Their Apocalyptics and Ours

When people say the end is near, it’s usually wise to treat them as you would have a member of a group like the American sect called the Millerites, who were convinced that the Second Coming had been scheduled, precisely by mathematical proofs from Scripture, for October 22, 1843. The rest, as they say, is history.

That the world will end is beyond doubt, even in scientific terms. That no man (or woman) knows the time is, according to the plain words of Scripture, equally certain. But I admit to lending an ear, more than usual these days, to people who are convinced that we’re at a radical turning point – and not a good one.

A young woman recently described her father as so distressed by what America is becoming that he’s had to stop watching the news, can’t listen to another Obama speech, for the sake of his health. I hear from friends in France, Britain, Italy who say they don’t recognize their own countries anymore. And that’s not counting wars and rumors of wars.

On the religion side, many people tell me that they fear the Church is in crisis. Another group claims that those who think the Church is in crisis are creating the crisis. Some believe the pope’s gaffes are a sign. Others think paying attention to those gaffes is disloyal and plays into the hands of those seeking to discredit the Church.

Either way, it suddenly seems like the whole dogmatic and moral edifice of Catholicism is in question.

Wherever you find yourself in this welter of opinion and emotion, the most salient thing is the sense of crisis and urgency in both the Church and the world. It would be nice to think that it’s only an artifact of too many HDTVs and tablets and Smartphones instantly creating a daily news frenzy, as some have argued. But there’s much more, more of real substance, to our predicament.

Fr. C. John McCloskey recommended some Lenten disciplines here yesterday. I’d add two disciplines that all Christians are going to have to practice perpetually in coming years: 1) re-doubling efforts to gain every legal protection possible for public (as well as private) expression of religion; and 2) preparing ourselves via prayer, fasting, exile, and cunning for a period of suffering, if not outright persecution.

Yes, I know, this is also the language of lunatics. But beyond the vague sense of crisis, consider some things, concrete and sobering: The Supreme Court, for example, voted 7-2 last week to allow gay marriage in Alabama, though the state’s courts had blocked it. This suggests full national legalization of gay marriage will come later in the Court’s Spring term. In one way, just another bad decision. But in another, the culmination of an aggressive movement – supported by serious foundation monies, as has been recently reported – to force gay, as self-evidently good, on everyone now.

Thus, sexual mores since Moses are lightly dismissed, and their historic importance in Jewish and Christian life declared sheer bigotry.

On the right, Last Rites, from the triptych Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1450 [Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium]
On the right, Last Rites, from the triptych “Seven Sacraments Altarpiece” by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1450 [Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium]
Don’t be deceived: this will not lead to “live and let live.” Especially for the churches who resist, it will very much be: we’ll live, and you can go die, for all we care, in your “religious animus.” (Justice Kennedy) Sadly, many liberal Catholics and Protestants have already joined that chorus, and more will.

The Court generally protects religious liberty, but as we’ve seen with the HHS mandates, things hang by a thread. Declaration, Constitution, Bill of Rights, rule of law have all been distorted under the regime of new-found rights. Recall, when Obama announced the HHS mandates, he implied that “women’s health” somehow was more “first” than the First Amendment guarantees of free exercise.

This time will be much worse than Roe v. Wade. That decision has faded under evidence and analysis, hence the absurd and desperate recourse to claiming a “war on women.” Gay marriage – given the enflamed nature and even medicalization of the issue (“homophobia”) – will bring relentless legal pressure on religious and secular communities who won’t go along. Besides what this means to religious groups, it’s a serious threat to America’s long history of tolerance and pluralism.

So be prepared: if you’re old enough to read this, unless you choose to fall in line, you will probably be the target of nasty demonization for the rest of your life.

Speaking of life, Canada’s Supreme Court just unanimously approved of physicians assisted suicide (PAS). Is the “canon ‘gainst self-slaughter” also somehow now an unintelligible “religious” aberration? Only two American states permit PAS so far, but there’s a consistent logic in the humanitarianism that’s emerging as an alternative to historic religions.

As one of the main characters in Lord of the World (the pope’s favorite apocalyptic novel) argues, “Why, you know in your heart that the euthanizers are the real priests.” His wife, who accepts this credo, later puts his mother out of her “misery” – and thinks quite well of herself for doing so. To be fair, she also does away with herself when she finds that the whole humanitarian scheme depresses her.

About 70 percent of Americans already agree with PAS according to a Gallup survey. A slight majority of “frequent church goers” are opposed, but even about 48 percent of the “very religious” support PAS. Can a court decision nationalizing a right to death – and obligation to die – fail to follow?

Personally, I’m hoping to end my days in a Catholic hospice, if such still exist then, where, even if they operate on the cheap instead of participating in an evil insurance system, you’re allowed to “make a good death.” Note: In the Christian understanding, that doesn’t mean the most painless (drugged) passing, hooked up to advanced machinery.

You may never have given this much thought. But if you hope to escape government “healthcare” at the end, be prepared for a fight.

The Apocalypse proper, no. But anyone who minimizes these new and radical and far-reaching threats is more self-deluded than the poor Millerites.

Robert Royal

Robert Royal

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century, published by Ignatius Press. The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, is now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

  • Dave

    And be prepared, we should: for the battle for every soul rages until the last breath is drawn, which is why the Church invokes St. Joseph as master of the interior life and patron of the dying. One may not be morally culpable for the last little slippery slope, having lost the cognitive power to say no, but may indeed be culpable for all the free decisions that led to that point. One of the toughest scenes in the entire novel is when the woman finally opts for self-administered euthanasia — suicide — and, drifting off pleasantly comes to the final and irreversible knowledge that hell’s jaws are agape at another citizen coming home forever, forever, forever. Wide is the gate and easy is the path that leads to eternal destruction, and many there are who are on it… To avoid this, like Dr. Royal, my wife and I would like to end up in a Catholic hospice, preferably run by holy nuns who will sing us to our final judgement and, please God, our entrance into glory.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Perhaps we need to see our own times in a wider historical perspective.

    On All Souls Day 2013, I heard mass in the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, near my little pied-à-terre in Paris.

    The priest had requested our charitable prayers for the faithful departed, including “those who lie peacefully here,” so after mass I visited a number of the tombs in the church.

    There was René Descartes – his name means “born-again” (Renatus). Strange that we have no English equivalent for that Christian name par excellence. His brain, I recalled, is preserved in the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; the irony of which would not have been lost on the philosopher of dualism.

    I visited the tomb of Chlothar II, King of all the Franks, who died in 629, more than a thousand years before Descartes, when Muhammad had three more years to live. Finally the tombs of Childeric II, his wife, Bilichild and their five year old son, Dagobert, all assassinated, whilst hunting in the forest of Livry, one autumn day in 675, all baptized into the same hope as ourselves. I lit a candle.

    The church was consecrated on 23 December 558, since when we have had the rise of Islam; the Great Schism; the conflict between Empire and Papacy; the corruption and disaffection of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance Papacy; the Protestant revolt and the Wars of Religion; Quietism and Jansenism; the Deists and Rationalists; the religious nationalism of Gallicanism and Josephism; the Revolution, the Risorgimento, the Ultramontane reaction; the anti-clerical laws, culminating in the Law of 1905 here in France; and, that morning, a Catholic priest had said mass for the Holy Souls in the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

    • Gail Finke

      A very good point, to be sure… the Church will go on until the end of time. But for those who live in times of persecution (such as the Revolution, and the subsequent revolutions, in France) things are not exactly pleasant. It will soon not be pleasant for anyone who professes the actual, universal, and age-old definition of marriage and who dares to say anything against manufacturing children. Try having a business, teaching, becoming a lawyer or judge or doctor, holding political office, joining the military, etc., when you are such a disgusting bigot that you would deny that “love is love.” A lot of people are not prepared for such times.

  • RainingAgain

    One will not be allowed to die in a budget Catholic hospice, I would wager, Mr Royal. They will be examined by the authorities and closed as being “bad for your health”. This process is already established here in Ireland where a quango is empowered to close any nursing home or hospice it deems unworthy.

    As for Apocalypse, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church that many events and periods must yet precede it. However, we are warned of/promised a Minor Chastisement which is prophesied to be far from “minor”, leading to the death of perhaps two-thirds of the world’s population. It seems to me it will take such a shock to bring the world to its senses.

  • Michael Dowd

    An important and timely article for sure. Physician Assisted Suicide will be seen as THE solution to Medicare and Social Security deficits. Government propaganda will convince folks that PAS is a wonderful charitable act for yourself and for others as the future “over populated and increasingly impoverished” generation needs your sacrifice “for the good of all”. Religious leaders will be encouraged to promote this idea by means of special subsidies. If they do not agree to go along with the ‘Approved New-Christian Understanding of Authentic Self Sacrifice and Love’ their “Religious Witness License” will be taken away. See, we will get to be martyrs after all!

  • Michael Randolph

    Gaffes? What gaffes?

    • Michael Dowd

      Come on Michael!! You must be kidding. Most of Pope Francis off the cuff comments could be considered gaffes if they aren’t intentional, e.g., condemning large families, “breeding like rabbits”; name calling of faithful Catholics, e.g., “Self-absorbed, Promethean neo-Pelagian!”; escaping his responsibilities, e.g.”who am I to judge”, questionable personnel favorites, e.g. Cardinal Kasper.

      Please pray daily for this man.

  • Frank

    How does the elite alliance get away with marginalizing the mores of Christians and Jew while at the same time cowering to Islam? It shouldn’t take that much cunning to expose that strange dodge of multiculturalism. If they believe Christians mores are evil (and they do), then how do they somehow get a pass on not confronting Islam?

    • RainingAgain

      Fear. And that is well justified. Islam may well be the destruction of the liberals. If they get control, as seems inevitable in many European nations, how long will the liberal agenda last? They won’t even need full sovereignty, merely the numbers to intimidate after blowing up a few ‘gay’ bars as in the Netherlands recently. The irony of importing their own nemesis would almost make the tragedy worth it.

      • Nestorian

        Oh, please. The United States, if it wished, could easily nuke every single Muslim country on the fact of the planet to smithereens with impunity.

        And so they will be, in the coming Gog-Magog war in the middle east (see Ezekiel 38-39).

        As for Muslim populations in North America and Europe, all it would take is a good totalitarian crackdown and the erection of some concentration camps, Nazi style, to eliminate them from our midst.

        At some point soon, with all the hatred towards Muslims in the West currently being fomented by Christians, among other groups, there will be a backlash against Liberalism that will set the stage for these kinds of measures to exterminate Muslims both at home and abroad to become politically possible.

        (The homosexuals, too, will find out at that point – to their shock and horror – that they have grossly overplayed their hand in beating everyone in the West over the head with their ideology.)

        And, by the way, I believe that both these things are coming down the pike. It’s all part of the dynamic that will see the inevitable rise of Antichrist to dictatorial control over the American New World Order System.

        I must not be misunderstood as saying that I approve of any of this morally. However, it seems quite clear to me that all this is prophetically indicated in the Scriptures.

        • MissJea

          Except the Muslims won’t be Muslim countries. Will you nuke NYC, Toronto, Paris? The anti-theists take comfort in the idea that Islam is somewhere in the Middle East; it’s really here.

  • Bruno

    I see no problem in saying that the end is near and that I begin to see what will bring it, somewhat dimly. One could have said the same in 1789, and would not be wrong, as those were all prefigurations of what we live now and what we live now are prefigurations of what is to come.

    No one can say how much are we near to the end of things, but we can say that we are nearer and that we see ourselves getting nearer. But that has been said already almost two millenia ago – that this world is passing away, that at each time the end draws nearer. This is, I think, an article of faith.

    And that is not madness, at least, not for a Christian, who is bound to be regarded as mad anyway if he is true to his faith. Awareness of the end should awaken faith in us – not lead us to become preppers or anything of the sort, but instead turn our gaze more firmly to the eschatological realities of our faith, that happen to be forgotten by many of us.

  • Gail Finke

    The wife in “Lord of the World” kills herself when she realizes that what she thought was right was actually wrong, and she (unlike most of the people in the world, who are blind to the coming apocalypse) is able to — literally — see the apocalypse coming. She has the capacity for faith but annihilates herself rather than (take your pick): submit to it, or find the strength to start her life over. I find that part of the novel particularly frightening. People can delude themselves and can lose even the capacity for faith (both illustrated in the book), but people can also deliberately give up. It’s one thing when one person does it; it’s another thing when a society embraces annihilation rather than life… and tries to make you do it, too.

  • DeaconEdPeitler

    I believe they’re already drafting the criteria of prime candidates for PAS. And don’t believe for a minute that those criteria will be restricted to medical considerations; they will be political, as well as economic. The government is adept at developing “lists.”
    Nazism has not yet been defeated. Only difference is that the thugs won’t be wearing brown shirts – their introduction will be: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

  • Fleshman

    A depressing start to another week. Thanks Royal !

  • Rick W.

    @ Bruno: Agreed; the “End of the World” comes for each of us on the day we die. Little need to worry personally about the date of the Apocalypse.

    • Mj anderson

      Rick, true, of course. However, THE Apocalypse is not our immediate worry, is it? Rather, the culture devolving around us as we move toward that inevitable day.

  • Rosemary58

    It may be pointless to use Caesar as the Church’s whipping boy. Caesar is strong because we have been weak in our faith and must now suffer the consequences of that. After 2,000 years we seem to have little to show, for all the bravado. Instead of proclaiming the Kingdom of God, we sit, mute, in the pews, wondering what to say or do. Scattered sheep, scattered shepherds. If we do not take on our faith seriously, if we do not bother to learn what it is about, we make Caesar triumph. If we had truly lived our faith, Caesar would have died. Instead, we stumble and fumble while Caesar’s “kingdom of chaos” flourishes.

  • Paul Vander Voort

    I always think of 2 Peter 3:1-10 when this topic comes up. Based on my personal experience years ago, the scoffers were atheists/non-Christians. More recently the scoffers are fellow Christians (especially Catholics) I’ve noticed.

  • Mark

    When looking at what is going on in western society presently, I can’t but help recalling a particular scene in the Oliver Stone movie Platoon. The soldiers are being over-run by the enemy so they call down an artillery strike down upon their position as it gives them the best chance to survive.

    I don’t know if you would call it the Apocalype or a Chastisement but something has to happen soon or there will be very few survivors to this all out assault by the devil upon our children.

  • Anselm

    Your recommended additions to Fr. McCloskey’s Lenten disciplines are key. We are living in a time of contradictions and confusion. We must pray for wisdom and courage.

  • We can all agree with Mr. Royal and then cry the end is near. Is that what we are called to do as Catholics? I live in Canada and if we are looking at problems in Canada and the U.S. then we might claim the Church and our cultures are in dire straits indeed. But if we witnessed the excitement of the Philippine people when Pope Francis visited their country we might wonder at the joy and hope those Catholics seem to have. Wait until Pope Francis visits Philadelphia this year and see how huge the crowds will be. The Church continues to grow in Africa and Asia and S. America. What about World Youth Days? Are we not thrilled to see how the Lord has touched the youth from around the world? Our seminaries here in Southern Ontario are thriving.
    Are we called to live with joy or fear? Are we not excited to accept the challenges that secularism presents each of us in Canada and the U.S.? Or are we too comfortable to proclaim our love for Christ to anybody we encounter especially those who promote the ills of society?
    Our church has an incredible history and has faced threats from within and without but has always faced each crisis with the help of the Holy Spirit and people who are willing to fight for the truth and won’t wilt in battle.
    God bless.
    Patrick.

    • Dave Fladlien

      Excuse my candor, please, but I agree with Mr. Royal. And I don’t think we can draw any comfort from what happens in some other country because 1) we are here, not there, and 2) what happens when THEY get around to adopting the same popular philosophy that now reins in the USA and Canada: namely that the only legitimate role for religion is the elimination of poverty (and other earthly human suffering) which is what gives rise to PAS being deemed ok? It isn’t just us; it’s the direction the entire world is going.

      We won’t win this war on defense. We are fighting an enemy who is winning because he/she manages to “sell” all these horrors as “compassion”. Materialistic compassion, not Christian compassion, but to the non-Christian that doesn’t matter. We need to pin down our essential beliefs and practices and focus on those, unite with other Christians of sincere determination even if their theology has some shortcomings, and get moving. The fact that we are outcasts won’t defeat us, but the fact that we are in disarray may…

  • LawProf61

    Have you read the Atlantic piece, “What ISIS really wants”? Those who increasingly scoff at believing Christians and Jews and (worse) who equate all “faith-based” systems as putatively “theocratic” will think the Judeo-Christian structure sounds pretty good when they’re paying their jizya.

    If they survive.

    • RainingAgain

      These people will submit in their droves if that situation ever arises, because they believe in nothing except themselves.

  • OttFatherofTwo

    Not only is there physician assisted suicide in Canada, doctors will soon be forced to refer patients for it – no conscience rights according to the CPSO College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario

  • Thomas J. Hennigan

    Jesus clearly stated that the gates of hell would not prevail against hiis Church. That means that the Churh Militant must be on the march and attacking the gates of hell, just as those who laid siege to cities in the Middle Ages. The arms, of course, are not battering rams, but most of all the truth of the Gospel. The Church, and therefore each Catholic must not desist in proclaiming he truth of the Gospel which is the only salvation, as outside Jesus Christ there is no salvation. Times are getting tough in this battle, nor for the first time in history. I am sure that perhaps the majority of the nominal Catholics will eventually fall away. It is not a matter o numbers, as it wasn’t in the first three centuries, but of the power of the message of truth which the Lord has handed over to his Church. This also means that the Church cannot retreat into some private zone and allow the world to carry on with its shennigans. It must confront it with the Truth in season and out of season, and that also means that there is no aspect of life which can be exclued from the dominion of Christ. Liberalism of whateve sort, which h proclaims autonomy of all of the life of man, the public arena is false and as Pope Leo XIII in his encycical Libertas must be resisted by the Church. In the ancient Church not everyone was faithful, yes there were some who burned incense before the statue of the Caesar, or fiddled a way of paying a bribe to get a certificate to say that they did. However, those who left their mark were the martyrs and confesssors.

  • JF Garneau

    Sexual mores since Moses? How many wives did Salomon have? What was divorce rule for Jews? What behaviour should people have towards menstruated women? Who could marry whom under what circumstances? Seems to me that sexual mores were not at all the same since Moses…