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During the fall we come to the end of the Church's calendar, with Christ the King Sunday wrapping up the Church year with a big bow! In the fulfillment of time, Christ wins it all — and He will reign supreme. Christus Vincit! (Christ Conquers!)
For these final weeks of the Church year, our readings focus upon the End Times. This genre of Scripture is called apocalyptic, a reference to the last book of the Bible. The book of the Apocalypse, if taken literally from the word Apocalypse's Greek origins, is the book where all is uncovered, disclosed and revealed.
The problem for most newcomers to the Faith — and even for veterans of the Faith — is that the book of Apocalypse is greatly misunderstood. It's a favorite for Hollywood and TV evangelists to misappropriate for their own ends. Movie audiences like scary movies, and the book of Apocalypse certainly lends itself to that kind of thing.
For myself, I have always found the book of Apocalypse very intriguing. In fact, it was the first book of the Bible I read in its entirety.
I was in fifth grade at the time and at home recovering from a cold when I happened upon my mother's very large illustrated Bible. When I opened it, I fell upon the book of the Apocalypse, resplendent with medieval artwork; illustrations of the four horsemen; a savage beast with seven deformed heads and ten horns; a glorious Jesus Christ Victor parting the heavens; the final judgment and so forth.
To say that I found the book of the Apocalypse intriguing would be understating it. To a boy with a vivid imagination already, the pages of this final book of the Bible were fantastic!
From a spiritual standpoint, I don't believe I picked up much in my reading of the book. Who can really wrap their mind around what the beast looks like from what is described? But, then again, I think I picked up what the author of Apocalypse wanted all his readers to understand — that despite the calamities, despite loads of people leaving the Faith and evils of all sorts reigning on earth for a time, Christ will win in the final hour. In short, that basic message is not far from what great Church theologians have deduced.
Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the Church's greatest theologians, witnessed the demise of the once-great Empire of Rome. He spent a lot of time reflecting upon Sacred Scripture and in particular the book of Apocalypse. He rebutted other commentators in his day who saw Rome's fall as specifically predicted in the book of Apocalypse. They incorrectly extrapolated from the book this, that and the other. It's like what many TV evangelists like to do today to push their ratings!
Some naysayers at the time pegged Christianity as the cause of Rome's decline. To this day, Christianity is often listed among the reasons for Rome's fall.
Saint Augustine, in his work City of God, refutes Millennialism and its adherents. Richard Landes, writing for Britannica on St. Augustine's eschatology, sums up Augustine's refutation of these men and their misuse of Scripture to their own purposes:
In response to the prevalent this-worldly apocalypticism of his contemporaries, Augustine developed an eschatology that seemed almost oblivious of time. Indeed, his notion of saeculum (whence comes the English word "secular") radically desanctified history, presaging modern thought on time by almost 1,500 years. Augustine anticipated no imminent supernatural intervention in history. His immanent, or "realized," millennium at once acknowledged and embraced history, but it also argued that the battle that really mattered had already been fought on the spiritual plane, where God had triumphed. Satan has been reduced to lordship in this world. The City of the World and the City of God had been forced to coexist. Eventually, even that "small" patrimony that Satan claimed would be taken from him, and God would triumph.
Augustine would probably not be surprised about all the modern-day Millenialists that have come to the forefront in recent years — making hay today from the stolen 2020 election, COVID-19, vaccine mandates and so forth. These individuals, who get a lot of traction because of the internet, claim they have expert knowledge of the book of Apocalypse. They go so far as claiming so and so is the Antichrist; the beast that arose out of the sea is such and such; COVID is one of the deadly plagues; the jab is the Mark of the Beast; on and on ad nauseam.
This stream-of-consciousness conjecture reminds me of my own mental musings when I was in fifth grade reading the book of the Apocalypse for the first time — amounting to pretty much nothing. But what's troubling is that these individuals are publicizing their own musings to the condemnation of living individuals and misleading others to their detriment.
Instead of putting ourselves through mental gymnastics as to what this metaphor or that reference means, Catholics should take to heart a fundamental message of hope from the last month or so of the liturgical year and its numerous End Times readings. Despite all these evil things and evil people, God has it all under his control. In the end, Christ will be victorious!
As we revisit at Mass this month the parable of the Wise Virgins (Matthew 25:1–13), it's important for us to be encouraged and prepared, as these young women were who prepared for the Bridegroom's late-night return!
We also hear proclaimed the parable of the Vigilant and Faithful Servants (Luke 12:36–40): "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival. Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them. … You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
So, as we wrap up the Church's year these next four weeks, be men and women of faith and hope, despite the evil playing out in the world all around us. Whether it's the world's final chapter and last page or just a warmup to it, take courage! Christus Vincit!
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