by Deacon Nick Donnelly
At this time of year I observe a personal tradition that my wife and I began over ten years ago as a way of preparing spiritually for the New Year. It involves us listening 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 annually reading novels by my favourite Catholic authors that explore apocalyptic themes, such as those by Michael D O’Brien and Monsignor 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.” (Matthew 24: 42-44).
It is from this perspective of supernatural hope and holy fear that I write about my personal hopes and fears for 2016.
My Hope for 2016
The hope I cherish at the beginning of each New Year is that during the course of the year we will witness the glorious Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 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; Matthew 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 that 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 proved wrong about this, but I agree with him that we face unprecedented apocalyptic signs. Signs such as the murder of two 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 criticise 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:
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5: 20).
I long for His coming in glory when all things will be reconciled to Christ and there shall be no more divisions and misunderstandings.
Pope Francis and the Synods
Sometime during 2016 Pope Francis will publish his apostolic exhortation on the family in response to the two synods he convened in 2014 and 2015. It is my hope that the Holy Father will seize the opportunity to heal the deep wounds inflicted on the Church over the past three years by those cardinals and bishops who have publicly and irresponsibly contradicted divine truths contained in sacred doctrine. 2016 could prove to be Pope Francis’ s Humanae Vitae moment when, like Blessed Paul VI, as the Successor of St Peter he upholds and safeguards the Church’s Apostolic Faith so unnecessarily thrown into confusion by dissenting cardinals, bishops and theologians.
I agree with Cardinal Burke’s grave assessment of the 2015 Synod Final Report that a serious “deception” has been perpetrated on the Church. His Eminence calls it a ‘serious deception’ because its partial quotation from Pope St John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio omits the explicit reasons why divorced and re-married cannot receive Holy Communion. Cardinal Burke concludes in his interview with The Wanderer Catholic weekly:
“The final report’s paragraph on this topic is deceptive in a very serious way. It gives the false impression of presenting the teaching of Familiaris Consortio. The Synod’s final report suggests that Familiaris Consortio opens a way for access to the sacraments by people in irregular matrimonial unions. It is just the opposite. I was truly disheartened that the final report stopped short of presenting the full teaching of Familiaris Consortio in the matter. First of all, the truth as presented by St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio was misrepresented in the Synod’s document. That in itself discouraged me very much, especially in consideration of the fact that it was done at the level of a Synod of Bishops. At the same time, I was also disturbed because I knew this would be used by individuals like Fr. Spadaro [Editor of Italian Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica] and others to say that the Church has changed her teaching in this regard, which, in fact, is simply not true.”
Trust in the Fidelity of Pope Francis
My hope for 2016 is that Pope Francis will cut through the intentional ambiguity of the Final Report and correct this dangerous deception. I’ve been reading Cardinal Sarah’s encouraging and consoling interview “God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicholas Diat” in which he talks about his hopes for the outcome of the two synods in which he played such an important part. His Eminence uses a phrase that I have taken to heart as we wait for Pope Francis to announce his decisions - Cardinal Sarah says “I trust in the fidelity of Pope Francis”. Time and again Pope Francis describes himself as a “faithful son of the Church.” The steadfast faith of the successor of St Peter is essential for the personal faith of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, because his role, given him by Our Lord, is to confirm us all in our personal faith:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren.”(Luke 22: 31-32).
We can be certain that Our Lord in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father, is praying that the faith of Pope Francis does not fail after the sifting of the Synods, so that he can turn to us and strengthen us in our faith, which for many has been badly shaken by the sight of so many bishops betraying the faith.
My Fear for 2016
One of the things that struck home with me during 2015 is a truth that I have tried to avoid admitting for the past decade or so, that the Church, and Christianity, is being forsaken in Europe. Both the writings of George Weigel, the theologian and commentator, and Cardinal Sarah have helped me realise this unavoidable truth. Pope St John Paul II diagnosed the cause of the death of the Church in Europe as being people living as if God did not exist. In his post synodal apostolic exhortation Pope John Paul II wrote:
“At the root of this loss of hope is an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as “the absolute centre of reality, a view which makes him occupy – falsely – the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man”. It is therefore “no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism – and even a cynical hedonism – in daily life”. European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy” on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist.” (Ecclesia in Europa, 9).
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also warned against this spirit of secularist hedonism infiltrating the Church:
“It is not just an external threat to believers, but has for some time been evident in the bosom of the Church herself. It invades all aspects of daily life and causes the development of a mentality in which God is effectively absent, entirely or in part, from human life and conscience”.
Wake Up, Strengthen What Remains and is On The Point of Death
This attitude of living as if God does not exist is so pervasive in the UK and Ireland that all of us, clergy and laity, are tainted, to various degrees, with the same nihilism, relativism, pragmatism and hedonism. These influences, that effect us all, are toxic to living a life of grace and faith, to our living and moving and having our being in God.
My fear for 2016 is that I personally, along with many others, will continue sleep walking the European Church into the deathly silence of tomb. The words of the Book of Revelation echo in my mind and heart as I sit here writing this article:
“‘I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead. Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; keep that, and repent. If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” (Revelation 3: 1-4).
My fear for 2016 is well grounded because I know that not only am I far from ready for the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but also that the Church in the UK and Ireland is unready and unprepared for the Day of the Lord. What will it take to wake us from sleep? Since Our Lady appeared to St Catherine Labouré at the Rue de Bac in 1830, and throughout all the series of European Marian Apparitions, 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. In fact tragically, the Irish and English Churches 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. So, amid your hope and fears for this year, if you make one New Year’s Resolution for this Jubilee Year of Mercy, for your sake, and all our sakes, please 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.”