Notre Dame on Fire, Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse
IT was the coldest day on our visit to Jerusalem last month. The breeze was merciless as the sun fought against the clouds for dominion. It was here on the Mount of Olives that Jesus wept over that ancient city. Our pilgrim group entered the chapel there, rising above the Garden of Gethsemane, to say Mass.
As soon as the Liturgy started (it was Three O’Clock), the unexpected sound of what seemed to be a shofar resonated and continued to be blown intermittently. The shofar is a ram’s horn or trumpet blown in the Old Testament to herald both the sunset and Day of Judgment (Rosh Hashanah). Unbeknownst to us, at the very same time this was happening, my friend Kitty Cleveland and her pilgrim group from America were on the outside of the chapel. All of them were witnessing the miracle of the sun—its disc moving, dancing, glimmering, giving off shoots of light, all visible to the bare eye without harm or difficulty. Then, exactly as Mass ended, so too did this shofar sound, not to be heard again.
The next day, Kitty related her story to me, and realizing it was happening during our Mass, I asked if she had also heard the shofar, and she did. I thought she was going to tell me it was someone in her group because it was so close, almost as if someone were standing on the chapel blowing it. But she replied to my astonishment, “I don’t know where the sound came from either.”
THE SIGNS OF OUR TIMES
There were unmistakable prophecies and signs that foretold the coming of Jesus to earth the first time. Save for three wise men from the East, everyone missed them. Now, two thousand years later, we live in a generation that has been immersed in countless signs. From the incorruptible bodies of saints visible in glass coffins scattered throughout Europe, to Eucharist miracles, to Marian apparitions, to inexplicable healings “in the name of Jesus”, we are a generation of SIGNS. And all of it, all of it, accessible through a search engine.
And yet, somehow, unbelievably, we are missing the signs of the times again. In that place nestled in the mountains of Bosnia-Hercegovina where the Vatican now permits official pilgrimages; that place that the Vatican’s Ruini Commission, according to a leaked report, has affirmed the supernatural origin of the first apparitions there… Our Lady of Medjugorje allegedly stated not too long ago:
My children, do you not recognize the signs of the times? Do you not speak of them?—April 2nd, 2006, quoted in My Heart Will Triumph by Mirjana Soldo, p. 299
Only with total interior renunciation will you recognize God’s love and the signs of the time in which you live. You will be witnesses of these signs and will begin to speak about them. —March 18th, 2006, Ibid.
I think this is why Our Lady has appeared almost exclusively to children throughout the centuries: they are already predisposed to being little and humble—not yet possessed by the spirit of rationalism that has eroded the discernment of the “adults” of our time.
Once again this week, another remarkable sign unfolded, or at least one could say, the symbolism of it all is unmistakable. Last week, both Cardinal Robert Sarah and Pope Benedict XVI addressed the utter collapse of faith in the Western world that has fomented a spiritual crisis that is now worldwide. And then, just days later, the roof of the greatest symbol of Christianity outside of Rome collapsed, as a fire tore through Notre Dame’s beams. It reminds me of what I wrote a few weeks ago about “apostasy” in the hierarchy, the falling down of clerical stars (see When the Stars Fall). Cardinal Sarah framed this apostasy precisely in the context of the Church’s own Passion:
Yes, there are unfaithful priests, bishops, and even cardinals who fail to observe chastity. But also, and this is also very grave, they fail to hold fast to doctrinal truth! They disorient the Christian faithful by their confusing and ambiguous language. They adulterate and falsify the Word of God, willing to twist and bend it to gain the world’s approval. They are the Judas Iscariots of our time. —Catholic Herald, April 5th, 2019
And then another sign: a priest, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, had run into that burning cathedral and saved the relic of the Crown of Thorns. Notre Dame had long ago, at least for the majority of the people of France, become little more than a museum. Indeed, as churches close across the Western World and the remaining ones stay open, propped up by immigration, it is clear that the Church must now wear those Thorns herself. I am reminded of the words of John Paul II to a group of German pilgrims.
We must be prepared to undergo great trials in the not-too-distant future; trials that will require us 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, because it is only in this way that the Church can be effectively renewed. How many times, indeed, has the renewal of the Church been effected in blood? This time, again, it will not be otherwise. —POPE ST. JOHN JOHN PAUL II, Fr. Regis Scanlon, cited in Flood and Fire, Homiletic & Pastoral Review, April 1994
Yesterday, as I pondered these things… the burning Cathedral, the preservation of the Crown of Thorns, the coming Passion of the Church, etc. I decided not to write anything just yet. Then, but an hour later as I drove through the small town near where we live, I noticed smoke. Within minutes, I was running into the burning house of a neighbour, saving whatever we could before fire consumed its frame. Another startling exclamation point to this week’s events.
Yes, for thirteen years now, I have been compelled to speak about the Passion of the Church. At first, it sounds like a gloomy subject. But it’s not. What’s coming is a resurrection of the Bride of Christ that will restore the primordial interior beauty once possessed in Eden. But before I conclude on that note, we must consider the “Good Friday” of the Church.
One of the chief “signs of that times” is what I have been speaking of all week: apostasy, a massive falling away from the faith, which we are witnessing in real time. The Catechism speaks of this:
…apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith… The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in the place of God and his Messiah who has come in the flesh. The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope that can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism. —Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2089, 675-676
Catholic speaker, author, professor, and dear friend, Michael D. O’Brien, echoed what Cardinal Sarah and Benedict XVI highlighted this Lent:
Gazing about at the contemporary world, even our “democratic” world, could we not say that we are living in the midst of precisely this spirit of secular messianism? And is this spirit not manifested especially in its political form, which the Catechism calls in the strongest language, “intrinsically perverse”? How many people in our times now believe that the triumph of good over evil in the world will be achieved through social revolution or social evolution? How many have succumbed to the belief that man will save himself when sufficient knowledge and energy are applied to the human condition? I would suggest that this intrinsic perversity now dominates the entire Western world. —talk at St. Patrick’s basilica in Ottawa, Canada, September 20th, 2005; studiobrien.com
…an abstract, negative religion is being made into a tyrannical standard that everyone must follow. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Light of the World, A Conversation with Peter Seewald, p. 52
This week, I received a few comments from readers struggling with these warnings. They felt that I should be more focused on the positive. “Look at the blessings and response of the people in France! Look at the shining cross and relics that were saved! Look at the damage that did not occur!” From a heritage viewpoint, I agree. Even from a spiritual standpoint, it is a witness… but in the same vein as the “daughters of Jerusalem” who stood weeping as Jesus passed them by. The West has abandoned Jesus. Let us not pretend it is the Resurrection already! Those faithful singing Ave Maria before Notre Dame’s plumes of smoke were a courageous and inspiring witness in contrast to those Catholics who, today, are ashamed of Jesus.
At the canonization of that great French saint, Joan of Arc, Pope St. Pius X observed:
In our time more than ever before the greatest asset of the evilly disposed is the cowardice and weakness of good men, and all the vigor of Satan’s reign is due to the easygoing weakness of Catholics. O, if I might ask the divine redeemer, as the prophet Zachary did in spirit, ‘What are these wounds in your hands?’ the answer would not be doubtful. ‘With these I was wounded in the house of those who loved me. I was wounded by my friends who did nothing to defend me and who, on every occasion, made themselves the accomplices of my adversaries.’ This reproach can be leveled at the weak and timid Catholics of all countries. —Publication of the Decree of the Heroic Virtues of St. Joan of Arc, etc., December 13th, 1908; vatican.va
There is a great uneasiness, at this time, in the world and in the Church, and that which is in question is the faith… I sometimes read the Gospel passage of the end times and I attest that, at this time, some signs of this end are emerging… What strikes me, when I think of the Catholic world, is that within Catholicism, there seems sometimes to pre-dominate a non-Catholic way of thinking, and it can happen that tomorrow this non-Catholic thought within Catholicism, will tomorrow become the stronger. But it will never represent the thought of the Church. It is necessary that a small flock subsist, no matter how small it might be. —POPE PAUL VI, The Secret Paul VI, Jean Guitton, p. 152-153, Reference (7), p. ix.
Today, the accusation against God is, above all, about characterizing His Church as entirely bad, and thus dissuading us from it. The idea of a better Church, created by ourselves, is in fact a proposal of the devil, with which he wants to lead us away from the living God, through a deceitful logic by which we are too easily duped. No, even today the Church is not just made up of bad fish and weeds. The Church of God also exists today, and today it is the very instrument through which God saves us. —EMERITUS POPE BENEDICT XVI, April 10th, 2019, Catholic News Agency
In my Forward to Daniel O’Connor’s remarkable new book The Crown of Sanctity: On the Revelations of Jesus to Luisa Piccarreta, I noted that the word “apocalypse” means “unveiling,” which is a reference, in part, to the unveiling of a bride. Just as a bride’s face is partially hidden beneath her veil, as it begins to lift, her beauty comes more into focus. St. John’s Apocalypse (Revelation) is not so much about the persecution of the Church by her infernal enemy, the “red dragon,” whose instrument is a beast. Rather, it is about the purification and unveiling of a new and divine internal beauty and holiness of the Bride of Christ, who is the Church.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure. (Revelation 19:7-8)
This affirms the teaching of St. Paul who compared Christ and the Church to a husband and wife, “that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”  But when? According to St. John Paul II, in this third millennium:
God himself had provided to bring about that “new and divine” holiness with which the Holy Spirit wishes to enrich Christians at the dawn of the third millennium, in order to “make Christ the heart of the world.” —POPE ST. JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Rogationist Fathers, n. 6, www.vatican.va
This is not a novel teaching of the late pope who, in fact, called the youth to become “watchmen of the morning who announce the coming of the sun who is the Risen Christ!” Indeed, the Early Church Fathers taught this as the final stage of the Church’s journey before the Second Coming of Jesus in the flesh:
The Church, which comprises the elect, is fittingly styled daybreak or dawn… It will be fully day for her when she shines with the perfect brilliance of interior light. —St. Gregory the Great, Pope; Liturgy of the Hours, Vol III, p. 308
When will it happen, this fiery deluge of pure love with which you are to set the whole world ablaze and which is to come, so gently yet so forcefully, that all nations…. will be caught up in its flames and be converted? …When you breathe your Spirit into them, they are restored and the face of the earth is renewed. Send this all-consuming Spirit upon the earth to create priests who burn with this same fire and whose ministry will renew the face of the earth and reform your Church. —St. Louis de Montfort, From God Alone: The Collected Writings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort; April 2014, Magnificat, p. 331
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- Luke 23:31
- Ephesians 5:27
- POPE JOHN PAUL II, Message of the Holy Father to the Youth of the World, XVII World Youth Day, n. 3; [cf. Is 21:11-12]
- cf. The Resurrection of the Church