From 13-17 July 2020 I was privileged to participate in a remarkable series of webinars sponsored by GIA, Inc., calling for reforms in society, in the Catholic church, and in the church music publishing world. For me the most powerful of the presentations was a lecture given by Prof. Natalia Imperatori-Lee in which she called for the dismantling of patriarchy and the creation of a new sexual ethic. The entire set of webinars can be accessed at the Summer Ministry Series 2020 on the GIA Facebook page here.
The focus of my short notice here is a remark that Prof. Imperatori-Lee made at least twice during her lecture: “We are living in apocalyptic times.” She notes how a feeling of displacement from life-as-usual has affected people all over the globe as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have witnessed uprisings on behalf of racial justice both in the United States and around the world, triggered by the murder of George Floyd. We find ourselves fearful for our future well-being as our economic systems are strained in response to the pandemic. Arching over all of this is concern about climate change, exemplified by the theme of the July 20/29 2020 issue of Time magazine: “One Last Chance: The Defining Year for the Planet.”
As one who has been challenged by preaching on apocalyptic texts, especially in the final weeks of Ordinary Time and the first half of Advent, I realized that Prof. Imperatori-Lee’s insight into the apocalyptic character of the lives we are living in 2020 provides real assistance for preachers this year and into the future. We preachers are perhaps called to emulate those who produced the oracles of Trito-Isaiah (Isaiah 55-66) and the visions of John the Seer in the Book of Revelation, giving voice to our people’s terror at the passing of the world they had considered “normal” and crying out to God for a fresh start: “O that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you” (Is 63:19); “Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Is 65:17); “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…. There will be no more death or mourning or crying out or pain, for the old order has passed away.” (Rev 21:1, 3, 4).
According to John J. Collins, “[t]he key to a proper understanding of the apocalyptic tradition lies in the realization that apocalypses are more in the nature of poetry than of dogma…. Their value lies in their ability to envision alternatives to the world of present experience and thereby to provide hope and consolation.” (John J. Collins, “Old Testament Apocalypticism and Eschatology,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary [Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990] 304.) If I heard Prof. Imperatori-Lee correctly, it is possible to discern God’s creative activity in revealing a new future whose “time has come” even as the old order is crumbling. Repudiating patriarchy as a social system in which men hold power over women, children and vulnerable males, especially in political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and economic power, allows us to “receive a revelation,” to envision our society and church in new, more egalitarian ways. “Repudiating a sexual ethic based on an unhelpful understanding of sexual complementarity allows us to “receive a revelation,” to envision our society and church in developmental rather than shame-based ways. Repudiating late capitalism as a fundamentally unjust skewing of opportunity with classist, racist and environmental implications, allows us to “receive a revelation,” to envision our society and church in which the dignity of human persons is respected and preserved, solidarity and subsidiarity are operative, and the economy must serve people, not the other way around. Repudiating treating creation as entitled dominators and exploiters rather than as stewards and nurturers allows us to “receive a revelation,” to embrace the “new heaven and new earth” Laudato Si’ envisions.
I am grateful to GIA for sponsoring these webinars. I hope that they will continue to produce insights that can both lead to conversion of heart and mind and help in preaching and living the gospel.
Featured image: “Bring Out Your Dead.” A street during the Great Plague in London, 1665, by Edmund Evans, c. 1864.