In the fundamentalist Bible church I attended as a child we would regularly have long sermons about the “end times”. These were based on an interpretative system of the Bible called “Dispensationalism”.
The roots of this theology were the idea that history could be broken down into various “dispensations” or time periods and that God behaved differently and different things happened to the human race in these different dispensations. Part of this teaching was that the “rapture” would take place in which all the Christian people would be supernaturally whisked up into heaven and the sinners would remain behind. Thus the “Left Behind” series of books and films.
From a Catholic point of view dispensationalism is bogus, shallow and just a later modern man made theology.
Nevertheless, we do believe in an end-point in human history and it is interesting to read of Pope St John Paul II’s take on this. Fr. C.J. McCloskey comments on it in this article for The Catholic Thing. In 1976 on a visit to the US, then Cardinal Karol Wotyla made these observations in a speech:
We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society or wide circles of the Christian community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel.
“We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us to be ready to give up even our lives, and a total gift of self to Christ and for Christ. Through your prayers and mine, it is possible to alleviate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it. . . . How many times has the renewal of the Church been brought about in blood! It will not be different this time.”
How shall we treat this clearly apocalyptic message from a future pope and saint? Fr McCloskey has wise words:
Well, how seriously should we take this? Very, very seriously. After all, the speaker was about to become one of the greatest popes in the history of the Church. In addition, he was a mystic and, yes, a prophet and truth-teller who suffered under Nazism and communism, as well as in a certain sense also from Islam. (Recall that he was almost killed by a Muslim assassin, only to be saved by the intercession of Our Lady of Fatima, according to his own words.)
Let me be clear: my musings on the words of John Paul are not meant to encourage you to sell your property, close the bank account, build a bomb shelter, and await the rapture. That is not the Catholic thing to do. But it’s hard not to “ponder these things in [our] hearts.” What exactly did the pope see or have revealed to him? Perhaps the best place to seek the answer is his writings, although we lack space to comb through them all here.
We can also look around us at the remains of what was once called the Christian West, noting a host of behaviors and beliefs that seem custom-made to initiate and accelerate decline. For example, we find in the West depopulation, legal abortion, open homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” epidemic levels of pornography use, declining marriage rates, and rising cohabitation rates.
How can we face so great an evil and be faithful? Fr McCloskey doesn’t take the time to point out that in the great apostasy many Catholics, priests and bishops will compromise with the Lord of the World. We know they will do so because they have already done so.
The test does not come immediately in some great confrontation. Instead Satan lures us with small acts of compromise: here a little act of disobedience, there a small act of sin which we justify, here a seemingly minor compromise with the world, there a seemingly insignificant action of cowardice and giving in for the sake of an easier life. Then when the big test comes it will not seem like a big test–just another small decision which takes us one step further down the road.
Remember the martyrs of the early church. Their persecutors did not demand that they give all to worship the pagan gods. All they had to do was show that they were faithful citizens and that the were loyal to the emperor. To do this all they had to do was put just a pinch of incense on the pagan fires to the image of the emperor. But they would die rather than offer that pinch of incense.
When persecution comes to the church all the faithful must be prepared and be close to the Spirit. As so many have already compromised the faith in many little ways they will not only compromise in other tests, but they will dislike and distrust those who do not compromise. The most painful persecution will come from those in the household of faith who will approve that the faithful are taken away.
Even now I can hear those who compromise with the state religion saying, “Yes, it greatly saddens me that Father Faithful is so rigid. I am deeply concerned about his narrow and bigoted views. Yes, it is so sad…”as they shake their heads with that mock sympathy certain types are so good at. “But you know I think if he is re-educated for a time he will be much improved.”
The way to counter this? Don’t compromise now and you won’t compromise then. Stay faithful now in all the little things so you will one day be faithful in a great thing. Stay loyal, true, bold. Stay honest and informed, sympathetic and alert. Live the life of faith now with joy, zeal, courage and love.
Then if a test comes you will pass the great test because you have passed all the little tests building up to it.