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Caught between his longing for holiness and his desire for pleasure and success, a brilliant teacher sat in a garden and wrestled with a choice he felt powerless to make. The peaceful setting was a stark contrast to the turmoil raging in his heart.
Ashamed, but unable to leave his life of selfishness, Augustine broke down in tears. In anguish, he poured out his frustration over his sins. But in the midst of his weeping, Augustine heard a child’s voice chanting, “Take up and read; take up and read.”
Augustine saw no children in the garden and immediately concluded that the voice must be from God, calling him to open and read Scripture. Opening to Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he read, “Not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Romans 13:13-14).
Augustine’s heart was instantly flooded with light and joy. All doubt or hesitancy vanished, and he resolved to accept baptism and dedicate his life to Christ. Augustine was convinced that, far from hearing fanciful thoughts in his mind or reading mere words on a page, he had received revelation from God.
But how could this be? The words came to Augustine’s ears. It was Augustine’s choice to open his Bible. If it were a voice from God, wouldn’t you expect others to have heard it? But his companion, who was with him, heard nothing. What’s more, the message he found in Scripture spoke directly to his own situation and pierced his heart.
This month, we want to take a look at the topic of revelation. We want to look at how much God loves to reveal himself to his people, even to everyday people like ourselves. We also want to ask how we can become more open to this revelation so that we can see Jesus more clearly and know his ways more fully.
“May You Be Filled.” The word “revelation” comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means to unveil or to uncover something that was once hidden. Scripture uses this word to describe the way God shows himself to his people, the way he helps them understand his plans, and the way he works to comfort and encourage us.
Along with his fellow apostles, St. Paul was convinced that God wants to speak to his people. Paul knew that his call to proclaim the gospel involved more than just passing along information about Christ. It also involved urging his listeners to be open to God’s revelation. For example, he told the Colossians, “We do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord, so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God” (1:9-10).
As far as Paul was concerned, our potential to live in holiness and to bear fruit for the Lord is intimately linked to the degree to which we let God open our minds to the “mystery” that had been “hidden from ages and from generations past” but has now been “manifested” to everyone who seeks the Lord (Colossians 1:26).
The Two Ways. These words from Paul tell us that there are two ways in which we can serve the Lord. The first way—which is good but limited—is to try to be holy according to our own wisdom and efforts. The second way is to open ourselves to the Lord so that his revelation guides us and empowers us. It’s like the difference between two piano players. One plays mechanically, careful to hit the right keys at the right time. The other is not as concerned about mechanics but plays from the heart. They can both play the same piece of music on the same instrument, but the music produced by the second person has a far more profound effect on the people listening. He has captured something about the heart of the song that the first player has missed.
Speaking through his prophet, God once told his people, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). He said, “All who are thirsty, come to the water! . . . Listen to me, and you shall eat well. . . . Listen, that you may have life” (55:1, 2, 3). God’s ways may not be our ways. Nonetheless, he is determined to share his ways with us. In fact, he wants his ways—his thoughts, his desires, his vision of life—to shape the way we think and act. He wants to reveal himself to us so that we would learn how to love more deeply and serve more wholeheartedly.
We need revelation. It is the only way that we who are created can have a meaningful relationship with our Creator. It is the only way we can take on his attributes and be transformed into his image and likeness.
A Full Revelation. For centuries before Jesus came, God revealed himself to prophets like Isaiah and Elijah. Likewise, Old Testament heroes like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and David show how key people in Israel’s history enjoyed revelation from God. Abraham became the father of a new nation. Moses delivered the Israelites from Egypt. Joshua conquered the Promised Land. David united the Israelites and led them as their king. Each of these people—and many more—received special revelation from God and then shared that revelation with their people. In this way, they all foreshadowed Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of God’s revelation to all people everywhere.
What our spiritual ancestors revealed in part, Jesus has brought to fulfillment. In fact, we believe that in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God’s revelation is now complete. Everything God has to say to us is contained and summed up in him, the Word of God made flesh.
Revelation Comes to Life. If that is the case, why should we keep seeking revelation from God? Isn’t it all provided for us in the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church? While this is true in one sense, there is another aspect to revelation that is just as important. The revelation that God wants to give to us today is not new information or new doctrine. All that is needed for our Christian lives has been revealed in the “‘deposit’ of the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 84). At the same time, God wants to take what he has already made known and reveal it to each of us personally. This is why Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit: “He will take from what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul summarized God’s glorious plan. He spoke about how God has given us “every spiritual blessing in the heavens” (Ephesians 1:3). He spoke about Jesus making us alive by raising us up from the grip of sin and death (2:1-10). He spoke about the Church as “the fullness” of Jesus’ presence on earth (1:23).
That’s a lot of information, and you would think that Paul would consider it enough for the Ephesians to have it all spelled out for them. But it wasn’t. Paul also prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened. He prayed that they would receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that they would know God’s glorious plan for themselves (1:17). Paul understood that we can grasp God’s plan on our own, but only to a limited degree. If we want this plan to change our lives, we need revelation.
Open Our Eyes, Lord! What do Peter, Andrew, the “good thief” on the cross, the woman at the well, and the man born blind have in common? Their eyes were opened, and they saw Jesus as their Savior. This is precisely what God wants to do for us. He wants to make his mysteries known to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He wants to reveal his love and his plan to us so that we can play a vital role in fulfilling his plan and help build his kingdom. He wants to urge us to reach out in faith to receive his revelation and be transformed by the very truths he revealed to his apostles so long ago.
Can we really hear God’s voice? Yes! God has revealed himself and his wisdom—a wisdom that was destined by God for our glory before time began (1 Corinthians 2:7). Now he invites us to let that revelation penetrate our hearts and minds so that we can live a life worthy of such a high and glorious calling.