The Five Corrections

Jesus condemned by Michael D. O’Brien


THIS week, the Mass readings begin to focus on the Book of Revelation. I am reminded of a stunning turn of events for me personally back in 2014.

The Synod on the family was beginning to wrap up in a crescendo of confusion and tension. At the same time, I kept sensing strongly in my heart that we are living the letters to the churches in Revelation. When Pope Francis finally spoke at the end of the Synod, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing: just as Jesus chastised five of the seven churches in Revelation, so too, Pope Francis made five rebukes to the universal Church, including an important caveat for himself.

The parallel is stunning, and a wake up call to the hour in which we are living…

The revelation of Jesus Christ… to show his servants what must happen soon… Blessed is the one who reads aloud and blessed are those who listen to this prophetic messages and heed what is writen in it, for the appointed time is near. (Today’s first Mass reading, Rev 1:1-3)



I. To the Church in Ephesus, Jesus warned those who were rigid, who were locked in the law rather than in love:

I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate the wicked; you have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and discovered that they are impostors… Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen… (Revelation Chapters 2 & 3)

Addressing the more “conservative” bishops at the Synod, Pope Francis pointed out the temptation to…

…hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals. —Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014

II. The second correction is of the more “liberal” ones in His Church. Jesus writes to the Peragamumians, acknowledging their faith in him, but the heretical teachings they’ve admitted:

…you hold fast to my name and have not denied your faith in me… Yet I have a few things against you. You have some people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam… Likewise, you also have some people who hold to the teaching of [the] Nicolaitans.

Yes, those who have allowed contemporary heresies to enter so as to appeal to the worldly. To these also, Pope Francis warned of:

The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness, that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

III. And then Jesus rebukes those who close themselves in on their works that, rather than producing the fruit of the Spirit, produce stone-cold-death.

I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

So too, Pope Francis warned the bishops of a similar temptation against dead and incomplete works that do more harm to others than good:

The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

IV. Jesus reaches out in encouragement to those who commit themselves to great works of love and service—what we might call social work or works of “justice and peace”. But then the Lord rebukes them for admitting a spirit of idolatry, of bending toward the spirit of the world among them.

I know your works, your love, faith, service,and endurance, and that your last works are greater than the first. Yet I hold this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, who teaches and misleads my servants to play the harlot and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

Likewise, the Holy Father rebuked those bishops who have softened the Gospel in order to make it more palatable like the “food of idols.”

The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

V. And last is our Lord’s words against the “lukewarm”, to those who water down the faith.

I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

These, says Pope Francis, are those who either water down the deposit of faith, or those who say much, but nothing at all!

The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei ” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing!



Brothers and sisters, we are living the Book of Revelation, which is the unveiling of the Church’s passion according to St. John’s vision.

Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 675

The “shaking” begins with a message from Christ—and now the Vicar of Christ—for “conservatives” and “liberals” alike to repent.

Note, brothers and sisters, it was a “liberal” bishop who betrayed Jesus at the Last Supper… but it was eleven “conservatives” who fled him in the Garden. It was one “liberal” government authority who signed Christ’s death warrant, but “conservative” Pharisees who demanded His crucifixion. And it was perhaps a “rich liberal” who donated his tomb for Christ’s body, not the “conservatives” who rolled the stone over it. Think about this, especially as you hear your fellow Catholics call the Pope a heretic.

I wept as I read Jesus’ words this morning. May the entire Church weep today because the world would not be on the threshold of Judgment if we weren’t so divided, so judgmental of each other, so unfaithful and unloyal, so rigid, so lukewarm, so in bed with Jezebel, so hypocritical. I am as guilty as anyone.

Lord have mercy on your Church. Come quickly and heal her wounds…

For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17)

The Pope, in this context, is not the supreme lord but rather the supreme servant – the “servant of the servants of God”; the guarantor of the obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ, and to the Tradition of the Church, putting aside every personal whim, despite being – by the will of Christ Himself – the “supreme Pastor and Teacher of all the faithful” and despite enjoying “supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church”. —POPE FRANCIS, closing remarks on the Synod; Catholic News Agency, October 18th, 2014 (my emphasis)


First published October 20th, 2014. 



The Shaking of the Church


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