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A Friend: "Are we in the End Times now?"
Myself: Yes, obviously, because we are in Advent, an inherently apocalyptic season. During Advent the Church anticipates the birth of Jesus, looks ahead with expectation to Christmas, and also awaits the coming of the Christ in glory at the end of time.
"You know what I mean! Is the Second Coming near?"
It should make no difference. You should be living your life now in such a way that, if you knew the world was going to end next week, you would change nothing -- just as if you knew you were going to die next week. Say your daily prayers; go to confession; do not depart from the teachings of the Church; seek reconciliation with anyone you have offended. As Our Lord said, "Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come" (Mt. 24:42).
"But doesn't the world seem to be the way that Jesus said it would be in the End Times? He said that 'nation will rise up against nation'-- which seems to describe the World Wars of last century -- and that there would be earthquakes and famines in various places, which we have seen?"
Yes, but he also said that "these are the beginning of the labor pains," and women can be in labor for many hours. And if for God a thousand years are like one day (Ps. 90:4), how long might that labor be for us!
"What about Our Lord's description of the plight of Christians in the End Times? He seems to describe exactly the post-Christian world into which we are heading: 'Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. ... Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold.'"
I grant that the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in the last century was the greatest in the history of the Church, and that there are no signs that persecutions in Muslim and secularist countries will soften. Also, if we show love mainly in the family, and families are now almost universally corrupted through cohabitation, divorce and willful sterility, then indeed "the love of many is growing cold." Still, I say only that our world is consistent with the End Times, not that we must be in the End Times.
"But what about what Our Lord says next, 'this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come.' What could possibly be a better description of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II? Why did he travel to so many countries, when no Pope had ever attempted that, and Pope Benedict is not attempting to do the same? John Paul II went to 129 countries, and was seen in person by tens of millions, as someone who was completely identified personally with 'the Gospel of the kingdom.' He was so beloved throughout the world that 4 million people attended his funeral."
I grant that if one steps back and looks at the phenomenon of John Paul II objectively, in world history, then, if his pontificate does not count as 'this Gospel will be preached throughout the world,' then it is hard to see what could count as that.
"And what about those prophecies by St. Malachy in the 12th century? His uncannily accurate predictions about the popes come to an end with someone he calls, 'Peter of Rome,' who comes after the pope which we can identify as our current Pope Benedict. St. Malachy refers mysteriously to 'the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church' which will take place then, and many tribulations, followed by the coming of the 'terrible judge who will judge his people.'"
You know, even the Catholic Encyclopedia speculates that those prophesies could be a 16th century forgery!
"True, but the same Encyclopedia agrees that the predictions of the popes that come after the 16th century seem too accurate to be a coincidence: 'There is something more than coincidence,' it states, 'in the designations given to these three popes (Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius X) so many hundred years before their time."
Okay, but you must admit that, as the Encyclopedia says, even if we take the prophecies as genuine, it is not clear that the last pope, "Peter of Rome," is the pope who comes immediately after Pope Benedict.
"Fine, but be careful that you don't become one of those scoffers that St. Peter warns about: 'Know this first of all, that in the last days scoffers will come to scoff, living according to their own desires and saying, 'Where is the promise of his coming? From the time when our ancestors fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation.'"
I can see how you wouldn't want me to become a scoffer. But I am surprised that you didn't point out that the presence of Christians who scoff about the End Times, according to St. Peter, is itself evidence of the End Times!
"Maybe we can at least agree that for a Christian it is safer to 'speculate' about the end times, even if one turns out to be wrong, than to scoff at the very idea of them!"
Michael Pakaluk is Professor and Chairman of Philosophy at Ave Maria University.