Was John Paul just talking, or was he signaling a purification?

by Michael H. Brown

         The word came Wednesday morning. It was from Rod Dreher, a columnist at The New York Post. Rod was in Rome to cover the historic induction of 44 new cardinals and was filing a story. "You'll be quite surprised, I think, by what John Paul said in his consistory homily today," Dreher said. "Read down toward the end of it, the stuff about John Paul telling the cardinals to read the `signs of the times,' and noting that the Gospel has been preached to `all corners of the earth' -- this in a homily that weighed heavily on martyrdom."

         According to Dreher, John Paul had urged the cardinals to draw closer to God in prayer so that they could engage a world where globalization and scientific change brings the potential for crisis. 

         "Noting that the new cardinals represent 27 countries," he wrote, "John Paul said he saw in this a sign that the Gospel has been `spread now in all corners of the planet.'"

         The Gospel preached to all corners? Signs of the times?

         Unless just rhetorical, it was galvanizing language. I have not yet seen the entire text of his remarks (and will wait until I have for any final analysis), but the words seemed loaded. The preaching of the "good news" throughout the world is in Matthew 24 -- the passage called "the beginning of calamities."

         In that passage Jesus speaks of wars, rumors of wars, a great increase in evil, cold-heartedness, famine, pestilence, "and earthquakes in many places" -- which begins to sounds like something out of a modern newspaper.

         The expression "signs of the times" comes from Matthew 16:3 in the same breath with which Christ spoke about "an evil, faithless age" and the "sign of Jonah" -- a reference to the prophecy of Nineveh's destruction.

         In Revelation 7:1-2 we find the "corners of the world" mentioned in the context of angels "given power to ravage the land and the sea."

         Is this all one big coincidence? Is it a coincidence spoken at a time when there are rumors of war involving China or Iraq or the Holy Land, when there are storms -- typhoons, floods -- when quakes are registered in India and El Salvador and Mexico and Peru and the Philippines and dozens of other places? 

         We'll leave that to your own discernment. We can say this: the Pope's remarks come at a time when, in the words of Zenit News Service (on February 14), "never before, as in recent weeks, has the Pope quoted the Book of Apocalypse so much." It was a reference to an address last week at a general audience when John Paul commented that "nature itself, in fact, subjected as it is to lack of meaning, degradation and devastation caused by sin, thus participates in the joy of the deliverance brought about by Christ in the Holy Spirit."

         That seemed like a reference to a stirring in nature -- one the Vatican has previously mentioned in light of climate change brought about in part, according to the Vatican (and many scientists), by human abuse of God's creation.

        The Pope also pointedly reminded the cardinals that red symbolized the willingness "of giving the supreme witness of blood" -- something that is also a part of purification.

         "The Church and the Spirit await and invoke that moment when Christ `delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power," intoned the Pope. "At the end of this battle -- sung in wonderful pages of the Apocalypse -- Christ will fulfill the `recapitulation' and those who will be united to Him will form the community of the redeemed, which `will not be wounded any longer by sin, stains, self-love, that destroy or wound the earthly community.'" 

         At the end of his address the Pope said these remarkable words: 

         "With her sight fixed on the day of light, the Church, beloved bride of the Lamb, raises the ardent invocation: `Maranatha' (Corinthians 16:22), `Come, Lord Jesus!' (Apocalypse 22:20)."

         In the context of remarks to the cardinals that had to do with the preaching of the Gospel to all corners before a denouement, these other recent words bear close discernment. I don't want to read too much into things. I don't want to put words in the Pope's mouth. But the Pope has a mystical bent (some think he himself may have visions) and he seems to be signaling major events -- most probably a breakdown of the modern way of life and a return to a time when, as he said on February 14, "God and man, man and woman, humanity and nature are in harmony, in dialogue, in communion."

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