feed such a flame of mind than the Book of Revelation. What is this strange piece of literature and what is its purpose? It is an accepted premise of any sound biblical study that a book must be put into its historical context to understand it. Historical questions about the book have to be answered. Space is too limited here for detail but a summary follows. The author of Revelation is a man named John, not identical with the author of the Fourth Gospel. It is written on the small island of Patmos off the , coast of Greece where John was in exile for his faith. The time is late in the reign or soon after the death of Emperor Domitian who ruled the Roman Empire from 81-96 A.D. Toward the end of his reign some Christians seem to have been martyred and more persecution was expected. Domitian assumed the titles of God and Lord and emperor worship was enforced especially in the eastern pro- vinces of the Roman empire. It is from this background that Revelation arises -- the martyr- dom of some Christians, the expectation of more persecution, and the abomination of emperor wor- ship. The book was written in a form of literature popular among both Jews and Christians of the time -- apocalyptic. Characteristic of apocalyptic is the extensive use of symbolic language to depict the final intervention of God in human history and to give a veiled or symbolic account of historic events of past and present. The End is always ex- pected quickly. (Other examples of this type of literature are the Book of Daniel in the Old Testa- ment, chapter 13 or Mark and the Letter of Jude in the New Testament.) Revelation was written by John to encourage Christians to persevere in the expected persecu- tion, to reassure them of the salvation of those already marytred, and reassure them that the powers of evil could work only as long as God allowed. God's victory was certain and close. There is heavy use of ideas and words from the Old Testament, especially Ezekiel and Daniel. In today's reading the earth is regarded as a flat rectangle. (Flat Earth Society, please note!) Winds that come up from the side of the earth are favorable but these winds are from the corners and are trouble-makers. They are temporarily held back by four angels. Another angel comes up out of the East. The East is the place where light originates -- the sun -- and the direction from which Jesus was expected to return. Genesis 2:8 notes that the Garden of Eden was in the East. Before the winds were released by the four angels the servants of God had to be "sealed" on their foreheads. This sealing recalls the blood of the lamb protecting the Israelites during the Passover of the Angel of Death in Exodus 12. In Revelation 9 a plague of locusts is :forbidden to harm anyone with God's seal on their forehead. In ancient times V.I.P.s impressed their seal onto their belongings, including the tattooing of slaves, much as we are encouraged to stencil our social security number onto our possessions. The idea of the Christian bearing the seal of God is widespread in Scripture. Here the idea seems to be taken from Ezekiel 9:4. St. Paul speaks of God hav- ing put his seal upon us in II Cor. 1:22. Who are the 144,000 sealed? The author may have in mind chapter I of the Book of Numbers. There the fighting men of Israel are depicted as be- ing registered by Moses and Aaron according to the twelve tribes of Israel. The author of Revelation makes a few changes in the tribal listings by omit- ting Dan and putting Judah first. Dan was con- sidered the unfaithful tribe from which the Anti- christ was to come while Judah is put in first place because Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. The 144,000 is a symbol of those who have persevered and will persevere in persecution, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb (verse 14). Later they are referred to as a countless multitude. To believe, as some do, that only 144,000 will be saved is not justified b.y the text and is contrary to any sound interpretation of Revelation. Even a strictly literal interpretation would notice that Revelation speaks of "countless multitude" stand- ing before the Lamb with palm branches, the sign of victory, in their lands. In verse 12 the angels sing a hymn of praise which shows us another aspect of this book, the use of the number seven. In this hymn there are seven terms of praise sand- wiched between two Amens. If we read on to verse 17 we see the reassurance the author gives as he reflects on Isaiah 49:10 and 25:8: "They will hunger and thirst no more...and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." This tender message of consolation applies to us as well as to those addressed by John at the end of the first century. It is the timeless truth of revelation contained in this book -- consolation and reassurance. It is perhaps best said by Paul writing to the Christians of Rome (8:18): "I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not wor- thy to be compared with the glory to be revealed in us." To go beyond this and claim to find in this book predictions about the end of the world, the conversion of Russia, or events of the year 2,000 is a fruitless and meaningless pursuit. The Book of Revelation was never intended to be a blueprint of events of our time. Appropriate are the words of the author of Acts: "Why do you stand looking in- to the sky?" (1:11) "It is not for you to know the times and ages the Father has set by his own authority." (Acts 1:7) Other readings for Nov. 1: I John 3:1-3; Mat- tbew 5:1-12. Dear Friends: Now that I have improved my coordination to the extent that I can travel and think at the same time, I feel inclined to give you my reactions to the recent "Con Vocation" at Kentucky Dam Village Lodge. I promise not to misspell any German words in this reflection, now that I know someone is out there ready to pounce. If God uses good weather to show his approval of our plans, then He certainly beamed on us while we were away from home. Indian summer has seldom been more delightful than during those four days. I have to admit I was a little hard to sell on the whole con- cept of the convocation. I knew that several dioceses had tried such events but for some reason I was a bit skeptical. The plan- ning committee kept quietly on with their work and finally I was moved to give it a chance. I'm very glad I did. I think we needed this time together to help us assess the future as far as that is possible and plan to meet it as well as we can. For maximum efficiency and full ownership of whatever strategy we adopt we needed a broad base of discussion and a chance to get better acquainted with the people who will accept the various responsibilities of leadership and collegial action. With the recognition that our work must always be directed by God's Spirit in order to be successful we set aside plenty of time for prayer. Morning and Evening Prayers were in com- mon. Booklets were prepared with appropriately chosen psalms, prayers and canticles. Before the time together came to a close we were beginning to show signs of quasi- professionalism. We have lots of talent in this diocese and it is a blessed thing to see and hear it being used well in praise of God. sion. It helped to focus our prayers, just as our facilitator, Father Gordon Myers, S.J., helped us focus our discussions during that part of the convocation. Though we came to Kentucky Lake with various points of view, it seemed to me we left with a renewed and strengthen- ed reliance on Christ's promise to be with the Church until time is no more. Through a carefully structured process we were able to reflect upon the many ways God has led us as a Church here in Southwest Indiana. We recaptured the spirit of how much we need to pray and work together to accomplish the Church's mission. The spirit of competition, so useful in worldly enterprises, has no place in our ministry. Our ultimate goal is to stay close to Christ, follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and support one another as one hand helps the other when the load is heavy. We thought often and with Our Eucharistic liturgies were beautiful. The homilies and the music were most ap- great gratification thatwe as the propriate for the theme of each Presbyterate of this diocese Mass. Indeed, some of the' were not going it alone. The music had been written this great enthusiasm of the many past summer just for this occa- vowed Religious who bring such skill, such dedication to their work in the vineyard of the Lord has been a great part of the growth and success of the Diocese of Evansville. That presence is still here and though their numbers may be down, their vibrant faith and love for the People of God are constant factors in all that the Church stands for. We also reflected with deep gratitute on the great force for good the Church possesses in the members of the laity. Still praying for the direction which will focus this spiritual dynamo, our lay members are already engaged in programs of study and spiritual formation to make themselves not only will- ing but effective instruments in the establishment of Christ's Kingdom. With patience and with great reliance on the Spirit who dwells within each one of us we can become a more powerful force for good than the Church has ever been in the nearly 2,000 years of her history. The cry of the Crusaders in the Middle Ages was, "God wills it." It should be revived as our present and future motto as well. One last word must be said about the whole process of the convocation. Never have I seen our priests as happy as they were when they opened and read the many cards and letters written to assure them that your prayers and fasting were sup- porting their efforts at Kentucky Lake. Oftentimes priests get a very lonesome feeling as they go about trying to do God's work. So often they wonder, humanly speaking, if anyone knows or cares what they do. You showed us all that you do know and you do care and that was one of the great blessings of the convocation. Now that you know how much such support means, I urge you to take ap- propriate opportunities for more of the same. When I wrote that we must all stay close to Christ and work together I real- ly meant all of us, very definite- ly including you. Sincerely in the Lord, Most Rev. Francis R. Shea Bishop of Evansville