My friend, a pastor, received an irate email from a parishioner, a Eucharistic minister. At one of the previous weekend’s Masses, one too many ministers had arrived at the altar to distribute Holy Communion. As the last to ascend, he had been asked to return to the pew. Understandably, the event deeply embarrassed him, though—to adapt Oscar Wild—others probably didn’t even notice his humiliation. However, he wrote to resign, reminding the pastor that he had personally invited him to take up this ministry. In an attempt to let the Eucharistic minister air his anger, my friend wrote back, “I understand that you wish to resign from being a Eucharistic minister.” He was quickly corrected by a new email. “I don’t wish to resign. I do resign!!!”
Advent begins where the old year ended, with a focus upon the apocalyptic. Teaching of what was to come, Jesus told his disciples, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Lk 21: 25-26).
Does modern society leap over the Church to Christmas because the apocalyptic is too frightful even to contemplate? Or do we race past the apocalyptic because we don’t recognize what might be called an apocalyptic anger, one rooted in our modern hearts. What’s apocalyptic anger? It’s the willingness, even the eagerness, to rain opprobrium upon others. In a moment of anger, we castigate others, judge them, even expel them from our company, as though the apocalypse had arrived and we were its appointed judges.
Where does the modern compulsion to “tell others off” come from? We’ve certainly seen it showcased on reality TV and television talk shows. We might sneer when social inferiors mount TV tirades against each other, thrusting fingers and fists from behind and around the torsos of restraining stage hands, but evidently some part of ourselves savors the assault. Why else do we imitate it?
Not guilty? Are you sure? I confess that I’m ashamed of the tone that I sometimes take with telephone representatives. Evidently the anonymity acts as an excuse for assault. I don’t know them; their company has disappointed me; and, at the first sign of unresponsiveness, I “let them have it.”
It’s sad to think how many such phrases we have for what we consider to be righteous apocalyptic anger: telling someone off, letting someone have it, putting someone in place, taking the other down a notch, letting someone know where to get off.
Sadly, the web seems to offer the same cover that stage assistants provide on talk shows. The other is not immediately in front of us; he or she can’t respond in real time. All of the apocalyptic power is on our side of the equation. We compose a blast and hit “send.”
Most university professors, at least those whom I’ve met, are introverts. Strange, when one considers their classroom work. I’m amazed at the emails that my colleagues regularly send to one another, often long Jeremiads they neither would, nor could, utter in person.
“Saturday Night Live” once did a sketch of a TV talk show, one that did studio interviews of people who regularly posted horrific, judgmental comments online. The humor lay in watching ordinary people hear their tirades calmly read back to them by the host, who would then blandly ask these Casper Milquetoasts, “Is that really what you meant to say?”
When the apocalyptic arrives, there will be plenty of time for judgment and castigation. Until then, Saint Paul gives us our task: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones” (1 Thes 3: 12-13).
Maybe this Advent, as we look to the future, a resolution would be helpful. Let go of the apocalyptic anger that enamors us. The Eschaton hasn’t yet arrived, and our task in life is not to excommunicate and excoriate those who disappoint us.
Long ago, in my childhood, some sage offered this advice: Never say about someone what you wouldn’t say in front of that someone. Perhaps in this age of online postings and emails there’s another maxim to memorize: never say from behind the web what you wouldn’t say to the face, and the face that matters most can’t be seen in cyberspace. This is the visage we should picture as we post: “In those days, at that time, I will make a just shoot spring up for David; he shall do what is right and just in the land. In those days Judah shall be saved and Jerusalem shall dwell safely; this is the name they shall call her: ‘The Lord our justice’” (Jer 33: 15-16).
Jeremiah 3: 14-16 1 Thessalonians 3: 12-4:2 Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36