Friday, May 20, 2011

last days + scoffers = not what you think

Sometimes we must dress devils red, with pitchforks and barbed tails. I think the teaching about the Rapture, specifically Harold Camping's Rapture, is such a devil.

Camping's prediction is one of those that leave you alternately laughing and crying. His exegesis is inane - shoddy work at best. It is a morning's mist. And the morning of May 22nd will show it to be so - though Sunday morning will not be enough to convince the people who follow Camping. (Traditionally, Sunday mornings convince few.) If I were his neighbor, I'd meet him at his door in the morning, with doughnuts and a paper, and kindly invite him to Mass. Mr. Camping needs our prayers and perhaps our pity, but his belief, the idea itself, calls for a reasonable amount of scoffing. Camping is neither the first nor the last of these terribly specific wearers of menacing sandwich boards.

The teaching about the Rapture in general, and the way some teach it, is fraught with problems - devils even. My wife, for instance, has very real fears associated with the teaching about the Rapture. The teaching is laced with fear. It was and is used "evangelistically," which is a Christian way of saying it is used to scare the hell out of people. And when we scare the hell out of people, the only thing we accomplish is putting a bit of hell in their hearts. Fear is a part of hell. And hell worms its way out.

The teaching of the Rapture derives from and buttresses an us-them theology, it is uncharitable and fosters arrogance. And it is escapist. (The rescue aspect of the teaching is what endeared it to me for so many years). I used to believe in the Rapture (pre-tribber), but no more. The Rapture is Darby's invention, a man who was a contemporary of Darwin and Lincoln. It is not the teaching of the Christian faith - believed by all, at all times, and everywhere (as St Vincent of Lerins says).

I do believe, however, as the Creed says, that "[Christ] will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end." I do believe that we will be caught up in the air, but only to descend again with the coming King (no going off to heaven for some specified or unspecified amount of time). This is how peoples in the Middle East greeted kings and conquerors. They rode out of the city walls to greet and escort him back into the city. For us it is like meeting family or friends at their car or on the porch when they visit - we go out to embrace them and kiss them, and then we lead them inside.

Christ might come tomorrow or 3,000 years from now.

Here is a quote from Pope Benedict's most recent book:

A further key element of Jesus' eschatological discourse is the warning against false Messiahs and apocalyptic enthusiasm. Linked with this is the instruction to practice sobriety and vigilance, which Jesus developed further in a series of parables, especially in the story of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25.1-13) and in his sayings about the watchful doorkeeper (Mk 13.33-36). In this last passage we see clearly what is meant by "vigilance": not neglecting the present, speculating on the future, or forgetting the task in hand, but quite the reverse - it means doing what is right here and now, as is incumbent upon us in the sight of God


Jesus' apocalyptic words have nothing to do with clairvoyance. Indeed, they are intended to deter us from mere superficial curiosity about observable phenomena (cf. Lk 17.20) and to lead us toward the essential: toward life built upon the word of God that Jesus gives us; toward an encounter with him, the living Word; toward responsibility before the Judge of the living and the dead (Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazereth: Holy Week, end of Chapter 2).

This is what eschatology is about. Unfortunately, we have spun it onto its head. It is not about our rescue. Not about the destruction of evil men (i.e., those who didn't say the Sinner's Prayer or those who believed differently than I believed). Not even about my reunion with Jesus. It is about the consummation of the reconciliation of all things that began with Mary's fiat. It is the Kingdom of Heaven come. It is me loving my neighbor and helping the poor. It is the redemption of the cosmos. And so we say Maranatha! but we mean it differently. We mean it credally - "The Lord has come!" and we mean it longingly, "O Lord, come!" But even as we long for his coming we do not mean simply that time when he returns. We mean it in the context of the Lord's Prayer - of getting heaven into this world and getting heaven into my own heart. The Lord is near.

So I scoff because we are not called to some kind of spiritual meteorology. "Why are you looking at the sky?" said the angels at the Ascension. And then they offer an eschatological statement for the purpose of its robust and joyous implication: "Get to work!"

In this sense, the urgency of evangelization in the apostolic era was predicated not so much on the necessity for each individual to acquire knowledge of the Gospel in order to attain salvation, but rather on this grand conception of history: if the world was to arrive at its destiny, the Gospel had to be brought to all nations (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazereth: Holy Week, Chap 2).

God loves Harold Camping and those who follow him. He loves us. And he says to us: Go and love others as I love you. Working is how we wait.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


It was the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne, Indiana. My wife and I, though Evangelicals, walked into the church twenty years ago to observe a daily Mass. Holy men, wooden statues, greeted us within the narthex, nearly showing us cowards. Further in, we found only a few people in a building that swallowed them. It was quiet, somber, and dark. Lifeless.

What does it mean to be follower of Christ? What does it look like? Does the countenance of a woman matter in worship? Do we know what lies in a man's heart?

We make so many judgments.

Every morning we see ourselves from a place of mercy. The challenge for us, our mandate, is to show the same mercy, even more, toward our brothers and sisters and toward all people. To see them, as St Paul says, as better than ourselves. To see ourselves as sinners so that we might cry out for Christ's presence every moment of our lives.

I used to look at the Catholic Church (not a particular church, but the entire structure) from without it and, at my best, be saddened by all they thought they had to do to please God - what salvation meant to them. There was baptism and all the other sacraments, Mass and so many other things that, left undone, they thought would incur God's wrath. Perspective is so important. We are constantly in danger of misreading the other. It's all too natural. Now as a Catholic I sometimes wince even still, five years later, at the obligations laid upon me. And when I do so it is because I have lost perspective and forgotten that the Church is my Mother. Her goal is to nurture and nourish our sanctity, to draw us to Christ and drag us when necessary. She says that this or that obligation or precept is important for us if we want to pursue holiness, if we want to become like God, if we want to be clean. Here, she says, are graces - food that costs no money, wine that is free - come and be satisfied. Open wide your mouth, she says, and I will place God in it.

Nowadays I look back at Evangelicalism, and I see there the other I once saw in the face of Catholicism. I see the morality, the obligations, that each little community imposes on itself, the unwritten but real codes: Be like this. Listen to this music. Eat this. Don't drink that. Fellowship here. KJV only. Anything but KJV. Read your Bibles. Do not do all these terrible things. Pretend as if you do not want to do all these terrible things. Smile. Clap your hands. Believe this and that. Here is the list of what it means to be Christian - to be part of this community. And I remember that they too need mercy and grace, that they are supplicants before God's throne just as I am. They are my brothers and sisters. It is true that they are sinners, every one of them. But they are better than me.

I, well, I am broken. I court death. I am in need of constant care, placed in the inn by my Brother - that one good, true Neighbor - to be cared for by the innkeepers, to be healed by the sweet oil and wine that is kept there. This is why I am Catholic.

Monday, May 16, 2011

chariots of fire

I watched Chariots of Fire over the weekend for the umpteenth time. Though I disagree with him, Liddell's resolve to honor God is admirable. It fascinates me how God responds to Liddell's, "I won't run on the Sabbath." Liddell is very strict in setting apart the "Sabbath" as holy. And while I believe the Lord's Day ought to be set aside for liturgy, rest, and family, I don't think one has to be as absolute about one's inactivity (i.e., one's participation in sports or work) as Liddell was. So it is my opinion that God's and Liddell's view of the Lord's Day are not entirely the same. Assume with me for a minute that I am correct. Even so, God honors Liddell. And this is how God is, isn't it? He honors what we have to give - whether it is a small thing, seemingly insignificant, misguided, or even wrong. We can only give what we are able to give.

And he is goodness and mercy to us.