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Leading People from Outside to Inside

Today’s second reading comes from one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible. In fact, it is so misunderstood that when I encourage people to read the Bible, I tell them to avoid this one for a more advanced time.

This is the book of Revelations formerly known in English and still known in other languages as The Apocalypse. It is St. John of Patmos’ famous visions of the end of the world.

Today’s second reading is interesting because first we see that it is the end of the book and second there are a couple verses that are missing. If you go to a Bible you can read the complete verses, including three that were omitted in this reading.

In your missals you will see the words “Blessed are they who wash their robes so as to have the right to the tree of life and enter the city* through its gates[1]”

This is ancient symbolic language and it references those who have repented from their sins and embraced the grace of salvation from Christ through his death and resurrection.

The next line in the book is not there in your missalette: Outside are the dogs, the sorcerers, the unchaste, the murderers, the idol-worshipers, and all who love and practice deceit[2]

That describes those who are not saved.

Now we are Catholics in a protestant country. The defining point for the protestants is what is known as sola scriptura that comes to us from Martin Luther. One of those who branched off from Him was Calvin who taught what is known as double pre-destination. That teaches that God created some people to be saved and some people to be damned. That was the belief of the Puritans and the Pilgrims. None of that is Catholic.

Many people have come to understand God to be what we see in the famous movie: The Wizard of Oz, as that big green hologram that screams “silence!!!” Which by the way is also not Catholic.

My father used to tell me when I was growing up: “We never learned this God loves you stuff, God was to be feared.”

A lot of people had that Wizard of Oz image.

Let us remember that the most famous American Sermon is Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God delivered by Reverend Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts. Again, that is not Catholic.

We believe in scripture and tradition. So, we believe in scripture, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we believe that our tradition is also part of the way God communicates with us. This includes the writings of the saints and the magisterium of the church and so many other things.

This is the greatest difference between Catholics and Protestants and it also separates us from how we deal with the people described in both of those verses, the verse about those who are saved and those who are not.

Those who seek Christ find him and those who reject Christ never do. Both cases are by their choice.

Recently, there was a picture of people protesting pro-lifers by calling an unborn baby a parasite. You will never get those people to understand the Catholic teaching on anything so we leave them outside.

However, the Church is full of people who are in the middle. Some who are saints seeking to draw closer to Christ and others who are sinners who are not yet ready to embrace Christ to the level he calls them.

St. Paul reminds those who are seeking to draw closer to Christ–those of the former group–that they were once of the latter group, the ones left outside.

In order for one to move from the latter group, those left outside, to the former group they need to meet Christ. This is done through prayer and it is done by just beginning to pray. The greatest act of evangelization we can do is to teach people to pray as the saints prayed.

If a person is in the latter group but seeks to find Christ, he or she needs only begin praying to Christ and asking Our Lord to lead him or her to know him more. Doing that on a regular basis will change the person.

That means that we understand the power of prayer in the life of sinners.

In our tradition there are many saints who were great spiritual writers, some are real fire and brimstone preachers. St. Louis de Montfort, St Alphonsus Liguori, St. Peter Damian any one of them had no problem teaching of the fires of Hell. But, ironically, they were also the greatest preachers on God’s mercy. Each one of them communicated that one found God’s mercy even in the depth of the worst of all sin by simply seeking him through prayer and allowing him to lead us away from sin and into holiness. We know that action is inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Today many people outside the Church hear the preaching of those who focus on one of the missing verses in today’s second reading. They hear them being condemned to hell daily, without a full understanding of what we actually preach. That is because they don’t hear the preaching on mercy and they do not hear the path to mercy. That path is an invitation to seek Christ and to ask him to teach you how to find him. We do not preach that enough and we do not pray for the conversion of sinners enough. Yet, the model is in the words of those saints from our tradition who never turned a blind eye to sin, but always understood the way to preach mercy.

The most important thing we all can teach regularly is for people who feel they are the outsiders—that is in the missing list above—to simply learn to speak to Christ. If they do that they will learn the path to washing their robes but it is through Christ and His Holy Spirit that they will learn. Some will never do that and remain on that omitted list, but others, through your simple explanation and prayers will go home and secretly begin to do exactly that, they will be grateful someday that you did not make God appear to them like the hologram in the Wizard of Oz but that you showed them how to encounter Christ and that will make all the difference.

Photo: Peter Bruegel the Elder, The Tower of Babel, Public Domain

* The city: heavenly Jerusalem; see note on Rev 21:2.

[1] New American Bible. (2011). (Revised Edition, Re 22:14). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

[2] New American Bible. (2011). (Revised Edition, Re 22:15). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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