||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
The word “eschatology” points to the last things -- death, judgment, heaven, and hell. In a certain sense, it’s the most important part of our faith.
Why did God make us? God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next! And of course, what is seen in this world passes away, but what is unseen in the next world is eternal. And what is eternal obviously takes priority over what is temporal, what is time-bound.
Most important part of our faith
So the eschatological dimension of our faith is most important, and yet most Catholics don’t consider it very often. Recent surveys reveal that most Catholics are unsure as to whether there is life after death. Many Catholics think that it’s all over with our bodily death here.
That’s terribly sad, and troubling, and it’s partly why I’ve been focusing on eschatology of late. Lacking a proper understanding of eschatology skews our entire perspective on life and reality.
One tendency for those who lack a proper perspective vis-à-vis eschatology is to be completely wrapped up in improving things in this world, without reference to the things of eternity. Of course we want to improve things in this world and, in fact, we need to work hard to improve them -- that’s part and parcel of knowing, loving, and serving God in this world.
But, to be completely wrapped up in improving things in this world is off base, because inevitably the higher things are compromised when one’s focus gets completely wrapped up in the things of this world. It always has to be both/and.
Care for both spiritual and corporal needs
This is why we cannot forget to care for both the corporal and spiritual needs of people, and it’s why we cannot actually hope to begin to meet the ultimate needs of people without looking after their eschatological nature.
It is in the very nature of the human person to be “eschatologically driven.” God created us soul and body; the soul, which is eternal, and the body, which passes away (but which will be recreated by God for life in eternity).
And so we realize life in this world comes to an end (and it will for all of us). When our earthly dwelling place turns to dust, we hope to gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven. The very constitution of the human person with an immortal soul speaks of the eternal, the eschatological, the end. It’s built right into our nature, that eschatological dimension.
The soul is the seed of eternity and it’s also the seat of reason and freedom. And yet humans are created with a body as well. Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation. And it is the God-given dignity of each and every human person that generates the most fundamental rights, from which all other rights flow, and from which we gain a foundation for interpersonal respect and even civilization.
Disregard for human life
What have we seen in our country and culture with regard to our understanding of the human person and our nature? Perhaps most poignantly we have seen a regularized and legalized method of disregarding and destroying classes of human beings by way of abortion.
We see respect for the eternal eschatological, rational nature of human babies thrown out the window with the simple excuse that they are “unplanned.” This same excuse is being used, more and more, and applied to the elderly and those with serious disease and disability, as we legalize so-called “mercy killing.”
Meaning of marriage
Another tragic result of our confusion with regard to the eschatological nature of the human person is tremendous confusion as regards the meaning of marriage. The human person, who in virtue of his or her soul, has an eschatological dimension -- oriented toward eternal life with God -- also has a further-deepened eschatological dimension because of marriage and the procreative and unitive meanings of marriage.
Unlike any other being, the sexual act for humans is both unitive and procreative. In this way, marriage is, for human beings, a sign of the union between Christ and the Church, a union which is free, total, fruitful, and faithful.
Marriage is to be a sign of the wedding feast of Christ the Bridegroom with the Church; the bride in heaven! Marriage is an eschatological sign, just like the human person is an eschatological sign, and that eschatological nature of marriage has been diminished and confused.
And most recently, we have seen the diminishment of the eschatological nature of humanity by means of a movement to render even human gender as inconsequential, fluid, and changeable.
In creating humanity as male and female, God built into human nature a tendency toward that nuptial meaning addressed above. When one looks at the anatomy, there is clearly the potential for procreation through one-flesh union. The plan for man and woman to participate in the creation of other rational beings, oriented toward life in eternity is built-in. As they like to say, “it’s in our DNA.”
And now that our society has redefined marriage, it wants to move on to redefine male and female. And once you redefine male and female, then you redefine humanity. And that’s the end of humanity! Pope Francis said that’s the annihilation of humanity. The annihilation of humanity! How many Catholics see that?!
Fifty-five percent of Catholics vote for a party platform based on the radical spread of abortion, of euthanasia, of marriage confusion, and of gender ideology. They don’t even begin to see it. I don’t want to go there now, but as I have said before, the election before us at the moment is not about two individuals, it’s about two futures for the United States of America: one that might preserve the eschatological dimension (at least we can still hope on some level), and the other one that is dead set against it (and so there is not even hope).
Promote eschatological awareness
In light of this, I would argue that we should do everything to promote “eschatological awareness.” Since awareness of the eschatological dimension of things is in such great danger, we should do everything possible to reinforce human nature and its ultimate eschatological ends.
This is why I am pushing hard for greater reverence in our liturgical celebrations, and for a return to many of the ancient liturgical practices of the Church that were meant to heighten our eschatological awareness, the sense that what we are doing at the Mass is not simply about “us,” in the here-and-now, but about the Eternal “I Am,” and our ultimate end toward unity with Him. It is about our mystical ascent to heaven to worship with the angels and saints.
‘Ad orientem’ worship
In particular, this is why it’s become my conviction that one of the best things we can do as Catholics to reinforce the eschatological is to undertake worship “ad orientem,” that is to say, with everyone -- priests, servers, and people -- together facing the symbolic East.
“Ad orientem” worship places the eschatological dimensions front and center as we look together to the symbolic East, the place of the rising sun, from where will come Christ, the Sun of Justice, who shall come in glory at the end of history, “like the rising sun from the East.”
As I have explained to our priests, rather than turning his back on the people, the priest stands with the people marching toward the end of history, marching toward the second coming of Christ in glory, marching toward the East.
I’ll be expanding upon these themes of eschatology, human nature, and our worship in the future. For now, I hope I’ve provided a bit of a start for your own reflection.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God bless each one of you. Praised be Jesus Christ!