Editor’s Note: The following is the third 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 is here, the fourth part is here, and the fifth part is here. The entire essay can be viewed here.
November 29, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines heresy as an “obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith.”1
Let there be no mistake about it: The spreading apostasy in our times has been caused only in part by the unprecedented power of secular forces brought against us. Its root cause is to be found in the heresies that have spread among us, a new kind of Phariseeism that would empty the Faith of its power and meaning, creating a psychological/spiritual milieu in which the spirit of anti-Christ is able to increasingly control men’s perceptions, thoughts, and emotional lives. It is this that makes it now possible for the actual “Man of Sin,” the Antichrist himself, to arise.
The overwhelmingly dominant problem within the Church of the West at this time of history is a Phariseeism that is connected to corrupt moral theology and disordered ecclesiology, whereby false teachers make people believe that they are the righteous, even if sinning in terms of sexual morality, or by teaching that such sin is not grave sin and is no impediment to reception of the sacraments. They feel self-justified by their belief in a new Gospel of social justice—and a very selective social justice it is—reducing the fullness of the Gospels to a false either/or choice: you are either a liberal dissident (“loving, compassionate”) or you are a Pharisee (a “dour legalist”). They make their peace with personal sin because they believe they are fulfilling the Gospel imperatives by helping the poor. And whenever their own hypocrisies and compromises with personal sin and error are questioned, they simply shoot the messenger, pointing the finger at anyone who stands in opposition to their agendas, demonizing the voice of truth by superficial comparisons to the legalistic Pharisees of the Gospels. The fact is, the new Pharisee not only neglects the “weightier matters,” he so often actively undermines them, and in the worst cases contributes to the death of the innocent. He does it, O most grievous of ironies, by appealing to mercy.
Thus, in the growing confusion in which we are all immersed, there is need for sober reflection on what, precisely, Jesus was rebuking in his interactions with the Pharisees of his times. The pertinent passages are to be found in Matthew 23: 1-39; Mark 7: 1-13; Mark 12: 35-40; Luke 11: 37-54; Luke 20: 45-47 (see also John 9: 1-41).
In each of these, Christ is, above all, confronting the Pharisees’ hypocrisy—their outward appearance of virtue, their inner corruption, greed and evil thoughts. (Matt 23: 27-28; Luke 12:1). They lay heavy burdens on man while neglecting the weightier matters of total fidelity to God. These hard sayings of Jesus can be properly understood only in their fullest context:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12: 28-31).
Jesus is clearly teaching that truly loving one’s neighbor is founded on total fidelity to the divine commandments. Without that context, the supposed righteousness of the old Pharisee degenerates into legalism without love. Equally, without that context, the supposed compassion of the new Pharisee tends to degenerate into superficial sentiment, self-indulgence and presumption. If love is not founded on total fidelity to God’s commandments, it is soon truncated and fosters short-range kindnesses that breed long-range cruelties. In Mark 7: 1-13, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for their disregard for God’s commandments, while they quibble over man-made fine points of their laws; for example, their allowing a person to neglect the basic needs of his aged parents because he has made a donation to the Temple treasury. In Matthew 23: 15, Jesus says that they make their converts twice as fit for hell as they are. In Luke 17: 3-4, he says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” In John 8: 2-11, where Jesus meets the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees would have condemned her and stoned her to death. After Jesus has shamed their consciences and blocked their evil intent, he says to the woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and do not sin again.”
In these and numerous other examples in the New Testament, building upon the Old Testament, Jesus does not shy away from rebuking sinners, again and again calling them to repentance, for he knew that repentance is the precondition for receiving mercy, liberating us from slavery to sin. It is the truth that will set us free, says the Lord.
The old Pharisees were very much preoccupied with the minutiae of the Law and its observance. They were quick to judge the weak and to condemn all those who fell short of their exacting standards. They were generally heartless, lacking in mercy. Moreover, they themselves were “whited sepulchers,” teaching the Mosaic Law and its elaborate derivatives but inwardly corrupt. And the end-fruit of their blindness was made manifest when they engineered the torture and execution of the Author of Life.
In our own times, it is undeniable that vestiges of the old Phariseeism remain among believers. Leaping instantly to mind are stereotypical images, which is the result of two, perhaps three, generations of an unceasing refrain in the liberalized churches of the Western world. It proclaims that the only truly grave sin is “intolerance,” by which is meant making people feel uncomfortable about themselves. Hand in hand with this is the endless vilification of those who are doctrinally and liturgically correct, but supposedly inwardly lifeless.
It goes without saying that pastors and laypeople who are doctrinally and liturgically correct but who lack charity and authentic missionary zeal are at risk of the “yeast of the Pharisees.” Yet any sincere Christian is vigilant about the potential for Phariseeism within himself, just as he is on guard against his temptations to sin. He knows that without the grace of Jesus he would be both the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, and the younger brother.
Does the Lord not say to us all, if we would hear: “Beware, my children, of the danger faced by the ‘elder son’ in the parable of the Prodigal Son, for you run the risk of sliding into Phariseeism.”?
And at the same time does he not cry out to each and every soul, “Repent of your sins! Come to me and live!” (Isaiah 55: 3-5; Ezekiel 33: 11; John 14: 6)?
To be continued…
1. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2089; CIC, The Code of Canon Law, can. 751.