Delivered at St. John Neumann Church, Cincinnati, Ohio:
The Book of Revelation is one of those books in the Bible that, on first glance, is a real head scratcher. For one reason, it is written in a style of literature that is not used today, making it extremely difficult for modern readers to appreciate all the nuance and substance that is contained in these visions. For another, it is ‘visionary.’ It is the Apostle John writing down what he saw while in prayer and what was given to Him during this time of prayer by Jesus Christ. But, we better become somewhat comfortable with this last book of the Bible, because we hear from it extensively this year throughout the Easter Season.
Our first key to unlocking the mystery of what is presented in this book is to understand what John was doing when he received these visions. Today’s text gives us a clue: ‘caught up in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.’ So, he is in prayer on the Lord’s Day, which was a common reference in the Early Church to the day that Jesus was raised from the dead, hence… Sunday. So, he was in prayer, on a Sunday, and what prayer do we continue to say on Sunday mornings…. He was celebrating Mass!
But not just any Mass, he gets drawn in to the Heavenly Liturgy! He gets drawn in to the Mass as it is celebrated in heaven, the fulfillment of the liturgy of the Temple and the source of what we celebrate here, today, this morning!
I know, big statements to make from just a short phrase, but the further text supports this: seven gold lampstands: the Temple in Jerusalem would have had seven golden lampstands as signs of God Presence around the altar. And what was done in Jewish worship in the Temple provides the roots for what we do as Catholics!
The One Who Speaks is wearing an ankle length white robe… Hmmmm… What do I wear every time I celebrate Mass…. (and you thought the alb was just something to throw on…)
So we can see by all of this introduction that John is very clearly caught up in the Mass when he receives these visions, and so the Mass becomes one of the interpretive tools that we can use to help understand and clarify what is happening in the Book of Revelation!
But there is one more aspect of this passage that gives us an insight into how we can enter into a similar encounter with Christ Jesus. Where is John when he receives these visions? The island of Patmos. Doesn’t mean much to us today, but at the time this was an equivalent to the island of Alcatraz in our modern parlance. It was a prison island, isolated, a cruel and inhospitable place. John has been imprisoned for preaching about Christ.
What we start to understand, especially as we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, is that our embrace of suffering and difficulty is often the way that leads us closer to Christ. Sometimes our own obstinance, like St. Thomas in today’s Gospel, gives Jesus the ability to open the door to our hearts and allow us to have the encounter with Him that can transform our own suffering into something glorious; as happened for John when he was imprisoned!
But, if we keep these things to ourselves, if we hide our hearts from Him, Jesus respects that and does not impose Himself upon us. Rather, He takes what we offer, He takes our words, our doubts, our concerns, and our prayer, to Himself for transformation and grace.
As we gather today, do not be afraid to voice your cares and concerns before Him; do not be afraid to offer Him your struggles and weaknesses; The more we offer, the more He transforms and washes us clean in the blood and water flowing from His pierced side.