For false christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect."
"Behold, I have told it to you beforehand." (St. Matt. 24, 23-25).
These are the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As never before, these words require frequent repetition and constant consideration.
The internet is flooded with false prophets who are telling anyone who visits their web site: "Behold, here is the Christ" _ listen to me! While others are adding to the confusion with their own version of "There he is!" Our Lord says not to believe them just as He says not to believe those false prophets who are not on the internet.
History evidences the many false prophets that have arisen in every age. Comparatively speaking, however, their number was not very large. That these false prophets led many into the fiery embrace of the Devil needs little proof.
Those past days are exactly that: They are history; they are things of the past. Some have sunken into oblivion while others continue persistently like a nagging cold to lead people astray.
The Church has been able to resist and overcome to a great extent the false prophets of the past. That was the past and the Church must deal with the present.
The greatest deceptions in matters of religion and its practice are those which our Lord describes as so convincingly real as to disturb even those who have the grace of final perseverance. What are those signs and wonders of which our Lord spoke? What could those signs and wonders be that have the ability of so deceiving people as to almost succeed in deceiving the elect?
A sign, as we know, is something visible that points to something else. A sign expresses an idea. A sign alongside a street at an intersection with a bright red background with letters in white reading STOP convey the idea that the driver of a vehicle is required by law to stop his vehicle before proceeding further. The sign is clear.
Imagine that some mischievous persons were to make a similar sign and place it along a deserted road. The unsuspecting driver, seeing the sign, would react instinctively by stopping. He may not comprehend the reason why that sign was placed there. He would not even reason that it might be fraudulently placed there for an evil purpose.
No. The first and most natural reaction of the driver would be to stop. Why? Because every conscientious driver obeys traffic laws. It is a traffic law that requires a full stop where there is a stop sign.
Let us continue the analogy. The driver stops in sincere obedience to the traffic sign. Before he can realize what is happening, masked bandits rush at him from their hiding place and beat and rob him. If he is fortunate, he will not be killed.
This is what happens on the spiritual level when people mistake false prophets for true prophets. Keep in mind that the stop sign is a symbol of authenticity. If you will, of orthodoxy.
Why would our Lord warn us of false prophets who would come and be so close to appearing true that even the elect might be deceived?
This peculiar phenomenon exists today. It is found especially among Catholics. The `sign' of a Roman Catholic priest is his Roman collar or Religious garb. Besides these visual clues, or, signs, there are the familiar words and pictures associated with Catholic doctrine and practice.
Catholics are accustomed to identifying those dressed in clerical garb or Religious garb with true priests and Religious of the Roman Catholic Church.
The question is: Are these individuals truly Roman Catholic priests and Religious?
The determination is made more difficult when our mailboxes are visited by people presenting themselves as genuine Catholic priests and/or Religious of Religious Orders or Congregations familiar to most Catholics. The deception is even more convincing when these letters and pamphlets and periodicals use gentle, soothing spiritual words calculated to make the recipient `feel good.'
Supporting or associating oneself with these individuals or groups of individuals not only shrinks our pocketbooks, but leads us along paths that ultimately end in spiritual shipwreck.
Ever since Vatican II there has been a flood of self-styled `Religious' and secular clergy waving the banner of `tradition' and in particular, the offer to attend the Latin Mass. Even among those who were legitimate members of recognized Religious Orders are to be found charlatans and mischief-makers.
If we keep in mind that no matter how reduced in number the Roman Catholic Church may become, it will not be destroyed because our Lord promised this. If the Church can be totally destroyed even with the effort of antipopes such as John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, then there is no point in Christ coming a second time to judge anyone. There would be no one to judge; there would be no one to receive reward; no one to receive eternal punishment.
The true Church must, therefore, exist somewhere among all the false prophets. In all this chaos, there must be some place where the true faith is still honored and kept.
This true Church will be found where the four marks of the Church are realized without exception.
The true Church is not to be found among those where false bishops promote disobedience to the legitimate authority of the Church. There are many such false bishops who have stolen valid consecration from unsuspecting bishops. Then, like false shepherds who have not entered by the door of the sheepfold, they go forth to make disciples of disobedience like themselves.
Much more than the visible and traditional enemies of the Church, these false prophets travel across the length and breadth of the earth making other false prophets in their own image and likeness.
These are the antichrists against whom our Lord has warned us. Beware of them. They do the work of Satan even though they come to you in familiar dress and pious words. Just as the Antichrist seeks to usurp the place of Jesus Christ, and for this reason is called the `Antichrist,' so also these false prophets ambition to usurp the place of true shepherds and prophets with unctuous demeanor and pretense of learning.
Having the appearance of tradition, these false prophets lead many astray.
To them belong the strong invectives of our Lord as He denounced the Scribes and Pharisees:
"But woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men. For you yourselves do not go in, nor do you allow those going in to enter."
"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you devour the houses of widows, praying long hours. For this you shall receive a greater judgment."
"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you traverse sea and land to make one convert; and when he has become one, you make him twofold more a son of hell than yourselves."
"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you are like whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and of all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear just to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.""
"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! you who build the sepulchres of the prophets, and adorn the tombs of the just, and say, `If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been their accomplices in the blood of the prophets.' Thus you are witnesses against yourselves that you are the sons of those who killed the prophets.
"You also fill up the measure of your fathers. Serpents, brood of vipers, how are you to escape the judgment of hell?"
In conjunction with these woes, and others, our Lord warned His disciples of the signs that would precede the end of the world: "Take care that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, `I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray. For you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. Take care that you do not be alarmed, for these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there will be pestilences and famines and earthquakes in various places. But all these things are the beginning of sorrows.
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and will put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and will betray one another, and will hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will lead many astray. And because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold. But whoever perseveres to the end, he shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world, for a witness to all nations; and then will come the end." (Matt. 24, 4-14).
And when will all this take place? False prophets suffering delusions of grandeur have all made their prognostications. Our Lord, however, tells us: "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but the Father only" (Matt.24, 36).
Many would like to know when the end is to come, not because they would wish to do penance and prepare themselves, but out of idle curiosity.
Our Lord told us that "..as it was in the days of Noe, even so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day when Noe entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and swept them all away; even so will be the coming of the Son of Man."(Matt.24, 38-39).
Jesus repeats His warning in order to emphasize our ignorance as to the time of His coming: "Watch therefore, for you do not know at what hour your Lord is to come."
People do not seem to understand simple words. Much like the man who said `No' and was not understood. He then asked: "What part of `No' did you not understand?" So, too, people simply refuse to comprehend simple statements of momentous importance. In order to emphasize His words, Jesus gave yet another example. We secure our homes and guard our material possessions. Why do we not secure and guard our spiritual ones? This only proves that we value material things more than things of the spirit.
Jesus gives us a familiar example: "But of this be assured, that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would certainly have watched, and not have left his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, because at an hour that you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." (Ibid. 24,42-44).
Most people are like the wicked servant to whom Jesus opposes the faithful and prudent servant. The wicked servant considers his situation and thinks to himself: "My master delays his coming,' and begins to beat his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with drunkards," not realizing that "the master of that servant will come on a day he does not expect, and in an hour he does not know, and will cut him asunder and make him share the lot of the hypocrites. There will be the weeping, and the gnashing of teeth." (Ibid. 24, 49-51).
These are all symbols expressing an attitude of mind. They symbolize the abuse of God's gifts and graces for one's own self-serving pride. Even religion has become a means to an end rather than the end for all means.
Many are led astray, as our Lord points out. What is the extent of guilt on the part of those who are led astray? Are they nothing more than victims of religious confidence men? Or, do they share some guilt in their ultimate fate? These are vital questions because, if those who listen and follow false prophets and false leaders were innocent victims, then we would have to conclude that they are free of guilt. Being free of any guilt, they are also free of any punishment. Free of any punishment, they could do what they like and thus become nothing more than `material heretics' and `material schismatics.' Anyone trying to awaken them from this state of mind would, naturally, be looked upon as `uncharitable,' `un-Christian,' `vindictive' and whatever other wicked epithet can be found to describe such conduct.
Taking this thought a little farther, the same may be said of all heretics and schismatics: They are unaware that they are heretics and schismatics. Therefore, they are all nothing more than `material' heretics and schismatics.
If the entire world can be rationalized into this `material' condition, the only ones who would be guilty of formal sin would be the small number of remnant Catholics who are aware of the difference between truth and error; who know the difference between what the Church teaches and what the Church condemns. Only these individuals would be guilty of anything, while the rest, `material' sinners as they might be, would never actually become `formal' sinners.
This seems to be the rational basis for Karl Wojtyla's expansive `mysticism' that would make everyone `saved' because everyone must certainly have some kind of `vague desire for God.'
It could be said that this `vague desire for God' is a `material desire' that will never attain to the status of a `formal desire.' One is reminded of the absurd theory of the deceased Dominican, Guerard des Lauriers, who apparently could not bear the stigma of truth by speaking the truth concerning the recent and present antipopes. He imagined (note the term!) that there could be a `material' Pope who, at the same time was not a `formal' Pope.
This makes for convenient and legitimate-appearing spiritual fornication in the Scriptural sense.
This is the situation of most of those traditionalists, whether laity, priests or Religious. They deceive themselves in to believing that they are `Catholics' by virtue of this imagineering which defies all logic and makes vice a virtue.
Traditionalists confuse their own heresy and schism with `formal' orthodoxy, while pretending that formal (real) heretics and schismatics are `material' heretics and schismatics.
All this confusion and the disorder which it creates would disappear if only the teaching and practice of the Church were respected. How can souls protect themselves from false prophets, from the `Scribes and Pharisees' of our present day?
Guard against yourselves! You are your own worst enemy. The most dangerous imposters, and the greatest enemies to truth are in your own heart. These are your passions. Whatever flatters them and sets them at liberty, they try to induce you to wish it to be true, and they at last succeed, by making it appear to you that it is so. Whatever restrains or condemns them, they try to lead you to judge it to be wrong. If they did not seduce you from within, you would hardly be seduce by external artifices. The seduction at least would neither be very dangerous, nor of any duration: the first ray of truth would remove it.
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