Live Not By Lies: The Apocalypse Version
Above, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra delivers his prophetic address in Rome, in 2017. A few months later, he would be dead.
I'm going to be somewhat more religious in this post than I usually am here, but I think it's important. Someone shared with me the other day this 2017 interview with Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, who has since died. In it, the cardinal -- a theological conservative who founded the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family (which has since been wrecked by Pope Francis). In it, Cardinal Caffarra said:
Your Eminence, what can you tell us about the letter you received from Sr. Lucia while you were working to found the Pontifical John Paul II institute for Marriage and Family in Rome?
In 1981 Pope John Paul II founded the Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. The first years (1983-1984) were very difficult. The Institute was not wanted.
Who didn’t want it?
It was not wanted within and outside of the Church, because of the vision it was proposing. And so I was very concerned. Without asking anyone, I thought: “I will write to Sr. Lucia.”
How did that come to mind?
Just like that. But as you know, from the beginning the patroness of the institute has been Our Lady of Fatima. It is contained in the Apostolic Constitution. There the pope places the institute under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin of Fatima. So much so — I hope it is still there — that when one enters the institute, at the end of the corridor there is a statue of Our Lady of Fatima, and the chapel of institute is dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
And so, I thought to write to her. So I wrote, but simply saying: “The pope wanted this Institute. We are going through a very difficult time. I ask you only to pray.” And I added: “I do not expect a reply.” Her prayers were enough for me.
As you know, in order to have any contact with Sr. Lucia, even by letter, one needed to go through her bishop. So I sent the letter to the bishop, and he passed it on to Sr. Lucia.
To my great surprise, after not more than two or three weeks, I received a reply. It was a hand-written letter and quite long. I have given sworn testimony of what the letter said. The letter ended, saying (in 1983 or 1984): “Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family. And those who will work for the good of the family will experience persecution and tribulation. But do not be afraid, because Our Lady has already crushed his head.”
This remained engraved on my heart, and amid all of the difficulties we have encountered — and there have been so, so many — these words have always given me a great strength.
When you initially read Sr. Lucia’s words, did you think she was speaking of that moment in history?
I began thinking a few years ago, after almost thirty years: “Sr. Lucia’s words are taking place.” This decisive battle will be the thesis of my talk today. Satan is constructing and anti-creation.
If we read the second chapter of Genesis, we see that the edifice of creation is founded on two pillars. First, man is not something; he is someone, and therefore he deserves absolute respect. The second pillar is the relationship between man and woman, which is sacred. Between the man and the woman. Because creation finds its completion when God creates the woman. So much so, that after he created woman, the Bible says God rested.
Today, what do we observe? Two terrible events. First, the legitimization of abortion. That is, abortion has become a subjective right of woman. Now, ‘subjective right’ is an ethical category and therefore we are here entering into the world of good and evil, and we say that abortion is a good; it is a right. The second thing we see is the attempt to equate homosexual relationships with marriage. You see that Satan is attempting to threaten and destroy the two pillars so that he can fashion another creation. As if he were provoking the Lord, saying to Him: ‘I will fashion another creation, and man and woman will say: we like better here.’
On thing that struck me, reading these words only five years on, is how Card. Caffarra did not perceive at all the rise of transgenderism and gender fluidity. The trans phenomenon is an even more direct attempt to "fashion another creation" that defies the created order. That's how fast all this has arisen.
The interview sent me to Caffarra's address later that day, a link to which is here. I found it breathtaking, especially in light of current events. Here he is talking about Satan as the Father of Lies -- and how those who don't make a strong effort to live in truth will be deceived. Excerpts:
Yet this force of attraction can only take effect on those who “are from the truth”. That is, on those who are profoundly available to the Truth, who love truth, who live in familiarity with it. Pascal writes: “You would not seek me if you had not already found me”.
He who holds the entire world under his sway, instead dominates through lies. Jesus says of Satan: “He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. [John 8, 44].
The wording is dramatic. The first proposition – “He was a murderer from the beginning” – is explained by the second: “and he does not stand in the truth”. The murder which the devil performs consists in his not standing in the truth, not dwelling in the truth. It is murder, because he is seeking to extinguish, to kill in the heart of man truth, the desire for truth. By inducing man to unbelief, he wants man to close himself to the light of the Divine Revelation, which is the Word incarnate. Therefore, these words of Jesus on Satan – as today the majority of exegetes believe – do not speak of the fall of the angels. They speak of something far more profound, something frightful: Satan constantly refuses the truth, and his action within human society consists in opposition to the truth. Satan is this refusal; he is this opposition.
The text continues: “because there is no truth in him”. The words of Jesus go to the deepest root of Satan’s work. He is in himself a lie. From his person truth is completely absent, and hence he is by definition the one who opposes truth. Jesus adds immediately afterwards: “When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies”. When the Lord says “speaks according to his own nature”, he introduces us to the interiority of Satan, to his heart. A heart which lives in darkness, in shadows: a house without doors and without windows.
To summarise, this therefore is what is happening in the heart of man: Jesus, the Revelation of the Father, exerts a strong attraction to Himself. Satan works against this, to neutralise the attractive force of the Crucified-Risen One. The force of truth which makes us free acts on the heart of man. It is the Satanic force of the lie which makes slaves of us.
Given that man is positioned between two opposing forces, the condition in which he finds himself must necessarily give rise to two cultures: the culture of the truth and the culture of the lie.
There is a book in Holy Scripture, the last, the Apocalypse, which describes the final confrontation between the two kingdoms. In this book, the attraction of Christ takes the form of triumph over enemy powers commanded by Satan. It is a triumph which comes after lengthy combat. The first fruits of the victory are the martyrs. “The great Dragon, serpent of the primal age, he whom we call the devil, or Satan, seducer of the whole world, was flung down to earth… But they [= the martyrs] overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of the testimony of their martyrdom” [cfr. Ap. 12, 9.11].
This is the core:
At the root of this is the work of Satan, who wants to build an actual anti-creation. This is the ultimate and terrible challenge which Satan is hurling at God. “I am demonstrating to you that I am capable of constructing an alternative to your creation. And man will say: it is better in the alternative creation than in your creation”.
This is the frightful strategy of the lie, constructed around a profound contempt for man.
What should we do? The cardinal said:
The reply is simple: within the confrontation between creation and anti-creation, we are called upon to TESTIFY. This testimony is our mode of being in the world.
The New Testament has an abundantly rich doctrine on this matter. I must confine myself to an indication of the three fundamental meanings which constitute testimony.
Testimony means to say, to speak, to announce openly and publicly. Someone who does not testify in this way is like a soldier who flees at the decisive moment in a battle. We are no longer witnesses, but deserters, if we do not speak openly and publicly.
LIVE NOT BY LIES! As the world grows darker, rapidly, I am glad that Live Not By Lies is going to be published in paperback next month. It will be available to more people then, especially groups. If you have already bought the book, or you intend to buy the book, you can download the Study Guide for free here. We have to get ourselves, our kids, and our communities ready for what is here, and what is to come.
On that point, I have some news that may or may not be encouraging to you. I was encouraged by it, because I do not believe for one second that we can escape what is headed our way. If you're the sort of Christian who thinks we can avoid testifying, and avoid paying a price for it, then you won't like what I'm about to say -- but then, you won't like what's about to happen in this world. The hope in what I'm about to say is theological. Let me explain. From here on out is something that appeared last week on my subscriber-only Substack newsletter, which focuses on spirituality, and stays away from the news, the culture war, and the kind of topics I talk about on this blog.
In Toronto last week, I was given a copy of a really interesting book written by a priest of that archdiocese. It’s called The Christ of the Apocalypse, by Monsignor A. Robert Nusca. I had it in my bag on the flight home, and started reading it while waiting for the flight to take off. I couldn’t put it down. It’s a close exegesis of the Book of Revelation, paying special attention to how Jesus of Nazareth appears in St. John’s vision.
I tend to stay away from material about Revelation, not because it bores me — far from it — but because I know that kind of thing can set my mind on fire. It did when I was an adolescent and stumbled into that world through the Evangelical door. I think it’s very, very important, but I don’t trust myself with it. I got to thinking about it the other day, though, when a friend mentioned Jesus’s statement in Mark 13:45 that the gospel would have to be preached throughout the world before the Second Coming. To be clear, Jesus was talking about what would happen before the destruction of the Second Temple (in which case the whole world would mean the known world at the time, which had happened before Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD). But the traditional Christian interpretation is that it’s a double prophecy, referring also to things that must happen before the Apocalypse. Note too that in Matthew 24:14, the evangelist’s version of the same discourse, quotes, Jesus saying: “The Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world as a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come.”
That sent me back to an electrifying moment of my life, on February 21, 2001. I stood above St. Peter’s Square in Rome, gathered with the media to watch the ceremony in which Pope John Paul II made a new group of cardinals — including the then-Archbishop of New York, which was why the New York Post sent me there. The pope gave this sermon, the substance of which begins by quoting Christ from Mark 10 ["The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10: 45)].
You will note that twice in the homily, the Pope told the cardinals that the red they wore is a sign that they must be prepared to shed blood for Christ. And — this was the kicker — he twice said that the gospel had been preached globally. Specifically, he said that his ministry at Successor of Peter “extends to the ends of the earth.” And he said:
You come from 27 countries on four continents and speak various languages. Is this not a sign of the Church's ability, now that she has spread to every corner of the globe, to understand peoples with different traditions and languages, in order to bring to all the message of Christ?
I remember standing there, atop the colonnade, wondering if it was a coincidence, or if John Paul had intentionally signaled his belief that we are in apocalyptic times?
Anyway, to Monsignor Nusca’s book. It’s not a book of apocalyptic speculation; rather, it is a learned analysis of Revelation, and its meaning for the Church today, whether or not we are on the verge of the Great Tribulation. What made me read this book all the way to the end was how Msgr Nusca emphasizes, over and over, that we Christians must prepare ourselves to suffer. This is a theme I’ve been banging on in my talks lately, regarding how we should make ready to go through the difficult times ahead of us (I make no claim at all about the Apocalypse, to be clear). In the passages I quote below, you’ll sometimes see unattributed quotations within quotations. That’s Msgr Nusca quoting someone else, and footnoting it. I’ve left the footnotes out here.
Msgr Nusca says the face of Christ revealed in Revelation is that of the “Divine Warrior.” He writes: “In the Book of Revelation, the Christian achieves victory ‘by the blood of the Lamb and in no other way.’ … Those who have borne the marks of Jesus’ own suffering and rejection will also bear the marks of His glory.” And: “The Book of Revelation teaches that it is in faith and patient endurance alone (Lk 21:19; Heb 12:2, 1 Pet 2:21-24), and never through the use of violence, that one achieves victory over the world (13:10).”
Nusca says that St. John’s apocalyptic vision occurred in a time “not unlike our own,” a world “dominated by an empire whose symbols and values stand in stark opposition to those of the Gospel … a world in which God is not accorded His proper place at the center of life and human relationships.”
Nusca says we should read Revelation personally:
Throughout, John wants to bring us to the realization that the powers of the empire have no claim to finality. The destiny of the world is in the hands of God and the Lamb, good will triumph, sin and evil will come to an end, and the old order will pass away as all things are made new in Christ (21:5). Then as now, the faithful are invited to choose Christ and so to prepare to enter a new world: one that is already in the process of arriving through the life of prayer and the Spirit. We too are led to consider our own attitudes toward the political, economic, social, and technological forces that shape the globalized postmodern, post-national world in which we live.
You can see Msgr Nusca poking us throughout his analysis. Describing John’s vision, he says that Christ wanders through them asking the faithful of the Asia Minor churches in the midst of crisis, “Are they drawn by the allure of the Roman Empire, abandoning their faith willingly for values and beliefs that are contrary to the Gospel (2:14-15, 20-24)? Are they in danger of losing their faith through utter indifference and neglect (3:2-4, 15-18).”
In Nusca’s reading, Revelation over and over forces the reader to recognize that he must choose — that he cannot be neutral in the great spiritual war.
Revelation’s symbolic universe portrays a world divided between those who strive to share in the values of God’s everlasting Kingdom, and those who refuse to dissociate themselves from taking part in the sins associated with the earthly kingdom, symbolized by the city of Babylon (18:2).
Again, this is a book of scholarly exegesis (though accessible to the lay reader; the priest is a good writer). It is not a book that seeks to advance a novel theme or sexy End Times thesis. There are such good passages though. For example:
The lofty theological significance of the visions in Revelation 4 through 5 should not obscure the fact that this revelation is given for the sake of the faithful who struggle to preserve their religious identity within a world dominated by the values of the Roman Empire. … The Book of Revelation does not teach us “how to avoid suffering, but how to suffer,” namely, by joining our sufferings to those of Christ Himself.”
Ultimately, the strong language aims to transform the behavior of the audience and has “repentance as its primary goal.”
Whether as witnesses to God’s mighty deeds, or as active participants in the spiritual warfare depicted, John invites the faithful to choose sides. [emphasis in the original]
Msgr Nusca says elsewhere that we are to understand that the Apocalypse is written to prepare God’s people to gird themselves for cosmic holy war, one that “demands faithful witness, even unto death.” Yet he also says that we should grasp that the Apocalypse takes place not only in the cosmos, but also within our own hearts.
Notwithstanding the epic, cosmic magnitude of the canvas upon which John paints his masterpiece, the audience must never lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, the human heart remains the final battlefield wherein the heavenly armies of God and the forces of evil engage in mortal combat over the everlasting destiny of souls (12:7-12; Eph 6:11). The Book of Revelation reminds the faithful that God is very near to them in their struggles in the here and now.
Gotta say that all of this was really encouraging to me. I did not know this about the Revelation, a book I almost never read because it’s so densely symbolic, and I don’t know how to make sense of it. What’s especially nice is that I was given this book by its author right after I delivered a speech in which I exhorted the audience to prepare for great suffering and persecution, but not to lose hope, for Christ has already triumphed, and that we can share in His triumph only if we share in His suffering. It was a consolation to learn, by the gift of Msgr Nusca, that I’m on track with the story.
I’m not used to seeing the German biblical scholar Jürgen Moltmann quoted in theological books I read, but here are some beautiful Moltmann lines that Msgr Nusca quotes in his book:
The biblical apocalypses are not pessimistic scenarios for the destruction of the world which seek to disseminate anxiety and terror and to paralyse people; they hold fast to the hope of God’s faithfulness to his creation in the terrors of this age. “When all this begins to take place, then lift up your heads, for your redemption is near,” promises Luke (21:18). Prophetic hope is hope in action, apocalyptic hope is hope in danger, a hope which is capable of suffering, patient and persistent; whatever may come, in the end, there is God.
Amen to that. What a genuinely hopeful book Monsignor Nusca has written!
Why is this book so hopeful? Because it tells us that even though we will have to suffer, maybe even die, it is part of the divine plan, and only through suffering can we Christians share in the victory Christ has already won. As Revelation 5:5 says, "do not fear, for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed." The stern warning, though, is that Christians who are unwilling or unprepared to suffer will not make it.
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Yesterday a Catholic friend with whom I text frequently wrote to say that in his view, the only Christians who are going to make it through the storm now tearing his own church apart, and all the churches, are those who live some form of the Benedict Option. I told him that that is exactly what Father Cassian Folsom, the founding prior of the Benedictine Abbey of Norcia, told me in 2015. This is not just advice for Catholics. It is for every Christian. I commend to you this long interview at Mere Orthodoxy with Paul Kingsnorth, the English novelist and essayist and recent convert to Orthodox Christianity. He does not mince words:
I’m quite passionate in a quite fanatical way about the fact that technology is quite demonic at this point— I mean in a literal sense. Things are coming through these screens that are not good things. And you can see that particularly when you see the way that children are addicted to technology — but not just children, so are their parents. You can see the stuff that pornography is doing to kids, and indeed adults.
This is quite dark stuff, and it is quite literally from realms we shouldn’t be messing with, in a Christian sense, I would say. So what’s the Church going to do about that? What’s the Church’s attitude, and what is generally Christianity’s attitude? Because it’s not just an Orthodox question, it’s a Christian question. What is Christianity’s attitude to this quite Luciferic technological web that we have around us now, that tempts us with all these good things and then corrupts our soul in really significant ways?
I think a lot of the madness in our culture has come directly from social media, it’s come directly through people’s smartphones. We wouldn’t have this kind of insane culture war that we’ve got going on if it wasn’t for smartphones — guaranteed, it would not be there, or at least it would be there at a much lower level. It wouldn’t be anything like as crazy as it is now.
And we wouldn’t have some of this really dangerous stuff going into the heads of children. Children in this generation are so confused — they don’t know what their gender is, they don’t know what they’re supposed to think about anything, they have access to all sorts of stuff that they should absolutely not be seeing on phones. My kids don’t have [smart]phones, and neither do I, and you know, and if there’s one thing a Christian could do to resist the trend it would be to throw their smartphone in the river. Although that would not be good for the river, so maybe just burn it or something.
You know, it’s a serious point. I think that that’s the question for me now: What are churches going to do, what are Christians going to do about where technology is going to take us? What do we start doing when artificial intelligence really comes online, and the metaverse becomes a bigger thing than it is now? What do we do about that? What’s the spiritual attitude, what does that represent symbolically in Christian mythology? Is that just okay? Is that just the wonders of science? Because it seems to me it’s like eating the apple all over again every day. It’s following what the serpent tells you; it’s Cain rather than Abel. As I say, it’s quite demonic. And I don’t really know what to do about that. But there’s a sense, in my mind, that if anybody’s got it right, the Amish have got it right, in their intelligent attitude to technology — not that I’m an expert on the Amish, but just from what I know of them, that kind of critical attitude. And you mentioned Wendell Berry — he’s probably the best example of a Christian thinker who knows about this stuff. He’s thought about it for a long time, and so had Ivan Illich, so had Jacques Ellul, whom I’ve written about recently as well. So it might be time to start rediscovering these people, because it’s not like this critique hasn’t been made, but it’s getting more urgent now. And I think that’s the big challenge for Christians so that they don’t get sucked into this dark thing pretending to be light.
Paul Kingsnorth's message is the same as Card. Caffarra's: the only way you will be able to tell the truth from a lie is by striving constantly to live in truth. We cannot be neutral about this. There is no way to stand outside the great battle of our time. It is here, it is now, and you must choose.