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November 11, 1988 Commentary The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 5 Mass Readings By FATHER DONALD DILGER m Signs in the heavens: the son of man rides the clouds Gospel commentary for Sunday, Nov. 13, 1988 Mark 13:24.32 Once again we approach the end of the liturgical year. The year will close next Sunday with the Feast of Christ the King. At the end of the year the Church wishes to remind us of our own end and the judgment that awaits. For this reason some of the gospels chosen in the three annual cycles of readings at this time are from the "eschatological discourse" chapters. These chapters deal with the theology of each of the three gospel authors concerning the events that are to occur at the end of time. The word "eschatology" is taken from a Greek word meaning "end." These eschatologies are written in a form or style called apocalyptic. This is a form of literature in which writers make exten- sive use of symbols to describe the final interven- tion of God in human history. Matthew, Mark and Luke all have an eschatological discourse of Jesus written in this form or style. Many of the symbols they use are lifted .out of apocalyptic writings of the Old Testament. The Book of Daniel is a very important source for these symbols used in the gospels. Today's gospel is from Mark 13. This chapter is sometimes referred to as the "Little Apocalypse" in reference to the long apocalyptic work at the end of our New Testament, the Book of Revelation. Mark's "Little Apocalypse" also provides much of the material for the eschatological discourses in Matthew and Luke. Each of them makes changes by addition or subtraction from Mark so that their version will reflect their own theology rather than that of Mark. One of the problems we face in the interpreta- tion of these chapters is that there is sometimes a movement from past to present to future in such a way that we cannot be sure what time is meant. The use of symbols strange to a modern mind adds to the confusion. For example, the idea of Jesus riding on the clouds. The cloud is symbolic of the presence of divinity as we see in the baptism of Jesus and in his transfiguration. We would hardly expect to see Jesus physically riding on a cloud' any more than we would expect to see the invisi- ble God riding on  cloud, yet in Isaiah 19:1 the Lord is said to be "riding on a swift cloud" ashe comes to bring judgment to the Egyptians. The symbol of the clouds on which the Son of Man is seen coming in today's gospel is lifted out of Daniel 7:13 where "one like a son of man comes with the clouds of heaven." There the son of man is a symbolic figure. Here in the gospel that im- agery or symbol is applied to Jesus who now is in- vested with the power to gather the elect and judge the nations. The darkening of the sun and moon, the stars falling from the sky, the shaking of "the powers of heaven" -- these are all images lifted out of Old Testament writings, especially apocalyptic writings. This is one of the characteristics of apocalyptic writing in the New Testament and in New Testament times -- the use of Old Testament imagery so that almost every word, idea, image, symbol, is a reusing of the Old Testment. Usually there are no direct quotes from theOld Testament, but the phrases in New Testament works are so close to the way they are phrased in the Old Testa- ment that there can be no doubt about the source. To illustrate from today's gospel: the darken- ing of sun and moon, the falling of the stars, the shaking of the heavens. These images are widespread in the Old Testament. For the reader who cares to check -- they are found in Isaiah 13:10 and 34:9; Amos 8:9; Joel 2:31 and in the Psalms. The riding of the divinity on clouds is found in Daniel 7:13 and Isaiah 19:1 as mentioned above. The sending out of the angels is based on Daniel 12:1 -- the sending out of Michael. The idea of gathering the elect, the chosen people, is found in Deuteronomy 30:4; Isaiah 11:11 and 27:12. The imagery of the four winds is found in Zechariah 2:6 and Ezekiel 37:9-10. The idea of "from the corner of the earth to the tip of heaven" is based on the ancient idea that the earth is a fiat disc which is overarched by a bowl-like structure called the heavens or the firmament. The point that is being made here is that we cannot read a gospel like the one of this Sunday as if it were written in the 20th century. It must be understood in the context of the time in which it was written and the type of literature in which it was written. Here we have apocalyptic literature in which symbolism is more important than history. To understand this gospel some knowledge of the Old Testament is essential. It would be a misinterpreta- tion of this gospel to keep watching the sky for a huge cross, "the sign of the Son of Man," or to see Jesus riding on the clouds. There is much disagreement among our New Testament writers as to what is to happen and when and how. St. Paul, for example, assured his Christians at Thessalonica that at the sound of the trumpet "we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them (those who died earlier} to meet the Lord in the air." He believed that he would see the end and he thought that's the way it would happen. It didn't. Each theologian attempted in his own way to come to grips with this problem and there is wide disagreement. In conclusion, let us not think whdn we read one of the "eschatological discourses" that we are reading a blueprint or a prediction of what the end , will be. Our faith tells us that there will be a resur- rection and a judgment. When and how this will happen we simply do not know. If the human authors of the New Testament could not agree, and if the Divine Author of the New Testament could let them disagree, neither do we have to agree on these matters. As to the return of Jesus, it should be pointed out that according to the theology of the Gospel of John, the resurrection, ascension to the Father and return all happened, one might say, "in the twinkling of an eye." Quite a different theology, at least on the surface, than that of the other gospels. What are we to make of this seeming confusion? We must look not only at the words and images but must go behind them to find what truths God has revealed hidden in our poor human language. What we have here is an affirmation that Jesus is Lord, under the imagery of the "Son of Man com- ing on the clouds with power and glory," and that each of us will meet him as our judge, "he will gather his elect from the four winds." Other readings for Nov. 13, 1988: Daniel 12:1-3; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18 - Vatican Letter Environmental concerns: at the Vatican door and beyond By JOHN THAVIS NC News Service VATICAN CITY (NC) -- In the 109-acre Vatican City, a quiet enclave on a Roman hill, environmental issues might sometimes appear remote. There are no smokestacks on the skyline, clean water still ar- rives from papally restored aqueducts and the lush Vatican gardens can seem like paradise regained. But today's ecological crisis has knocked at the Vatican's door, too. Last summer a female traffic officer keeled over in the square beneath Pope John Paul II's window, a victim of carbon monoxide and other tour bus fumes. She had to be hospitaliz- ed. The giant statues above St. Peter's, like many in Rome, are being corroded by chemical- laden rain water. Even the Vatican's medieval walls need- ed "first aid" last year to repair damage caused in part by chemical pollution. For the Vatican, however, en- viromnental concern goes well beyond its borders. The point being raised these days -- by church scholars, missionaries and the pope -- is that care of the earth may be one of the most serious moral issues of our age. Dr. Carlos Chagas, recently retired president of the Pon- tifical Academy of Sciences, told the pope bluntly in an ad- dress at the end of October: "The destruction of the en- vironment is the result of a pro- gressive and obstinate action, nearly invisible in the beginn- ing, driven by greed, economic power and ignorance. "You alone, with your voice, can stop ecological disaster, and the academy is at your ser- vice," Chagas said. The academy's report last year on disappearing species -- some 35,000 are facing extinc- tion by the year 2000 -- raised an alarm in the scientific com- munity. Five years ago, the academy issued early warnings about the depletion of the ozone layer and the global build-up of carbon dioxide, as well as the environmental disaster that would follow nuclear war. tices "aimed only at profit." economies, population migra- The pope has made ecology a On his frequent trips, the tion and international regula- recurring sub-theme of major pope has seen environmental tion. documents. His latest en- damage closeup: from rampant "There's certainly a lot of cyclical, "Sollicitudo Rei pollution in the Rhine River to reflection going on about the Socialis" ("On Social Con- "desertification" in .parts of issue. But I don't think we have cerns"), was immediately hail- Africa. developed a theology on this ed as an ecological Those who know the pope yet," said Msgr. DiarmuidMar- breakthrough for its tough say that as a hiker and outdoors tin, secretary of the Vatican's language on .the environment, enthusiast, he has a natural justice andpeacecommission. In it, the pope went back to the concern about damage to the Several ecology-minded Bible and said the dominion environment. It is a growing churchmen in Rome have high granted humankind over the issue among churchmen in his hopes for a papal document on natural world has biological n a t iv e P o I a n d, w h e r e environmental respect, but and moral limits that cannot be widespread industrial pollution there is no evidence that one is violated in the name of has threatened whole regions in the works. development, and is eroding, among other "Actually, if he'd put all his In speeches, the pope's things, the facade of the pope's previous statements under one language has been even former cathedral in Krakow. cover, it would make a sharper. Earlier this year, he But while he has spoken beautiful document," said told farmworkers that economic about, general causes, the pope Capuchin Father Bernard exploitation of resources was has been cautious about assign- Przewozny. threatening to turn the earth in- ing blame for specific damage Father Przewozny is the to an "abandoned desert." He -- whether for disasters like mover behind the Franciscan told a group of scientists last Chernobyl or for long-term pro- Center for Environmental fall that he was concerned blems like defores.tation. Studies in Rome, a new in- about the "uncontrolled Among Vatican agencies, too, stitute expected to open this discharges" of waste products there is hesitation about making fall. He hopes within two years into the earth's atmosphere, sweeping pronouncements on to obtain Vatican approval for land and seas. Part of this "ir- ecology because it often in- the program and have it raised reversible damage," he added, volves the complicated interac- to the level of a pontifical was caused by economic prac- tion of First and Third World See VATICANpaso 13