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from issue no. 03 - 2009


The Apocalypse of Hope and the apocalypses of fear

by Gianni Valente

The “Nova et vetera” column continues with the republication of The Lordship of Christ in time, which already appeared in number 11 of 30Days of 2003, written by Lorenzo Cappelletti.
Like Cappelletti’s article published in the last issue, based on Ceslas Spicq’s commentary on the Pastoral Letters of the Apostle Paul, this, too, is a return visit to an authoritative exegetical commentary, precisely that made in different works and at different times by Heinrich Schlier, on some passages of John’s Apocalypse.
The aim was not and is not to go looking for premonitions of the impending disaster, but to be helped by Schlier to read John’s Apocalypse for what it is, that is “the revelation of Jesus Christ”, as the first verse states, a revelation made by Him and which concerns Him, His victory over death, the Lordship of Christ in time (it is not for nothing that in the liturgy the Apocalypse of John is read in the liturgical season of His victory that is Easter time).
Schlier teaches us that such revelation today as at the time John’s Apocalypse was written, takes place in a context of extreme precariousness, it is defenseless, is exposed to all forms of persecution from without and from within. This is the first element of present relevance. Pope Benedict XVI writes in the recent letter to the bishops (which we publish elsewhere in this issue), “In our time, over large areas of the earth, the faith is in danger of being extinguished like a flame that no longer finds fuel”. Words that sound identical in substance to those that Don Giussani wrote on returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land more than twenty years ago: “What you take away from those places is the desire, the yearning that people will become aware of what has happened. But what has happened seems today as if it can be wiped away as one erases with a foot a letter on the sand – a letter on the sand of the world “(from An event in life, that is a history, p. 29)
Now, if this is the situation, the “prophecy” of John’s Apocalypse illustrated in the following article is extremely pertinent and in no way sibylline. It points out, first of all, that it is Christ who bears witness to Himself. The “witness of Jesus Christ”, mentioned in the second verse, has the Lord as subject (in the subjective genitive, in fact, in the Greek text). The witness of His followers, the few, scattered, mocked, subject to great temptations and weakness, lies simply, through His grace and His renewed mercy, in the “observance of the commandments of God” and in “the safeguarding of the witness of Jesus” (Ap 12, 17, cf. Ap 19, 10). It is He who is the light of the Gentiles, the Church is simply a reflection of His light, as the beginning of Lumen Gentium states and as Cardinal Ratzinger said in his memorable speech to the Rimini Meeting in 1990, again in relation to the difference between what obscures and what permits the gaze: “It is thought that you should always talk about the Church or that something should be done in it or for it. But a mirror that reflects only itself is no longer a mirror; a window that, instead of allowing a free gaze at the distant horizon, interposes itself as a screen between the observer and the world, has lost its meaning” (from A company constantly to be reformed, p. 11).
A second content of relevance and hope in the prophecy of John’s Apocalypse is the inanity of the war unleashed by the apocalyptic beast. So much that its ferocity manifests radical impotence in the very end. “The witness of the Son of God always emerges stronger and the impotence of evil becomes the dominant motif of all history,” said Don Giussani in his last speech two months before his death (Tg2 broadcast, 24 December 2004), “the power of history being by now broken”, Schlier echoes. And there are also moments of respite, historical spaces for order and refreshment from which those who remain faithful to His name and have not denied His faith may benefit (cf. Ap 2, 13), revealing that “the victory of Jesus Christ is hidden but real”. Indeed, “victory on earth always falls nearly, but not totally to the beast” (my italics).
These moments of relief, which allow a glimpse of the victory of Christ in present time, can be simply requested in prayer. Asking that the Lord come and manifest Himself, as the last verses of John’s Apocalypse and the whole of Scripture repeat. At the end of time, the victory of Christ will be evident to all, over time it is “a bet” linked to “prayer”: thus Don Giussani concluded the speech quoted (Tg2, 24 December 2004). When instead of the request that always arises out of gratitude for the gift (cf. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 534) there is a presumption to anticipate the evidence of the victory of Jesus Christ or to anticipate the grace that always precedes us then, instead of participating in hope in the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, one falls again into the agitation and the fear of apocalypses that are proper to the beast.

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