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Signs of Our Times

on Tuesday, 01 January 2019. Posted in Church teachings

We reproduce here a radio sermon delivered on January 26, 1947, by Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. It clearly depicts a prophetic insight into the current crisis of our world, with its push for a global society; a society without national borders or national identity—a society without God. Though spoken in 1947, his words remain relevant for our times.

God Love You!

I want those to be my first words of greeting to you as they will be the concluding words of each broadcast. They embody three ideas: God is love; God loves you; and since love is reciprocal, may you love God in return. (…)

Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis? Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation, and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times.

If there is no fixed concept of justice, how shall men know it is violated? Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world.

The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on. The tragedy is not that the hairs of our civilization are gray; it is rather our failure to see that they are. The very day Sodom was destroyed, Scripture describes the sun as bright; Balthasar’s realm came to an end in darkness; people saw Noah preparing for the flood one hundred and twenty years before it came, but men would not believe. In the midst of seeming prosperity, world unity, the decree to the angels goes forth, but the masses go on their sordid routines. As Our Lord said: “For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which Noah entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away; so also shall the coming of the Son of man be.” (Matthew 24:38, 39)

Well may Our Savior say to us what He said to the Sadducees and Pharisees in His time: “When it is evening, you say: It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times?” (Matthew 16:2, 3)

Do we know the signs of these appointed times? Most of us are able to face the unpalatable fact that not a single positive major objective for which we fought this war [World War II] has been achieved. Few realize that barbarism is not only outside us, but beneath us, that science by making us spectators of reality has blinded us to the necessity of being actors, while the atomic bomb, by putting human power in our hands, has hidden the weakness of our hearts.

The signs of our times point to two inescapable truths, the first of which is that we have come to the end of the post-Renaissance Chapter of history which made man the measure of all things. More particularly, the three basic dogmas of the modern world are dissolving before our very eyes. We are witnessing:

1) The liquidation of the economic man, or the assumption that man, who is a highly developed animal, has no other function in life than to produce and acquire wealth, and then, like the cattle in the pastures, be filled with years and die.

2) The liquidation of the idea of the natural goodness of man who has no need of a God to give him rights, or a Redeemer to salvage him from guilt, because progress is automatic, thanks to science, education and evolution, which will one day make man a kind of a god, as H. G. Wells said, with his feet on the earth and his hands among the stars.

3) The liquidation of rationalism, or the idea that the purpose of human reason is not to discover the meaning and the goal of life, namely the salvation of the soul, but merely to devise new technical advances to make on this earth a city of man to replace the city of God.

We are witnessing the death of Historical Liberalism (and I shall in these broadcasts always understand Liberalism as such) which like a sundial is unable to tell the time in the dark and which can function only in a society whose basis is moral, and when the flotsam and jetsam of Christianity is still drifting about the world.

Historical Liberalism is a parasite on the Christian Civilization, and once that body upon which it clings ceases to be the leaven of society, then Liberalism itself must perish. The individual liberties which Liberalism emphasizes are secure only when the community is moral and can give an ethical foundation to these liberties. It may very well be that Historical Liberalism is only a transitional era in history between a civilization which was Christian and one which will be definitely anti-Christian.

The second great truth to which the signs of the times portend is that we are definitely at the end of a non-religious era of civilization, which regarded religion as an addendum to life, a pious extra, a morale-builder for the individual but of no social relevance, an ambulance that took care of the wrecks of the social order until science reached a point where there would be no more wrecks; which called on God only as a defender of national ideals, or as a silent partner whose name was used by the firm to give respectability but who had nothing to say about how the business should be run.

The new era into which we are entering is what might be called the religious phase of human history. But do not misunderstand; by religious we do not mean that men will turn to God, but rather that the indifference to the absolute which characterized the liberal phase of civilization will be succeeded by a passion for an absolute. From now on the struggle will be not for the colonies and national rights, but for the souls of men. There will be no more half-drawn swords, no divided loyalties, no broad strokes of sophomoric tolerance, there will not even be any more great heresies, for they are based on a partial acceptance of truth.

The battle lines are already being clearly drawn, and the basic issues are no longer in doubt. From now on men will divide themselves into two religions—understood again as surrender to an absolute. The conflict of the future is between the absolute who is the God-man and the absolute which is the man God; the God Who became man and the man who makes himself God; brothers in Christ and comrades in anti-Christ.

The anti-Christ will not be so called, otherwise he would have no followers. He will wear no red tights, nor vomit sulphur, nor carry a trident, nor wave an arrow tail as the Mephistopheles in Faust. This masquerade has helped the devil convince men that he does not exist, for he knows that he is never so strong as when men believe that he does not exist. When no man recognizes, the more power he exercises. God has defined Himself as “I am Who am” and the Devil as “I am who am not.”

Nowhere in Sacred Scripture do we find warrant for the popular myth of the devil as a buffoon who is dressed like the first "red." Rather is he described as an angel fallen from heaven, and as "the Prince of this world" whose business it is to tell us that there is no other world. His logic is simple: If there is no heaven, there is no hell; if there is no hell, then there is no sin; if there is no sin, then there is no judge, and if there is no judgment, then evil is good and good is evil.

But above all these descriptions, Our Lord tells us that he will be so much like Himself, that he would deceive even the elect—and certainly no devil we have ever seen in picture books could deceive even the elect.

How will he come in this new age to win followers to his religion? He will come disguised as the Great Humanitarian; he will talk peace, prosperity and plenty, not as means to lead us to God, but as ends in themselves; he will write books on the new idea of God to suit the way people live; induce faith in astrology so as to make not the will but the stars responsible for sins; he will explain guilt away psychologically as inhibited eroticism, make men shrink in shame if their fellowmen say they are not broadminded and liberal; he will be so broadminded as to identify tolerance with indifference to right and wrong, truth and error; he will spread the lie that men will never be better until they make society better and thus have selfishness to provide fuel for the next revolution; he will foster science but only to have armament makers use one marvel of science to destroy another; he will foster more divorces under the disguise that another partner is “vital”; he will increase love for love and decrease love for person; he will invoke religion to destroy religion; he will even speak of Christ and say that He was the greatest man who ever lived; his mission, he will say, will be to liberate men from the servitudes of superstition and Fascism: which he will never define; he will organize children’s games, tell people who they should and should not marry and un-marry, who should bear children and who should not; he will benevolently draw chocolate bars from his pockets for the little ones and bottles of milk for the [starving infants]; he will tempt Christians with the same three temptations which he tempted Christ: the temptation to turn stones into bread, as an earthly Messiah will become the temptation to sell freedom for security, as bread became a political weapon, and only those who think his way may eat; The temptation to work a miracle by recklessly throwing Himself from a steeple will become a plea to desert the lofty pinnacles of truth where faith and reason reign, for those lower depths where the masses live on slogans and propaganda. He wants no proclamation of immutable principles from the lofty heights of a Church, but mass organization through propaganda where only a common man directs the idiosyncrasies of common men. Opinions not truths, commentators not teachers, Gallup polls not principles, nature not grace—and to these golden calves will men toss themselves from their Christ.

The third temptation in which Satan asked Christ to adore him and all the Kingdoms of the world would be His, will become the temptation to have a new religion without a cross, a liturgy without a world to come, a city of man without a city of God, a religion to invoke a religion, or a politics which is a religion—one that renders unto Caesar even the things that are God’s.

In the midst of all his seeming love for humanity and his glib talk of freedom and equality, he will have one great secret which he will tell to no one; he will not believe in God. Because his religion will be brotherhood without the fatherhood of God, he will deceive even the elect.

He will set up a counter-church which will be the ape of the Church because, he the devil, is the ape of God. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content. It will be a mystical body of the anti-Christ that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ. In desperate need for God, whom he nevertheless refuses to adore, modern man in his loneliness and frustration will hunger more and more for membership in a community that will give him enlargement of purpose, but at the cost of losing himself in some vague collectivity. There will be verified the paradox that the very objections with which men in the last century rejected the Church will be the reasons why they will now accept the counter-Church.

The Church was critically spurned in the last few centuries because it claimed that it was Catholic and universal, uniting all men on the basis of one Lord, one faith and one Baptism. No man, the 19th century claimed, could be a good American, a good Frenchman, or a good German if he accepted shepherding from a spiritual head. But in the new era, what the modern lost soul will like particularly about the counter-Church is that it is catholic or international. It breaks down all national boundaries, laughs down patriotism, dispenses men from pity to country which the Christ enjoined, makes men proud that they are not Americans, French, or British, but members of a revolutionary class under the rule of its vicar who rules not from the Vatican, but the Kremlin. (…)

Every now and then in history the devil is given a long rope, for we must never forget that Our Lord said to Judas and his band: “This is your hour.” God has His day, but evil has its hour when the shepherd shall be struck and the sheep dispersed. (…)

Though we speak of the emergence of the anti-Christ against Christ, think not that it is because we fear for the Church. We do not; it is for the world we fear. It is not infallibility we are worried about, but the world’s lapse into fallibility; we tremble not that God may be dethroned, but that barbarism may reign; it is not Transubstantiation that may perish, but the home; not the sacraments that may fade away, but the moral law.

The Church can have no different words for the weeping woman than those of Christ on the way to Calvary: “Weep not over me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.” (Luke 23:28) The Church has survived other great crises in her nineteen centuries of existence, and she will live to sing a requiem over the evils of the present. The Church may have its Good Fridays but these are only preludes to its Easter Sundays, for the Divine Promise shall never be made void: “... and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.—Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) “Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be bruised.” (Luke 20:18)

Never before in history has there been such a strong argument for the need of Christianity, for men are now discovering that their misery and their woes, their wars and their revolutions increase in direct ratio and proportion to the neglect of Christianity. Evil is self defeating; good alone is self-preserving.

These three practical recommendations in conclusion:

As Christians we must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity. The more we can anticipate the doom, the more we can avoid it. Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy. It was because of famine the prodigal said: “I will arise, and will go to my father...” (Luke 15:18) The very disciplines of God create hope. The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.

As we look about the world and see the new barbarism move whole populations into slavery, we may ask: “Why do so many innocent people suffer. God should have pity on them.” God does. One of the surprises of heaven will be to see how many saints were made in the midst of chaos and war and revolution. When John saw “... a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and tribes, and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, clothed with white robes and palms in their hands: And they cried with a loud voice saying: Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and the ancients, and the four living creatures: and they fell down before the throne upon their faces, and adored God.” (Apocalypse 1:9-11) “And one of the ancients answered and said to me: These that are clothed in white robes, who are they? and whence came they? And I said to him: My Lord thou knowest. And he said to me: These are they who are come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Apocalypse 7:13, 14)

After Our Divine Lord had pictured the catastrophes that would fall upon a morally disordered civilization, after He foretold how the military would “take it, and their holy places be abominated”. He did not say “Fear,” but “When these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)

Jews, Protestants and Catholics alike, and men of good will, must realize that the world is serving your souls with an awful summons — the summons to heroic efforts at spiritualization.

Catholics ought to stir up their faith, hang a crucifix in their homes to remind them that we too have to carry a cross, gather the family together every night to recite the Rosary that through corporate prayer there might be intercession for the world; go to daily Mass that the spirit of love and sacrifice might be sprinkled in our business, our social life and our duties. More heroic souls might undertake the Holy Hour daily, particularly in parishes conscious of the needs of prayers of reparation as well as petition, conducting such devotions in their churches.

As for Jews, Protestants and Catholics alike, an alliance is necessary not to fight against an external enemy, for our “wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places,” (Ephesians 6:12), but rather a unity on the basis of men of good will, who believe in the moral law, the family, God and the Divinity of Christ.

It is not a unity of religion we plead for that is impossible when purchased at the cost of the unity of truth, but a unity of religious peoples, wherein each marches separately according to the light of his conscience, but strikes together for the moral betterment of the world through prayer, not hate.

In a word, if anti-Christ has his fellow-travelers, then why should not God and His Divine Son? The Roman sergeant who built a temple for the Jews was a fellow traveller with them in their belief in God. The woman at Tyre and Sidon became a fellow traveler of Christ. The forces of evil are united; the forces of good are divided. We may not be able to meet in the same pew — would to God we did — but we can meet on our knees.

You may be sure that no sordid compromises, nor carrying of waters on both shoulders, will see you through. Those who have the faith had better keep in the state of grace, and those who have neither had better find out what they mean, for in the coming age there will be only one way to stop your trembling knees, and that will be to get down on them and pray.

The most important problem in the world today is your soul, for that is what the struggle is about. As St. Peter told the Romans in the days of delirium: “Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11)

The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think. In 1917 Lenin addressing a group of students in Switzerland said: “This revolution may not come in my lifetime.” Within three months, he was leading it.

The struggle is so basically spiritual, so much concerned with the forces of Christ and anti-Christ, that there is a definite planned policy put into practice by the Communists in Korea. They go to the Christian homes converted by missionaries and ask: “Do you believe in Christ?” If the householder answers in the affirmative, the Communist says he will be back next week. If then he answers: “I believe in Stalin” he keeps his house and his land. Otherwise it is confiscated and he is liquidated. And you think the struggle is between individualism and collectivism!

Because the struggle is between the Kingdom of mass atheism and the Kingdom of God there are two especially whose intercession we much invoke because they both are conquerors of evil. To the first, St. Michael, we pray:

“O Michael, Prince of the Morning, Who didst once conquer Lucifer who wouldst make himself God, save us from our world of little gods. When the world once cracked because of a sneer in heaven, thou didst rise up and drag down from the seven heavens the pride that would look down on the most high. So now:

“Michael, Michael of the mastering, Michael of the marching on the mountains of the Lord, Marshal the world

and purge of rot and riot, Rule through the world till all the world would be quiet: Only establish when the world is broken What is unbroken is the Word.

To the second, Our Lady, pray:

“It was to Thee as the Woman that was given the power to crush the head of the serpent who lied to men that they would be as gods.

“May thou who didst find Christ when He was lost for three days, find Him again, for our world has lost Him.

“Give to the senile incontinence of our verbiage the Word.

“As Thou didst form the Word made flesh in Thy womb, form Him in our hearts.

“Be in our midst as tongues of fire, descend upon our cold hearts, and if this be night, then come.

“O Lady of the Blue of Heaven, show us once again the Light of the World in the heart of a day.”

God love you!

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