01 December 2006

Pools of Fire lapping at unrepentant souls

Last Week OT (F): Revelation 20.1-4, 11-21.2 and Luke 21.29-33
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory and Church of the Incarnation

What are we to do with readings like this one from the Apocalypse? What are 21st century Catholics supposed to do with visions of Satan in chains, throngs of bloodied martyrs crowding the throne of God, a scary Book of Life, pools of fire into which damned souls are thrown and a new heaven and a new earth? Take it seriously? Literally? Literarily? With a big grain of salt and a weak apologetic grin? Take it historically or prophetically or humorously, but take it; take it all and read it as a maternal text, a paternal narrative that conceives and gives birth to an incredible faith-history out of which we rise as children set to inherit a kingdom. I mean, these vivid apocalyptic images and dire warnings about the consequences of betrayal and the need for fidelity do more than inform our theology, they haunt our imaginations; they are vigorous spirits populating our Catholic vocabularies—our language and art and worship and our dreams about who we are and who we will be forever. Never think that God leaves our imaginations bare. He persuades in Surroundsound and High Definition Technicolor. And…he awaits our repentance.

Being very much a Jew and a teacher, Jesus grabs hold of the End Times speculative mind of his listeners and gives them a hard warning: decisions about fidelity to the Lord cannot be deferred indefinitely; time ticks away toward an end and the End is nearer than skin: “…this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” This is not a rhetorical scare tactic or Jesus fear-mongering. He is simple telling the truth about the human person—our completion as creatures of a loving God will take place. We will not left to rot in the ground or float randomly in voided ether. There is an end and an End—a stopping point and a resolution with purpose.

Jesus says, “…the Kingdom of God is near.” Be glad, tremble, cry, laugh, leap around like an idiot, do whatever, but, keeping all those fantastic images from the Apocalypse firmly in heart and mind, choose: health or disease, love or indifference, mercy or judgment, freedom or slavery, life or death. Be subject to the King of kings, the Lord of lords, or take residence in the former heaven and the former earth and pass away with the sea.

The kingdom of God is near, Jesus says; pay attention to your life, your choices, your graces, your service, and your faith. Pay attention to this moment, your history, your future; pay attention as if you will be called upon to account for each word and deed done and not done in Christ’s name. Does your prosperity witness to the generosity of God? Does your poverty give glory to God’s abundance? Do you speak the language of conclusion, of divine purpose: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of the heaven from God…” Do you believe that Christ’s word will never pass away? If so, have you chosen to make his Word your word?

What are we to do with crazy readings like this one from Revelation? Believe it. The Devil is defeated. But still loose to tempt us against one another. Faithful witness of the gospel may get you beheaded, especially when we refuse in Christ name to submit to an idolatrous culture. Our God reigns and all is well. Death does not relieve us of our responsibility to serve those who need us most. Refusing Christ burns. And everything and everyone we know now and everywhere we have ever been—all of it and all of us—will be changed. Made new. Completed.

We will, in the End, be loved into eternity.


  1. Thanks! It is nice to get these between the eyes. It seems sometimes that we get these readings glossed or ignored. It helps to hear it straight.

  2. Thanks for the post man....

  3. When I read this, (these and similar readings) usually I just end up praying, "Jesus, please don't give up on me..."

    Over and over again. Because I realize how far away I am, how much grace I need to follow what he is teaching.

    Please don't give up on me, Jesus...I'm trying...and sometimes it's just...so...hard...