Category Archives: End Times

On the End of the World

Having put off yard work all week, I was disappointed when I heard a Christian numerologist backed off his claims that the world would end today.  Hedging his bets however he still claims that some cataclysmic event will occur that will usher in the end of the world.   Whatever date he actually decides upon, Mr. Meade will have the rather dubious distinction of joining the illustrious ranks of Pat Robertson, Edgar Cayce, Jeane Dixon, Grigori Rasputin, Tim LaHaye, Nostradamus, and Isaac Newton as failed Doomsday prophets.  Despite the hundreds, if not thousands, of famous apocalyptic forecasts, each new prediction ignites the interest of the Christian and non-Christian alike.  The question as to when the world will end is an important one, but one that Christian would be better served setting aside.  While the reasoning employed by these would be soothsayers is often entertaining, we should resist paying giving them any attention.

To be fair, this is a question that drew great interest even among the disciples of Our Lord.  When preaching about the End Times, Our Lord told them “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt24:36).  When He says “no one” He really means it and wants this question to be one that is off the table, so to speak.  Any investigation into the question will prove fruitless and so any answers that we give will surely be wrong.  Instead Our Lord wants His disciples to be vigilant, treating each day as if it were the Day of Visitation.  Given that every Christian will have a last day and for only a tiny proportion of them it will be the Last Day, this is sage advice indeed, especially considering for most of us the end is no longer than 80 years or so away.

What Our Lord Knew

It is worth discussing the meaning of Our Lord’s words in detail because there have been and still are many heterodox theologians and priests who have twisted them.  Christ, because He has two natures has two ways of knowing—divine and human.  As God, He of course knows when the end of the world is.  It is not as if the Father somehow has kept it as a secret from Him.  As man He was limited to true ways of human knowing.  But still as a Divine Person He knew all things.  What He meant in this situation is that this is knowledge that only God could know, that is, it is knowledge that must remain within the divine realm.  This is not a recent opinion but belongs to the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, going back to the 6th Century: “If anyone says that the one Jesus Christ who is both true Son of God and true Son of man did not know the future or the day of the Last Judgment and that he could know only as much as the divinity, dwelling in him as in another, revealed to him, anathema sit.” (Pope Vigilius, Constitutum I of 14 May 553).   Augustine said that although Christ had full knowledge of all things, there were two types: communicable knowledge which is related to His mission as Redeemer and noncommunicable.  The question as to the end, because it is not tied to His mission as Redeemer is noncommunicable.

Despite not be able to predict the hour, Our Lord still provides a list of signs to watch out for.  These signs are useful for putting down the false prophets but they also are meant to encourage our vigilance and, for those who are facing the trials of the last days, perseverance. The signs can be broadly grouped into five categories:

  • Preaching of the Gospel to the Whole World
  • The Conversion of the Jews
  • The Great Apostasy
  • The Appearance of the Antichrist
  • Meteorological Phenomenon

Before the end of the world, the Gospel will have been preached to the entire world (c.f. Mk 13:10).  The Gospel will first have to spread, that is, all the peoples of the world will have had heard the true Gospel and had an opportunity to respond.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes of the conversion of the Jews saying that only after the Gospel has spread will tall Israel come to Christ, saying “I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not become wise [in] your own estimation: a hardening has come upon Israel in part, until the full number of the Gentiles comes in, and thus all Israel will be saved…”(Rom 11:25-28).  Most of the Church Fathers teach that the Jews will first think the Antichrist the true Messiah, but through the preaching of the two witnesses (c.f. Rev 11:3-12—which points possibly to Elijah and Enoch) they will come to the fullness of the truth.  This obviously does not mean that every single Jewish person will come to Christ, but means all in the moral sense.

The third event to watch for is what is called the Great Apostasy (c.f Mt 24:9-12).  Apostasy is “the total rejection by a baptized person of the Christian faith he once professed” and is present in the Church in every age.  The Great Apostasy will be a time in which entire Christian nations will apostasize and it will spread throughout the universal Church, perhaps even reaching the hierarchy.

The fourth event is the appearance of the Antichrist.  While we do not know a lot of specifics, Scripture and Tradition does give us enough to form a vague outline of the man.  First, he is just a man and not the Devil incarnate.  Still he will be under the control of the devil to such a degree that he will perform many signs and wonders.  His reign will last for 42 months (Rev 11:2), coming to power with a show of mildness, soberness and benevolence.  This will beguile many (especially the Jews who will think he is the expected Christ) by his lying signs and wonders of his “magical deceit,” but afterwards he will be characterized by all kinds of crimes of inhumanity and cruelty, especially towards the elect, that will make the worst tyrants of history look mild.  He will eventually be killed by Christ, the earth swallowing him whole.

Where the false prophets go wrong is usually because they misunderstand the last one.  Christ says the meteorological signs will occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Mt 24:29).  Most place these phenomena at the beginning of the process or skip the other signs.  Wars, earthquakes, famines and the like “must take place, but the end is not yet” (Mk 13:7-8).

Is the End Near?

No matter what astronomical events occur today or in the coming days, we can say that it is not the end of the world because all the other four things have not yet occurred.  There are two that we might wonder about.  We are living in a time of mass apostasy, but it is not clear that this is the Great Apostasy that Our Lord prophesized.  Likewise with the preaching of the Gospel to the whole world; St. John Paul II thought not—“…there remain vast regions still to be evangelized. In many nations entire peoples and cultural areas of great importance have not yet been reached by the proclamation of the Gospel and the presence of the local church.  Even in traditionally Christian countries there are regions that are under the special structures of the mission ad gentes, with groups and areas not yet evangelized” (Pope St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio,37).  Either way we can say with certainty that neither the conversion of the Jews nor the rise of the Antichrist has occurred.  Best we can say at this point is that we are at least 42 months from the end of the world.

The fact that the predictions are obviously false is good enough reason to ignore them, but there are two additional reasons as well.  First, it only encourages others to join in the prognostication party.  Thanks to viral quality of Social Media, everyone’s 15 minutes of fame has been extended to 30 minutes.  If it is sure to garner attention and “likes” then people will throw it out there, even if it is just a picture of it spelled out in their Chef Boyardee Numbers and Letters Pasta.

The second reason is related to this and that is that it only further serves to make Christians look ridiculous.  The world may not recognize that we are trying to predict something we were explicitly told not to waste our time on, but they will know and remember when we are wrong.  Christians are supposed to be a prophetic voice to the world, but when they make more noise being false prophets then it muffles the true prophetic voice we are given at Baptism.  We need to quickly call out these false prophets for what they are; ignoring them when the world is not does us no good.

Prophecy and the Third Part of the Secret of Fatima

Tomorrow marks the 100th Anniversary of the third appearance by Our Lady to the children in Fatima, Portugal.  It was during this visit that Our Lady disclosed to the children what has become known as the “Three Secrets.”  The first two of these secrets included a vision into hell, a prediction of World War II and the spread of Communism.  The third secret remained hidden and was not disclosed until the year 2000.  At the end of the Mass of Beatification for two of the visionaries, Jacinta and Francisco Marto, Cardinal Angelo Sodano announced its release.  He mentioned that the time was ripe partly because “the events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima now seem part of the past.”  This has not stopped many people from claiming otherwise, insisting on all kinds of apocalyptic interpretations and creating much controversy.

Shortly after Cardinal Sodano’s statement, the then Head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, issued a Theological Commentary on the Message of Fatima  hoping to shine some light upon the third vision the children saw.  The Cardinal began by affirming Cardinal Sodano’s assertion saying,

“[I]nsofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.”

Despite such a lucid statement, many still insist that the vision is pointing to something yet to happen even going so far as to insist that the Church is hiding something.  There are certainly a number of psychological reasons why a person might do this, but there are those whose insistence comes from a misunderstanding about the nature of prophecy.  Cardinal Ratzinger anticipated this aspect of it and spoke briefly about prophecy in hopes that some of the mistaken views could be put to rest and the focus could be placed on the message itself.  It is in this spirit that we should examine what the future Pope Benedict XVI had to say and supplement it with St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of prophecy.

St. Thomas Aquinas and Prophecy

In addressing the charism of prophecy in the Summa (ST II-II, q.173, art. 2), St. Thomas speaks of three different ways in which a prophetic vision is conveyed.  There is the ordinary vision in which something is presented to the exterior senses.  Second, there is an interior perception.  Finally there is a mystical vision that occurs without images.  Regardless of the means by which the vision is conveyed, there is always a subjective element to it. St. Thomas says that “whatever is received, is received according to the mode of the receiver” (ST IA q.75, a5).  What he means by this is that although a person may receive light from on high, how they receive it and how they explain it is based upon their own capacity and experience.

Applying this to what we know of Fatima we can say that the vision was neither the first (only the children could see it) nor could the third (because Sr. Lucia describes it using images).  Through process of elimination we can conclude that the prophetic vision the children received would have been through an interior perception.  What this means is that the vision as Sr. Lucia describes it, even though it is authentic, uses images drawn from her imagination and memory.  This, by the way, is similar to what we see with St. John in the Book of Revelation.  Many of the images as he describes them are based on images that were familiar to him, especially things he had seen on Patmos (like the sea of glass).  In any regard, Sr. Lucia received an impulse from above that is then translated by her interior senses so that she can receive the message.

A thought experiment will make this more understandable.  When I say to you the word “telephone,” you cannot think of a telephone without drawing up an image in your imagination.  This telephone is likely drawn from something in your own memory.  In that way it is completely unique to you and if you began to describe it, it would like be very different from the image I had in mind when I said the word.   In this way, the vision as Sr. Lucia describes it describes is the product of her own imagination and memory.  Again, this is not to suggest that it is made up, only that the images themselves are drawn from her imagination.

Any interpretation has to factor how the prophetic light is received in because it is not like she has seen something on TV or a picture on a wall.  She has received a light and her imagination has attempted to match the light she received.  Of course, it is a prophetic light that is always beyond our natural capacity to know (St. Thomas says of prophecy that it  “first and chiefly consists in knowledge, because, to wit, prophets know things that are far removed from man’s knowledge” (ST II-II, q.171, a.1)) and thus much more complicated than my simple telephone example.  In other words, it is not the vision that matters so much as the interpretation, that is the explanation of what the actual light that was received consisted in.  This is why when asked by Cardinal Sodano whether the interpretation of the vision was correct, Sr. Lucia said she had been given the vision but not the interpretation.  She said it was up to the Church to interpret it, but once she was shown the interpretation she thought it corresponded with what she had seen.

Not only do we tend to focus too much on the vision itself, but we forget another important aspect of a truly Catholic understanding of prophecy.  Most tend to think of prophecy as a foretelling of future events, but the Catholic understanding of prophecy is broader than this. As Cardinal Ratzinger says in his commentary, “prophecy in the biblical sense does not mean to predict the future but to explain the will of God for the present, and therefore show the right path to take for the future.”  By overly focusing on the “prediction” piece of the vision, we can miss the message.

The Vision

With these principles in mind, we can turn to Sr. Lucia directly in her explanation of what she saw in the vision.  Just after seeing an angel with a flaming sword crying out “Penance, penance, penance!” at which point Sr. Lucia saw

“an immense light that is God: ‘something similar to how people appear in a mirror when they pass in front of it’ a Bishop dressed in White ‘we had the impression that it was the Holy Father’. Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross of rough-hewn trunks as of a cork-tree with the bark; before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins and half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way; having reached the top of the mountain, on his knees at the foot of the big Cross he was killed by a group of soldiers who fired bullets and arrows at him, and in the same way there died one after another the other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious, and various lay people of different ranks and positions. ‘Beneath the two arms of the Cross there were two Angels each with a crystal aspersorium in his hand, in which they gathered up the blood of the Martyrs and with it sprinkled the souls that were making their way to God.’”

 

Cardinal Ratzinger offers the following points of interpretation based on similar Biblical images:

  • The angel with the flaming sword on the left of Mary represents the threat of judgment looming over the world, just as we see in Book of Revelation—a particularly apt image as today man “himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword.” The image shows the power that stands opposed to the force of destruction—the Mother of God and the seriousness with which we ought to respond to the call to penance
  • The mountain and city symbolize the arena of human history and how man is in great peril of bringing about his own destruction—the cross transforms destruction into salvation
  • Time is presented (the entire century is represented) in a compressed form, just as history is directed towards the Cross. It would be a century of a great suffering for Christians. Martyrs and even the Pope himself (“The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated.”  It is as Ratzinger says a “Via Crucis of an entire century”

Viewed through a wider-angled lens, prophecy is meant not primarily to clear up the incurable human blindness of the future, but the curable blindness of the present time.  This is why it is so important not to get caught up in controversies surrounding the secrets and lose focus on the prophetic message of Fatima.  While it is clear that the events depicted have come to pass, the prophetic nature of the message has not passed.  The events were signs pointing to both the events themselves, but also, and primarily to the overall message of Fatima which is to become a people of both profound penance and dedication to the will of God through an imitation of Mary’s spirit of fiat (that is the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart).  The events not only add credibility to the authenticity of the message, but also are signs through the suffering of the martyrs (the extreme form of Penance) and the Bishop dressed in white who cheated death through his dedication to the Immaculate Heart—his spirit of fiat exemplified through his episcopal motto, Totus tuus.  As we recall this important Centenary, we can echo the thoughts of Pope Benedict that the events have passed while also saying “we would be mistaken to think that Fatima’s prophetic mission is complete.”   Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

 

 

The Triumph of the Immaculate Heart

With the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries in Fatima, there has been a renewed interest in meaning of her visit.  There has been much ink spilled, especially since the release of “Third Secret” in 2000, interpreting all that she did and said.  At the heart of all the visions, miracles and “secrets” is the perennial call to pray and do penance.  But there is one aspect that has, for the most part, remained a mystery.  What did Our Lady mean when she told the visionaries that “in the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph”?

To understand what Our Lady meant when she told the visionaries of the triumph of the Immaculate Heart we have to examine a most fundamental truth.  It is the Immaculate Heart that paves the way for the Sacred Heart.  This is not based on some pretended religiosity and obscure connection but the most basic truth that in the fullness of time, it was the Immaculate Heart, a heart completely open to God’s will that led to the creation of the Sacred Heart.  Not only does the Immaculate Heart pave the way in the fullness of time, but also at the end of time.  That is it was the Immaculate Heart that brought about the Incarnation and thus we should expect that it would be instrumental in His return.  Just was we know that it is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that is Our Lord both in His Divinity and His humanity that will reign in the end, we can also know that Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart will reign as well.

The Immaculate Heart

In his theological commentary on the Third Secret of Fatima, the future Pope Benedict XVI explained what it meant to have a devotion to the Immaculate Heart.  He said, in “biblical language, the “heart” indicates the center of human life, the point where reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge, where the person finds his unity and his interior orientation. According to Matthew 5:8, the ‘immaculate heart’ is a heart which, with God’s grace, has come to perfect interior unity and therefore ‘sees God’. To be ‘devoted’ to the Immaculate Heart of Mary means therefore to embrace this attitude of heart, which makes the fiat—‘your will be done’—the defining center of one’s whole life.”  His point is that the Immaculate Heart reigns in our hearts when we allow our own hearts to be cultivated after hers.

Mary’s heart is one that is one that does not grow weary because she is always expecting God to act personally in her life.  Evidence her reaction to the appearance of St. Gabriel.  Throughout the Old Testament record, the appearance of an angel always elicits great fear in the visionary.  The first words spoken by the angel is “do not be afraid.”  But Mary seems to expect the angel and is clearly not shaken by his appearance; even if his manner of greeting her is troubling. Most of the artistic renderings of the Annunciation show her at prayer, but there is little proof of this other than pious tradition.  She was just as likely working as sitting in contemplation.  She knew God can and does come in either situation.  She travels to the Hill Country to visit Elizabeth “in haste” because she is excited to see the mighty power of God at work.  She believes and professes that nothing is impossible for God.  Her response to St. Gabriel’s proposal is “let it be done to me according to thy word.”  Later when she arrives at the home of her cousin Elizabeth she proclaims the “great things that God has done for me.”  It is this change in preposition that shows how deep her trust in God truly is.  A living faith like that of Our Lady is one that sees those things that God does to us, ultimately are for us.  But this is a radical trust that must come from the heart and be filled with fiat.

How the Immaculate Heart Triumphs

How is it that the Immaculate Heart will triumph?  Building on Cardinal Ratzinger’s commentary we can say that the reign of the Immaculate Heart is not so much about the reign of Mary as Queen per se, but a devotion to her spirit.  It is by the wholesale adoption of this spirit of the Immaculate Heart.  The Kingdom comes when “Thy will is done on earth as it is in heaven.”  It is only this spirit of fiat, that is, the spirit of wanting nothing more than God’s will that will bring about the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

We might see how this is done individually, but how can an entire culture adopt this stance?  This is why Our Lady so vehemently desires the First Saturday devotion.  It is the Communion of Reparation that will bring about this reign.  When all the children begin to act like Mommy and willingly go to the foot of the Cross and stay with Jesus.  This is no symbolic gesture but instead a literal one.  We go to the foot of the Cross each time we go to Mass and on First Saturdays we go with Our Lady in reparation for the offenses against her Immaculate Heart—not because she is overly sensitive, but because without reparation by those children that love her, her spirit of fiat will never spread.  There are two things always at the heart of Christian culture—Mary and the Mass.  Where devotion to Our Lady thrives, so too does the Mass.  Where the Mass is seen as the “source and summit” love for the Immaculate Heart grows.

Ironically there has been so much controversy over whether or not John Paul II consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart or not, that we have neglected the other part of Our Lady’s request of the First Saturday Communion of Reparation.  While we have very little control over whether the Pope performed or has yet to perform the Consecration of Russia, we do have control over the spread of this practice.  The best way to bring about the reign of the Immaculate Heart and hasten the reign of the Sacred Heart is also the best way to heal our culture.

Immaculate Heart of Mary, reign in our hearts and show us the way to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Our Lady of Fatima and the First Saturday Devotion

In the popular devotion of the Church, Saturday has long been a day set aside to honor the Blessed Mother.  It was the 8th Century Benedictine monk and Carolingian liturgical reformer, St. Alcuin, who first composed Votive Masses to honor Our Lady on Saturday.  These masses were so popular among the faithful, that they eventually became accepted into the Missal as the Common of the Virgin Mary.

It was no accident however that Alcuin chose Saturday, for there are deep theological reasons for doing so.  The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy  explains that Saturday is set chosen as a memorial of the Blessed Virgin as “a remembrance of the maternal example and discipleship of the Blessed Virgin Mary who, strengthened by faith and hope, on that great Saturday on which Our Lord lay in the tomb, was the only one of the disciples to hold vigil in expectation of the Lord’s resurrection; it is a prelude and introduction to the celebration of Sunday, the weekly memorial of the Resurrection of Christ; it is a sign that the ‘Virgin Mary is continuously present and operative in the life of the Church.’”

This devotion to Our Lady has been sorely tried in recent centuries, beginning with the Protestant Revolution.  Rather than being met with indifference, she was treated with contempt.  It was within this setting that a practice of receiving Communion in reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary arose.  This devotion spread, catching the attention of Pope St. Pius X who attached an indulgence to the practice in 1904.  This practice was expanded when on June 13,1912 he offered additional indulgences for “All the Faithful who, on the first Saturday or first Sunday of twelve consecutive months, devote some time to vocal or mental prayer in honor of the Immaculate Virgin in Her conception gain, on each of these days, a plenary indulgence. Conditions: Confession, Communion, and prayers for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff.”

Fatima

Five years to the day, Our Lady appeared to the Fatima visionaries, showing them the Immaculate Heart surrounded with thorns.  Sr. Lucia would later say that she understood that the vision was “was the Immaculate Heart of Mary, outraged by the sins of humanity, which demanded Reparation.” It was also during this appearance that Our Lady told the children that Jesus wished to “establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart.” Our Lady promised Lucia that she would return to explain the practice of the first five Saturdays.

Fast forward eight years and Lucia is now a postulant in a convent in Pontevedra, Spain.  Our Lady appeared to her and said “Look, my daughter. My Heart is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce unceasingly with their blasphemies and ingratitude. You, at least, try to console me and announce that for all those, who for five consecutive first Saturdays, confess, receive Holy Communion, pray the Holy Rosary and accompany me for15 minutes by meditating the mysteries of the Holy Rosary with the intention to do reparation, I promise to assist them at the hour of death with the graces needed for salvation.

About a year later, she was taking out the trash when she encounters a little child.  She told the child to pray a Hail Mary which He refused to do.  So, she tells him to go to the Church and ask the Heavenly Mother for the Child Jesus.  When the child returns, she asks him if he did what she said to which He replied “And have you spread through the world what the heavenly Mother requested of you?”  She replied, knowing it was Our Lord, that she had met many difficulties in spreading the devotion.  He told her to rely on His grace and to “have compassion for your Mother’s Heart. It is surrounded with thorns that ungrateful men pierce at each moment, and there is no one who does acts of reparation to remove them.”

Our Blessed Lord appeared once again to now Sister Lucia on May 29, 1930. He explained that the devotion involved five consecutive first Saturday because it was five kinds of offenses and blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary that required reparation, namely: blasphemies against her Immaculate Conception, against her perpetual virginity, against the divine and spiritual maternity of Mary, blasphemies involving the rejection and dishonoring of her images, and the neglect of implanting in the hearts of children a knowledge and love of this Immaculate Mother.  Mary had asked Jesus for this to forgive those who “had the misfortune of offending her.”

Why does it Matter?

Why do all these details matter?  Because we are now closing in on the 100th anniversary of Our Lady’s appearance to the visionaries in Fatima.  The world has changed in ways the Fatima visionaries could hardly have conceived.  But many of the advances that have been made have left us less human.  Our Lady appeared in order to warn us of this and offered us a remedy to protect us from ourselves—“Penance, penance, penance.”  Many within the Church has chosen to focus on the consecration of Russia as the primary message, but it seems to me that any debate on whether that has actually been accomplished (Sr. Lucia herself said it had) misses the point when we fail to implement the simple call to do Penance.

Our Lady’s instructions are a reminder to all the Faithful of the communal dimension of sin and our obligation to make reparation. Christ came for no other reason than to make reparation.  A Christian is meant to continue His work throughout time and space.  Sure, He could have done the work Himself had He so willed, but He did not will.  Sure, His participation and ours differ immeasurably but He asked for our participation in it when He called upon us to take up our Cross.  We cannot be Christians while at the same time striving to live a comfortable life.  Christians must act redemptively by consciously making acts of reparation, not just for our sins but for the sins of others.  Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, provided we are willing to act like other Christs.  Our Lady’s very specific instructions to Sr. Lucia offers us a concrete means to make this happen.  She is ever the spiritual mother teaching us.  Can we not give to her Son, the First Five Saturdays in honor of His holy Mother?

Finding the Antichrist

As the Liturgical New Year approaches, the Church turns her focus to the Second Coming of Christ.  We are reminded that although no one knows the hour of His return, we are still to be vigilant in watching (Mk 13:42).  This “watching” includes reading the times so that we might be prepared on that day.  In this spirit, the Church gives us four signs that we should watch for, namely, the Preaching of the Gospel to the whole world (Mt 24:14), the mass conversion of the Jews (Romans 11:25-30), the great apostasy (Mt 24:9-12) and the coming of the Antichrist.  While it is difficult to gage the first three of these, the appearance of the Antichrist is the most easily recognizable.  Therefore if, we are to remain with our lamps lit, it is instructive for us to understand what we should be looking for.

Using Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Fathers of the Church, we are able to piece together seven things that we will know about the Antichrist.  Much of what we can know is based on using the interpretive principle known as typology.  Fr. Hardon’s Catholic dictionary defines a biblical type as a “biblical person, thing, action, or event that foreshadows new truths, new actions, or new events.  A likeness must exist between the type and the archetype, but the latter is always greater.”  By applying what we know about the type, we can learn more about the archetype.  Sacred Scripture abounds with examples, especially related to Christ and Our Lady.  One of the more obvious examples in the New Testament of biblical typology is found in the Book of Hebrews which refers to Christ as forever a priest of the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7:17).  Melchizedek was a priest that Abraham met who offered a sacrifice of bread and wine (Gen 14:18-20).    So Melchizedek’s simple offering was a type of Christ’s perpetual offering of the Eucharist (archetype).  Christ Himself also uses this principle when He prophesizes the destruction of the Temple.  Because the Temple was views as a microcosm of the entire cosmos and it was literally the center of existence of Israel, its destruction would have been understood to foreshadow the end of the world.   This is why He appears to be referring to both the type and archetype when He speaks of the end times.

In his second letter, St. Paul prepares the Faithful in Thessalonica for the coming of the “lawless one” by alerting them to the fact that “the mystery of iniquity is already at work” (2Thes 2:7-8).  In essence he is encouraging them to apply this typological principle as a means to recognizing the Antichrist.  Because the spirit of the Antichrist is being restrained (2Thess 2:6-7), they know that the antichrists they are witnessing serve only as types of the evil one that is to come.  Therefore, with respect to the Antichrist, we can apply this principle to three historical examples in particular.  The first is Antiochus Epiphanes who is found in Second Maccabees.  After being held captive in Rome for 14 years, he ascended to the throne of Syria.  In 175BC,  he marched against Jerusalem and eventually stripped Temple of its treasures.  By 168 BC the city was completely devastated and he declared one religion and seated himself on the throne in the Temple.  This is the “Abomination of Desolation” that was predicted by Daniel (7:8,11,25) and promised by Our Lord during the end times.

The second is the Emperor Nero. During his reign, he embodied all the cruelties attributed to the Second Beast of Revelation 13.  It is probable that the number 666 refers to him specifically. While he is not mentioned by name, he is also the “Caesar” referred to in Acts 25 who is ultimately responsible for the martyrdom of St. Paul.

Finally, there is Muhammad.  While many in the Church have been duped by the nearly two century dormancy of Islam, Church Fathers and saints label him as a type of the Antichrist.  Islam’s absolute monotheism declares that Jesus is not the Son of God, but a mere man—this according to St. John, is the antichrist (1John 2:22-23).  St. John Damascene said, “[T]here is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist…. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst.”  Certainly the institutionalized persecution of “People of the Book” “until they feel themselves subdued” (Surah 29) is a foretaste of the persecution that Christians will face under the reign of the Antichrist.

Relying on the Sacred Scripture, supplemented with typology and the teachings of the Fathers, we can conclude seven things about the Antichrist.

Antichrist--Chapel of San Brizio

First, the Antichrist will be a man and not the devil incarnate.  Try though he might, the best the devil can do is to mimic God.  He is not so powerful that he could effect something like the Incarnation.  Instead as a “thief and a liar” he can only possess the man, even if it is to such a degree that the man submits intellect and will over to him

Second, the Antichrist will perform many signs and wonders.   Because angels (and demons) have control over material creation, the Antichrist will have the power to perform many seemingly miraculous things.  In this way, St. Irenaeus says Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) was a foreshadowing of the Antichrist.  When he could not “purchase” the Holy Spirit, he set himself in opposition to the Apostles and devoted himself more fully to the study of magic, claiming to be a god and receiving honor even from Claudius Caesar.

Third, he will be thought to be the Christ by the Jews.  This is why most of the Church Fathers say he will be a Jew (possibly from the tribe of Dan) and will rise to power in Jerusalem (and why we should be careful in thinking that we should always side politically with Israel).  He will also rebuild the Temple and sit in the Desolation of Abomination as Daniel and Our Lord prophesized.

Fourth, he will reign for 3 and a half years.  Both the Book of Revelation, “[T]hey will trample on the holy city for 42 months” (Rev 11:2) and the Book of Daniel “[A] time, two times and a half a time” both predict this.

Fifth, St. Cyril of Jerusalem says, the Antichrist will at first put on a show of mildness, soberness and benevolence and will beguile many (especially the Jews who will think he is the expected Christ) by his lying signs and wonders of his “magical deceit” but afterwards he will be characterized by all kinds of crimes of inhumanity and cruelty and will outdo all unrighteous and ungodly men who have gone before him especially towards the elect.

This is where typology becomes so important for understanding just how bad things will be during the persecution of the Antichrist.  He will set up a world government and a world religion that worships himself.  Because of the harsh persecutions, only the true Faith will remain, even if the Church herself is “given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half-year” (Rev 12:14).  St. Augustine interprets Daniel 12:13, “[F]rom the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the desolating abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days” to mean that the offering of the Mass will cease during the reign of the Antichrist.  He even speculates that the persecution will be so bad that there will be no baptisms by water during that time.

The Christians who are on earth during this time will suffer their Purgatory on earth.  When Christ returns after the forty-two months, He will take everyone who is still alive up with Him.  They will have to be so purified that Purgatory is not necessary.

Six, “two witnesses” will plague the Antichrist and he will ultimately slay them.  Revelation 11:3-12 speaks of two witnesses who will prophecy for 3 ½ years.  It is ultimately their witness that will lead to the mass conversion of the Jews. Eventually they are slain and lay in the streets of Jerusalem for 3 ½ days.  After that they are taken up to heaven accompanied by earthquakes.

Many Church Fathers think that these two witnesses are Enoch and Elijah.  Both of them were taken to heaven without dying and the thought is that they will return.  The thought is that Elijah will preach to the Jews while Enoch preaches to the nations.  Part of the Messianic expectation is that Elijah will come again prior to the (second) coming of the Messiah (see Mal 4:5-6) .  This helps to make sense of the veiled answer Our Lord gave to the disciples when they questioned whether Elijah had come—“And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came” (Mt 17:11-12).

This taking up of the two witnesses is the definitive sign of the beginning of the end leading to the seventh thing we know—the Antichrist will be killed by “the breath of the mouth” of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8).  Whether this means that Christ kills Him with His literal Second Coming or without His physical appearance is questionable.

One of the reasons the Antichrist will garner worldly attention is that he will appear to have been dead and is somehow miraculously healed (Rev. 13:3).  This is an attempt of the Evil One to mimic the Resurrection.  Along those same lines, some theologians have speculated that the Antichrist will try to mimic Christ’s ascension and Christ will slay Him and drop Him into the pits of hell.

 

 

 

 

 

Glenn Beck and American Eschatology

Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress this week about the growing threat of Iran to Israel.  Drawing on the biblical tradition of Queen Esther, he compared the situation of Israel today to that of the Jews in her day saying, “(T)oday the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.”

Glenn Beck, commenting on Netanyahu’s speech, says that America “as a nation, may not stand, if you don’t side with the Jewish people today. God’s commandments will tell you that. If you side with the Jew, you will survive. If you don’t, you will not survive.”   While it seems that in this particular situation, we should side with Israel in its dispute with Iran, what needs to be challenged is the assumption that we must always side with Israel as part of “God’s commandments”.  In fact, if the Fathers of the Church are to be believed, then there will come a time when we certainly will not want to side with the nation of Israel.

If you were to poll Catholics as to whether the restoration of the Promised Land to the Jews is a sign of the End Times, then a majority of them would agree.  But if you consult the Tradition of the Church and Sacred Scripture then you would find no mention of this.  While the Church teaches the necessity for repentance and spiritual renewal on the part of “all Israel” it says nothing about the necessity of the people of Israel returning to the Promised Land.  This belief has crept into the mindset of Catholics through the eschatological (study of the end of the world) vision of what is commonly referred to as Dispensationalism.

While Dispensationalism comes in different forms, its uniting premise is belief that God is pursuing two distinct plans or dispensations in history—one with an earthly people (Israel) and the other with a heavenly people (the Church).  When Jesus came, He offered the earthly people a physical kingdom until they rejected Him as their Messiah.  Once this happened, He formed a heavenly people that were meant to reign not on earth, but in Heaven.  However the unconditional promises of the Old Testament to Israel needed to be fulfilled.  These promises were put on hold until Christ removed the heavenly kingdom via the Rapture.

The so-called prophetic dispensationalists of the mid-1800s and early 1900s promised a return of the Jews to Palestine and actively pursued the rebirth of the political nation of Israel.  Once Israel was re-gathered as a nation, the End Times would follow shortly thereafter.  Jerry Falwell has declared that the return of Israel to Palestine is “the single greatest sign indicating the imminent return of Jesus Christ.”  It is this same misguided theology that inspires the bestselling Left Behind books  and the writings of Hal Lindsay.  It is also this false eschatology that leads someone like Glenn Beck to conclude that those who do not support the nation of Israel oppose God.

As we have seen with ISIS, theology has consequences and bad theology has bad consequences.  In contrast to what the dispensationalists believe, the Church is not a mere hiccup in history, but the fulfillment of all the promises to Israel.  There is not a sharp distinction between the Israel of Sacred Scripture and the Church.  When Scripture speaks of Israel it is concerned not with Israel as a nation but a people.  St Paul even goes so far as to identify the Church as the New Israel see Romans 9-11, Gal 3:27-29, 6:16).  The Catechism says that, from being parenthetical, the Church is “the goal of all things” (see CCC 760).  Pope Benedict seems to summarize it best in Behold the Pierced One when he says “…the question of whether Jesus intended to found a Church is a false question because it is unhistorical. The only proper way to phrase the question would be to ask whether Jesus intended to abolish the People of God or to renew it. The answer…is plain: Jesus made the old People of God into a new people by adopting those who believe in him into the community of his own self (of his ‘body’).”  Having a proper ecclesiology is vital to having a correct eschatology.  The restored Israel is already here in the Church and not in the political Zionism of Israel today that lacks the intrinsic core of Judaism and is really a secular state.

Why does this matter?  It matters because it is the nearly universal teaching of the Church Fathers that the Anti-Christ, when he comes, will be a Jew since his rejection as the false Messiah will lead to the mass conversion of the Jews.  Because it is prophesied that he will rebuild the Temple (Christ and Daniel say he will sit in the Desolation of Abomination), it is believed also that he will rise to power in Jerusalem.  This means that a secular earthbound state of Israel with its superior military force could very well become a military power base for the Anti-Christ.  In lobbying for the secular state of Israel, the dispensationalists may actually be aiding the arrival of the End Times in a manner they cannot possibly imagine.  Unfortunately when it happens, there will be no rapture to stop the great tribulation that Scripture promises.

Certainly I am not saying that this is going to happen like this.  The point is that there is no biblical basis for an unconditional support of the nation of Israel and certainly there is no reason to think that Netanyahu’s speech is “the final spiritual warning to the American people to wake up and side with the Jewish people, or you will face God’s wrath.”