I am currently reading Pontiff: The Vatican,the KGB, and the Year of the Three Popes, which recounts the latter years of Paul VI’s pontificate, as well as the two conclaves electing John Paul’s I and II and the intrigue surrounding both papal elections. The book contains an in-depth look at the brief pontificate of Albino Luciani, Pope John Paul I. During his papacy as a young man I had fallen away from the Church, and so knew nothing of his view of his role as the Vicar of Christ on earth. Reading about his time at the Vatican, I thought to myself, this account of JPI’s papacy could well be describing how the media portrays Pope Francis: the pope of the poor, enemy of of uncontrolled free-market capitalism, agitator engaged in shaking up the Roman Curia, ecclesiological modernizer committed to consultation, collegiality and decentralization in the governance of the Church.
This description fits the present Holy Father well, as far as it goes. As I note frequently in these pages, to my delight Pope Francis also corroborates much of what I set down in my book. Who would have known? From media coverage it I clear Francis believes the “end times” as understood by the Church are already being played out, and believes Satan is real and is at work in current events around the globe.
For example, in a homily last November the Holy Father remarked, “The devil pushes us to be unfaithful to the Lord. Sometimes he pushes hard,” adding that Sacred Scripture “speaks to us about a universal temptation, about a universal trial, about the time when ... the whole of the Lord’s creation will be faced with this choice between God and evil, God and the prince of the world.” The Holy Father thinks this time is now, as do I—hence my book.
For Catholics, the terms “end times” and “last days” have to do with the conclusion of history at some future point, and also—even primarily—to the last two thousand years, for it was the Incarnation which ushered in the end times and the last days. Regarding Pope Francis on the end times, several signs emerge:
- The end times will be a time when the Church and Christians are persecuted. Francis views the ensuing persecution of the Church as “a calamity: “It will appear to be the triumph of the prince of this world, the defeat of God. It will seem as though he “has taken over the world [and become] master of the world.” As for the persecuted Christians? They are “a prophetic sign of what will happen to everyone.” Francis stresses that the oppression of religion he predicts will involve the shedding of blood. In his Nov. 18 homily, he cited the Old Testament Book of Maccabees, which relates the martyrdom of faithful Jews, “Do you think there are no human sacrifices today?” he asked rhetorically. “There are many, many of them. And there are laws that protect them.” Legalized abortion?
- Christianity is more persecuted today than in the early Church. “So many Christian communities are persecuted around the globe….More so now than in the early times ... Why? Because the spirit of the world hates.” In an Oct. 15 homily he declared, “The demon is shrewd: He is never cast out forever, this will only happen on the last day.”
- It will be a time, such as the present, of “general apostasy.” “With God’s coming into history,” he said, “we are already in the last times” — and could be for a long while to come. Spiritual forces restless to keep God from being worshipped seek to convince Christians to take a “reasonable and peaceful road” by obeying “worldly powers” bent on reducing religion to “a private matter.” He cautioned today’s Christians against submitting to an “adolescent progressivism” that inspires this apostasy.
Francis analyzes the satanic game plan, paraphrasing Satan’s words: “You become a Christian, go forward in your faith, and I will leave you alone ... But then, once you have grown accustomed to it, are no longer watchful and feel secure, I will return.” The pope thinks the devil is back today. Considering the state of the world, I agree. You should too. Why does God permit the evil to grow alongside the good? Why does He permit some to reject the Word of His kingdom? In his reflection on the readings for today's liturgy, Scot Hahn answers: "Because, as we sing in today’s Psalm, God is slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He is just, Jesus assures us - evildoers and those who cause others to sin will be thrown into the fiery furnace at the end of the age. But by His patience, God is teaching us—that above all He desires repentance, and the gathering of all nations to worship Him and to glorify His name."