Who is the Thief? Exploring One of Jesus’ More Provocative Images

One of the more interesting and surprising images the Lord used for Himself was “thief.” There is an indirect reference to this in the first reading for Tuesday of the 22nd week of the year. I’ll comment more on that passage in a moment, but first here are some other texts in which He used this imagery:

  • But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Matt 24:33; Lk 12:39).
  • Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you (Rev 3:3).
  • “Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed” (Rev 16:15).

St. Peter also used the image of a thief, but perhaps out of reverence for Christ, applied it more to the Day of Judgment.

  • But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10).

In today’s first reading, which we will discuss in more detail, St. Paul used a similar image.

  • Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief … let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 5:1-4; 8-9).

It is provocative and even shocking that Lord would compare Himself to a thief. Let’s consider some of the implications.

1. By this image the Lord turns the tables. Thievery suggests unjust possession. In this sense, the Lord is clearly not a thief; He is using a simile. He says that He is like a thief, not that He is a thief. Indeed, how can the owner of all things unjustly possess what is already His?

The impact and indictment of the reference is on us, not on the Lord. That He would seem to any of us to be like a thief is indicative of our injustice, not His. Too easily we forget that the things we call our own are God’s and God’s alone. We are stewards, not owners. When the Lord comes to take what is rightfully His—and has always been—we should be grateful to hand it back with interest (see the Parable of the Talents). To those who have forgotten that they are mere stewards, the Lord will seem to come to steal from them. They will see His coming as threatening because He will put an end to their schemes and worldly wealth.

Because they wrongly see these things as theirs, they will see Him as a thief—or worse, a robber. In the Parable of the Vineyard (Matthew 21:30ff) the Lord says that they will beat His prophets and even kill His Son. The injustice and crime is theirs. God cannot steal what He already owns. The vineyard was His and He rightly sought His portion. Murderously, they sought to withhold what they thought was theirs but in fact was not.

The Lord’s ways are justice and truth. God will take back all that is His. We will pay for what we have stolen through greed, injustice, selfishness, lust, and gluttony. To some who forget that He is the true owner of the vineyard, He may appear to be like a thief, but it is really we who are thieves. We will cry “Thief!” but the Lord will simply reply, “You are the man; it is you who have said it” (see 2 Sam 12:7; Matt 26:64).

2. By this image the Lord speaks to the hidden quality of His presence to some. In using the image of a thief (Κλέπτης (kleptes) in Greek) the Lord speaks of a stealthy, hidden presence. Thieves do their work in hiding or when we are unaware. A robber, on the other hand, confronts you, taking what he wants with violence while you can only watch helplessly.

The word thief here is indicative of the Lord’s hidden presence. The Lord is not a thief, but He seems like one to those who are forgetful of His presence. Don’t fool yourself, thinking that He is not in the house of your life; He sees and knows everything.

3. By this image the Lord puts to the lie the illusion of our own hiddenness. Thieves work in hiding. Many people who sin and misuse what the Lord owns often forget that to God, nothing is hidden. Thus they meet the definition of a thief because they attempt to take or misuse secretly what is not theirs to begin with.

God may seem hidden and distant, but He is not. He sees everything, knows everything, and is reckoning everything. Every “hidden” deed of ours is written in the book. An ancient hymn says,

Lo the Book exactly worded
Wherein all has been recorded
Thence shall judgment be awarded.

When the Judge his seat attaineth
And each hidden deed arraigneth
Nothing unavenged remaineth (Dies Irae).

God is watching and He is closer to you than you are to yourself.

4. By this image the Lord exhorts us to remember and to be ready. A recent break-in at my rectory motivated me and the staff to become more careful and vigilant. But why should the loss of passing goods cause us more concern than the certain arrival of the Lord, the true owner of all things? Although He may seem to come like a thief, He is not a thief. The real questions I should be asking myself are these: Am I a thief? Have I used what God owns in ways that are against His will or that displease Him? If so, He will come when I least expect it and take what I wrongfully think is mine. I may think Him a thief, but He is not. As true owner, He cannot unjustly possess what is already His.

We had better think about this now because the Lord is already in the house and His presence will be disclosed at any moment. Are you ready? Are you watching? Be vigilant. The Judge stands at the gate, but He has the key, not you.

Is He a thief? No. Are you a thief? Am I?

Epilogue: There came a moment in Jesus’ life when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and Judas, who was a thief (see John 12:6), led a band of brigands to arrest Him. Stepping forward, Jesus turned the tables on them and said, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” (Mk 14:48) Yes, He turned the tables on them and on the temple leaders who sponsored them. They saw Jesus as a usurper, as one who came to steal their priesthood and leadership. He was no thief, no robber. He was the great High Priest, the One who came to fulfill everything that they were supposed to be preaching. It was they who sought to kill him and unjustly possess the vineyard for themselves. To thieves, robbers, and murderers, Jesus was like a thief, but He was not. They were thieves—and even worse, robbers and murderers.

When Jesus says that He may be coming like a thief, be careful; He may be holding up a mirror to you!

If You Know The End Of The Story, There’s A Lot You Can Disregard – As Seen On TV

Usually we don’t like to know the end of the story. When someone blurts out the ending it’s called a “spoiler.” What fun is it to read a whodunit when you already know who done it?

When it comes to the faith, though, not only should we know the end of the story, but we must never forget it and must base our very lives upon it. As we look about the world, it is easy to get discouraged and think that evil is winning. Yet Scripture plainly states that Satan’s plans are going nowhere, that Jesus has already won the victory. Mysteriously, the Lord allows Satan a little time to sift through the ruins of his former kingdom. Do not be deceived—Satan has lost and so have all who are allied with him.

Some lines from Psalms come to mind:

Wait a little, and the wicked will be no more; look for them and they will not be there. But the poor will inherit the earth, will delight in great prosperity. But my Lord laughs at the wicked, because he sees that their day is coming. Wait eagerly for the LORD, and keep his way; He will raise you up to inherit the earth; you will see when the wicked are cut off. I have seen a ruthless scoundrel, spreading out like a green cedar. When I passed by again, he was gone; though I searched, he could not be found. mark the upright; Because there is a future for a man of peace. Sinners will be destroyed together; the future of the wicked will be cut off (Psalm 37).

Spoiler alert! Yes, dear brethren, I checked. I went to the end of the story and, sure enough, Jesus wins! There it is, right at the end of the Bible. This is a spoiler you need to know, because you have to choose which team you’ll be on and it’s nice to know ahead of time whose team has already won. It’s like going to today’s horserace armed with tomorrow’s newspaper. You’d be a fool to bet on any horse other than the winning one. Well, you have tomorrow’s paper, and here’s what it says:

When the thousand years are completed, Satan will be released from his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. They invaded the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the holy ones and the beloved city. But fire came down from heaven and consumed them. The Devil who had led them astray was thrown into the pool of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Next I saw a large white throne and the one who was sitting on it. The earth and the sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them. I saw the dead, the great and the lowly, standing before the throne, and scrolls were opened. Then another scroll was opened, the book of life. The dead were judged according to their deeds, by what was written in the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then Death and Hades gave up their dead. All the dead were judged according to their deeds. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the pool of fire. (This pool of fire is the second death.) Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the pool of fire (Rev 20:7–15).

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “They are accomplished. I [am] the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give a gift from the spring of life-giving water. The victor will inherit these gifts, and I shall be his God, and he will be my son. But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:1–8).

And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, and the Lord, the God of prophetic spirits, sent his angel to show his servants what must happen soon.” “Behold, I am coming soon.” Blessed is the one who keeps the prophetic message of this book. … The one who gives this testimony says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all (Rev 22:6–7; 20-21).

Keep this in mind; keep it always on your mind. The result of this victory is obtained in the paradox of the cross. Jesus destroyed death by dying and tells us that to save our life we must lose it to this world. Whatever your struggles and setbacks, do not be dismayed. Love and humility have already overcome hatred and pride. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Pride cannot drive out pride; only humility can do that. The Lord allows opportunities for the light of truth to shine in the error of darkness, for love to endure in the face of hatred, and for humility to put pride to shame.

Until the last day when the trumpet shall sound, the drama carries on. But see what the end shall be. You already know the end of the story; make sure that you serve in the Lord’s army and wield the weapons of light, love, and humility.

I know this video is going to seem strange after such a serious reflection, but what could be more humble than a pig “spoiling” the movie for the entering patrons? If you listen to his advice, though, he’s basically saying what I just did: “Don’t waste your time on losers. Don’t waste your time going down a path of wrong ideas or theories. Don’t get all worked up about characters and things that don’t matter—here’s what’s really going on in the movie.”

It’s not bad advice for life, either. If you know the end of the story, there’s a lot you can disregard along the way. You’ll know where to set your focus. Keep your eyes on Jesus and the truth of His Gospel.

Bookends: How the First and Last Books of the Bible Fit Together

blog.11.16.15Today’s post shows some contrasts and fulfillments between the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the last book, Revelation. There is a kind of “bookend” quality to those books wherein things are announced or initiated in Genesis and then fulfilled or finished in Revelation.

Consider the following two lists. I pray that you will appreciate the parallels and paradoxes presented in them, especially during the months of November and December, when we consider the four last things and the culmination of history in Christ Jesus.

  1. The Devil’s doom is announced in Genesis (3:15). It is carried out in Revelation (12 and 20).
  2. Satan is not evident in the first two chapters of Genesis. Neither is Satan present or even mentioned in the last two chapters of Revelation.
  3. Genesis is the seedbed of all theology and cosmology. Revelation is the culmination of all theology and cosmology. (N.B. Cosmology is the study of the origin and development of the universe.)
  4. The First Adam is established on earth in Genesis (2:4ff). The Second Adam is established in glory in Revelation (19).
  5. The night, the darkness, and the sea are created in Genesis (1:1ff). In Revelation there is no more night, no more sea (21:1 and 21:23).
  6. A bride is presented to Adam in Genesis (2:18-24). A bride (the Church) is presented to Christ in Revelation (19:6-8; 21:9-11).
  7. There is the tree of life in the garden of paradise (Genesis 2:8) and the tree of life in God’s new creation (Revelation 22:2).
  8. Sin begins in Genesis and brings death and curse (3:7) In Revelation sin has been put down and death is no more. There is no sighing, dying, crying, moaning, groaning, or pain. The former things are passed away (Revelation 21:4-5).
  9. Satan appears for the first time in Genesis (3:1ff). Satan appears for the last time in Revelation (20:7-10).
  10. Satan utters the first lie (you shall not die) in Genesis (3:4). In Revelation Heaven is a city into which no liar can enter (21:8).
  11. Man is driven from God’s face in Genesis (3:23-24). Man beholds God’s face in glory in Revelation (21:23ff and 22:4).
  12. Genesis begins with a wedding. Revelation ends with a wedding.

Particularly as we prepare for the Feast of Christ the King this coming Sunday, notice the following contrasts between the Lord’s First Coming and His Second Coming:

  1. In His First Coming there is a crucifixion. In His Second Coming there is a coronation.
  2. In His First Coming He hangs from the cross as a judged criminal. In His Second Coming He is enthroned for judgment.
  3. In His First Coming He endures the shame of the cross. In His Second Coming He shines forth in splendor.
  4. In His First Coming He comes to redeem. In His Second Coming He reigns in glory.
  5. In His First Coming He is the suffering servant. In His Second Coming He is the splendid sovereign.
  6. In His First Coming He is the justifier. In His Second Coming He is judge.
  7. In His First Coming He is our redeemer. In His Second Coming He is our ruler.

The Bible has many books and forms a kind of library. But at the center, unifying all the books, is Jesus Christ, Lord of History. He is the Alpha and the Omega. All times and seasons belong to Him.

The video below shows the singing of the hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” at Westminster Abbey a few years ago. The second verse of the hymn is,

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,

Rich wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.

No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,

But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

And the last verse is,

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,

Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.

All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;

Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

https://youtu.be/3kPkjghup8E

His Wrath is Not Turned Back, His Hand is Still Outstretched! Pondering the Wrath of God as a Work of Revelation

blog.8.24When reading Scripture that mentions the wrath of God, most think of His wrath in human terms. But we must be clear that God does not get angry the way we do. Further, our God is not moody: pleasant and patient one moment and then angry and punishing the next. No, God does not suffer from mood swings or throw tantrums. God is love; stably, serenely, and consistently so.

So then what is God’s wrath? I have written on this topic in greater depth here: What is the Wrath of God? However for this post, allow me to summarize by saying that God’s wrath is His “passion” to set things right. His wrath is His work to root out sin and injustice and bring forth holiness and righteousness.

Another thing to note about God’s wrath is that the anger is really more in us than in God. The wrath of God is our experience of the total incompatibility of our unrepentant sin before the holiness of God. It is like fire and water: they do not mix. And one can hear the wrathful conflict when fire and water come together. So the sinner in the presence of the all holy God is going to experience a conflict. It is not so much that God is angry as that the sinner is incapable of enduring His glory, so bright and awesome. It is like wax before the fire.

In this post I would like explore how God’s wrath is also a work of revelation. St. Paul says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth (Romans 1:18). And so St. Paul speaks of God’s wrath as being revealed, as being a work of revelation. As such, it exposes our injustice, error, and sin.

A recent text we read in the Liturgy of the Hours (from Isaiah Ch. 9) also develops God’s wrath as a kind of light of revelation, as a hand pointing out our iniquity. Within the longer passage below there is this refrain: For all this, his wrath is not turned back, and his hand is still outstretched! For indeed, God’s wrath casts a light on our wrongs and his outstretched hand points to them, revealing them and executing their results. Let’s consider Isaiah’s treatment of the revelatory wrath of God.

The Lord has sent word against Jacob,
it falls upon Israel;
And all the people know it,
Ephraim and those who dwell in Samaria,
those who say in arrogance and pride of heart,
“Bricks have fallen,
but we will build with cut stone;
Sycamores are felled,
but we will replace them with cedars.”
But the Lord raises up their foes against them
and stirs up their enemies to action:
Aram on the east and the Philistines on the west
devour Israel with open mouth.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
and his hand is still outstretched!
(Is 9:8-12)

And thus we see that the wrath of God reveals in Israel a bold, prideful resistance to His warnings. “Bricks have fallen … [and] sycamores have been felled.” These were warnings from God that neither natural nor man-made structures can stand; they crumble under the weight of sin and injustice. Yet instead of heeding the warning, the people doubled-down on their sins, arrogantly thinking that they could replace what God had established with designs of their own.

For us today a similar pattern is evident, as our families crumble and we twist nature. But even seeing the darkness and deep confusion we have ushered in, we still do not seek God’s light again. Rather, our culture “doubles down” and arrogantly asserts that we can redefine marriage, family, sexuality, and even the nature of things themselves. We sweep aside the “bricks and sycamores” that God has established, thinking that we can do better with the stone and cedars of our imagining.

Having instructed Israel through His law and warned her to no avail, God handed Israel over to her enemies, just as today we are being handed over to the enemies of our rebellion: STDs, depopulation, divorce, cohabitation, sexual confusion of a colossal nature, the tragic loss of our children through abortion, the decline of our children (lack of discipline, lack of proper psychological formation) due to broken families—the list could go on and on.

When the text says that God “handed them over,” it means that He let them have their own way and allowed them to suffer the consequences. As would any loving father, God seeks first to teach and warn His children. Next, He resorts to punishments that seek to draw us back from the full impact of our sin. But if all these fail, He finally hands us over to our own designs.

When we experience wrath, we experience the total incompatibility of our sinful stance with the glory for which we were made. There comes on us, collectively and individually, a burning indignation toward God and any who represent Him or remind us of the truth for which we were made. We project our anger on God. But God is not angry. Rather, He has a passion, a will to set things right. His justice and love are one reality.

How is the wrath of God a work of revelation? It shows us the full consequences of our sinful rejection of God and His plan for us. The fact is, we grow weak and become easy prey for our enemies, both literal and figurative. For Ancient Israel this meant Aram and the Philistines. For us in the decaying, once-Christian West it means we become too weak to resist enemies like lust and greed. We can no longer make commitments and keep them; we have little self-control. These enemies devour our strength, cloud our minds, and erode our progress.

This wrathful condition is a revelation from God, showing us what we are when we reject His favor, His mercy, and His call to truth. As a work of revelation, there is always the hoped-for response: repentance. But, sadly, the text continues in this way:

The people do not turn to him who struck them,
nor seek the Lord of hosts
.

And so the wrath continues, revealing to us in ever-deeper and darker tones the full depths of our condition, of our sad state. Sin grows; the young especially suffer from the sins of parents and elders. If we do not want grace, we will not have it; if we do not seek His mercy and grace, we will be increasingly without them. We cannot endure God’s holiness and justice apart from grace and mercy, and so we experience His holiness as wrath. This reveals to us our grave condition.

Time does not permit further commentary on the text below (from Isaiah). But as you read it, is there not a sobering sense that what is described is all too familiar? Is not this wrathful recitation a revelation?

The leaders of this people mislead them
and those to be led are engulfed.
For this reason, the Lord does not spare their young men,
and their orphans and widows he does not pity;
They are wholly profaned and sinful,
and every mouth gives vent to folly.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

For wickedness burns like fire,
devouring brier and thorn;
It kindles the forest thickets,
which go up in columns of smoke.
At the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land quakes,
and the people are like fuel for fire;
No man spares his brother,
each devours the flesh of his neighbor.
Though they hack on the right, they are hungry;
though they eat on the left, they are not filled.
Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim Manasseh;
together they turn on Judah.
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched!

Woe to those who enact unjust statutes
and who write oppressive decrees,
Depriving the needy of judgment
and robbing my people’s poor of their rights,
Making widows their plunder,
and orphans their prey!
What will you do on the day of punishment,
when ruin comes from afar?
To whom will you flee for help?
Where will you leave your wealth,
Lest it sink beneath the captive
or fall beneath the slain?
For all this, his wrath is not turned back,
his hand is still outstretched
!

Yes, as the text asks, what will we do on the day of full judgment? Even when we are in our worst state, God allows His wrath (our experience of His holy justice) to be a revelation to us, in the hope that before our final judgment we will finally call on Him. For on that day, the door of possible change will close and our condition will be final and forever fixed.

Woe to us that God’s wrath must be our revelation, his wrath is not turned back, his hand is still outstretched. Better for us to repent and allow His beautiful truth and mercy to be our light, our revelation. Have mercy on us, Lord. Give us added graces to repent!

"Alas, Alas for the Great City!" An Urgent Plea for Prayer at the New Year!

123014We are very close to the new year, 2015 AD. And most of us at the new year have it in mind to pray for the future year not only for ourselves, but also for our family, country, and culture. With that in mind, there is something of an admonition to us all that I would share from Scripture. For while we look to the new year with hope, we do well to soberly assess the warnings of God that are seemingly more applicable than ever. Above all we must pray so as to avoid the otherwise necessary chastisements of God and the inevitability of ruin at our own hand if we do not soon repent.

We have good reason to have concern for what we have come to call Western culture.  Our last century was nothing less than a blood bath of world wars, cold wars, killing fields, mass starvations, abortion, and euthanasia. It is conservatively estimated that 100 million were put to death for ideological purposes (e.g., in Hitler’s camps, Stalin’s mass starvations, Pol Pot’s killing fields, Mao’s camps, Rwanda’s genocide, the Balkan genocides). Add to this the war dead and the victims of abortion and the number easily reaches 200 million.

In the middle of that period in the West, we threw in many social revolutions: the sexual revolution, the revolution against authority, the widespread use of hallucinogenic drugs, radical feminism, abortion on demand, contraception, and no-fault divorce. The solitary boast of the tainted 1960s was the civil rights movement, largely granted to it by the 1950s.

It is no surprise then that Americans, still reeling from these selfish and egotistical revolutions, find that most baby boomers are now in various combinations of drug rehab, AA, SA, Overeaters Anonymous, or even jail. Add to this situation vast amounts of psychotherapy, psychotropic drugs, and a self-esteem-driven culture with endless distractions to keep the revolutionaries and their children sane. Then throw in large amounts of antibiotics to treat the sexually transmitted diseases … would someone please call in the exorcist?

We have sown the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind. Enter now the desperate confusion of the “rainbow,” a once beautiful sign of hope that now only bespeaks sexual confusion of a colossal degree. And let no heterosexual gloat until he ponders rampant fornication, easy divorce, abortion, and the disgraceful lack of self-control that has helped usher in the sex-is-just-about-pleasure-and-means-whatever-I-say-it-means culture. Confusion, from top to bottom!

So here we are in 2015. And if we have any sense and any faith at all, we need to fall on our knees and pray for miraculous conversion. I love this country and Western culture. I do not think anything finer has ever graced this globe. But we have become collectively corrupted. Our freedom has become licentiousness; our sense of human dignity has been debased; our comforts have made us lazy and inimical to the Cross and to discipline.

And thus we do well to heed God’s warnings of old to other cultures that had become similarly corrupted.

A little over a week ago, as we wrapped up Advent, Isaiah uttered a warning to a pompous and self-secure empire (Babylon) that its might and power, its wealth and poise, were soon to come to an end. Of special mention was the scorn that God had for Babylon’s arrogant presumption that she would never fall or suffer loss and that her power would be forever. And yet too often this same arrogance besets us today. Listen to what God says to ancient Babylon at the zenith of her power:

Come down, sit in the dust, O virgin daughter Babylon; Sit on the ground, dethroned, O daughter of the Chaldeans. No longer shall you be called dainty and delicate. I will take vengeance, I will yield to no entreaty … Go into darkness and sit in silence, No longer shall you be called sovereign mistress of kingdoms …

Now hear this, voluptuous one, enthroned securely, Saying to yourself, “I, and no one else! I shall never be a widow, or suffer the loss of my children”—Both these things shall come to you suddenly, in a single day: Complete bereavement and widowhood shall come upon you For your many sorceries and the great number of your spells; Because you felt secure in your wickedness, and said, “No one sees me.”

Your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, And you said to yourself, “I, and no one else!” But upon you shall come evil you will not know how to predict; Disaster shall befall you which you cannot allay. Suddenly there shall come upon you ruin which you will not expect (Isaiah 47: 1-15 selected).

Be soberly attentive, dear reader, and pray. For it is hard to read words like these and not see how they apply precisely to an age like ours! And before you exultantly say, “Bring it on!” please consider how instantly different our lives would be. Are you really ready for a world with no electricity, no Internet, and no central government with a Bill of Rights? Are you ready to live without roads, running water, and trash collection? Repentance is a far better solution. So pray for a miracle!

What was (is) Babylon? At one level, it is an historical nation-state at the time of the ancient Jews. There were others: Egypt, Assyria, Medo-Persia, and later Greece and Rome. But all these powers, though real historical places, also symbolized the world and all its glories arrayed against God and His kingdom.

  1. Egypt with its power, its fleshpots, and its leeks and onions was something the ancient Jews were always pining after. Abram ran there during a drought instead of trusting God to sustain him in the Holy Land. When Moses led the people out, they were always looking back, forgetting the slavery and remembering the fleshpots. They loved the world and trusted it more than God.
  2. In their fear against invaders, the Jews were ever succumbing to the temptation to make alliances with Assyria and Egypt (i.e., with the world and its power). “Trusting God is too risky. Let’s trust in Egypt or Assyria. Let’s trust in the world to come through for us.”
  3. In Babylonian exile, the Jews left, singing that they would never forget Jerusalem. But after 8o years in Babylon (a symbol of the world and its empires) most had no interest in returning to the Promised Land (a symbol of Heaven) when they were allowed to do so. They preferred Babylon and its hanging gardens to God’s kingdom. Only a small number returned. “Why should I go back to Israel? I have a pretty nice little jewelry shop I run here in Babylon on the corner of Tigris and Euphrates Avenues …”

And thus places like Babylon, Egypt, Sodom, Assyria, and later Greece and Rome, were not just city-states; they were symbols of the world arrayed against God and vying for that place in our heart that belongs to Him. The prophets often accused Jerusalem herself of having become Sodom, Egypt, and Babylon.

But no kingdom of this world can or will stand. In the age of the Church, and even prior to that in the Old Testament period of the Church, kingdoms came and went. Nations rose and fell. Empires emerged and collapsed. Where is Nimrod now? Where is Pharaoh Necho? Where are Cyrus the Persian, Alexander the Great, Caesar Nero, Napoleon, Stalin, and Chairman Mao?

But what of us? All those ancient kingdoms fell not merely because their time was up, but because of sin and the collapse that pride and sin bring. And as for us, how can a nation or culture stand that is increasingly permeated by pride, godlessness, corruption, fornication, abortion, sexual confusion, families in crisis, lack of sexual self-control, gluttony, drug use, alcoholism, rampant pornography, and ridicule of authority, tradition, and faith?

Consider a similar passage from the Book of Revelation (Chapter 18) warning the faithful about “Babylon.” (By 90 AD Babylon was actually long gone. Thus “Babylon” here is a symbol for the world and its tendency to fall into corruption.) John was saying that the “Great City” (Jerusalem – the great city which is allegorically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified – Rev 11:8) had become Babylon. And he develops this theme in Revelation 18. Sadly, by 70 AD, having been given 40 years to repent, Jerusalem was sacked, burned, and utterly destroyed just as this prophecy had warned.

Have America and the West become like Babylon? Does the chilling judgment that came on Jerusalem and many other ancient cultures now apply to us? It would seem so unless repentance comes quickly. Hear and heed the warning given to ancient Jerusalem (which had become like Babylon) on this eve of the new year. Babylon is

I. Dominated by Demons – The text says,  After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority; and the earth was made bright with his splendor. And he called out with a mighty voice, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!  It has become a dwelling place of demons,  a haunt of every foul spirit,  a haunt of every foul and hateful bird; for all nations have drunk the wine of her impure passion,  and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,  and the merchants of the earth have grown rich with the wealth of her wantonness.” Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,  “Come out of her, my people,  lest you take part in her sins,  lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven,  and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her as she herself has rendered,  and repay her double for her deeds;  mix a double draught for her in the cup she mixed (Rev 18:1-6).

And as ancient Jerusalem was said to have the abomination of desolation (Mat 24:15), so too has our age embraced and even celebrated many abominations: abortion, fornication, homosexual acts, and the greed that becomes injustice to the poor. Scripture speaks of four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance: murder (Gn 4:10), homosexual acts (acts of sodomy)  (Gn 18:20-21), oppression of the poor (Ex 2:23), and defrauding workers of their just wages (Jas 5:4). There are also sins against the Holy Spirit, sins that harden a soul by rejecting the Holy Spirit. Six sins are in this category: despair, presumption, envy, obstinacy in sin, final impenitence, and deliberate resistance to the known truth.

Welcome to America after the social revolution. Pre-revolution America (prior to 1968) was no paradise, but there was more of a sense of basic right and wrong. Now everything is up for debate, and what used to slink around in back alleys now parades down Main Street in broad daylight.

To all this demonic influence, celebration of depravity, and excessive passion comes the plea, “Come out of here, my people!” Otherwise we will share in Babylon’s punishment. Make no compromises with this modern age, which has become the dwelling place of demons. Celebrating its secularism, our age, in rejecting God, has delivered itself to the machination of demons and all sort of human foolishness.

Stay sober, my friends, and see this age for what it is becoming: the dwelling place of demons, the haunt of every foul spirit, impure passion, and wanton desire. Have custody of your eyes and guard your heart!

II. Defiant in Depravity –   As she glorified herself and played the wanton,  so give her a like measure of torment and mourning.  Since in her heart she says, ‘A queen I sit,  I am no widow, mourning I shall never see’  (Rev 18:7).  

Yes, no matter how high the body count rises from abortion, from the broken lives of children raised without fathers, from exposure to pornography, from the celebration of greed and whatever is base or decadent—the modern West is too drunk to notice the harm she inflicts on herself. 70 million abortions, more than half of children raised in fatherless homes and in chaos … never mind all that! We are liberated. We will do as we please. We will not be told what to do!

And thus defiance and even the celebration of what is wicked and cries to heaven for vengeance continues apace. Despite all sorts statistics that say we are in real trouble, most go on calling “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin. But God will not be mocked and ultimately we cannot avoid the consequences of our increasing depravity. At some point, God will have to end it if we do not repent.

Sadly, our defiance makes it seem unlikely that we will repent.

III. Destined for Destruction So shall her plagues come in a single day,  pestilence and mourning and famine,  and she shall be burned with fire;  for mighty is the Lord God who judges her … Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth!  In one hour she has been laid waste. Rejoice over her, O heaven, O saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, “So shall Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and shall be found no more; and the sound of harpers and minstrels, of flute players and trumpeters, shall be heard in thee no more; and a craftsman of any craft shall be found in thee no more; and the sound of the millstone shall be heard in thee no more; and the light of a lamp shall shine in thee no more;  and the voice of bridegroom and bride  shall be heard in thee no more;  for thy merchants were the great men of the earth,  and all nations were deceived by thy sorcery. And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints,  and of all who have been slain on earth” (Rev 18:8, 19-24).

Jerusalem, the great city, the holy city, was utterly destroyed. 1.2 million Jewish people lost their lives in the conflagration. Jerusalem was burned, and when the Romans were finished, not one stone was left on another. Jesus had warned of this day in the Mt. Olivet discourses  (Mark 13Matthew 24Luke 21) and had wept over Jerusalem: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate (Matt 23:37-38).

And what of us? Will we repent? Or will we be defiant and destined for destruction? Pray for America. Pray for the West. Pray for our culture, which still has great goodness but has succumbed to much corruption.

IV. Depressing in Desolation – And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and were wanton with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! alas! thou great city, thou mighty city, Babylon!  In one hour has thy judgment come.” And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls. “The fruit for which thy soul longed has gone from thee, and all thy dainties and thy splendor are lost to thee, never to be found again!” The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, bedecked with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! In one hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,  “Alas, alas, for the great city” (Rev 18:9-19).

Here’s the bottom line: Satan sails a sinking ship. Nothing of this world can stand except on the firm foundation of Christ and His Church. Too many Christians are in a compromised state with a sinful world. Scripture says, For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Heb 13:15-16).

In this new year, pray for our Western world as never before. We have brought great gifts to the world through our marriage with Christ. But now, acting like an angry divorcée, we have forsaken Him and turned to great wickedness. But God still seeks us and wants to renew His covenant with us.

Pray. And before you exultantly say, “Bring on the destruction!” please consider that this is no “made-for-TV movie.” Think about how instantly different our lives would be! Please consider the bloodshed and loss of life. Again, would you be ready for a world with no electricity, no Internet, and no central government with a Bill of Rights? Are you ready to live without roads, running water, and trash collection? Repentance is a far better solution. So pray for a miracle! It doesn’t have to end in destruction. Jerusalem could have repented, and we still can.

The Church will survive. God’s will shall prevail. But what of our beloved country and the West? That is up to us.

So pray at this dawn of the new year. Pray a lot. Only then will it be a “Happy New Year!”

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world!

God’s Plan will Stand – A Word of Encouragement to the Fainthearted

122214Advent is a season of waiting, waiting for God to fulfill his promises. We know that most of His promises from the Old Testament were fulfilled magnificently by Jesus. But as St. Paul reminds, we have received but the first fruits of his work in our soul (cf Rom 8:23). The created world and our physical bodies still await the full implications of what He has done. We still await a new Heaven and a new earth where the justice of God will reside (cf 2 Peter 3:13). We still wait for that time when God will renew and restore all things in Christ and will vanquish the ancient foe of mankind, Satan, and his followers, the demons and the wicked, so that they can no longer cause harm.

There are times—times like these—when many may be discouraged. There are times when evil may seem to triumph and the victory of Christ seems very far off. For indeed we live in a fallen world, governed by a fallen angel, and we have fallen natures.

But as Advent ends there comes a word of encouragement from Isaiah, who has been the main prophet of reference during this season. It is addressed to the fainthearted, and is an unambiguous declaration that God is working His purposes out and that nothing in this world can ultimately prevent His plan from reaching its fulfillment and victory.

It is God who speaks through Isaiah. These words are worth reading aloud if you are in a place where you can do so as you read this: 

I am God there is no other. At the beginning I foretell the outcome; in advance, things not yet done. I say that my plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose. Yes, I have spoken, I will accomplish it; I have planned it and I will do it. Listen to me you fainthearted, you who seem far from the victory of justice: I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation shall not tarry; I will put salvation within Zion, and give my glory to Israel (Isaiah 46:12ff).

Consider three conclusions for us to take to heart.

1. THE PLAN –  In Heaven there is no panic, no puzzlement about what to do, just plans. And God says, “My plan shall stand.” The foolish and the self-described “wise and learned” of this world may well scoff and think they have found something greater than God’s wisdom and knowledge. Many seculars may dismiss God as a myth or as irrelevant. The wicked may think they can mock God forever. But God’s plan will stand. The plan and works of evil are going nowhere. Scripture says in Psalm 2,

The kings of the earth rise up,  and the rulers take counsel together,  against the Lord and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us break their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;  the Lord has them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “I have set my king  on Zion, my holy hill.” … Now therefore, O kings, be wise;  be warned, O rulers of the earth.   11 Serve the Lord with fear,  with trembling 12give homage to his Son,  lest he be angry, and you perish in the way;  for his wrath is quickly kindled.  Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

 Yes, God’s plan will stand, no matter the plans of man. And those who mock God, or build their Towers of Babel, or lead others to sin are going to be surprised, and they are going to answer to God.

2. THE PARADOX – God speaks of the “fainthearted” as those who feel far from the victory of justice. To them He says simply that His justice IS near and that it will not tarry.

It is true that God often accomplishes His purposes in paradoxical ways! Simply go to the foot of the Cross to see that. What sort of King is this? What sort of triumph is this? And yet it is a masterful inversion of Satan’s scheme. It is a stealthy action. And just as Satan is making his victory dance, Christ is emptying out Sheol.

Christ conquers by refusing Satan’s terms, by refusing to impress the world on its prideful and vengeful terms. For indeed, darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. And hatred cannot drive out hatred; only love can do that. And pride cannot conquer pride; only humility can do that.

The world demands that Christ become merely a bigger version of Satan: bold, brash, arrogant, and disobedient. It demands that Jesus fight the fight on Satan’s terms, using Satan’s techniques. But Jesus will have none of it and He cancels Satan’s pride by humility and obedience. And to all the prideful, the disobedient, and the braggarts of today the message still goes forth: My plan shall stand. I accomplish my every purpose!

And to the fainthearted goes the message that God’s justice is near. But we must also learn that it comes, paradoxically, through the Cross. For just as the first victory came on a Sunday after Good Friday, so too the second and final victory will rise in the wake of the Cross. But it WILL come—not on the world’s terms and not by Satan’s tactics, but by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. THE PERSPECTIVE – There are many today who like to announce that the age of faith is over, that God is but a myth and faith a superstition. People who speak like this know little of history.

For indeed, the Lord’s Church has been here for over 2000 years, more than 5000 if you count the Old Testament years. And during this time, empires have come and gone, nations have risen and fallen, heresies and philosophies have waxed and waned. Self-declared enemies have said that they would bury the Church, but the Church read the funeral rites over them. Where is Caesar now? Where is Julian the Apostate? Where is Napoleon, or Hitler, or Stalin, or the USSR?

When the Muslims wiped out the North African cradle of the Church, Europe lit up with converts from the barbarians. Just when two million Europeans walked out of the Church during the Protestant revolt, nine million entered in Mexico following the apparition at Guadalupe. And now that Europe is largely divorcing from Christ, Africa has lit up again like a great wedding feast with a 7000% increase in the number of Catholics over the last fifty years.

People who say that the age of faith is over, or that the Church is doomed, have not read history. They lack perspective because they do not know God, whose plan will stand. That the powers of Hell will strive to destroy the Church is evident. That they will fail to prevail is revealed in Scripture (Matt 16:18) and has been shown all these centuries now. When the current scoffers are dead and gone, the Church will still be here preaching the Gospel. The Lord does not guarantee that we will always be numerous, but we will be here for as long as the sun shall shine and until the Lord comes again.

To the fainthearted the Spirit says, “Be strong. God’s plan will stand.” And so the Lord Jesus says, Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away (Lk 21:33). These are difficult days, even inside the Church. But the Lord is still the Head of His body. God’s plan will stand.

Run, Don’t Walk, to the Nearing Jesus!

121714The Lord’s coming is near. And though we have all been well taught that the word “Advent” means “coming,” there is the danger that we think we are only passively waiting for him to come.  It is not just that the Lord is coming to us, but that we are also journeying to Him. In fact, as the Advent prayers in the Roman Missal instruct, we ought to run, not walk, and hasten to greet Him as He draws near.

The image of the Prodigal Son comes to mind. His father saw him and ran toward him. But at the same time, he was hastening toward his father with contrition and hope. So too, in Advent, do we look for the Lord’s coming. But the Lord also looks for us to come to Him by faith.  We, like the prodigal son, consider our need for salvation, and with contrition (did you get to confession this advent?), hasten to meet our Lord, whom we know by faith is coming to us.

This notion of running to meet God is set forth as a consistent theme in the prayers of the Roman Missal.  Consider these prayers and how the theme of our running, hastening, and going out  to meet God, even as He is coming to us, is set forth:

  1. Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom (First Sunday of Advent).
  2. Almighty and merciful God, may no earthly undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company (Second Sunday of Advent).
  3. Stir up your mighty power, O Lord, and come to our help with a mighty strength, so that what our sins impede, the grace of your mercy may hasten (Thursday of the First Week of Advent).
  4. Grant that your people, we pray, almighty God, may be ever watchful for the coming of your Only Begotten Son, that, as the author of our salvation himself has taught us, we may hasten, alert with lighted lamps, to meet him when he comes (Friday of the Second Week of Advent).
  5. May the reception of your sacrament strengthen us O Lord, so that we may go out to meet our savior, with worthy deeds when he comes, and merit the rewards of the blessed (Post-communion, Dec 22).

Thus, we are not counseled to “wait on the Lord” in a passive sense, as though we are sitting still waiting for a bus to arrive. Rather, we are counseled to “wait on the Lord” in an active sense, much as when we speak of a waiter in a restaurant “waiting on tables.” Such a form of waiting is a very active form of waiting. Alert and aware, the waiter or waitress carefully observes the needs of others and serves as their brother or sister. The good ones strive to avoid distraction and do their job of serving well and with swiftness.

Notice, too, how the prayers indicate what it means to “run.”  We do not run aimlessly or in frantic circles. Rather, running to the Lord means

  1. being engaged in righteous deeds (holiness) by God’s grace.
  2. not being hindered by worldly preoccupations and distractions.
  3. learning heavenly wisdom.
  4. receiving the Lord’s mercy unto the forgiveness of our sins.
  5. being alert and ready for the Lord’s coming, with the lamp of our soul trimmed (humble and purged of sin) and burning (alive with fiery love).
  6. being strengthened by the Eucharist, which is our food for the journey.

St. Paul speaks of running, too:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Cor 9:24-27).

Are you running to meet the Lord or are you just waiting? Advent involves looking and waiting, but it also means running to meet the Lord, who is coming to us. Run, don’t walk, to the nearing Jesus!

The text of this song says, simply, Domine ad adjuvandum me festina! (Lord, make haste to help me!) It was composed by Vivaldi, and its series of eighth notes creates the image of an energetic and joyful running. Vivaldi also loved to run a melody up and down the musical scale, creating (here) a sense of running up and down the hills as we hasten to the Lord. (The video goes on to include the Gloria Patri.) Try not to tap your toe in the first and third movements of this clip from the Vespers of Vivaldi in G Major!


Don’t Worry about being”Left Behind.”Have a Holy Fear of being taken up to Judgment.

100214

The movie “Left Behind” opens today. And while, in a secular culture dismissive of any consequences for unbelief, we can rejoice in any salutary reminders, it is unfortunate that the reminder is riddled with questionable theology and dubious biblical interpreation.

In certain (but not all) Protestant circles, and especially among the Evangelicals, there is a strong and often vivid preoccupation with signs of the Second Coming of Christ. Many of the notions that get expressed are either erroneous or extreme. Some of these erroneous notions are rooted in a misunderstanding of the various scriptural genres.  Some are rooted in reading certain Scriptures in isolation from the wider context of the whole of Scripture. And some are rooted in reading one text and disregarding others that balance it.

The Catholic approach to the end times (eschatology) is perhaps less thrilling and provocative. It does not generate “Left Behind” movie series 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.

I thought it perhaps a worthy goal to set forth certain principles of eschatology from a Catholic point of view, since the movie “Left Behind” is bound to generate questions among fellow Catholics.  Most of the teachings offered in this post are drawn straight from the Catechism and the Scriptures. What I offer here I do not propose to call a complete eschatology, only a sketch of basic principles rooted right in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

While we cannot know the exact time of His Coming, nevertheless we can be watchful for things that both remind us and signal us to His approach. 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 (the blue and red texts are my own). I have made the Scripture quotes live by way of hypertext so you can click right over and read them.

1. “Soon + Sudden”Since 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 Thes 5:2; 2 Thes 2:3-12). (CCC # 673).

Of all the points the Catechism makes, this one sets the tone of balance that must, most surely, be maintained. On the one hand, Christ says, “I am coming soon” and that His coming could be both sudden and without warning.

Yet this truth must be held in tension with other truths that set forth certain signs and things that must be accomplished first. And these things are not easily or quickly accomplished. This is further developed in point # 2, which follows.

2. Suspended The 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 may argue.  And yet, on a planet of seven billion people, fewer than one-third are Christians. But on the other hand, there are very few places in the world where there is no Christian presence.

And what is meant by the “full number” of Gentiles? That number is hidden from us and is surely debated.

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

3. Suffering and Sedition Before 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, sometimes in large numbers, most into schism, but some into unbelief. There have been times, too, during which it can be argued that the love of many has grown cold.

And yet, clearly, in the times in which we live, these are very severe problems and they have grown to envelop most of the planet. But God only knows when these signs will be present in a definitive way rather than merely present prefiguratively. However, there is no real basis for  a rapture of the Church prior to the final crisis. Indeed, the biblical narrative seems quite clear that the end of times will be a time of test and purification for the Church, not something from which we are exempt. 

4. Secular Utopianism RejectedThe Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the attempt 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 under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (CCC # 676).

Yes many in human history, but especially in modern times, have advanced the notion that a secular utopia could be ushered in by human effort, and by submitting oneself to a government, worldly power, or charismatic figure to do so.

Many repressive regimes and movements (often typified 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, bloody, and repressive such attempts have been.

The Church also rejects religious forms of this, which hold that prior to the Second Coming of Christ a period of 1000 years is set aside during which Christ will reign on earth or in which the Church will somehow attain a total victory prior to Christ’s Second Coming. This will be developed more in the final point below.

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).

Hence, a final and intense unleashing is envisaged by Scripture and the Church. And this final and 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. Notice again that there is no teaching of “rapture” wherein the Church is spared this final trial. Just as Christ was not spared his crucifixion, neither is His mystical body, the Church, spared a final passover into glory. 

Balance! Now please note that while we may wish to focus on one or two points above, each of the five points must be held in balance. In one sense all 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 and accompany and usher in the last things, exactly when and how they come together in a definitive sense cannot be known by us. Were that the case, 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 to hold all five principles in balance, and to accept the tension of knowing signs but not the knowing the definitive time or fulfillment of them.

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 of us His coming and signaling us in a merciful way to remember, has insisted that it is not for us to know the times or the seasons fixed by the Father, let alone the day or 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 are our best posture.

Avoid doing lots of mathematical calculations here. The Catholic approach  may not be the stuff of movies and 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).  And again, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men; but what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience (2 Cor 5:10-11).

At the end of the day, the true “preoccupation” we have ought to be with our judgment, wherein nothing will be hidden and all the masks we like to wear are stripped away. Even our most idle words will be part of that judgment. Here is something that should concern us and which is both certain and near: our own particular judgment, of which scripture says, It is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9:27).

Just for some fun, and also for a creative reminder, here is a little video I put together over a year ago.