Sunday, May 22, 2011

May Reading List

I just finished Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, which is a novel about a fugitive Roman Catholic priest in Mexico during its fascist period. Called only the "Whiskey Priest," the main character spends most of his time coping with his own moral failures as he brings the sacraments to the citizens of the Mexican state of Tabasco, and evades the state's attempts to eradicate the Christian Faith. Greene examines what it really means to be a saint, behind pious but ultimately empty hagiographies.

The background of the book is the era in Mexican history called the Maximato. I'll go ahead and call this period "little known" in the United States, seeing as I've never heard of it, and I'm hardly a slouch when it comes to history. According to Wikipedia, the very reliable source of all completely factual information, from 1928-1935 Mexico was controlled by Plutarco Elias Calles. He was vigorously anti-Catholic and especially anti-clerical. Under the pretense of extending the separation of Church and state, Calles enacted extremely oppressive laws against the clergy, seized Church lands, banned religious orders, and expelled foreign priests. Many states went even further, and by 1934 there were only about 330 priests to serve a population of more than 15 million. These policies resulted in the Cristero War, a Roman Catholic uprising in which 90,000 people died.

The background of the story is important, because Greene paints the Christian life as one that takes place in crisis. The whiskey priest could escape the desperation of his existence by merely ceasing to be a priest or by fleeing Tabasco to a less oppressive state. Yet again and again he finds himself as the mercy of his circumstances, and he is given the choice to let suffering crush him or let it redeem him.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Worthy is the Lamb that was slain

A certain preacher is predicting the rapture tomorrow, and it is absolutely appalling that vicious sorts like that are permitted to monopolize discourse on the Final Days. "People these days," if such a generalization can be permitted in dignified internet discourse, are generally ignorant of what is really in the Bible, so there is a real danger that eschatological (end-times) preaching of the sort peddled by the "May 21rst" crowd will be taken seriously, that people will really think that is what the teaching of the Christian Church is. People can come to accept the view of that sort as real scripture, that the Book of Revelation is about God rescuing the true believers so that they can gloat over the destruction of everyone else.

Which is, of course, not at all what the Book of Revelation is about. St. John wrote to a community that was being persecuted, which was seeing its brothers and sisters slain for the savage delight of an empire that crushed any individual that refused to bow down to it. Was this the promise of the Kingdom? John reminds the community that it is a mere slain lamb, Christ on his Cross, that is able to bring about salvation. Which must mean much to a community that is being slain. For all the doubt and dread that their situation must have offered, John's vision of the heavenly courts is one where everything is assured and the victory already won.

So Revelation is not a vision of a Church gloating in heaven while God rains his hatred on everyone else. It is a book written to a Church that is suffering, indeed to everyone that is suffering, which argues that whatever might happen in this life the arrival of God's Kingdom of love and mercy is assured.