This past week in the Breviary, I have found certain readings in the Office of Readings to be helpful and encouraging in times like these. With Western culture collapsing and many in the Church seeking to adapt the Lord’s teaching to the modern (and collapsing) age, we need to stand firm, not loose heart and actively resist notions that seek to set aside what the Lord has clearly taught. Consider this reading from last week’s office from the Book of Daniel:
Many shall be refined, purified, and tested, but the wicked shall prove wicked; none of them shall have understanding, but the wise shall have it. From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up, there shall be one thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres until the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. Go, take your rest, you shall rise for your reward at the end of days.” (Daniel 12:1-3)
Now this reading teaches us numerous things:
1 This is a time in the Church of testing. That is to say we are all being tested to see what we are made of. Do we have the true faith? Or, are we the sort who merely hold the faith when it is convenient or expedient? In this collapsing Western Culture once known as Christendom, holding to the true faith is getting costly and, at times discouraging. We are rediscovering that the faith is costly and, like the early Church, we are becoming a small and persecuted group. Large numbers of us have fallen away from the practice of the faith and become enamored of the world. We are like Gideon’s army of 30,000. God told Gideon to send the cowards home. 20,000 left. But God wasn’t finished and further insisted that only true believers were fit for the battle. Only 300 remained after the testing. But they won since the battle was the Lord’s. Are you and I among the 300 zealous enough for the faith that we are fit for battle. Or are we among the compromisers who seek to adapt the faith to the views of this world and the prince of this world? Are you fit for battle? Can you pass muster in the Lord’s army? Are you ready to defend the faith and suffer for it? Or are you and I among the slothful, the lukewarm and the cowards whom the Lord considers unfit? Yes, we are being tested. Will we pass the test?
2 We are being refined and purified. To refine gold or silver means to subject it to the fire and burn away its impurities. In this time rebellion and where the gospel is “out of season”, many scoff and raise questions for us; they confront us with false notions of compassion, fake versions of Jesus, and a tyranny of relativism that demand tolerance for everything except the Gospel. And yet, in this cauldron of dissent we are forced in a sense to sharpen our skills and understanding of the faith. There is a saying, “Things through opposition grow stronger.” And hence, the enemies of the faith do us a kind of favor by forcing us to lay hold of the deeper realities and meanings of our faith. In defending and teaching the faith we come to realize just how truth and good these teachings are if we stay in the battle and listen to the Lord who uses opposition to deepen our knowledge of the faith and purify us of sloth, vagueness, and compromise.
3 True Repentance is hard to come by. The text from Daniel says, but the wicked shall prove wicked; none of them shall have understanding. Sin hardens the heart and the longer it is active the harder it is to repent. We might like to think that deathbed conversion are numerous but, as I have learned by experience, they are not. It is a very strange thing to have someone nearing death refuse the sacraments. But it happens often. The more frequent occurrence is that they don’t ask for the Catholic chaplain in the first placed. God and the sacraments simply aren’t on their radar. We see too how, in our culture that sinners are very hardened in their views and quite passionate about them. This is particularly obvious in the LBGTQIA+ movements that openly celebrate what the scriptures condemn, even considering themselves morally superior to “rigid” and “hateful” believers who have a principled opposition to the lifestyle they celebrate. We see obstinance in other matters too such as abortion. Though the left often says to “follow the science,” it seems that no amount of science will ever shake them from their view that its alright to kill children in the womb for all nine months. Obstinacy can also be observed in matters of racism, greed, and so forth. Does this mean that we should give up trying to call people to repentance. No. Some do repent. And besides, God did not say to evangelize only if people are not stubborn. God’s wants to give everyone ample opportunity to hear the truth and repent. And even if many stubbornly refuse, he does not withhold his merciful summons to all to repent and believe the gospel.
4 Idolatry and false religion are always near at hand. – We may have thought that the worship of idols was ended centuries ago and that our age is too rational for such. Don’t kid yourself, in New Age and other practices people are worshipping stones and crystals. Occult practices are widespread and Tarot Card readers are doing big business. Further note that the text from Daniel says, From the time that the daily sacrifice is abolished and the horrible abomination is set up…. Many of us sadly note that that masses were abolished during COVID and that an ancient idol, Pachamama, was welcomed in Roman Basilicas. Supplied explanations by the Vatican regarding Pachamama were not helpful and tended only to confirm that this was, in fact the pagan Mother Earth goddess being welcomed into our Churches and being venerated by many. The text from Daniel calls this a “horrible abomination.” These are very dark and difficult times in the Church when many of our leaders involve themselves in such practices with little or no compunction and sensing no need to explain themselves or repent.
5 Tribulation produces future glory. The prophecy of Daniel says that those will e blessed who persevere and keep the faith for the three and a half years (or days) of tribulation. (Literally, “A time, two times and half a time.”) One need not get out a calendar and count exact days. Three and an half years or days is a usual prophetic device that indicates a period of tribulation. It is half the perfect number of seven, hence an imperfect and troubled time. The exact time of the tribulation is indeterminate, the point is that it is a period of time a persecution or tribulation lasts. And while it is true that tribulation is painful, the blessings that will come to the one who perseveres is more than worth it. The texts says to those who endure: Blessed is the man who has patience and perseveres until the one thousand three hundred and thirty-five days. You shall rise for your reward at the end of days.” So, those of us who endure this painful time in the culture and in the Church need to remember that our reward will be great if we stay faithful. Scripture says elsewhere of an exulted group of glorified saints in heaven: Then one of the elders addressed me: “These in white robes….These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7:13) Yes, this is our future and our dignity if we are faithful. Tribulation serves only to increase our glory. Do not fear it! Stare it down and declare to it: “You are my ticket to glory, through Jesus’ power.” Everything Satan does backfires eventually if we are faithful.
Finally, in the same Office of Readings last week comes this commentary by a Second Century Author:
Those who keep God’s commandments will have reason to rejoice. For a short time in this world they may have to suffer, but they will rise again and their reward will endure for ever. No one who holds God in reverence should grieve over the hardships of this present time, for a time of blessedness awaits him. He will live again in heaven in the company of all those who have gone before him; for all eternity he will rejoice, never to know sorrow again.
So do not be disturbed at the sight of wicked men…we are receiving the training in this present life that will make us worthy to be crowned in the life to come. …To the one invisible God, the Father of truth, who sent forth the Savior, the author of immortality, and through him revealed to us the truth and the heavenly life—to him be glory throughout all ages, for ever and ever. Amen.
– From a homily written in the second century
(Cap 18:1-20, 5: Funk 1, 167-171)