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Essential Catholic Teachings on the End Times

August 22, 2016 13 Comments

Astronomical clock in Czech capital PragueWe are currently reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians in daily Mass, and given the focus of on the “end times,” it might be good to review certain basic Catholic teachings on this matter, the theology of which is called eschatology.

The Catholic approach to the end times is different from that in certain (but not all) Protestant circles, especially the Evangelicals, who have a strong and often vivid preoccupation with signs of the Second Coming of Christ. Many of the notions that are expressed there are either erroneous or extreme. Some of these notions are rooted in a misunderstanding of the various genres of Scripture; others are caused by reading certain Scriptures in isolation from the wider context of the whole of Scripture; and some are rooted in reading one text while disregarding others that balance it.

The Catholic approach to eschatology is perhaps less thrilling and provocative. It does not generate movie series like “Left Behind” or cause people to sell their houses and gather on hillsides waiting for the announced end. It is more methodical and seeks to balance a lot of notions that often hold certain truths in tension with one another.

What I offer here I do not propose to call a complete eschatology, only a sketch of basic principles rooted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

While we cannot know the exact time of His coming, there are things that both remind us of and signal His approach—if we have eyes to see them. These signs give indications only. The presence of such texts cannot be seen to overrule that He will come “on a sudden” and that many will be caught unawares.

Here are some notes from the Catechism (in black, the Blue and Red texts are my additions/comments).

1. Soon and SuddenSince the Ascension, Christ’s coming in glory has been imminent (Rev 22:20), even though “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority”(Acts 1:7). This eschatological coming could be accomplished at any moment, even if both it and the final trial that will precede it are “delayed” (Mat 24:44; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Thess 2:3-12) (CCC # 673).

Of all the points the Catechism makes, this one sets the tone of balance that must be maintained. On the one hand Christ says that He is coming soon and that His coming could be both sudden and without warning, but this truth must be held in tension with other truths that set forth certain things that must be accomplished and certain signs that must appear before then. And these things are not easily or quickly accomplished.

2. SuspendedThe glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by “all Israel” (Romans 11:20-26; Mat 23:39), for “a hardening has come upon part of Israel” in their “unbelief” (Romans 11:20-26) toward Jesus. St. Peter says to the Jews of Jerusalem after Pentecost: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old. (Acts 3:19-21)” St. Paul echoes him: “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:15) The “full inclusion” of the Jews in the Messiah’s salvation, in the wake of “the full number of the Gentiles” (Rom 11:12), will enable the People of God to achieve “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, in which “God may be all in all” (Eph 4:13; 1 Cor 15:27-28) (CCC # 674).

This going forth of the Gospel to all the nations and the acceptance of Christ by the Jews would seem to be matters that would take some time.

Has the Gospel really reached all the nations? Have the full number of Gentiles come in and are they serving God and repenting in sufficient numbers? Perhaps so, one might argue. There are very few places in the world where there is no Christian presence, and yet on a planet of seven billion people less than a third are Christian. And what is meant by the “full number” of Gentiles? That number is hidden from us and can surely be debated.

Has the “hardening” that has come upon the Israel been lifted? This, too, is debatable. Despite certain movements of “Messianic Jews,” it does not seem that the hardening that has come on Israel has been lifted in any wide sort of way or that Jesus has been recognized by “all Israel.”

3. Suffering and SeditionBefore Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers (Luke 18:8; Mt 24:12). The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh (2 Thess 2:4-12; 1 Thess 5:2-31 Jn 2:18-22) (CCC # 675).

Clearly, many of these troubles have afflicted the Church in every age. There has always been persecution. Many have fallen away—most into schism, some into unbelief. There have also been times when the love of many has grown cold.

Clearly these are severe problems and they have grown to envelop most of the world today. Only God knows when these signs will be present in a definitive rather than merely prefigurative way.

4. Secular Utopianism RejectedThe Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (CCC # 676).

Many in human history, and especially in modern times, have advanced the notion that a secular utopia can be ushered in by human effort and by submitting to a government or worldly power or a charismatic figure.

Many repressive regimes and movements (often led by powerful or charismatic leaders) of the last century claimed the power to usher in such a utopia. The sad legacy of the 20th century shows how tragic and bloody such attempts have been.

The Church also rejects religious forms of this idea, which hold that prior to the Second Coming of Christ a period of a thousand years is set aside during which Christ will reign on earth or during which the Church will somehow attain a total victory prior to His Second Coming.

5. Second Coming follows a final unleashing of evil The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection (Rev 19:1-9). The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven (Rev 13:1ff; Rev 20:7-9; Rev 21:2-4). God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (CCC # 677).

A final and intense unleashing is envisaged by Scripture and the Church, and this cosmic conflict will usher in the great triumph and the Last Judgment. This unleashing of the full power of the Devil in the very end is mysterious and difficult to understand, but it is clearly set forth in Scripture—perhaps as a final test for the Church, perhaps as a definitive demonstration of the power of God.

Balance! Please note that while we may wish to focus on just one or two of the points above, each of the five points must be held in balance. In one sense all of these signs have been present in the Church’s history, yet not in the definitive and final sense.

Thus, while these are signs that do in fact signal, accompany, and usher in the last things, exactly when and how they come together in a definitive sense cannot be known by us. If we could know, then Christ’s clear words that He will come at an hour we do not expect (cf Mat 24:44) and that no one knows the day or hour (cf Matt 24:36) would be violated.

The key point is that we must hold all five principles in balance and must accept the tension of knowing the signs but not the definitive timing.

Most errors in eschatology proceed from a lack of balance and a failure to appreciate that the final age in which we live is steeped in mysteries and meanings known fully only by God. Time itself is mysterious as are the deeper meanings of events and human history. The Lord, while giving us a framework that reminds us of His coming and signals us in a merciful way to remember, has insisted that it is not for us to know the time or season fixed by the Father, let alone the day and hour.

Humility, prayerful vigilance, readiness through obedience and the gift of holiness, along with an eager, longing heart for the Kingdom in all its glory, represent our best posture.

The Catholic approach may not be the stuff of movies or bestsellers, but it is the balanced and trusting faith to which we are summoned.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen (Rev 22:20-21).

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Comments (13)

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  1. Todd says:

    I have pondered some of these teachings in the Catechism and one thing that jumped out at me was the word “believers.” In the context of St. Thomas a person who rejects even one tenant of the faith doesn’t have a diminished faith or a lessened faith – but no faith at all! What would it take to shake the faith of many “believers?” Those who actually believe (giving the assent of faith) doing so by grace – faith is a gift. Many Catholics who seem to believe everything the Church teaches don’t seem to have their faith shaken even by stark private revelations like ‘whole nations being annihilated.’ The hardest test of ‘faith’ I can think of in the Bible is Abraham and his son. Imagine if we were neighbors of Abraham and we said; ‘Hey Abraham where you going? Where is it that you’re taking Isaac with that wood?’ What sort of trial or test would it take today to shake the faith of believers?

  2. EdraCRUZ says:

    Clearly, many of these troubles have afflicted the Church in every age. There has always been persecution. Many have fallen away—most into schism, some into unbelief. There have also been times when the love of many has grown cold.’
    Indeed, Monsignor, the failure of the baby boomer generation to transfer the legacy of faith to the millennials is an example of ‘love grown cold’. We have failed to teach and be good examples to our children and we have brought forth the present curse of materialism, relativism and hedonism contrary to The Way, The Truth and The Life of Our LORD JESUS CHRIST. We, as baby boomer generation, have failed to pass the baton of perseverance, faith and sacrifice we received from the fighting great generation of freemen who fought wars of annihilation to our frivolous millennials, frivolity of which started from us. Now, more than ever we need tribulations to open our hearts and minds that there is more to life than these worldly preoccupation pursuit of superficial, selfish happiness of indifference. Maybe, just maybe we may be able to relay the great love of The MAN-GOD Who offered HIS Life as a ransom for many. YHWH SHEKINAH MARANATHA

  3. Eric says:

    The exaltation of man over God, though it had its antecedents in Protestantism, was openly declared in the French Revolution, two hundred and some years ago. And it has been proceeding at a varying pace ever since then, but it has never stopped growing and it has accelerated to a ridiculous pace in our own day to the point where many people seem to have just forgotten all about God.

    The Gospel both has and is, via the Internet, being preached in every nation at this very moment.

    The Jews have shown no real signs at the present moment of accepting Jesus Christ as their (too) long awaited Messiah, but large numbers of them have returned to their ancient homeland and they have reestablished a Jewish state their along with political authority in Jerusalem: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles; till the times of the nations be fulfilled (Luke 21: 24).” Well I’ve been there and the Jews do rule the city, though the vast majority of what was Jerusalem in Our Lord’s day is still inhabited by Muslims. But these things could change in a moment and my own personal opinion (which may be completely wrong) is that the conversion of the Jews might happen at lightning speed.

    It is also an interesting historical observation that the Israeli army conquered east or ancient Jerusalem in June, 1967, right in the midst of the post Vatican II tumult in the Church. Might that have been a sign that the times of the nations were being fulfilled?

    Believers do suffer today immensely from the world and from the Church. And from everything I can see it is going to get much, much worse before it gets better.

    There has been no unveiling of the man of sin yet, but he will only get 3 years and 6 months when he does show up. However we have seen and are seeing a whole lot of his precursors in our age.

    My own opinion is that the hour is getting late but if I have made any mistake here Monsignor please correct me since I don’t want to lead myself or anyone else astray.

  4. Kirsten says:

    It has been proposed by some that the “illumination of conscience” could put into motion all the aforementioned signs of the second coming, in which case they could all be accomplished rather quickly. I am aware this is speculation but prophecy is never fulfilled in the manner in which people anticipate. We usually don’t “connect the dots” until after the fact or even understand the actual meaning of prophecies until after they come to pass. A circumstance I find hightly ironic. I find a good rule of thumb is to simply “Stay awake and be ready, for you do not know the hour in which the Lord will return.” I plan on keeping oil in my lamp.

  5. Nick says:

    The end times is the time from the Incarnation to Judgment Day, for the Messiah will come at the end of the world to judge all nations. Hence the Gregorian caldendar abbrevation AD, which stands for “Year of the Lord’s Incarnation” in Latin.

    We live now in the Messianic Age, the Age of the Church, the Age of the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the Age of the Resurrection, the Age of Peace, and other names for the reign of Christ in Heaven, Purgatory and Earth.

  6. Laurence says:

    Excellent post. At some point, part of this “balance” will be an acknowledgement by the Church of the “thousand” year reign of Christ, without so many disclaimers. When you say “The Church also rejects religious forms of this idea, which hold that prior to the Second Coming of Christ a period of a thousand years is set aside during which Christ will reign on earth or during which the Church will somehow attain a total victory prior to His Second Coming,” you do echo the Church’s reservations about this prophesy from Revelation. But once Mary’s Immaculate Heart triumphs and gives the world a “period of peace (according to her statements at Fatima), this hope (indeed short of Christ’s victory at his final coming) will need recognition. I already hope in it and have the opinion that it can arrive in the next year or two, thanks be to God.

    • Eric says:

      The Apocalypse, the Book of Revelation is very complicated. It is unwise to to interpret the text chronologically as if the events described in one vision will necessarily follow the vision that preceded it. Rather I would suggest that the text seems to repeat itself a lot i.e. talk about the same thing just with a change of emphasis or perspective.

      In all honesty the idea of the ‘thousand year reign’ as a complete and total, but strangely temporary, victory of the Church doesn’t even make any sense. I mean think about it for a second. And since the Church has rejected it we should all follow suit.

      Fatima is a divine oracle and the language of divine oracles is different from the way we speak. Mankind hasn’t had any real period of peace since the Fall, and won’t have any until the complete victory of Christ at the end. Possibly by saying ‘period of peace’ Our Lady was talking about the end of the world without wanting to say “the end of the world is coming?”

      • Bob says:

        It is highly doubtful Our Lady would mislead us – the end of the world is not a period of time, it is eternity. The end of the world will come AFTER the period of peace, which is a final time for humanity to reconcile with God, given to us out of His mercy.

  7. Bob says:

    Dear Laurence,
    Balance does not mean change of Church teaching. The Wicked and the Good will remain side by side until Judgmnet Day, so said Jesus Himself, thus ruling out a period of victory. By peace, Our Lady meant a period of time given to us to return to God. Peace as used by Our Lady is a heavenly peace, meaning a reconciliation of man with God. Thus the period of peace s used at Fatima means this:
    1) God is too much offended and is going to punish the world by the means listed in the Bible for the breaking of the Covenant – famine, war etc.

    2) However, in His Mercy, and His desire to not punish you, He is offering you a chance to avoid it – you must turn fully to me. You must make Saturday Reparations to me, and the Holy Father and bishops must consecrate Russia, soon to become Satan’s chosen instrument, to my Immaculate Heart.

    3) If these are done, God will let you up from your deserved lashing (WWI, WWII, gulags, Holocaust, famines, other wars, Cold War, Holy Father shot, etc etc) and give you time whereby, once again you can choose to turn to Him, to reconcile Him: a period of time, a period of ‘peace’ (with ‘peace’ meaning reconciliation) to choose to turn to Him. (Shown in the vision of the 3rd Fatima part – the priests and people making there way to God, sprinkled with the blood of the martyrs, the covenant blood of the sacrifice that was sprinkled on the altar and the people at Mt Sinai).

    4) During this time, this period of ‘peace’, Blessed Mary will interceded for us in a powerful way, blocking the angel’s flaming sword of punishment from us while we make our way back to God, by climbing the mountain to the cross at the top, sprinkled with the blood of the martyrs, particularly the martyrs of the 20th century, the first part of the punishments.

    5) After that, the period of ‘peace’ will end and if we have not climbed that mountain, Blessed Mary’s time of interceding will end, and the punishing flames will be unleashed upon us – the wrath of our already to much offended God.

    3, 4, 5 above are the period of peace, also know as the apparition of Medjugorje, where Our Lady promises to finish what she began at Fatima.

    God bless you.

    • Eric says:

      I have seen no evidence that there is anything authentic going on at Medjugorje. I wouldn’t put any confidence in it. In fact I would avoid it.

      • Bob says:

        People avoid Medjugorje at their peril. It is a shame it is so unknown in the US, but it will be. Sadly it will be known too late to have led many sinful souls to convert before they passed away.

        By the way, alleged visionary Mirjana Soldo has just released her life story with the book “My Heart Will Triumph.” I highly recommend it.

        God bless you.

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