Dominican Adrien Candiard (Photo: Meeting Rimini Archive)

The end of time?

War, earthquake, climate change... The latest book by French Dominican Adrien Candiard's draws us closer to the subject of Revelation and humanity's ultimate destiny. Which is not a matter of time...
Paola Ronconi

As Holy Week begins, the notes of Mozart's Requiem that Fr. Giussani taught us to listen to on Good Friday resound in my mind. What will we say that day to our Creator? What will we implore if not mercy to the King of tremendous majesty? Dies irae, dies illa. "Day of wrath, that day /will destroy the world in a flash,/as is attested by David and the Sibyl./How great will be the terror /when the judge comes /to judge all things severely."
Today, we just need to glance at the newspaper for St. John's vision in the Book of Revelation not to seem so far away: wars, earthquakes, shipwrecks, famines, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis...
The end of the world is the topic of Fr. Adrien Candiard’s newly published book in Italian: Qualche parola prima dell’Apocalisse. Leggere il Vangelo in tempo di crisi [A Few Words Before Revelation. Reading the Gospel in times of crisis]. I met the French Dominican, a scholar of Islam, within the walls of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, having arrived from Cairo, where he lives, to present his new book, which, first of all, offers an excursus of so many moments in history when men thought the world would end: the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70, the sack of Rome in 410, the Black Death of the 14th century... But it is clear that history did not end in those moments. It is up to us to interpret the signs and wait for the end. In fact, Fr. Candiard rereads Chapter 13 of Mark's Gospel, where Jesus foretells devastation, tribulation, and where he asks us to keep watch. The Dominican takes us by the hand and with simple and direct language leads us to put aside all our convictions (more or less religious, more or less millenarian) on the subject. In Greek, revelation means "unveiling," and those words of Jesus, which must have frightened the apostles quite a bit, do not actually refer to a moment in time. They are not gloomy calendar prophecies, but are an aid "to discover the meaning of human history, that is, its significance." Not the end, Candiard tells us, but rather "the fulfillment toward which all human history tends." This fulfillment will not be at the end, but begins today, for every human being: "it is already at work in history," and it is becoming aware of being loved. Loved with a divine love.

Fr. Candiard, you write that it is not events that allow us to read and understand Jesus' apocalyptic discourse, but on the contrary it is those words that allow us "to grasp what is happening in our world... the end of the world and of each person is love." If so, there is nothing to fear, we all desire to be loved....
Of course, yet nothing is more destabilizing than love. When we are confronted with love, we struggle to accept it. I am referring to true love, divine love, and the love of the person that finds its source in God. This is the real mystery of evil, of our life. We waste a lot of time, for example in homilies, on the struggle to love, we find a middle path to make it acceptable, however, we do not talk about the real difficulty: being loved. This would give us the key to the other question: how to love. But first we need to accept being loved. This is always difficult for us. In the Gospel, those who will put Jesus to death do so because they do not accept his love toward sinners. This is true also for the disciples. Faced with Jesus' gesture in the washing of the feet, Peter's first reaction is to refuse. "I can wash the feet of whoever you want, but leave me alone, do not come and wash my dirty feet. No! My feet are not worthy of you." This is the sin of not accepting this divine love.

Why do you think we reject it?
This unconditional, total love is literally overwhelming. I think the gratuitousness of love scares us. When a gift is free, it is not ours. Without deserving or buying it, it will not be ours. The Jews in the desert, after leaving Egypt, when God sends manna, begin to make provisions. They say, "If God’s love ends, if he leaves us alone, we must have some to spare." We want to deserve things so they are ours, but the relationship with God is based on the gratuitous gift. When we accept that we never deserve holiness, but it is given anyway, then something new begins in us. At this point we can love our neighbor because the love with which we love them is from God, not our own. "Love one another, as I have loved you." This as – in Greek it is better understood – is "with the love with which I have loved you." "Love with the love I give you by loving you." Our objection is, "Ah, but I have to live up to it...." And so we fool ourselves.

You say that the coming of Jesus is "apocalypse, the unveiling of what is hidden in the heart of man, the best as well as the worst... There are those who did not accept Jesus and killed him, and there are the disciples who followed him." But in each of us both positions coexist....
We are in the middle, accepting and rejecting this love, trying to accept and follow. And this choice of ours is never final. Thus we cannot say: the world has rejected God's love. No. I am in the middle of it, too.

When you speack about conversion, you say it is not about joining the "club of Christians," "it is not adopting a 'Christian identity,' it is the acceptance of God's love offered in Jesus."
We can give a Christian, folkloric, cultural color to completely worldly values. We can experience Christianity as one identity among others, which we must uphold as our own, which we must protect because it is threatened by Islam and secularism. We can have images of Christ on the walls, but if we do not accept God's total and free love then we are talking about something else. We can raise the cross as a flag, but it risks being a denial of the cross itself. That is why mission is encounter, it is a relationship, and a relationship I do not control. And thank goodness! If I bring two people together and they get engaged, luckily it is not up to me. That would be terrible. What converts is the encounter with Jesus Christ. He is the one who does. In my opinion we are always a little afraid to leave the space for Him. But if we are afraid that God will not make it, then it is better we forget it.

At this time the word "apocalypse" seems very current: war, earthquake... Yet we get used to experiencing these situations, or perceive them as something distant.
The pandemic has been a significant experience: we saw that we are all in the same boat, we were faced with a world that stopped. Then the climate issue. We are experiencing drought that 10 years ago seemed impossible... The feeling of being safe is falling apart. So too, the war in Ukraine shows us that we are all connected. A local conflict, an invasion, has repercussions for trade, inflation, on the other side of the world... Plus there is the nuclear risk, which is important for the whole planet.

And what is the Christian's task in the face of all this?
The link between my heart and human history gives us a first answer. I can let God's love win in my life. This is not a selfish, personal thing. If I accept this adventure of being loved by God, I do not know where it will take me, let us see where it takes me. The apostles, when they agreed to follow Jesus, never imagined how the story would end: Peter left his fishing net in Capernaum and could not imagine ending his life 3,000 kilometers away, in Rome... Everything was completely out of sight. So, the important thing is not to make big plans. He is in charge of the way. I start with this love, I start sharing it... then we will see. If it already brings me home, it can be very important.

Read also - Maccalli: the chains, the desert, and freedom

"Home" in what sense?

There is no use loving Africa and dreaming of helping starving children if I am hard and violent at home. To love is a verb that is conjugated in the singular. We love people one by one. We love the people we see. We are faced with “neighbours” that we would not have imagined before. And it is about loving them, not those who look like me.

Salvation is played out in each person's heart. Is this, then, Revelation?
Revelation reveals that the heart is the place of salvation, and salvation is Jesus Christ. The most radical thing is not "God's judgment" at the end of the world, but His love, because love is the most demanding thing there is, much more than mere "obedience." The love that God offers us demands everything.