The other day a woman approached me as I was waiting for the subway. It wasn't the standard, 'are you a monk/Buddhist/ninja?' question. No indeed. "Can I ask you a theological question?" she began.
As it turned out, she was a tremendously earnest person, though perhaps a little troubled. She was entirely preoccupied with the End Times and how they might emerge and unfold. Her reflection was a thick and complex mass of Biblical details, all of which she was trying to put together with some kind of intelligible cohesion, but apparently without much success. The various time periods from Daniel, the millenia from Revelation, and the possible returns of Elijah, Enoch, Ezekiel, and Mary seemed to swirl around in her efforts to make sense of it all. Entirely missing from her reflections was any larger sense or sweep of the eschatological meaning of the Scriptures, or that eschatology could be anything else, or anything in addition to linear time as we perceive one discrete event following upon another. She had no way of understanding the Lord's Resurrection as a sign, inauguration, principle, or beginning of the Last Days. Overwhelmed in a sea of numbers and disconnected ideas, her sense of these things seemed to be a source of distracting and anxious confusion rather than eschatological confidence and hope in God.
She left the train before me, and as I continued my ride home I took some time to pray for her and pray through the encounter. My first prayer was one of gratitude for being a Catholic. The Sacred Scriptures were written within the People of God and can only be read from within the living faith of the Church as a historical communion on the pilgrimage of the these last days. Trying to understand the Bible from outside of the living, sacramental communion of the Church risks just what this woman was suffering: becoming lost in a morass of contradictory details with no larger understanding or sense of the scriptural trajectory, no interpretive keys to make sense of it all.
I imagine that there are a lot of people out there in this sort of spiritual situation. They know that the Bible is God's Word, and so look for the Truth in it, but because they do not know that the Scriptures have to be understood from within the living Tradition from which they emerged in the first place, they only come to confusion and anxiety. May the Wisdom of God guide their minds and hearts to the Church.