Friday, April 08, 2005

John Paul the Great

John 21:15-17

When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs.
He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.

John Paul II, the "man from a far country," has been laid to rest in the Grotto of St. Peter's Basilica. This man who led the flock of the Lord for nearly 27 years asked that if his funeral be filled with the Pomp and Circumstance of the Petrine Office, his burial be simple. Indeed it was, as he was laid to rest in the Grotto, beneath a simple stone marker bearing his Papal name. The Pope indeed did what the Gospel requires of him-in Peter's stead, he fed the Lord's sheep.

Rather than view this as merely a great loss to the Church and the world, which it surely is, we should also remember John Paul's life, and his reign as Pontiff. We should celebrate them now, in this mourning period, as well as in the years to come. It speaks volumes about his holiness of life that orthodox Catholics have already begun to acclaim him as "John Paul the Great." Several theologians seem to have embraced the belief that most of us will live to see him canonized a Saint.

Time simply does not permit me to recount here the untold influence of this man's writings and holiness on my own life. I am of the firm belief that I might not have entered the Church were it not for the fact that in my process of discernment, I could get my hands on a rich library of the Pope's theological mind and works. His powerful testimony and witness to Christ taught me how to live as a Catholic, and in death he taught me how to die as one.

I do not envy the College of Cardinals, for when they meet in Conclave next week, they will be forced to reckon with the fact that they are charged by God with selecting the replacement for the greatest Pope of modern times, and undoubtedly one of the greatest Popes since St. Peter himself. It isn't an easy task. As Archbishop Foley said this morning "I don't know of anyone who actually wants the job [of Pope]." In our modern age, the position of Supreme Pontiff is not one that men seek out. You have no privacy, no time to yourself. It is well known that John Paul's morning Mass was one of the few times during the day that he could have five minutes alone to pray. The burdens of the Pontificate today are so great that men do not seek it out, men are called by God to the office, usually kicking and screaming. Let's pray the next Pontiff does not kick too hard against the goad.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Question from a reader

A concerned reader commented on yesterday's entry:

Could it be possible that the Anti-christ rise from an entirely different religion? Why does everyone always assume he will rise through the Catholic church?

I can't speak for everyone else, only for myself. I do not make the assumption that the Antichrist will be a Pope or even be a Catholic. As a matter of personal belief, I do not hold that the Antichrist will be a Pope, I don't think he will be. What I did say was that I am inclined to the belief (a purely personal one, and not a matter of Church doctrine, dogma, belief, or practice) that before the "end," the Church will likely have to endure a "bad Pope" but that the final Successor of Peter will be a very upright and holy man. This seems to be in keeping with the prophecies of the Bishop and Abbot St. Malachy of Ireland. Belief in these prophecies is purely a matter of private revelation, not Church doctrine or dogma, especially since there have always been those who argued against the authenticity of the documents which contain Malachy's prophecies. I happen to belong to the school that believes that the prophecies are genuine. Disagreement with me on a matter such as this hardly makes someone a bad Catholic, because there is as much of a good argument on either side of the debate.

Regarding the entry that I just posted here on the World, there is a book I would highly recommend. Though written from a Catholic perspective, I believe that any reasoned Christian can comprehend what the author is saying about the End Times. The Rapture Trap by Paul Thigpen is published by Ascension Press and is available from Catholic Answers, which I have a link to on the right sidebar.

God's time clock

As promised, I begin an occasional series during the Interregnum on apocalyptic prophecy today.

When discussing Apocalyptic prophecies in Scripture, it is extremely important to remember the advice of the very first Bishop of Rome about God's time clock in II Peter 3:8:

But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

Peter actually spends much of this portion of his second Epistle warning against scoffers who would deny the Lord's coming in the "Last Days." Why would some people make such a denial? Because the Lord would so delay his coming that it would appear that during some of the worst trials and tribulations, the Lord wouldn't be coming at all. That has certainly proven true throughout the ages. People who had been believers in 70 A.D. came to lose their faith in some cases when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Lord did not return. A lot of Christians lost their faith during the reign of Nero, when so many were martyred and the Church underwent persecutions that have since been unheard of. Still no return of Jesus. Many scoffed at the notion of the Second Coming when the Roman Empire fell in the West in 476, an event that led the West into a period of social and cultural chaos, but the Lord still tarried on without bringing things to the Consummation. When the Black Death raged across Christendom like a fire that no one could control for almost 300 years, many expected Christ to return at any moment. He didn't do so. Many were heartbroken. You might say "but all the signs weren't there yet." They certainly were to those folks. They knew enough ancient Christian prophecy to know, for example, what our Lord said about the last days in Matthew 24. It all certainly looked like it was coming true before their eyes. Peter even throws us a Last Days curveball in I Peter 4:7 when he says:

But the end of all is at hand. Be prudent therefore and watch in prayers.

Sounds like Peter himself believed he was living in the Last Days! Was Peter wrong, or was he indeed living in the "Last Days," as are we?

In II Thessalonians 2:3 Paul warns:

Let no man deceive you by any means: for unless there come a revolt first, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition

The KJV renders "revolt" as "falling away."

Many people living in the first 300 years after Christ thought the Arian Heresy was the falling away, some even thought Arius would turn out to be the Antichrist. It is easy to see why they would think this, because denying the Divinity of Christ is certainly a "revolt" or a "falling away." Some Christians in 1054 believed the Great Schism was the "revolt" Paul spoke of. A very valid interpretation indeed, considering that the Church prior to 1054 was a completely united body of believers, and then all of a sudden, the Church becomes split into Eastern and Western factions. Some Catholics thought the Protestant Reformation was the "falling away." Again, it would be very easy to accept such an interpretation if you are living during that time period. Then, in our own day, we see the apostacy taking place on a wide scale within Christendom, and we say that we indeed are living in the age of the Great Falling Away. Were these previous generations of believers less privy to the Holy Spirit than we are?

Some of you are reading this and asking: "Dave, are you saying that we don't need to be concerned with Bible prophecy?" Au contrere, mon frere! We DO need to be concerned with Bible prophecy and we need to be able to take an objective look at it. The fact of the matter is that many prophecies of scripture have more than one meaning, and in some cases, they have multiple meanings. This tendency for believers to always think that the Coming of the Lord is imminent because "the signs point to it" is something Our Lord himself warned about in Acts 1:7:

It is not for you to know the time or seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

In Matthew 24:38-39 Jesus warns:

For, as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noe entered into the ark: And they knew not till the flood came and took them all away: so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.

In verse 44 Jesus says:

Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not, the Son of man will come.

In other words, Jesus will come when we LEAST expect it, not when we're looking for it. Does that mean we can just ignore prophecies about a falling away, about the Antichrist, and about what it will be like in the time before the Second Coming of Christ? Of course not! Our Lord WILL come again. That is not something we've made up, it is a reality. There WILL be a "cosmic upheaval" as the Catechism calls it, which we might call the Tribulation of the End, and we didn't just make that up. But these prophecies often do carry multiple meanings, and we need to look out for that before we pronounce the End unilaterally upon ourselves.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Opening a can of worms

My dear friend Aaron Harris, a non-Catholic, but a pious believer who loved the Holy Father, writes with a very serious question:

Obviously, I too am saddened by the Pope's passing.

What are the chances that the next Pope will in fact be an anti-pope, signalling the End?

I can't help thinking this might happen.

My response to this very serious End Times question:

The traditional definition of "anti-pope" is merely a pretender to the papal throne. In that sense, we currently have at least three that I know of, but only one has any following of note: The anti-pope known as Pius XIII is actually an arch-traditionalist who completely disregards Vatican II. First of all, since Vatican II was an ecumenical council, it simply cannot be disregarded. It has been abused, yes, and misinterpreted, certainly. If the documents of Vatican II are applied exactly as written, however, what you have is not an apostate church, but a renewed one. The trick is applying those documents exactly as they are written, kind of like Strict Construction of the Constitution. JP II called for a strict interpretation of Vatican II, but he was there! As a result of being a part of it, he understood what Vatican II actually meant.

I am a strong believer that we might very well have a "bad pope" before the end. However, I am a personal believer in the prophecies of the Irish mystic St. Malachy. Malachy believed that before the End, we could have a bad pope, but that the very last pope would not only be a faithful one, he would successfully guide the Church through the final tribulation, what the Catechism calls "the final Passover." The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

675 Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. 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.

676 The 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 judgement. 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.

677 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. 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. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

As Aaron is aware, but other evengelical readers may not know, not only does the Catholic Church reject the doctrine of the Rapture, but I personally reject it, I did even before I was Catholic. This rejection placed me at odds with most of American evngelicalism. I never believed this difference in doctrine was a source of frinction between you and I. However, the more I deeply study this doctrine and why it is not worthy of belief, the more I find the prospect that many Americans believe this notion without serious study into the matter to be very disconcerting, and that is putting it lightly.

The Christian's faith is refined through tribulation. There is no reason to believe that the Church (the Body of Christ) will not imitate her Lord in the End. She will appear to die, but will rise again. I will say that my faith is about as solid as it ever was that the Catholic Church is the Church. This belief has intensified through the process of JP II's passing. (No, I don't think that all Protestants are going to Hell or any such thing!) I have developed a set of concrete beliefs about the Antichrist (the Son of Perdition, the Man of Sin, etc.) that point to his persecution of the Church, and this is based concretely in Scripture.

Aaron has, perhaps unwittingly, opened a can of worms here in terms of giving me a darn good excuse to go off on several prophetic dissertations here during the Interregnum. To slake the thirst of some readers for my thoughts in this theologically controversial area, I will do so in the coming days. However, there are two things readers must know:

First, to Protestant millenialist readers of whatever school: Your theology of the Last Things in Time is vehemently different than our own. I will likely use terms, figures, and writings that you may not understand or have never heard of. Be not afraid to write with questions. Remember also that there is a very good reason that Catholic theology regarding the End of Days is spotty, and that reason is because the Holy Spirit has not yet revealed all things their fullness. Unlike some of you, we do not take the words of Hal Lindsey and Tim La Haye to be the Infallible Word of God.

To Catholics: Much (but not all) of what I will attempt to discuss here is based on private revelation which has not been declared to be false by the Church. Therefore, you can safely assume (unless I quote an official document) that much of what I say that pertains to the End Times is based on my personal beliefs regarding things which the Church either says are true or that the Church has said are not false. Much of what I say is not counted as dogma. Rather these things are my strongly-held opinion of prophecy, in harmony with Church teaching as I best understand it.

Let the can of worms be opened...

Through an ancient Scripture, John Paul II speaks to us

In finding an appropriate Scripture that reflects on the death of the Holy Father, I actually found that John Paul II may be speaking to us from beyond the grave in the words of Joshua. Joshua's statement can be said to apply also to the late Pope, and the Sacred College of Cardinals would do well to remind themselves of this Scripture. Joshua 23:14-16:

Behold this day I am going the way of all the earth, and you shall know with all your mind that of all the words which the Lord promised to perform for you, not one hath failed. Therefore as he hath fulfilled in deed, what he promised, and all things prosperous have come: so will he bring upon you all the evils he hath threatened, till he take you away and destroy you from off this excellent land, which he hath given you. When you shall have transgressed the covenant of the Lord your God, which he hath made with you, and shall have served strange gods, and adored them: then shall the indignation of the Lord rise up quickly and speedily against you, and you shall be taken away from this excellent land, which he hath delivered to you.

This passage of Scripture is widely seen as the beginning of Joshua's farewell address to the Children of Israel. He begins the speech by telling the people that he is "going the way of all the earth." Joshua knows that his time in the world is nearing an end, and as all things in the world, his physical body will come to an end. He continues with the warning that if the Children of Israel do not follow the ways of the Lord, the Lord will cease to favor them. In the following chapter (24), Joshua recounts to the Israelites their entire history, from the time of Abraham to that present point, reminding them that the Lord has continually delivered them out of the hands of the heathens.

After this lengthy address, the Scriptures record in Joshua 24:23-24:

Now therefore, said he, put away strange gods from among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord the God of Israel. And the people said to Joshua: We will serve the Lord our God, and we will be obedient to his commandments.

Like Joshua, John Paul II calls on us to "incline our hearts" to the Lord. I believe the Sacred College of Cardinals should choose a man who is inclined to faithfully preserve the Tradition of the Apostles handed on to him. As Joshua reminded the Children of Israel of the heritage handed on to them, so John Paul reminds the Cardinals and the whole Church of the heritage he so faithfully preserved and now hands on to his Successor. Let us all be inclined together to be true to the Faith, and let us see that it lives on.

Pray for the College of Cardinals.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Gospel not subject to public opinion

I wish someone would please remind the Press during this Interregnum that the Gospel is not open to speculation via a public opinion poll. This morning's Cincinnati Post made a front page headline over a supposed "opinion poll" of U.S. Catholics saying that 60 percent of those polled wanted women priests, married priests, birth control, and abortion? Just who is it they poll here? My guess is that reporters from the New York Times are not waiting outside your local parish church with pad and pen at the ready, waiting for your opinion. No, they want anyone who identifies themselves as "Catholic," which means that the odds are good they aren't a faithful Catholic at all.

For non-Catholics: While priestly celibacy is an issue of discipline which can be changed (although I am against the idea), the idea of priestesses is contrary to Church doctrine, which is not open to be changed. A woman cannot stand at the Mass in the very place of Christ, because Christ was a man. Caveat. This is not open to debate or discussion, so the American Press (fat with wealth and Western materialism) can't change the Gospel per an opinion poll.

I most enjoyed watching Katie Couric get told as much by Cardinal Czocha this morning on Today. She attempted to throw that poll in front of him on national television...he simply replied "that is not something that is open to be discussed here." Amen!

Repeated attempts by talking heads to find out what happens when the College of Cardinals meets in Extraordinary Congregation have also fallen on deaf ears, per the wishes of the late Pope. Cardinal Czocha again: "I really can't devulge the contents of our meeting, it isn't my place." Why can't the media just give it up...leave God's Church alone before you all have something very random, unfortunate, and unexplainable occur!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Bishop Foys on the call of the Gospel and John Paul II

Last night, Nicole and I had the opportunity to attend a Memorial Mass for the Holy Father at St. Agnes Church in Ft. Wright, Kentucky. The Chief Celebrant and homilist was Bishop Roger Foys of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky. I can't remember seeing a member of the episcopacy be moved nearly to tears. Bishop Foys reminded the assembled congregation that it was this very Pope who had called him to the episcopate. He recounted some of his experiences in meeting the Pope, and said that the first time he met the Pope, he doubted he'd ever forget it. He was just a young priest, and his bishop had taken him along to Rome to experience the place. He took him in to meet the Pope, and the Pope said hello, gave him a rosary and a blessing, just like he had done to the many other priests and pilgrims he had met that day. Bishop Foys said that what stuck in his mind, however, was that the next morning, as he and his then-bishop joined the Pope in his private chapel for Mass, the Pope greeted everyone personally. He remembered Roger Foys and many of the others by name, in spite of meeting hundreds of people the day before!

Bishop Foys also said that in his meetings with the Pope as a Bishop, he demonstrated a marked personal concern for the parishes and people of the Diocese of Covington. He said that because of this, he had every reason to belief that the Pope had similar personal concern for all dioceses and all the people in them.

"I saw a woman on one of the interviews on television," Bishop Foys said, "and she kept saying 'the Church just needs to change with the times, the Church just needs to get with the 21st Century.' John Paul II called on us to answer the true call of discipleship. We are called upon to change the world, not to be changed by the world."

Amen! God give us more Bishops like Roger Foys and more Popes like John Paul II.

Transfer of the Pope's body

I am currently viewing the ceremony of the transfer of the Pope's body from the Clementine Chapel to St. Peter's Basilica on EWTN. This first official service involving the papal body is nearing its end. For much of it, the College of Cardinals, along with what looks like hundreds of priests and perhaps more than a hundred bishops processed down the maze of hallways and staircases that date back over 500 years, since the modern Apostolic Palaces were built. During the solumn procession, the Sisteen Chapel choir sang a lengthy Litany of the Saints, invoking many of the great Saints throughout the ages to pray for John Paul II, including the canonized Popes and the ancient martyrs of Rome. Appropriately, the Gospel reading for the service was from John 17:5-8:

And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were: and to me thou gavest them. And they have kept thy word.
Now they have known that all things which thou hast given me are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them. And they have received them and have known in very deed that I came out from thee: and they have believed that thou didst send me.

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