Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Antichrist tells us to "build the city of God"

The fall of the Tower of Babel:
What happens when we try to build the city of God

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 21:5-19
Jesus said, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.
It is not my intention at this time to discuss the various merits and demerits of OCP or of any particular song – but I will mention the refrain of two hymns, not so much to criticize those hymns in particular, but rather as a means of indicating the view many modern(ist) Catholics have regarding the second coming.
At some parishes in the United States, it is still not uncommon to hear: “Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing!” or “Sing a new Church into being, one in faith and love and praise!” Beyond the fact that these songs have a mystical ability to turn otherwise respectable adults into buffoons, their real danger is in the theology which they embody. These songs (and others like them) are a deception of the Antichrist.

The deception of the Antichrist
“The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment” (CCC 676).
The first sin of the human race was an attempt to grasp immortality, to attain to the glory of heaven by man’s own power. Again, men attempted to build the city of God when they began to construct the tower of Babel. But Christ has told us that the Kingdom will not come through the powers (or even the virtues) of man, but from the judgment of God. The Lord will come not when the Church is at her strongest, but when she is weakest, when she is nearing annihilation, when she is most in need of her Savior.
It is one of the great heresies of our day that man can perfect himself and can save the world himself. Whether this be expressed as a political party (e.g. Communism), or a religious movement (e.g. Liberation Theology), or an individual work (e.g. Pelagianism) – the Church has always insisted that salvation does not come through human works, but through the grace and the power of Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that this movement inward (toward the self or toward society), this forgetfulness of God, is the principle deception of the Antichrist. Satan’s ancient temptation will be renewed in the final days – he will try to deceive man into thinking that he can save himself, he will tell us that we can construct the city of God and that we can sing heaven into existence on earth.
The parousia
“The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven” (CCC 677).
Christ tells us that the end of time will come only when every stone has been cast down, when nations are in tumult, when the earth is shaken, and when all who follow him are hated. Then, in the blink of an eye, the Savior will return and will judge all peoples. In other words, the second is not a reward for good behavior; it is not the logical fulfillment of human progress – rather, the parousia is quite the antithesis of human progress.
In this respect the second coming is not unlike the first, for we like sheep had gone astray. First, the Lord came to seek and to save what was lost. Next, he will come not to save the lost, but to destroy his enemies and to redeem his holy people. Just as the world did nothing to merit the Incarnation, neither will the world merit the second coming.
And yet, we must not fear; for the Lord has promised, “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” And, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”


Barbara said...

Timely, Spirit-driven column.
Keeping in mind lex orendi, lex credendi, if St. Augustine is right and singing is praying twice, we're in real trouble. these.
Our youth Mass sings these songs, and others, equally horrendous -truly frightening.

David Lamb said...

I think that you're too quick to give a damning interpretation. If there's a theological basis for calling us "workers in the Lord's vineyard" then why not extend the metaphor to "builders of God's city"? Why is this not permitted?

Monachus said...

This does appear somewhat to border on sola fide. I'd be interested to know what the CCC has to say about that...

Nick said...

Catechism of the Catholic Church
756 "Often, too, the Church is called the building of God. The Lord compared himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the corner-stone. On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles and from it the Church receives solidity and unity. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God in which his family dwells; the household of God in the Spirit; the dwelling-place of God among men; and, especially, the holy temple. This temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. As living stones we here on earth are built into it. It is this holy city that is seen by John as it comes down out of heaven from God when the world is made anew, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ essentially. In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace --a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit--, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

Jesus Christ builds up the City of God - the Church - in His Priests. Perhaps you are worried about the confusion of the catholic priesthood and the ordained priesthood.

Unknown said...

This writing is touched by the Spirit. This has resonated in my heart all day.

Nathan said...

"Immanentizing the eschaton" (a phrase coined by a philosopher at Notre Dame whose name, beginning with a "V", I can not recall.)
It means making the eschaton present or making earth into a heaven. Like the communists or the socialists who spoke of bringing about a new Jerusalem. (also Nazis!)
The Catholic approach is looking to the life in the next world, putting up with the tares, from which evil God can bring good, meanwhile through response to grace perfecting virtues here while final consummation does tarry.

On the other hand Protestant societies generally tend to focus on the elimination of vices, because their goal is God's kingdom on earth. consider the approach of Puritan New England in the 18th c. Vice must needs be stamped out to create a perfect world.

Thank you for this discussion.

Nathan said...

the philosopher is Eric Voegelin

Transformer said...

Sing all praise to our lord and father Jesus Christ, King of Kings and Lords of Lords.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Davin and Monachus, Thank you for your comments and, I do agree that we need to recognize that works and merit do play an important role in spiritual growth and in the Church.

However, though it is true that we can merit an increase in grace and in charity (through doing good works), we must nevertheless insist (with St. Thomas) that we cannot merit the grace of final perseverance (which grace alone leads to salvation)...this most necessary grace can be gained only through prayer -- begging the Lord for his mercy and love.

Likewise, the Kingdom of God will not be brought about through human works, its coming will not even be merited -- rather, we must pray for the Kingdom ("thy kingdom come") and we must remember that God will bring it to fulfillment in his time.

Indeed, we must work in the Lord's vineyard (that is, we must do good and meritorious works), but we should never forget that we cannot build God's city. The heavenly Jerusalem will descend, precisely at that time when the world is most estranged from her Savior.

I hope it is clear how my view expressed in the article differs from "sola fide" and the heresy of quietism...
Blessings to you both.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick, thank you for the quotes from the Catechism! Even here, I would add that Christ builds up the Church through the ministerial priesthood, but the Kingdom will come only through prayer. The Church will not slowly ascend to heaven, but heaven will suddenly descend upon the Church in the hour of her greatest need.

@Nathan, "Immanentizing the eschaton", that is a great way of putting it! I was going to call it the heresy of "immanentism"...
This is so prevalent in the modern Church and in the modern world.
Isn't it funny that the sola fide Protestants were the worst when it came to attempting to "build the city of God"?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Barbara, Allen, and Transformer,
Thank you for the words of encouragement. Indeed, may the name of the Lord be praised!
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

Ben said...

I appreciate and agree with your general theme, but just one quibble:

I'm no great fan of the hymn 'City of God', but in fairness it should be said that after the words, 'Let us build the city of God, may our tears be turned into dancing', it goes on to say, 'For the Lord, our light and our love, has turned the night into day'. So according to the hymn, it is the Lord's action of bringing salvation ('turning night into day') that is primordial, and any 'building' of the kingdom which we do flows from that.

(At least, I think that's a reasonable interpretation - lots of well-loved hymns aren't exactly scholastic treatises and need to be given a bit of charitable leeway. e.g. In "Hail, Queen of Heaven": we ask Our Lady to 'Remind thy Son...' )

Vatican II, in 'Gaudium et Spes' 39, gives a balanced view of the relationship between the eternal kingdom, and its mysterious foreshadowing here on earth:

"We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart. Then, with death overcome, the sons of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility. Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made on man's account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.

"Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.

"Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.

"For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: "a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace." On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower."

So, according to the Council, the earthly goods that (under grace) we cultivate here on earth are a 'foreshadowing' of the eternal kingdom, in which we will find 'transfigured' in Christ all these human goods we have nurtured 'in his Spirit'.

Will Edmonson said...

The United Methodist Church's new mission statement is "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World."


Transformer said...

Does any of this change gods will??? I don't believe so..... Whatever we say, whatever we do, gods will shall be...........Whats so scary about that?

Matt said...

Perhaps you could help clear up some confusion. As human beings we no longer live in caves, make our own clothes, grow or gather our own food. We buy our clothes ready made, live in heated and air-conditioned multi-story dwellings, use computers, etc.
All this has resulted from human efforts. Discovering electricity, researching diseases and on and on and on. When one thing is discovered or invented then the next is built upon what is known or what we have from human work. So, there is a progression. We do not constantly start over again.
In this progression something is being built; a society? a world ? Is what is being built good ? If it were it must be of God. How then does it relate to the City of God or the Kingdom ?

Anonymous said...

"The aspiration that humanity nurtures, amid countless injustices and sufferings, is the hope of a new civilization marked by freedom and peace. But for such an undertaking, a new generation of builders is needed. Moved not by fear or violence but by the urgency of genuine love, they must learn to build, brick by brick, the city of God within the city of man.

Allow me, dear young people, to consign this hope of mine to you: you must be those "builders!"
You are the men and women of tomorrow. The future is in your hearts and in your hands. God is entrusting to you the task, at once difficult and uplifting, of working with him in the building of the civilization of love."

Bart said...

The above quote is from Pope John Paul II.

Augustine, too had something similar to say on this topic.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ben and Matt,
I think a key point here is, as Ben quoted, "earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom" (Gaudium et Spes). True, this progress "is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God" but it is not itself the Kingdom.

This is the radical message of the Gospel: the world will not slowly get better and better, rather it will get worse and worse, the Church herself will be intensely persecuted, "all will hate you because of my name", but then (when humanity is at its weakest) the power of God will shine!

Indeed, those, who look with expectation to the coming of the Kingdom, will also be the most ardent in working to make this world resemble the next -- but we Christians must never think that we can build the Kingdom ourselves, we cannot really even participate in building it...we can only pray that God will bring his glorious plan to fulfillment.

There will be many good things developed on earth, but these will never bring about the coming of the Christ.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Bart (anonymous),
John Paul II seems to be referring primarily to the city of man, the civilization of love, which we are obligated to build before the last day. When he says we must "build...the city of God within the city of man", he makes it clear that he is not referring to the eschaton (the last day), but to the Church and to Christendom.

Of course we must work to bring true justice and peace to the earth, we must also spread the Gospel to all peoples...but we must also recognize that the Kingdom will come not by human efforts, but in the time which God has foreknown and chosen. We cannot build the city of God in this most final and fullest sense, we can only imprecate it through prayer (as in the Our Father, "thy kingdom come").
Peace to you!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I agree, we should not be afraid of the will of God. His plan is for our good, he is full of Mercy and Love!

Yet, we must do all we can to participate in his plan according to his will -- the primary way we do this is through the life of prayer, and then also through external works of charity.

But, as you say, when we know that the will of our loving God will infallibly be fulfilled, we have no need to fear...he died for us, will he not then bring us to new life in him?

@Will, I agree, the Methodist community seems to have little appreciation of the divine activity...

Matt said...

"This is the radical message of the Gospel: the world will not slowly get better and better, rather it will get worse and worse..."

It doesn't seem like things have gotten worse and worse in the case of the world or the Church.
The Church itself has grown tremendously from tiny beginnings of persecution to being very influential in Europe and now having a world wide presence. Certainly Church leadership has improved from what it was at times in the 14 and 15th centuries.

Did Jesus inaugurate the Kingdom (c.f. '...the Kingdom is at hand') or is the Kingdom something that will only come in its entirety at the end ?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Consider, however, the many persecutions in the middle east...for example, the recent killings in Iraq...the 20th century is a century of martyrs, a time of utter chaos and confusion...the world is getting worse, it seems...

It is true that the Church participates in the Kingdom, but in its proper species the Kingdom descends from above at the end of time.

Ben said...

I think we have to see both aspects. Christ does teach that as the end approaches, 'most men's love will grow cold' (Mt 24:12). And he asks, 'When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?' (Lk 18:8) Certainly there are ominous signs for the Church and the world in recent times, in the crisis of faith, in the culture of death.

And yet, it's also true that the Kingdom has wonderfully grown on this earth, like the mustard seed becoming a great tree (Mt 13:31-32); and like the yeast leavening the whole loaf (Mt 13:33), it has brought about progress in the world itself (e.g. material progress, or, in some respects, increased recognition of human rights). The power of the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Gospel for the integral salvation of the world, have not come into the world in vain, and in themselves they are obviously greater than the forces of evil. 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.' (Rom 5:20)

The Catechism, 763, describes the participation, real yet imperfect and mysterious, of the Church on earth in the Kingdom of God:
'To fulfill the Father's will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. The Church "is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery." (Lumen Gentium 3)'

In sum, both sin and grace are working everywhere. The grace of Christ is far more powerful. Yet, in God's providence, his plan is to allow sin to seem to regain the upper hand more and more as the end approaches. Thus the Church will enter fully into Christ's death, only then to enter fully into his resurrection in the final kingdom.

Patty said...

The "world" is getting worse and worse...

I'm not sure about statistics here, but as was mentioned above the 20th century is known as the century of martyrs.

With over 52 million innocent pre-born humans being aborted in the US each year, it does not seem good. And then there is the push for euthanasia...

Most people I think, would generally consider the US a "civilized" nation; however, to me it seems we are very barbaric as a nation...we merely deny what we are obviously doing.

And then another thought crosses my mind; did the early heretical Christians identify with the Catholic Church as does Pelosy, Kennedy and others; or did they identify with their chosen heresy.

It has also been my experience "the faithful remnant" doesn't just endure persecution from outside the Church, but also from within by means of ridicule from "cafeteria catholics".

At the very least the "world' is certainly no better.

Anonymous said...

Reginaldus, your article was truly inspiring. We hear so many tired, overworked sermons using the same, comfortable, affirming themes that the radical, hard sayings of the gospel have been tamed to the point that they are forgotten five minutes after we have left the Church. I agree with Patty that the millions of abortions and the use of abortafacient contraceptives negates the idea of our world having becoming more progressive.

Jack said...

Could you explain how grace-God's life within us-is not in some way a vehicle in which the city of God exists within our world?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Patty and Anonymous (1:14pm),
Yes, it is very sad to see how murder of the most vulnerable (something which has long existed among barbarians) has now become a "right" and a "choice" in the so-called 'civilized' world.

The world gets worse and worse, the darkness grows and grows...and yet, the Light shines in the darkness!
Be not afraid! Though you experience ridicule and persecution (perhaps even from some within the Church), it will lead to your giving testimony. And the wisdom which the Lord gives us is a wisdom which overcomes the world!

Run the race! Keep the faith! And may God bless you.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ben, I think your main point here is to emphasize that there is wheat even in the midst of the weeds! (to reverse the parable)
Certainly, you are correct. Though the Kingdom be only a little mustard seed, it will suddenly become a great and mighty tree -- and God causes the growth.

@Jack, The life of grace is, in a certain sense the "city of God within us". Sanctifying grace is the invisible mission of the Holy Spirit (and of the Son) into our souls! Grace is that created reality by which we can truly say, "The Holy Spirit dwells within us."

However, the city of God will descend from heaven in its PROPER SPECIES only at the end of time.
Just as Christ is already present on earth in the Blessed Sacrament, but has yet to come again in his PROPER SPECIES to be the judge of heaven and earth.

I hope that clears up the confusion. Peace to you!

Anonymous said...

The Kingdom of Heaven, or of God as some call it, is present in Jesus Christ, and hence in His Body, the Church, and the Church is of Heaven and Earth; in the sense that all are called to the Church and are made for Heaven, the Church is the seed and beginning of the Kingdom, and this is best seen in four ways: One, the Reign of God in the hearts of the living, for God is the God of the living; two, the corporal (members) and spiritual (faith) growth of the Church on Earth, for the Spirit leads the Church and draws her into all truths; three, the Sacraments, especially the Blessed Sacrament, for these are the sacred signs of eternal life; and four, the saints who have joined the choirs of angels in Heaven, in particular those who are canonized, and especially the Virgin Mary, who represents and exemplifies the Church, for they enjoy the full reign of God in their hearts, which naturally includes the enjoyment of goodness, which in turn would include, in addition to all good things (like joy and love), the absence of all evil: Sin, suffering, and the devils.

Because the Kingdom is in Christ, the Bride will descend to join her Bridegroom; that is, the New Jerusalem, the Church in Heaven, the ranks of saints and choirs of angels, will descend with Jesus on the clouds of Heaven in glory for the judgment of the living and the dead.

Anonymous said...

I should add that the Virgin Mary does not belong to any one rank of angel but is above the angels, and she is in fact their Queen as the Queen of the King of the angels, being the Lady of the Lord, the New Eve of the New Adam.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (5:29pm and 5:35pm),
I think you have described these realities well.

What do you think of a distinction I have tried to make? -- The Kingdom of God "sacramentally" present in the Church now, yet present on earth in its PROPER SPECIES only at the end of time.
Obviously, I am making an analogy to Christ's presence in the Sacrament and in his second coming.

Regarding the Blessed Virgin Mary, you are quite correct -- the Kingdom of Heaven is already (in some mystical way) brought to completion in her person; she is the perfect Bride, united to her Bridegroom.

Also, in the future, could you please use some sort of Tag or ID (so that we know who is talking/writing). Simply "signing" your comments with a pseudonym would suffice.

Thank you for your comments! Blessings to you.

Anonymous said...

This is a very judgemental and narrow understanding of the verse "build the city of God". I do not think any person understands this to mean a physical city, but an effort to build on the cornerstne, which is Jesus and to let the Spirit of God build this interior castle through prayer and a life devoted to God and the Gospel. The mere mention of the anti Christ in this message is a frightening statement of dictatorship and is just one of the power plays of a priesthood that has lost the way of Vatican 11. Where is that humble leader who leads by example, the beauty of a life devoted to God. The man who inspires self sacrifice and generosity by his own example. How did you get to be so damning and judgemental?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (Nov 16, 3:54am),
Talk about judgmental and narrow!
By the way, thanks for having the courtesy to use a Tag or ID rather than hiding behind anonymity...

I don't know much about Vatican 11 (the eleventh council of the Vatican?), but the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which refers to the Antichrist's deception) is very much the Catechism of Vatican II.

By the way, thank you for assuming in all charity that I am a "humble leader who leads by example, the beauty of a life devoted to God."

Just one question: "How did you get to be so damning and judgmental?"
Peace to you.

Nick said...

Sorry for the anonymous comments at 5:29pm and 5:35pm, I have trouble logging into Blogspot sometimes. :(

"What do you think of a distinction I have tried to make? -- The Kingdom of God 'sacramentally' present in the Church now, yet present on earth in its PROPER SPECIES only at the end of time.
Obviously, I am making an analogy to Christ's presence in the Sacrament and in his second coming."

I believe the Kingdom is one, and so none can say, "We have this kingdom now, but another will come!" for none can say God is not one, nor His Christ not one: This oneness or unity, this catholicity if you will, is absolutely crucial, to understand to avoid the old heresies about dual kingdoms and messiahs and gods, which Jesus Christ warned us against.

At the same time, the distinction between the presence of the Kingdom in the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and the fulfillment of the Kingdom in the Coming of Christ at the appointed time is absolutely crucial, to avoid the error of some early Christians who thought the fulfillment of the Kingdom was imminent, as if in their own lifetimes they would see the coming of the Son of Man, of which the Apostle Paul corrected them in his Epistle.

I wrote more on eschatology here. Eternity, Eucharist, and Eschatology

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