The Book of Revelation is filled with dramatic images of great battles between angels and demons, the Lamb of God and the terrible dragon that vainly tries to destroy the Woman who appears in the sky, “clothed with the sun.” Usually identified with an account of the end of the world, the Book of Revelation is really more than that. It unveils the truth about the great struggle that has taken place from the beginning to the end of time, which rages now, but is normally hidden from our eyes. The book begins with Christ’s instruction to St. John to write down His messages to the seven ancient Churches of Asia. In the ancient world, “Churches” refers to what we today would call dioceses. As Catholics living in Fairfield County, for example, we are members of the Church in Bridgeport.
At daily Mass this week we read passages from Revelation in which Christ Jesus speaks to the local Churches of Ephesus, Sardis, and Laodicea. He praises the Church in Ephesus for being faithful. But He also chides the Ephesians, telling them: “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” Although they are faithful, their love for Him has diminished as time has passed, and He calls upon them to repent. Our Lord then addresses the Church in Sardis, telling them: “I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” This must have come as a surprise to the people of Sardis, who thought their community was vibrant. They are, however, deceived. Their vitality is superficial, and thus an illusion. He calls upon them to repent. Then He sends a message to the Church in Laodicea, whom He condemns as being “lukewarm” in their faith – neither hot nor cold in their devotion to him – and so, He says, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” He admonishes them for saying to themselves: “I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,” for the truth is, “you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” And so, the Lord Jesus calls upon them to repent.
In our own age, almost 2000 years later, we find ourselves in what feels like an unending period of scandal in the Church. Revelations of outrageous predatory behavior concealed by craven bureaucratic cover-ups leave us shaken, angry and confused. These passages from the Book of Revelation remind us that, while they take different forms in different ages, sin and corruption have been present in the Church since the earliest days. Christ Jesus allows the sins of the Church to come to light not to discredit the Church, but to move us as its members to repentance and greater fidelity. It is in fact a mercy, for this is how renewal begins. “Those whom I love,” says the Lord, “I reprove and chastise.” Our Lord is always faithful and He still loves His Church with all His heart. In these difficult days we must not be afraid to accept the astringency of His tough love so that through it He might prepare us to receive the sweetness of His eternal love.