By Deacon Nick Donnelly
Every year my wife and I make time to listen in the quiet of the evening to audio recordings of the Book of Revelation, with their vivid evocation of the conflict between good and evil that is occurring now and is not yet fully upon us. In recent years I have taken this eschatological perspective further by re-reading novels by my favourite Catholic authors that explore apocalyptic themes, such as those by Michael D. O'Brien and Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson.
I hasten to add that I am not attracted to the feverish, almost hysterical, millennial predications and speculations associated with some private revelations that are popular in certain Catholic circles. Rather, I seek to understand the times in which we live in the light of God's revelation contained in sacred Scripture. I think the Gospels clearly show that Our Lord wanted us to look at time with the expectation that He would return in glory at some point in the future and to look out for signs of His return. The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew contains Our Lord's detailed description of the signs that we must look out for that signal His return, including this admonition that we should take seriously:
Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. (Matt. 24:42–44).
I Long for the Coming of Our Lord
Every week it seems that we read about, and see, new levels of evil in our society, and it just keeps getting worse. This is why I cherish the hope that we are indeed the generation that will witness the glorious Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When we pray the Eucharistic Acclamations during the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I feel a deep sense of longing: “We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.” I long for Our Lord to return to establish His justice in the world.
And over the years the tentative conviction has been growing in my heart that we may well indeed be the generation chosen by providence to witness the culmination of salvation history. Having said this, I am cautious about coming to any definite conclusion for two reasons: Our Lord's own words exhort us to be agnostic about the day and time of His Second Coming because only Our Father has this knowledge (Mark 13:32; Matt. 24:36); and over the past 2,000 years, groups of Christians have been certain that they were facing the end of the world and were proven wrong because they forgot Our Lord's caution — live in expectation of His return but not certainty about the specifics!
In recent interviews the novelist Michael O'Brien has admitted he believes we could be witnessing events foretold in the Book of Revelation. When asked the question "Do you think that our generation is 'The Last Days' one?" he replied:
I think so, though I would be happy to be wrong about this. In our times, unprecedented apocalyptic signs are emerging all around us. Certainly, there have been lesser apocalypses throughout our history, but none with the magnitude and character we are now facing.
I, like Michael O'Brien, would be happy to be proven wrong about this, but I agree with him that we face unprecedented apocalyptic signs, such as the murder of 2 billion unborn babies over the past 40 years being accepted by many people around the world as moral and good. I also think it is unprecedented that sexual perversions such as homosexuality and transgenderism are approved by majorities in some countries as "good," and those who criticize such perversions are condemned as "evil." We are living during a great apostasy when immorality is applauded as morality, and the good is condemned as evil.
Pope St. John Paul II's Prophecy About the End Time
During that 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia for the bicentennial celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Cdl. Karol Wojtyla made this prophetic declaration about the times in which we live. I think the past 40 years have proven St. John Paul right:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community, realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God's Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.
I frequently re-read this section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, asking myself the question, does it describe the times in which we live?
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. (675)
Surely there are signs all around us that this pseudo-messianism rules our political institutions, our educational establishments, our media, and even sections of our Church! Every day Michael Voris and the Church Militant team report with increasing urgency what appears to be a decisive confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel.
We Are Unready and Unprepared for the Day of the Lord
I know that not only am I far from ready for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but also that tragically the Church in the West is unready and unprepared. What will it take to wake us from sleep?
Since Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Labouré at Rue du Bac in 1830 and throughout all the series of recognized Marian Apparitions around the world, God in His Providence has taken exceptional measures to wake us up from sleep. But the churches in Europe, apart from Poland, refuse to wake up, and the Church in the United States is falling asleep. In fact, tragically, the churches in the West appear to be falling deeper into the sleep of nihilism, relativism, pragmatism and hedonism.
Our Lord has repeatedly given us the remedy to shake off the hold of this deadly sickness: praying daily the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you make one resolution for this Jubilee Year of Mercy, for your sake, and all our sakes, respond to Our Lady's urgent appeal to pray the Rosary, with this supplication: "O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of your mercy. Amen."