in seminary, i spent my pastoral year in the philippines. learning from my claretian brothers there is a real blessing in my life. much of it has shaped how i see culture and faith in the usa.
manila heat, humidity and smog was a really bad mix. sitting in a jeepney in gridlock behind diesel spewing trucks is no fun in 95 degree weather. so going to the movies was a wonderful get-away– if only for the air conditioning!
it amazed me how movies were set up in the philippines– maybe it’s different now than in 1992. at the theaters, the movies that were showing had huge advertising signs and pictures but there were no show times published anywhere. even the question to a theater employee was confusing. people just go into the movie whenever they get there and watch it. at the end after a couple of minutes, the film it starts again. then you stay until the point at which you entered.
at first i did not like it. i didn’t like knowing the ending before i knew what was going on. i was always confused as to who the characters were and what plot was. but once the movie started from the beginning, i was then able to understand better what i had seen before. seeing the plot develop then came easy. and in the back of my mind, i knew how it ended. the end was always key in this process.
after a while, i got used to the filipino way of watching movies. i actually started to approach movies as a challenge– entering into the middle of the story, knowing the end and being okay with the confusion in between.
i am reminded of filipino movie-watching when i read today’s second reading from mass:
“There is one thing, my friends, that you must never forget: that with the Lord, ‘a day’ can mean a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. The Lord is not being slow to carry out his promises, as anybody else might be called slow; but he is being patient with you all, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to change his ways. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then with a roar the sky will vanish, the elements will catch fire and fall apart, the earth and all that it contains will be burnt up. Since everything is coming to an end like this, you should be living holy and saintly lives while you wait and long for the Day of God to come, when the sky will dissolve in flames and the elements melt in the heat. What we are waiting for is what he promised: the new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will be at home. So then, my friends, while you are waiting, do your best to live lives without spot or stain so that he will find you at peace.” (2 peter 3: 8-14)
as people of faith, knowing the end of the christian story colors how we live life now. the life of jesus shows us that love will be our end. each of us unpacks our personal story; communities and cultures are also living out this faith-movie. in our better moments, we understand our purpose and end in the ultimate plot: love.
part of our faith as christians is the second coming of christ. one of the kerygmatic acclamations during the eucharistic prayer is: “we proclaim your death, O Lord,and profess your resurrection until you come again.” there will be an end to it all. at that time God will be all in all. apocalyptic theology can get pretty complicated for me. how i see it is that if God is love, all of creation will be unified as one. it is the nature of love: communion. we are to live as people of the resurrection no matter how heavy and difficult the crosses are.
this other worldly vision of a “new heaven and new earth” has been criticized. people can opt out of their this-worldly responsibilities by having their eyes too fixed on a promised future. perhaps this applies to a few folks but i have never met anyone who just sits around twiddling their thumbs awaiting for jesus to return.
to me, the opposite has more negative consequences– not knowing or believing in the ultimate end that is love. when we are only defined by this world’s values and experiences, things can get pretty stressful at best. at worse, despair can engulf us. as helpful as therapy and prescription drugs can be for those seeking understanding, solace and healing, they are not the ultimate answer to living well in our world.
as we know the end to the God-film, we live in this love as best we can– in peace. perhaps this is why one of the beatitudes is, “blessed at are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons and daughters of God.”
Lord, in this advent time, may all christians find hope and light in your promise of new heavens and a new earth. may this vision help us live lives of justice, love and hope now. may it grace us in being filled with righteousness and peace as your sons and daughters.