Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Book of Revelation: Does It Predict the End of the World?

Today, we are having a guest blogger: Sister Leslie!

Thanks for the introduction Sr. Monica, I’m a first year Novice and one of the things we do in Novitiate is take classes that help to enhance our knowledge of God. This June we were fortunate to be able to take a class about the book of Revelation called “Approaching the Apocalypse: The Book of Revelation from the First Century to the Twenty-First.” Fr. Jean-Pierre Ruiz taught the class and even though we only had one week I am sure that everyone in the class learned a lot about the book of Revelation. Studying the scriptures is important because as St. Jerome said, “To be ignorant of the scriptures is to be ignorant of Christ.”

The book of Revelation is possibly the most challenging and mysterious books of the Bible. The Apocalypse (Greek for Revelation) is widely misunderstood especially in American culture. Some people use it to inspire fear in others and often people react to the Apocalypse in a rash manner, they might stop educating their children, stop going to work, or buy an R.V. with an expensive paint job.

This is really understandable and it is an easy mistake to make when the book of Revelation is taken literally and the surrounding culture encourages this rash apocalyptic thinking. The name of this theory is Dispensationalist Pre-millenarianism. An easy mistake to make, really, if one has not been taught exegesis (analysis of Biblical texts). This mistake comes from collapsing the world in front of the text and the world behind the text, basically acting as if Revelation was written in the 21st Century instead of the 1st Century.

In order to effectively understand Revelation and really any text we must understand the world behind the text (the historic time period in which it was written), the world of the text (the literary elements used in the writing of the text), and the world in front of the text (our present time). These should not be collapsed together but understood separately. The world behind the text allows us to read the text as a window into that time period. The world within the text allows us to see John’s use of metaphors that are not meant to be taken literally. The world in front of the text allows us to read the text as a mirror and see what God’s word means for us in this time. When this method of reading a text is applied to the book of Revelation, it is transformed from a scary text with a foreboding message of doom to a beautiful message of hope.

First, let us remember that this was written by a guy named John (not John the Apostle) on the island of Patmos (that is where he lived and he might not have been exiled) in about 96 CE/AD (whatever your preference) during a time of oppression. At the time an imperial cult had formed in the Roman Empire. Basically worship of the Emperor and the Empire became a major part of society. In fact, economic prosperity and almost all social interactions depended on participation in the imperial cult. So, in John’s time in order for Christians to participate in society they must participate in idolatry. A large part of John’s message is imploring Christians not to participate in society and to worship only God. He is encouraging the churches of Smyrna and of Philadelphia but he is chastising the other five churches for various faults; lack of love, trusting in their wealth, taking part in idolatry, and so on. John is asking these Christians to do a hard thing and give up all prosperity for God.

Next, it is important to know that the Roman Empire at the time tried to paint itself in a beautiful light, as the great bringers of peace, Pax Romana. John uses metaphorical language to describe the relationship between the Empire and its people. John uses the Empires imagery, ideology, iconography, and mythology against it. He was exposing the Empire as its true self and showing that its Pax was really forced control. The true victor is the “victim” of the Empire the Slain Lamb, Jesus Christ.

Most importantly (in my opinion) one of the purposes of the book of Revelation is to provide a bridge between Heavenly Liturgy and Earthly Liturgy. In the act of our worship of Christ on Earth we are connected to the worship that takes place in Heaven read the book of Revelation closely and hopefully you will see this connection. Through our worship we become free and within the context of our worship we come to the “New Jerusalem”. Worship is not just taking part in ceremonies and participating in prayer, worship is every act in which we are aware of the presence of God, anytime that we are acting out of love and conducting ourselves as Christians we are worshiping God.

The message the book of Revelation gives me is that I should worship Jesus Christ our Lord in everything that I think, say, and do. Through that worship I will bring Christ into the world and I am connected to the “New Jerusalem”. Also, no matter what the consequences I should proclaim through my words and actions the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord along with everything that statement implies. If injustice crosses my path I should not participate in it and I should work against it. Sometimes societies are unjust and then as a Christian I should not participate in that aspect of society. Live a Christian life in word and deed. God is not scary. Be not afraid.

Perspective of each individual reader effects interpretation of every text. What is your perception of the book of Revelation?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Do You Believe Christ is Truly Present in the Eucharist?

Theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich provides reassurance for those who may be questioning something: "Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith."

One of the things we do in the novitiate is Scripture Sharing. We get together on Saturdays to discuss Sunday's readings. Today, we are celebrating the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (or Corpus Christi), so yesterday, our discussions centered around our belief in transubstantiation. Some stories emerged while we were sharing, and I would like to leave them for you to reflect on:

How is it Possible?
Sr. Kathleen shared the following excerpt from the book: God Still Speaks: Listen! by Harold A. Buetow (1995)

"Some time ago, a street-corner preacher who knew how to make religious truth come to life was faced by a hostile crowd. 'How,' one of them demanded, 'is it possible for bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ?' The preacher looked calmly at the stout questioner for a moment and answered, 'You've grown somewhat since you were a child and have more flesh and blood than you had then. Surely, if the human body can change food and drink into flesh and blood, God can do it, too.'

"'But how,' countered the heckler, 'is it possible for Christ to be present in his entirety in a small host?' The preacher glanced up at the sky and down the city street before them and answered, 'This city scene and the sky above it is something immense, while your eye is very small. Yet your eye contains in itself the whole picture. When you consider this, it won't seem impossible for Christ to be present in his entirety in a little piece of bread.'

"Once more the heckler attacked. 'How, then, is it possible for the same body of Christ to be present in all your churches at the same time?' The preacher's answer was, 'In a large mirror you see your image reflected but once. When you break the mirror into a hundred pieces, you see the same image of yourself in each of the hundred fragments. If such things occur in everyday life, why should it be impossible for the body of Christ to be in many places at once? And tell me, just what isn't possible for God, anyhow?'" (Buetow 147-148).

Physical Evidence
St. Thomas the Apostle (John 20:24-29) and many other holy men and women needed physical evidence! :)

Sr. Leslie shared a story about a miracle that provides this evidence. The story is in a book that I am reading, and I will include it here. The excerpt is from Full of Grace: Women and the Abundant Life by Johnnette S. Benkovic (2004)

"In A.D. 700 a Basilian monk was faced with a crisis in his vocation. He did not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Day after day, though he celebrated Mass according to the sacred tradition, a profound doubt in the Eucharistic Presence grew within Him. Eventually, the moment of Consecration became a sever trial and a heartbreaking struggle. As he elevated the host and said the sacred words, guilt plagued his spirit and unrest tortured his soul. He prayed fervently to be released from the agony of doubt so that his vocation might be preserved.

"On a particular morning during the celebration of the Mass, the monk was fighting an unusually strong attack of doubt. As the moment of Consecration approached, he earnestly beseeched God to relieve him of this terrible spiritual affliction. Then, he prayed the prayers of Consecration and elevated the host. Suddenly, he was transfixed by what he saw. His hands began to tremble. Soon, his whole body quaked in response to the miracle he was witnessing. Slowly, he turned and faced the congregation. As he did so, he spoke these words:

"'O fortunate witnesses to whom the Blessed God, to confound my disbelief, has wished to reveal Himself in this Most Blessed Sacrament and to render Himself visible to our eyes. Come, brethren, and marvel at our God so close to us. Behold the Flesh and Blood of our most beloved Christ.'

"With these words, cries and wails filled the church. Shouts for mercy, pleas for forgiveness, tears of supplication ascended to the heavens in a symphony of worship and praise. For, as the congregation gazed upon the host in the hands of the Basilian monk, the people saw that it had become the real flesh, and the wine real blood.

"...without the use of any preservatives, defying the physical laws of nature, they remain to this day in the exact state as was first witnessed over twelve hundred years ago. Through the course of these twelve centuries many tests have been conducted...the more recent testing was done in 1970. The scientific team used the most modern equipment available at the time. The team released their findings:

"-The flesh is real flesh. The blood is real blood.
-The flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart (myocardium).
-The flesh and blood belong to the human species.
-In the blood are proteins in the same normal proportions as found in the makeup of fresh, normal blood.
-The blood and the flesh were of the same blood type, AB; and the blood contains these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium.
-The preservation of the flesh and blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon" (Benkovic 149-150).

The Humility of God
We also pondered the humility of God to institute this Sacrament:

"Let the whole of mankind tremble
the whole world shake
and the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God,
is on the altar
in the hands of a priest.
O admirable heights and sublime lowliness!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
That the Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides Himself under the little form of bread!
Look, brothers, at the humility of God
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves, as well,
that you may be exalted by Him.
hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves
so that
He Who gives Himself totally to you
may receive you totally."
-St. Francis of Assisi

Finally, after scripture sharing, we viewed the following video:

"Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!" (see Mark 9:34).

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Camp Franciscan is Underway!

We are in the middle of an exciting week at the Motherhouse! I am currently waiting for some campers to arrive for a session that I am co-facilitating with Sr. Regina Rose, one of our new novices! Later on, the other new novice, Sr. Leslie and I will be helping with the choir in preparation for the talent show tonight. Campers will have a chance to show off their God-given talents in band, skits, dancing, or choir!

The young women are delightful and they seem to be enjoying the week!

For more information and pictures, click on this link:

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sister Pamela Catherine Gets a Black Veil Today!

Sister Pamela Catherine is going to be professed today! It is a bittersweet time for those of us who are in the novitiate community, because we are so happy for her, but her presence will be missed. In July, she will head to Bapchule, Arizona, where she will be teaching junior high.

Congratulations, Sister Pamela Catherine!

Prior to first profession, a Sister spends time in retreat. We had a retreat last week, led by Fr. Charlie Smiech, OFM. It was about making the transition from praying with the mind to praying with the heart. We were encouraged to spend time gazing upon the eyes of Christ in the San Damiano Cross and noticing how loving those eyes are. We also were presented with a different way of looking at Christ as the Good Shepherd. Sheep herding is probably a messy, dirty; smelly task. Thus, Jesus so humbles himself that he is delighted to meet us where we are at, no matter what condition we are in. Father Charlie told us that there is a statue in Germany that so eloquently portrays the Good Shepherd, not draped in the fine red linens we are used to seeing Him in, but in how He might actually appear.

I wonder if this is the statue that he was speaking of:

Picture taken from:

It was a really nice retreat. Well, this week Sr. Pamela Catherine and I both will be on homevisits. I will be leaving on the train tomorrow to go to my hometown, Grand Rapids, MI. I'm proud of my hometown. After being labeled by Newsweek as a "dying city", a few thousand Grand Rapidians banded together to create what Roger Ebert calls "The Greatest Music Video Ever Made." City officials even closed off the streets for it. Here is the video (click on it to make it bigger):

I will return in time for the Postulants' Reception into the Novitiate. We are all excited to find out what their names will be and to accept them as official members of the Community! Then they will be getting used to wearing veils while running around at Camp Franciscan! :) Exciting times.