Mysteries of the Reign

November 22, 1999 Daniel 1, 1-6, 8-20 + Luke 21, 1-4

November 23, 1999 Daniel 2, 31-45 + Luke 21, 5-11

Pilgrimage 2000 ... Front Page ... HOME ... A Millennial Prayer

The lectionary now takes us into the apocalyptic book of Daniel, written during the same period of the events chronicled in 1st and 2nd Macabees, the bitter persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes. The author is not Daniel, rather, he and his companions are the primary actors in the book.

Daniel is a young man of Jerusalem, who along with others of the aristocracy had been deported to Babylon. He together with 3 companions was chosen to enter the royal academy where the Babylonians trained their future bureaucrats, administrators, and diplomats. Right at the beginning, they question authority. The King orders that the young men receive food and wine from the royal table. Rejecting the gourmet fare, they asked the chamberlain for peasant food and water. Thus they avoided any potential unclean foods as well as food that had been offered to idols. It seems a minor point at this late date, but these commandments of the Law of Moses helped define their cultural identity as a people. Thus, in the midst of the splender of the Babylonian court (remember the "Hanging Gardens of Babylon?") they take their stand in solidarity with their ancestors -- and their descendents -- by strict adherence to the Law as they understood it in their time. They did not "go along to get along," even though "everybody was doing it."

In time, Daniel and his companions win great favor with the ruler, and Daniel interprets a complicated dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. It recounts the four great empires impacting on the book's author -- the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks. It then prophesies about the Messianic kingdom, a passage of scripture which Jesus applied to himself.

Luke first tells us Jesus' parable of the widows mite, and then predicts the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. We often read this parable as showing forth the great faith found among the poor, who give generously even in their great poverty. But it is also a direct condemnation of the rich whose hands are clenched when it is time to give, but open when it is time to receive.

Jesus then speaks of dark and calamitous times to come. He stands in the middle of New York City, and predicts the destruction of Wall Street. (The contemplation of this thought helps understand the impact of his prediction of the destruction of the Temple in the 1st century AD.) Wars, rumors of wars (were the Romans coming or not, when would they get here, which route would they take, which way should we run to keep out of their way), famines, plagues, pestilences, the destruction of cities and empires. Woe to those who are pregnant in those days -- it is hard to run from soldiers while carrying a kid -- we will read the words of that first phrase on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. On that day, let us be grateful that we are not surrounded by soldiers about to loot and rape our town, and murder most of us. Let us be grateful that we are not fleeing for our lives from war and violence. But our gratitude must call forth solidarity with those who are presently surrounded, or fleeing for their lives.

Do we have the courage of Daniel to allow the civilization of life to flourish in our homes in the midst of a culture of death? Do we ask our bankers if they are extorting interest payments from the rice bowls of the poor (that is, do they have any Brady bonds or other loans/participations with developing countries)? Is your banker benefiting from the demands of the World Bank and the IMF that schools and clinics be closed and expenditures for social programs be slashed?

Tuesday's reading has held the fascination of generations of commentators, theologians, and preachers. This is in part because more generations than not, "we the people" have faced terrible calamities, wars, violences, genocides, and etc. Times get so bad that people can't imagine how such evil can be allowed to continue. Despair can run strong and deep, and any large number of rational reasons can be offered why this is our existential choice in the face of a universe which some feel doesn't care about or even know of their personal existence. As our world has become more complex and impersonal, the concept of God who can be in a personal and communal relationship with every human being becomes very hard for us to grasp, understand, explain, count, regiment, or catalog. In this as it is with other things: experience is a good teacher -- both the experience of your openness to the relationship which God is offering "each of us personally" AND the supernatural reality of "God with all of us together". We see these mysteries all around us, but hey, they're mysteries, so sometimes we don't notice them. It can be an interesting spiritual discipline to consciously seek to enumerate these experiences, sort of like practicing "seeing the Reign", and it is like most attempts to develop virtue -- this also gets better with practice.

So it goes with civilization. If we keep practicing it, we may by the grace of God get better at it, and then there might be viewer calamities, wars, violences, injustices, and tragedies heaped upon the world and all of its inhabitants.

On November 23, 1927, Fr. Miguel Augustin Pro, SJ, was murdered by a government firing squad in Mexico, during the persecution of the Catholic Church by the Mexican government. His dying words -- Viva Christo Rey -- became a rallying cry for those who opposed the injustice of the persecutions, which failed to distinguish between those who had used the Church as an instrument of oppression, and those who were true to the Church's apostolic mission, living and working in solidarity with the oppressed.

Pilgrimage 2000 ... Front Page ... HOME ... A Millennial Prayer