On the Punishment of Complete Loss

In Mass for Monday of the 20th Week of the Year we read from the prophet Ezekiel. The reading warns of the possibility that moral conditions in the Church and the world can get so awful that God must take the strongest and most severe of measures.

Ezekiel experienced the coming disaster upon Israel very personally as a last warning to the people.

Thus the word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, by a sudden blow I am taking away from you the delight of your eyes …. That evening my wife died (Ez 24:15, 17).

Ezekiel wrote in the period just before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The loss of his wife was a portent of the coming disaster. God instructed him not to mourn but to turn to the people and say,

Thus says the Lord God: I will now desecrate my sanctuary, the stronghold of your pride, the delight of your eyes, the desire of your soul. The sons and daughters you left behind shall fall by the sword. Ezekiel shall be a sign for you: all that he did you shall do when it happens. … you shall rot away because of your sins and groan one to another.

As for you, son of man (Ezekiel) truly, on the day I take away from them their bulwark, their glorious joy, the delight of their eyes, the desire of their soul, and the pride of their hearts, their sons and daughters …. Thus you [are now] a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the Lord (Ezekiel 24, selected verses).

The tragic moment for Judah came in 587 B.C. The Babylonians utterly destroyed Jerusalem. The Temple was burned, and the Ark of the Covenant was lost, never again to be found (until its fulfillment in the Blessed Mother Mary). One could not imagine a more unlikely or complete destruction. Why would God allow His glorious Temple to fall at the hands of an unbelieving nation?

God is not egocentric. He does not need buildings or holy cities to show His power. His most central work is to fashion a holy people and to draw each of us to holiness. God cares more about our holiness and salvation than His own external glory or buildings and shrines in His honor.

The terrible state of affairs of ancient Israel and Judah is well documented by the prophets. God’s own people had become depraved in many ways. There was idolatry, injustice, promiscuity, and a tendency to imitate the nations around them. Further, they had become incorrigible. God often described them has having necks of iron and foreheads of brass; He called them a rebellious house. Moreover, they made the presumption that God would never destroy His own temple or allow Jerusalem to fall.

There comes a time when warnings and minor punishments are no longer effective; only the most severe and widespread of losses will purge the evil. Surely this is evident in the smoking ruins of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. Those who survived were taken to live in exile.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps (Ps 137:1-2).

We should not delude ourselves into thinking that such a terrible event could only occur in the ancient world. We must consider that our condition can become so debased, so corrupted, that the only solution is the most severe of punishments, one so onerous that we cannot possibly return to our former ways, one that levels the very sources of our pride and many of our occasions for sin.

Today, we kill shocking numbers of children in the womb; no amount of preaching or teaching of medical truth seems capable of ending this shedding of innocent blood. Our families are collapsing; we are suffering the ravages of our sexual sins. In our national and international greed, we cannot seem to control our spending or ever say no to ourselves. We are saddling future generations with insurmountable debt. No matter the warnings, we don’t seem to be able to, or will not, stop. Many of the clergy have also become lost in sin; some even go about teaching error and misleading God’s people. There is indeed confusion and silence in the Church, where one would hope for clarity and words of sanity. Corruptio optimi pessima (The corruption of the best is the worst thing). Many of the faith are silent, weak, and divided, while the wicked and secular are fierce, committed, and focused.

All the while, in our affluence, we cannot imagine that a crushing end might come. Yet God said to the ancient, affluent city of Laodicea,

You say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see (Revelation 3:17-18).

It becomes hard to see how God might bring us to conversion without the severest of blows.

Nevertheless, do not wish for this. Continue to pray for conversion! The alternative is almost too awful to imagine. Most of us are too comfortable to endure what might come. Saints, sinners, and everyone in between will suffer. Ezekiel was the first to suffer in the collapse of his times, even though he was one who tried to listen and to warn.

The message of this week’s readings from Ezekiel is clear: Pray, pray, pray. Be sober that God will not hesitate to inflict severe blows if necessary, so that He might save at least some, a remnant.

This song says,

Ne irascaris, Domine, satis (Be not angry, O Lord, enough)
et ne ultra memineris iniquitatis nostrae. (And remember our iniquities no longer)
Ecce, respice, populus tuus omnes nos. (Behold, see, we are all your people)
Civitas sancti tui facta est deserta. (Your Holy City is deserted)
Sion deserta facta est, (Sion is deserted)
Jerusalem desolata est (Jerusalem is destroyed)

4 Replies to “On the Punishment of Complete Loss”

  1. It’s amazing how today’s reading from Ezechiel is so timely. I am devastated by the PA Grand Jury report. My state, my diocese, my parish—3 priests, two of whom were my pastors. We parishioners didn’t know. We weren’t informed by the bishop as to why these priests were given ”leaves of absence…” I believed that both of them were taken ill. We never really knew what happened to them. Until now.

    We listened to the bishop’s prepared remarks via a video presentation on Sunday in place of the homily. Yet he did not call for reparation or penance or prayers. It was just sorry for the past, we made mistakes, things are better now, let’s move forward. No, they are not better now. I could continue and cite all the problems; but that and more is in the report and the report from Philadelphia and the report from Altoona-Johnstown. The problem is, I find it difficult to pray. I start the rosary and get stuck. Like now, writing this-the tears start-I can barely write.

    Other parishioners are trying to cope with this as well, but there is no suggestion of help for us from the bishop or the priests of our diocese. How do WE move forward? Over the past few weeks when we knew the report was coming there was no mention of things like turning to Christ, put your faith in Jesus, go back and read Scripture, go to Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration and pray. All I heard from a priest was, “I hope this report doesn’t harm the Church.” What he didn’t seem to grasp was that the Church was already harmed over many, many years by a systemic pathology that invaded the body of the Church. Now that this has spread throughout the US and other countries (Chile, etc.) and is so pervasive, how can the Church be restored? How does the Church restore trust? I find remarks such as, “this is not a massive, massive crisis” totally insulting. All one has to do is go over to the Bishop Accountability site which lists the publically accused priests and find that of the 177 US dioceses and archdioceses that are listed only 12 have no publically reported child sex abuses cases. This means, if you do the math, that’s 93% of the US dioceses have public reports of child sex abuse which are referenced by publically available sources such as newspapers, etc. Before the Grand Jury report, our diocese had 24 publically accused priests listed in the Bishop Accountability online site, the Grand Jury report listed 59 priests and the statement released by our diocese listed 70 credibly accused individuals. This was a shock.

    While, I wouldn’t want to see the ‘Ezekiel’ solution, I wonder why we haven’t seen it already. Yes, I’ll try to pray. I read your blog posts/homilies almost every day. I want to Thank You. They have been a big help to me, especially the breakdown of the Scripture passages but mostly for the other posts which treat with prophecy and the crisis of these times. I try to get to daily Mass, I’m trying to pray but I have trouble with all kind of questions that are in my mind right now. Questions that have no good answers. Right now all I hear in my head is, “Out of the depths, I cry to you O LORD..” We, the lay people, need help now.

    1. Pray in anguish, the Holy spirit will provide the answers. This is our chance for growth, we make no progress if the Church is our security blanket. The lay need to become mature Christians and give the priests some help.

  2. “Today, we kill shocking numbers of children in the womb; no amount of preaching or teaching of medical truth seems capable of ending this shedding of innocent blood.”

    Dear Msgr. Pope, this crime against humanity and our Creator alone is more than enough to warrant “the most severe of punishments, one so onerous that we cannot possibly return to our former ways, one that levels the very sources of our pride and many of our occasions for sin”.

    I hope you will allow me to share with you and your readers my passion for The Gabriel Project, which is a parish-based ministry to assist pregnant mothers in need. My personal experience with this ministry is in having established The Gabriel Project of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and serving as its initial coordinator for five years (2009-2014).

    To begin with: The Gabriel Project provides us with a marvelous means of being proactive in fostering a culture of life within our communities. Outreach to pregnant mothers must go well beyond counseling a mom who is considering or seeking an abortion to change her mind. In fact, outreach must be extended to all pregnant mothers in need of assistance and inform potential mothers that help will be available to them should they ever be in need. In this way, The Gabriel Project can be instrumental in diminishing the number of mothers considering abortion in the future. Even more efficacious toward that end: the mind of a child reared in a Gabriel Project parish is formed to recognize the sanctity of the lives of other children still developing in the protection of their mothers’ wombs. This is especially important given the culture of death our society has embraced in recent and too many decades, and which is growing ever stronger, making it ever more urgent that we be emphatic and demonstrative in fostering a culture of life

    The Gabriel Project signs displayed in front of participating parish churches in the notoriously liberal San Francisco Bay Area, include the following message: “THE MEMBERS OF OUR CHURCH COMMUNITIES SEE IN THE CONCEPTION OF EACH CHILD A FRESH EXPRESSION OF GOD’S UNFAILING LOVE. WE OFFER IMMEDIATE AND PRACTICAL HELP TO ANY PREGNANT MOTHER EXPERIENCING DIFFICULTIES.” Notice we use the word “conception”, not “birth”.

    Many people believe that organizations in their neighborhood are sufficiently seeing to the needs of pregnant mothers. As one who has reached out to numerous abortion-bound mothers at the entrances of abortion centers, I genuinely believe the odds are that many moms in their areas have gone unnoticed and may be still suffering the consequences of having had an abortion. This is partly due to Christians, who are called to be the light of the world, failing to both reach out and speak out. Christ Jesus is the cause of our light. If we want a pregnant mom to turn away from abortion, we must turn ourselves towards her and reflect the light of Christ. We should glorify God by being proactively pro-life and doing our best not to overlook a single mom and the precious child she carries within her womb. We should announce to all pregnant moms who pass by our Catholic churches that we are ready to do what God demands of us and to light the way for them to do likewise.

    Thank you fallowing me to share my message. May God inspire each of us to love the yet unborn generations and guard their right to live upon the earth.

    There is an offshoot of The Gabriel Project called Gabriel Network operating in your area Msgr. Pope, but for information about the nationwide Gabriel Project which has been approved and recommended by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, please see https://thegabrielproject.wordpress.com.

    God bless you

Comments are closed.