José Cristo Rey Garía Paredes, CMF*
Apocalyptic Spirituality: Soul of the Mission
(May 2005)


Péguy, a French writer, said that “the worst thing was not to have a perverse soul, but rather an accustomed soul.” We could also say that in the mission, “the worst thing is not to have a perverse soul, but an accustomed one.” We who have received the gift of the mission, from Jesus and the Spirit, can easily lose the initial mystic passion and transform the mission into a mere routine task, without mystic and passion!
When our charismatic gifts become routine, so will our mission! After the initial passion, the routine, the custom, the mechanical repetition take place. If we are not attentive and alert, our inner apostle gradually becomes just a worker, a manager, one who keeps on repeating formulas, topics and ideas without a soul.
The clairvoyant and prophet of the Book of Revelation expressed this situation so well in the following words:

I know your works: you are neither cold not hot. Would that you were cold or hot! You are lukewarm, neither hot not cold, so I will spit you out of my mouth. You think you are rich and have piled up so much that you need nothing, but you do not realize that you are wretched and to be pitied, poor, blind and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold that has been tested by fire, so that you may be rich, and white cloths to wear so that your nakedness may not shame you, and ointment for your eyes that you may see. I reprimand and correct all those I love. Be earnest and change your ways (Rev. 3:15-20)

The missionary passion of the evangelizers is threatened. The Evil One is very much interested in extinguishing their missionary fire. For this reason, it is necessary to find out the bonfire which will allow to keep alive the fire of the missionary passion. This bonfire is found in the apocalyptic spirituality. The one who is close to the apocalyptic Jesus, is close to the fire!
In order to unfold properly this subject I am going to ask two questions: 1) What is apocalyptic spirituality? 2) Why an apocalyptic spirituality in the mission “today”?

What is Apocalyptic Spirituality?

Spirituality assumes many forms and shapes. When spirituality is inspired by the apocalyptic texts of the Old and New Testaments, then, it becomes apocalyptic.
The Book of the Apocalypse is the final and definitive Revelation of God. It is the final Word which corresponds to the First Word of the Book of Genesis. It is the final Word, the Omega.
The one who listens to the words of the Book of Revelation receives a blessing and is proclaimed blessed:

“Happy is the one who reads aloud these prophetic words, and happy those who hear them and treasure everything written here, for the Time is near” (Rev 1:3).

“Then the angel said to me, “These words are sure and true; the Lord God who inspires the prophets has sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon”. Look, I am coming soon! Happy are those who keep the prophetic words of this Book” (Rev 22:6-7).

The apocalyptic spirituality transforms us into happy and blessed persons. It enkindles in us the fire of God, which energizes everything. This last Book of the Holy Scriptures constantly asks the Christian faithful to listen and to keep the words written there. In that way they will be blessed especially in difficult times.
Spirituality becomes apocalyptic when the missionary allows the Word of Revelation to shape one’s life and projects, and to energize one’s self when going through dark moments.
Taking into consideration the characteristics of the Book of Revelation, I am going to present the fundamental traits of the missionary spirituality emanating from this Book: Dominical-Eucharistic spirituality, combative and fighting spirituality, spirituality of hope.

Dominical-Eucharistic Spirituality

The clairvoyant of Patmos receives the revelation on the “dies dominicus”, on Sunday, the Day of the Lord. It is the day on which the Christian Community gathers together and celebrates the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. On that day the clairvoyant was caught up in an ecstasy, was taken by the Spirit. He is allowed to enter the threshold of heaven. And from this perspective he contemplates and reads human history. The apocalyptic clairvoyant is graced with a very strong experience which:

 moves him;
 frightens him at times;
 makes him burst in praises;
 transforms him into part of the family of God’s angels;
 makes him a citizen of heaven;
 offers him suggestions and perspectives to fight here on earth in the army of the Lamb of God and to utilize his peaceful weapons.

The “dies dominica” or Sunday could and should be in the Church the core of the permanent spiritual renewal of the Christian Community and of each one of us. We could contemplate the Liturgical Year, in its complete itinerary, as an extension of Sunday. In this liturgical year it is given to us the revelation and the power we need to live and act in history.
The Apocalypse is a revelation given to the Community, not just to an individual person. When it is proclaimed and listened to:

 People assists in the opening of the seven seals: in them it is revealed the deepest meaning of history;
 People assists in the blowing of the seven trumpets announcing: a) the defeat of the Dragon and its Beasts, b) the apparition of the Ark of the Covenant, c) the victory of God over evil, d) the coming of the Kingdom;
 We believers are able to see how the seven cups of God’s wrath, a) defend all the innocent victims of human history, b) make justice in front of the great injustices, starting with the great injustice of the passion and death of His Son Jesus;
 The Christian Community is moved by what the Spirit is telling the Churches who discovers the root cause of her illness and the promises for her healing and salvation in the middle of a threatening context.

There is neither in the Church, nor among the men and women missionaries, a strong apocalyptic sensibility. We have excessively privatized our spirituality. We have transformed it into an intimate relation with the mystery of God: “I love Him and he loves me”; “I look at him and he looks at me”, as written by many spiritual writers. Without apocalyptic sensibility, spirituality loses its fundamental reference to history, to the permanent struggle between the Good of the Reign of God and the Evil of the bestial empire of the Dragon, of Satan. Without apocalyptic sensibility, mission becomes a mere pastoral activity, with short and poor objectives such as: to prepare celebrations and catechetical programs, to follow the formative courses, to open new centers, etc. The mission does not have as a challenge the threatening perspective of the Enemy, the Evil One, nor the high moral ground of the eschatological victory. In such a situation we are only able to perceive the difficulties inherent to our life and to human activity, as well as the small joys coming from a work well done.
The soul of mission is spirituality. More concretely, the soul of mission is spirituality infused by the Spirit in persons who allow themselves to be enveloped by the Revelation and the apocalyptic experience. The one who listens and puts into practice the prophetic words of the Book of Revelation receives the vision and the energy required to share in the mission of the Spirit and the Lamb. For this reason, it is necessary that we make Sundays in the Liturgical year the key of all our missionary activity and the fire that enkindles our missionary spirituality.
The great center for contemplation of a missionary is not just the solitude, the isolated meditation but rather, the communitarian liturgical-Eucharistic Assembly in which the Word of God is listened to, and the redemptive action of God in the world is celebrated and praised. The great source of missionary spirituality emanates from the encounter of the Bride — the New Jerusalem — and the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. “The one who is thirsty, come and drink”.

Combative Spirituality

The Book of Revelation is the narrative of a great battle which embraces the whole history of the world, from its transcendent origin in heaven, in the celestial Court, up to its consummation with the coming of the New Jerusalem.
The Book of Revelation narrates a war of God against His enemies. In this war, the protagonist is God Himself. It is his powerful arm which commands, acts and conquers his adversaries. God counts the earth and the natural phenomena as his allies. Human beings, those who follow the Lamb, act as “an army of praise singing a new song”, proclaiming the marvelous deeds of God. But they are not the protagonists. For sure, in not so few occasions, they are the victims of the Evil One, the martyrs, those who washed their clothes in the blood of the Lamb.
From this perspective, the mission is understood as the “war of God” against the forces of the Anti-reign. The protagonism of the mission totally falls under the Lamb who has been sacrificed, or the one riding on the white Horse, or the Lion of Juda, and in the Spirit who acts everywhere. We could express all this in a traditional way: What really matters is the “missio Dei”, the “missio Christi”, the “missio Spiritus”. To the Church it is granted the possibility of participating in the “missio Dei”. The Church tries to be a pure transparency of the powerful arm of God; she allows herself to be carried by the impulse of the Spirit; she sacramentalizes the action of the Lord Jesus in the world. For this reason, during the mission, the Church knows that she has to discover the mysterious action of God in history and, from there, to exercise the ministry of proclamation, of praise and adoration.
The enemies of the mission, “missio Dei”, are the Dragon and the two Beasts, together with the prostituted City, symbol of the sinful and oppressive Babylon. They are three symbols which we should know how to interpret at different times. They are the symbols of the empire of the Evil One.
The Dragon, the old serpent of the Book of Genesis, is Satan. Today we are not accustomed to attribute the evil of the world to Satan. However, Satan symbolizes a mysterious force always inducing to evil, seducing and perverting the people. Paul used to call this mysterious force “hamartía” or sin, in singular. No one knows from where it emerges and how it acts. However, it is present where evil takes place. Evil is manifested in the two Beasts. One of them is the political, economic power guiding the destiny of the nations according to the postulates of the Evil One. This is the first Beast, which in New Testament times, was identified with the assassin imperial power of Rome. Today, this power is more sophisticated. It is the power of war, of injustices, of terror, of corruption, of pornography. The second Beast is the propaganda used by the first Beast to impose herself. There is a system of cult to the first Beast enveloping everything everywhere. The propaganda wants to bring the empire of evil deep into the human hearts; it has an extraordinary contaminating force. The result of the power of the Beasts is a perverse civilization, a prostituted city, which is leading to its total perdition, according to the Book of Revelation.
The apocalyptic spirituality confronts the believer with the Powers of the Evil One. It is a call to a certain “fuga mundi”, or to escape from the prostituted city and from the sphere of the power of the Dragon. The apocalyptic spirituality is a combative one directed towards inside and outside of ourselves. The seven letters to the Churches show in what measures Christians must take to fight and eliminate from within ourselves the presence of the Evil One such as: conversion, purification, not making any alliances with the Evil One, recovering the first love, etc. The apocalyptic spirituality is also combative towards the outside world. The believer is invited not to carry the sign of the Beast even if this implies social marginalization. He is also invited never to be in solidarity with evil persons, nor to adore the idols constantly proposed in every moment of our human history. The believer has to give witness, even to the risk of shedding one’s blood for the sake of the mission. For this reason, the apocalyptic spirituality is a spirituality of martyrdom.

Spirituality of Hope

The apocalyptic person is not a defeated, depressed, desperate human being. All the horrors of history are in front of his eyes, but he is graced with an ampler panoramic vision in which he can perceive the end of all evil and the final victory of goodness.
The apocalyptic spirituality is, therefore, a promise that brings consolation, a horizon that overcomes anguish, and a victorious path towards utopia. Nobody can impede the fulfillment of the promises of God. Nothing can oppose his salvific coming. Thus, the apocalyptic spirituality is a spirituality of praise and adoration, and it is wholly permeated by blessings and beatitudes.
The trust in God illumines the life of the apocalyptic seer; he knows that the New Jerusalem is coming down; that God will wipe away the tears from his eyes; that Christ is coming to establish his Reign, and that he has — he and his angels — all the power to tie and annul the powers of evil.
There is no place in the apocalyptic spirituality for mistrust in the future or in God. For this reason, the apocalyptic person does not put his/her trust in human forces. His/her convictions lead him/her to exclaim: Your Kingdom come! Your will be done! Come, Lord Jesus! Come Holy Spirit! He/she knows that the help comes from the Lord.

Why an Apocalyptic Spirituality in the Mission “today”?

What is happening today is not alien to the reality symbolized in the book of Revelation. The “seven letters” to the churches reflect not only the situation of the ancient churches but of our present churches as well. We are living, somehow, in a time of ecclesial sunset, in a kind stagnation that prevents us to go forward in history as we should. The official Church holds a considerable political power, but not the strength of a great moral authority able to illumine the world. Our bishops do not know how to transmit the beauty of faith. Their almost constant utterances are “we oppose to…” or “we are not in accordance with…”. Few times are they saying: “we propose this…” or “we are in agreement with…”. The faith, such as it is officially presented, seems not to offer any alternative, any new dreams; it does not rekindle new projects for humankind. We appear, rather, as prophets of doom, of misfortunes and condemnations. We talk about hope, but we don’t know how to give concrete hope to the people.
But in spite of all these, we are witnessing today the emergence of new messianic movements within the church and the religious life, whose importance cannot be dismissed: a) movements of a spiritual radicalism — normally attacked as fundamentalist and involutionist — that emphasize the intensification of a life of prayer, of penitence and of a practical opposition to the consumerism, hedonism and the libertarian ways of our society; b) movements of liberating radicalism that are leading many religious to adopt an alternative life-style, characterized by a compromise till death, with the poor, their cause and their fight for liberation; c) movements of “creative” and “dialoguing” protest that are discovering in this world the seed of the new Jerusalem; movements that value dialogue, togetherness and the power of love and truth; that understand spirituality as an encounter that heals and empowers; and that are joining the movement of other people towards the Reign of God.
The Church should let herself be empowered by these movements. She is and must be the great messianic and apocalyptic movement within history. A church without a messianic and apocalyptic strength is not the Church of Christ.
The present political situation is a truly apocalyptic one: there is a widespread terror, insecurity, explosion of violence, be it religious, gender or domestic violence. This situation has become more patent since September 11 and all the consequences unleashed by it.
The apocalyptic spirituality will bolster the fire of a significant mission for the world. It will be a spirituality that will help us to understand the historical events and to perceive correctly that which is happening and that which is to come.
The apocalyptic spirituality will help us to proclaim the Word of God, adapting it to the events that, day after day, are shocking and surprising us. Thus understood and accepted, the Word of God will make “our heart burn” as it happened to the disciples on the way to Emmaus.
The apocalyptic spirituality will make us understand the value of the prayer of intercession, of praise and thanksgiving.
The apocalyptic spirituality will bring a new élan to our mission; will discern the ways through which the new Jerusalem is already taking possession of our earth.

Conclusion

It is quite easy to get accustomed to the rhythm of our pastoral and missionary work. But, when it becomes a daily routine, our endeavor loses its charm, its mystic, and prophetic capability. And when this happens, the “mission” also loses its temporal, apocalyptic impatience. Then, one year is the same as ten years, or one city the same as one region. Many Christians and religious have lost their missionary zeal and apostolic urgency because, as a matter of fact, they have renounced the “mission” by converting it into a job, an occupation. It is the most frequent vocational disgrace!
The bourgeois lifestyle of many religious has less to do with an indulgent attitude to a society centered in self-comfort and pleasure, than to the loss of the apostolic and messianic instinct.
Unfortunately, quite a number of religious dedicate their time to a mission that seems more professional than prophetic. A mission, deprived of spirituality, does not excite nor convey emotion. It has no dreams and does not transmit hope. In short, it is not a “Christian mission”.
As a conclusion, I would like to recommend to all religious communities and to each one of us, to recover the last book of the Holy Scripture, the book of Revelation, if we have ever lost it; or to find it, if we have never discovered it. I would like to ask the Religious of the XXI century:

 to read frequently and in all its integrity the Book of Revelation;
 to read and proclaim the Book of Revelation in community, not only individually;
 to interpret it in community, knowing that the Holy Spirit will act;
 to configure our personal history in accordance with the “day of the Lord”;
 not to hesitate in discovering the present events in the light of the Book of Revelation;
 to convert the rediscovered revelation into permanent spirituality.

I also want to predict that when the apocalyptic spirituality will catch fire in the heart of Religious Life, it:

 will find its proper place in the “Mission of the Spirit”;
 will let itself be guided by the creativity of charity;
 will find itself placed in the frontier of the four cardinal points of the earth;
 will acquire the “angelical” style of the great messengers of God, who were entrusted with the task of rooting the history of humankind in its proper place; as a history of salvation and not as an evil one;
 will be witnessing the real Hope, without fear of death.

The apocalyptic spirituality is “today” the soul of the Mission of the Church.

Note

* Fr José Cristo Rey García Paredes, CMF, is a Claretian Missionary, a renowned theologian, a Mariologist and an expert in Consecrated Life. He is presently the Director of the Theological Institute of Religious Life in Madrid, Spain.
He has authored a series of books on Religious Life as a Parable of the Kingdom, on Mary and the Reign of God, and on the Theology of Religious Life in a Post-Modern Era.
He is a celebrated speaker of Consecrated Life Week here in the Philippines. He is an acclaimed theologian in the Union of Superiors General.
Fr Cristo Rey is a seasoned professor and an authority in his field. He inspires his students and gently guides them, as consecrated men and women, in the ways of the Lord.

 

Ref.: Religious Life Asia, Vol. 6, n. 3, 2004.