Monday, January 24, 2011


Custodians of the End
My last post introduced the above phrase into our discussion of the ‘end.’ I briefly followed by listing some of the more current contenders for this role of custodian of the end: survivalists, the Jewish State, American exceptionalism, the gospel of wealth, or even a literal reading of the sacred books.

Let me begin with the final contender: a literal reading of the sacred books.

Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” is often put forth as the shining example of a “literal” reading of the end times as foretold in the Bible. In fact, it is one of the clearest examples of bringing all sorts of ideas, themes, wishes, and whatever to the reading of a text. As well-read as Lindsey is in the sacred texts (and even here his reading is sometimes suspect: in one citation he changes the tense of a verb from the past to the future in order to make his point), he is greatly more well-read in the literature of fundamentalist bible prophecy. It is much easier to appreciate what he reads into the sacred texts than what he reads out of them.

Let me suggest someone else’s take on how the sacred texts were read in reference to the end time—this is the classic work on that topic: “The Pursuit of the Millenium,” by Norman Cohn. This is not a study for the faint of heart, the present-day pseudo-millenialists who have as much connection to the portrayal of the end times in the sacred texts as the computer war-game addicts have to real warfare. That is, no connection at all.

Norman Cohn begins, and actually ends—when it comes right down to it—with the one real, startlingly original insight in apocalyptic thought as it developed in Christian history and thought. It came from Joachim of Fiore. Joachim opined that the progression of the Holy Trinity could be mapped onto Western history in the following manner: The Father was god of the Old Testament—i.e., the Jewish dispensation; the Son for the Church’s history up to and including the present era (Joachim wrote shortly after the failure of Jesus to return in glory at the turn of the first millennium); and the Holy Spirit for the New Age—the era that was just beginning now, or, at the very least, would begin momentarily.

I said the study was not for the faint of heart—because Cohn traces the millennial fervor unleashed by Joachim down through the remainder of Western history, culminating in the appearance of Marxism and Naziism.

Me, I put my eggs totally in neither basket. Instead I prefer a literary-critical reading of the texts. That is to say, all the meaning of the texts begins and ends in the texts, and in their relation to the rest of the corpus—i.e., to all the rest of the sacred texts. Here is how I begin: Jesus says, in response to the question of his disciples on when the destruction of the temple and the coming of the son of Man will happen, “…as to that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.” That seems to be a very clear and definite answer. I wish all the Hal Lindseys of the world would pay attention to that.

As to what the end time will usher in, I refer to the text from the Book of Revelation which says about what the new age will be like: “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness. The world of the past has gone.” In other words, the only thing we can say is that we know as little about the new world as we know about God; the only things we can safely say is what it/he is not.

Friday, January 14, 2011


With the Christmas season safely put to rest for another year, it is time to return to the end. (You will find my initial exploration of the themes of the end time in a number of posts in November and December. )
Here is how I want to begin this series, with this passage from a recent post in the website called “The American Catholic:”
“A few months ago I wrote this reflection on the idea that bad leadership can be seen as a punishment or consequence of sin, and how the ethical and fiscal train wreck that is Illinois state government might serve as an example of this concept.”

Here is how that website defines its purpose for being:

What is The American Catholic?
The American Catholic is an online community of Christians, motivated by a rich heritage of Catholic spiritual and intellectual tradition, seeking to engage American society and culture in pursuit of the common good. Following the Second Vatican Council’s ecclesial call for greater Christian witness in contemporary society, we are dedicated to the renewal and “Christian animation of the temporal order.” We are all deeply inspired by our Catholic faith and seek authentic sacramental lives centered upon the “broken bread” of the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life.

But here is the content of the last day I checked it: a blog on the President’s speech at the Tucson memorial (cautiously neutral); a clip from the Onion (“the only reliable source of news on the net”); the above cited post on the “wages of sin”; a blog defending, indeed commending Sarah Palin’s use of the phrase ‘blood libel;’ a blog questioning whether Obamacare will decrease the federal deficit long term—and so on!
While the website subtitles itself thusly, “Politics and Culture from a Catholic Perspective,” what is really going on is the exact opposite: the website should be called “The Catholic American.”

With only a little facetiousness here is my claim: I am not an “American” catholic, but rather a “Roman” catholic. I seek neither to save, or be saved by the American catholic church, but rather to save and be saved by the Roman catholic church. I do not owe my allegiance to America, but to Rome.
I, too, could spend all my waking hours commenting on the American political and cultural life; but that is what I would be doing—commenting on American political and cultural life, and nothing more. Perhaps I am being a little harsh on the contributors to “The American Catholic.” But it appears to me they are caught in the same trap as the creationists: they are letting their belief in America overwhelm their belief in God in the same way that the creationists bet all their money on creation science a while back, and on intelligent design now, instead of trying to develop an understanding of creation that grows wholly and only out of their belief.
Anyhow, we as Christians are custodians of the end—insofar as we pass on the faith of all believers in what the end is all about. We are not beholden to survivalists, to the Jewish state, to American exceptionalism, to the gospel of wealth, or even to a literal reading of the sacred books. We are beholden only to our living faith—wherever that may lead.
More to come, in the coming days, weeks and months.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


[How strange is that? This is the "Twelfth Day of Christmas!" Why even bother talking about it anymore. For the vast majority of Christians in America Christmas is long gone. The Christmas trees were out on the curb for waste removal by the 27th of December--a day late because there was no trash pickup on Sunday, the 26th.
Christmas day is for all practical purposes and after-thought. The real 'celebration' was in the shopping, and all the other work we did to "get ready" for the big feast. So much for watching and waiting. Well, here, as the final after-thought, along comes the last Magus, Balthassar. And wouldn't you know it, he is looking ahead, too.]


Three times we are born:
We are born to die,
born to live,
and we die
to be born the final birth.
I was there
for the birth of life in the midst;
the fullness,
the coming into.
There when you were there
for the first,
the real birth,
the coming of age.

Myrrh is what I bring;
for being born is pain,
and only more so
in the midst of life.
I offer what I have
to make the passage not easier,
but more true.
I will wait further along
for you to visit me.