There’s certainly an ‘end times’ feel to today

St Peter's on the day of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation (CNS)

A friend, with whom I sometimes correspond on the problems facing the Church today, has emailed me about certain “end times” prophecies that he has noted recently, in particular those of an Irish lady called Brenda Walsh. She is clearly unhealthily fixated by sayings of the visionaries of Garabandal (even though the Church has stated that Our Lady never appeared there); she also believes Pope Francis will be the last Pope, warns us not to get involved with the world “as it is totally controlled by Masonic Forces in Governments and Banks worldwide” and predicts that “the Triumph” i.e. the end of the world, will come on 13 October 2017.

Why give publicity to such fanciful notions? Because there seems to be a lot of it about at present. Several people whom I have always regarded as sensible have remarked to me that it was not a coincidence that lightning struck the Vatican soon after Pope Benedict had made his resignation speech. Yet others have pointed out that Pope Francis conforms to the end times’ prophecies of the medieval Irish monk, Malachi. And others soberly remark to me that the world in its present state of moral decay “can’t go on as it is.”

Reflecting this last remark, I have been sent a book to review by Stephen Walford, entitled Heralds of the Second Coming and published by Angelico Press. Walford’s book is in many ways a scholarly scrutiny of the teachings of recent Popes, especially Pius XII, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI on eschatology, the theology of the “end times”. Yet what makes me wary of Walford’s analysis – and he goes into great detail, including discussions about the Divine Mercy devotion and all the recent Marian apparitions – is that every text he cites leads on his analysis to one conclusion only: that here we are, right in the very middle of the last days on earth as we know it. As revelation tells us, these days will be ushered in by the Anti-Christ, a mysterious world-figure of great power, charm and ability, who apes Christ, thus tricking and leading astray innumerable people in the process. According to Walford’s book, “At least one cardinal has discussed the possibility that the Anti-Christ may be alive at this moment.” He is the retired Archbishop of Bologna, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, who was asked by Pope Benedict to deliver the Lenten spiritual exercises for the Vatican Curia in 2007 – and who spoke about the Anti-Christ in his presentation.

Walford also describes what life will be like during these latter days: Mass will be abolished for three and a half years; the Church will face the most terrible persecution it has ever known; many people will desert the Faith; and “a time will come when the sacraments will be banned and churches destroyed.” Alongside widespread apostasy from within the Church, secular laws “that show a complete disregard for the commandments of the Lord”, such as pro-abortion laws, the move to enact laws that will destroy traditional marriage, and the manipulation of life in its earliest stages, as with in vitro fertilization, will deeply undermine Christianity and the civilization that grew from it, from without.

Ignoring the over-active Irish imaginations of Malachi and Brenda Walsh (whom I decided not to check out on the internet), much that Walford says about modern times is obviously true: disobedience within the Church and moral anarchy without. Yet these call for renewal of faith, in prayer and practice – not a fixation on signs, wonders and dubious “prophecies.” As Christians we believe in the Second Coming of Christ at the end of the world; but we are also told that we do not know the day nor the hour when this will take place. In this respect we are in exactly the same position as the early followers of Jesus 2,000 years ago. We have to watch and pray, keep our lamps lit – and bear in mind that our own personal encounter with Christ at death could take place at any time. Terry Nelson, the American Abbey Roads blogger ,quotes Fr Zuhlsdorf as recommending frequent Confession “as a way to be ready for death in these uncertain times” (and he is not thinking of the end of the world as much as storms, earthquakes and random acts of terrorism.)

Finally, I note that in Pope Francis’s new book, On Heaven and Earth, which is about to be published, he writes that “Maybe his [the Devil’s] greatest achievement in these times has been to make us believe that he does not exist and that all can be fixed on a purely human level.” Well, he does exist, he has been overcome by Christ’s death and Resurrection and he is defeated today, as always, by prayer, fasting and the sacraments.