If you’re a Catholic and you have a pulse, you feel it: we’ve entered into a moment in Church history that is wholly unique. Some will seek historical parallels in this or that heresy, this or that crisis, and mostly fail to do so. In large part, they fail because they’re wrong, but also because they analogize to trivialize. They want to console themselves, or others, with the thought that “we’ve been through all this before, and we’ll get through this again.”
Except we haven’t, and many of us won’t. And a growing number of us have become acutely aware of that fact. This is a battle for souls, and you’d better believe that some will be lost.
Yes, there were bad popes in history. Terrible popes. There were Borgia popes and murderous popes and even rapist popes (like John XII) and corruptions of every kind in the papacy.
Yes, we’ve also had a couple of popes who were a little too fond of playing with heresy. John XXII did it, though he didn’t mean to, and it was on something not yet defined. (He also recanted his error after being duly confronted about it.) Honorius also liked heresy (though we can’t say for certain he ever truly embraced Monothelitism). But to borrow a line from the bard, “if it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Honorius answered it.” The Third Council of Constantinople gave old Honorius a posthumous pile-driver. “We anathematize Honorius,” it said, “who did not seek to purify this apostolic Church with the teaching of apostolic tradition, but by a profane betrayal permitted its stainless faith be surrendered.” In a separate letter to the bishops of Spain, Pope Leo II also condemned Honorius as a pope who “did not, as became the apostolic authority, quench the flame of heretical doctrine as it sprang up, but quickened it by his negligence.”
Bad popes happen. The history of papal lapses is something we have covered in these pages before, and I do not intend to rehash it all here.
What I do intend is to propose that we know through our examination of history that there really has never been any situation quite like the present moment. We are apparently the lucky ones. We have a pope who has not only been accused of covering up for the perpetrators of the ghastliest of sexual crimes, both before and during his pontificate, and of filling his council of closest curial advisers with similarly corrupt men, but of more heretical utterances and doctrinal errors than was previously believed possible under the charism of papal infallibility – which, despite the horrors of sexual abuse, is actually the greater crime.
And with the pope himself as the centerpiece of corruption rather than the standard of orthodoxy, we see all around the world the tolling of the bells for the Church as we know it: corruption, abuse, perversion, complicity, heresy, and even sacrilege that would put a smile on a Satanist’s face, all happening within our clergy, everywhere, for seemingly all of living memory, much of it hidden, a great deal of it now coming to light.
If people don’t start tearing down churches with their bare hands by the end of this, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Of course, they won’t have to, because dioceses around the world will sell them off to property-developers who will turn them into high-rent residential spaces or maybe even gay nightclubs. After all, something we’ve learned from all the sexual abuse cases is that co-opting religious imagery is a feature of degeneracy.
When I talk about what has infected the Church, I am not talking about run-of-the-mill sin, as some have characterized it. I’m not even talking about the kind of habitual mortal sin that drags so many of the faithful, shame-faced and sorrowful, back into the confession lines each week. I’m talking about the kind of rooted deep, “twisting mind and heart,” “unrepentant dedication to the pursuit of self at the expense of the Church” kind of sin that warps men’s souls and leads them into the flames of eternal perdition.
I’m talking about what can perhaps best be described as demonic parasitism.
The definition of parasite is “an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.” I’d say the majority of bishops appear to fit that definition. Many of the clergy probably do as well, though fewer of them really stand to benefit materially quite as much. If it weren’t for the temporal perks, I’m not sure why so many of these men, who apparently don’t believe in God (or at least in His justice), would ever sidle up to the altar. They certainly don’t appear to give a damn about their flocks.
The edifices and offices of the Church, with few exceptions, have become infested. The Catholics who care about the Church are angry, but mostly powerless. They can try to withhold money, but they know the Church has long since found a better endowed teat from which to suck – that of national governments willing to pay them exorbitant sums for things like “refugee resettlement.” In Germany’s case, there’s the Kirchensteuer – a mandatory Church tax that has stuffed the pockets of the corpse of German Catholicism with billions of euros and untold influence in the Vatican, without which the entire German episcopacy and all its empty parishes and seminaries would surely collapse in a heap like a headless zombie.
The faithful can – and should – close their wallets, but the worst bishops won’t even bat an eye.
I don’t know enough about the vision Pope Leo XIII is said to have had about Our Lord giving Satan free rein in the Church for a hundred years to say with 100% certitude that it’s true, or that it’s coming to its inevitable dénouement. Nevertheless, I do know that if it is true, it couldn’t possibly have looked very different from what we’re seeing now.
These parasites have spread through the body, leaving no limb untouched. The few pockets without infection remain the statistical outliers, while the Mystical Body of Christ as a whole lies corrupted, feverish, riddled with sepsis, and on death’s door. The True Church has been skinned alive and worn like a spiritual meatsuit by an anti-Church that has produced many empty signs and wonders but whose comeuppance is at last at hand. The wheat and chaff will be sifted. The false Church will be separated from the real. The Church’s split personality – making her often seem like a woman possessed – will be exorcised.
It will not happen overnight, however. It will get worse before it gets better. It will appear to a great many of us, at some point or another, that the Church’s promises must surely be lies, that the gates of Hell have prevailed, and that our hope has been misplaced all along. Our Lord didn’t ask the question idly: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:8). He didn’t promise us that the gates of Hell would fail out of some whimsy; implicit in that guarantee was a warning: it will appear very much as though they have prevailed, so hold fast. Many of us, intent on searching for comforting answers, will have to learn to be satisfied with mystery. “How will God solve this?” we’ll ask. And the answer will present itself only when He is ready to reveal it.
I am friends with people who have spent decades of their lives studying Catholic prophecy. They know far more about every credible Marian apparition and saintly vision than I could possibly hope to discover. They do not know with any certainly where we are in the timeline of events they anticipate, but they know we are in a precarious place, indeed.
Some whisper now that the Antichrist can’t be far off. Others say there are trials and triumphs we must endure first. Most seem to agree that if we are not at the end, we are at least at the beginning of it.
I will be honest with you. As I write this, I look outside, and I see the sun shining, and the garbage truck driving by, the mess on my kitchen counter from a frantic morning spent getting children ready for school, the computer monitor sitting at my desk with tabs open leading to far less apocalyptic things, and I can’t help but wonder: Are we really at the exit ramp for the Eschaton? Or will this all just continue, unabated, as it has for my entire life?
I am in no hurry for the tribulations and persecutions of the Antichrist, which will be worse than any that the faithful have ever endured. Take some time reviewing the tortures perpetrated upon the saints, and ask yourself if you’re really more excited about being flayed or roasted alive instead of grabbing a beer from the fridge and catching another episode of your favorite show on Netflix.
I have small children. I want to see them grow. I want to see them live full lives, marry wonderful people, and fill my home with grandchildren. I do not want to spend the rest of our days living out our faith in caves and catacombs, hunted by the Son of Perdition and his minions, enduring a time, and times, and half a time (Dan. 7:25). I’ve never even been to Hawaii, for Pete’s sake.
But the hand we’ve been dealt is the hand we have to play. There’s no escaping what’s coming. We can only hope it’s better than we fear. We can only trust that unlike our unfaithful shepherds, the True Shepherd will shield His flock from the wolves.
We are smack-dab in the midst of what I find myself increasingly referring to as “The Big Ugly”: this morass of confusion, corruption, infighting, contempt for orthodoxy, and general chaos in the Church. There is no way to greener pastures except through this fetid swamp. We will watch our beloved Church diminished and laid low before men. We will watch her stripped, scourged, crowned with thorns, marched beaten and bloodied through the streets and ultimately crucified like her beloved Divine Spouse. We will be afraid – at times even ashamed – to look upon her. But we must stay the course. We must not be scandalized out of the Ark of Salvation. “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:68).
Or, as the old hymn says: “Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee; E’en though it be a cross. That raiseth me.”
I’m not here to tell you it’s going to get easier soon. I’m not here to give you an official interpretation of prophecy. I don’t know if the full Third Secret will be revealed, if we’ll ever see the Great Monarch or the Angelic Pope, or whether the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart comes now or later.
To be honest, it doesn’t even matter. It’s not our call how this goes down. Our job is to stay faithful and to trust.
What I do know is that we’ve got a hell of a battle on our hands, and we’re going to need stamina more than power. So find a place where the liturgy doesn’t drive you out of your mind. Identify friends and community where you can go to talk about these things rather than keeping them all to yourself. Make conscious efforts to find beauty in the practice of your faith. Try, even though you’re going to be tempted like mad not to, to ignite your prayer life, and extend it to your family. And recognize that you will be attacked – viciously, without mercy, without quarter, in every way you can imagine that will cut you off from your strongest spiritual support. I don’t just mean by the creatures of this world; I mean by the unseen enemy, who is ancient, intelligent, and powerful, who prowls about the world seeking whom he may devour.
Whom resist ye strong in faith.
This is the time where mettle is tested. This is, to borrow another phrase, the time that tries men’s souls. None of us asked for this. Some of us have only come to the recognition of the kind of battle we’re facing recently. Nobody is too late to work for the harvest-master. Put your armor on. Give your shield a few good thumps with your sword. You were told at your confirmation that you were a soldier for Christ, and that wasn’t just a metaphor. Basic training is over.
There’s a war on, and it’s time to ship out.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have eight children.