First, last Friday, was the "tornado" on Wall Street -- where a venerable old firm was bailed out at the last minute because it threatened to trigger an outright crash.

That was Bear Stearns, which like so many other firms is caught up in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown.

To think of it in only those terms, however, is to possess myopia. It is not just a mortgage crisis. It is a crisis of radical materialism -- a crisis of a false economy built on paper wealth that fueled the greatest extravaganza of consumerism in world history.

Lexus, Lexus, everywhere: There has been an incredible splurge at the same time that North America no longer produces much of anything tangible (not even televisions, and soon perhaps not many cars). The "everyone is a big shot" and "everyone is rich" motif is at the heart of the threat. Never has a society had so many making so much at building monetary pyramids, which are paper and subject greatly to wind.

Albert Edwards, global strategist at Societe Generale, said the toppling banks -- the "credit crunch" (banks are tightening up) -- are merely a symptom of a deeper decay. "The banks are not the problem. Nor even the grotesquely leveraged funds. The problem is that an economic bubble financed by ridiculously loose monetary policy is unraveling," he said. Experts warn of a "vicious downward spiral."

That was the financial tornado. A few hours later, in the evening hours -- 748 miles south of Manhattan -- a real tornado ripped through the heart of Atlanta.

Furniture was suctioned out of office windows. Debris blew past the upper floors of hotels.

It isn't supposed to happen in a major city, but let us remind those who read it of a passage in Sent To Earth that foresaw tornadoes in big cities where they do not usually come (last year, one hit Brooklyn) and warning that from 1991 to 1996 alone the number of severe storms jumped by a third and reports of hail had tripled. The jump has been more severe since then.

They are all heightening events. But they remain as precursors.

For many years now, tornadoes have been on the upswing, causing damage even in unusual ways in Canada.

At LaSalette, the Blessed Mother allegedly predicted "thunderstorms which will shake cities."

There is the political maelstrom.

For the first time in memory, there is no real front-runner. Anything can occur. John McCain once seemed politically comatose. He is now a comet. Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in, then all but eulogized. Suddenly, she is rising from the dead. And Barack Obama, who just two months ago was being compared to John F. Kennedy, is on the ropes due to remarks from a long-time pastor and friend.

It is a roiling, raucous time with no clear outcome. There are signs in every corner of society as well as nature. In California the state is moving to ban fishing due to an all but complete collapse of salmon (see Tower of Light).

Such will soon be declared elsewhere.

Politics? Whirlwinds. Financial markets? Whirlwinds. Our systems of justice, science, and education? Whirlwinds. The Church? Our culture? Whirlwinds.

Into all this flux will soon arrive Pope Benedict.

What he has to say next month -- in New York and in Washington, D.C. -- will have unusual resonance.

It is a time to be secure. It is a time to find shelter in the only thing that matters. It is time to go to Christ and find His peace.

Amid the disturbances, there will be much grace. Where evil is, grace abounds. It is a time of growing intervention by the Holy Spirit, and those who fast and pray will tap into that. They will recall how Christ calmed the sea. Even in financial trouble, the devout will find security.

There is no running for the hills. There are no hills. No one can predict the way circumstances will evolve. There is no way to separate oneself from the problems our culture at large has inflicted on itself.

In the coming years, in the coming turmoil, He Who shows Himself so powerfully during Lent and especially Holy Week will be the only refuge.

[resources: Sent To Earth and Tower of Light]

[resources: Look at this wave!]

[see also: A tsunami of materialism]

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