Editor’s Note: The following is the fifth and final part of an in-depth essay by author and painter Michael D. O’Brien on the coming Great Apostasy. The first part is here, the second part here, the third part here, and the fourth part here. The entire essay can be viewed here.
December 1, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians that if we hope to prevail through these dark times, resisting personal temptations to sin and error, the heresies and apostasy, and the alternatives of rage or despair, we must put on “the armor of God” that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil:
For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the Heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which we can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Eph 6: 10-20)
This exhortation, delivered at the very beginning of the Church, is no less crucial in our own times. Indeed we need it more than ever, for the infidelity of the future is now all around us and among us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
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 (cf. Lk 21:12; Jn 15:19-20) 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. (cf. 2 Thess 2: 4-12; 1 Thess 5: 2-3; 2 Jn 7; 1 Jn 2:18, 22).
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 eschatalogical judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name millenarianism (cf. Enchiridion Symbolorum, 3839), especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism (Divini Redemptorus; Gaudium et Spes, 20-21).
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. (cf. 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. 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.1
Our grief over the current condition of the Church, both universal and particular, is immense. And while this grief over the loss of so many souls and the corruption of the sacred is natural enough, we must never allow ourselves to be dismayed. Our chief temptations during this time of confusion may be to bitterness, isolation, and a subtle back-door devil of rebellion—even to the choice for schism, which would bring about a host of alternative evils. Instead, the Lord asks us to stand firm as a bulwark, as a sign of contradiction against the floods of deception and malice, regardless of the consequences, regardless of the prospects for “success” or “failure.” He always desires us to go deeper and farther, for at the heart of everything is union with Him. But this union grows only by faith and by suffering. Experiencing rejection, false judgments by others, the inability or unwillingness of shepherds to be true spiritual fathers, and a multitude of other disorders in the Body of Christ . . . all of these are a test for us (sometimes a severe test).
We must keep in mind that throughout its long history the Church has often been in crisis. She is ever populated by, and at times run by, less than edifying people. Yet the ship always steadies and moves forward. God is always at work, seeking to bring good from our seemingly endless follies. So, too, He will raise up new pastors and new saints for our times, and this will probably be in the midst of great tribulations. Our task is to keep turning our thoughts and the movements of our hearts toward the true horizon—to keep our eyes focused on the Church as the Bride of Christ being prepared to meet the Bridegroom.
He is coming. He is near. Human “solutions” such as apostasy or schism only add to the Bride’s wounds and impede her preparation. We must love the Church with a great love, never losing sight of the Lord’s promise that the “gates of hell” will not prevail against her. This implies that hell will surely try to do its worst, tempting us all, sifting us like wheat. Let us be part of the Church’s defense and not a part of the problem.
We will receive consolation and courage by offering everything we suffer as a sacrifice united to the Cross for the purification and strengthening of the Church. We men, and especially we pragmatist North Americans, must recognize in ourselves the mistaken belief that we can “fix” anything with enough knowledge, skill, tools, influence, rhetoric, strategies, etc. We must understand that in the case of the Church we cannot overcome this present darkness with our limited human strengths. We can only restore our own selves through cooperation with the grace of Christ—through our personal repentance, prayer, sacraments, sacrifice, endurance and perseverance, patience, mercy, truth, and the faith that is refined in the darkest of fires. It is from Jesus Christ himself that we will learn when to be silent before our accusers and when to speak up, and how, at all times, to stand firm and strengthen the things that remain.
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“The judgment announced by the Lord Jesus refers above all to the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70. Yet the threat of judgment also concerns us, the Church in Europe, and the West in general. With this Gospel, the Lord is also crying out to our ears the words that in the book of Revelation he addresses to the Church of Ephesus: ‘If you do not repent I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place’ (Rev 2: 5). Light can also be taken away from us, and we do well to let this warning ring out with its full gravity in our hearts, while we cry aloud to the Lord: ‘Help us to repent! Give all of us the grace of true renewal! Do not allow your light in our midst to be extinguished! Strengthen our faith, our hope and our love, so that we can bear good fruit!’.”
(Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, 2 October, 2005, at the opening of the synod in Rome)
“The greater the darkness, the more complete our trust should be.” (St. Faustina Kowalska, diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 357)
“Write this: Before I come as the just Judge, I am coming first as the King of Mercy. Before the day of justice arrives, there will be given to people a sign in the heavens of this sort:
“All light in the heavens will be extinguished, and there will be great darkness over the whole earth. Then the sign of the cross will be seen in the sky, and from the openings where the hands and the feet of the Savior were nailed will come forth great lights which will light up the earth for a period of time. This will take place shortly before the last day.” (words of Christ to St. Faustina Kowalska, diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, n. 83)
“Many shall purify themselves, and make themselves white, and be refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but those who are wise will understand.” (Daniel 12: 10)
“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” says the Lord of hosts. “Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered. . . In the whole land, says the Lord, two thirds will be cut off and perish, and one third shall be left alive. I will bring this third through the fire, and refine them as silver is refined, and I will test them as gold is tested. They shall call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’ ” (Zechariah 13: 7-9)
“For behold, the day is coming, blazing like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, leaving them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” (Malachi 4: 1-2)
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2: 15)
“Behold, I am coming soon.” (Revelation 22: 6, 20)
1. CCC, n. 675-677; see also n. 678-680.