The verse above is from the Second Letter of St Paul to the Thessalonians Chapter 2 Verse 3. It is in relation to the second coming of Christ and that that can’t happen “except there be a falling away first”. King James Bible
In the Jerusalem Bible this is called the Great Revolt. “It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place…”
Jesus speaks of this in the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 24 Verse 10 “…many will fall away…”
How might people fall away? Let’s have a look at the parable of the sower.
Matthew 13: 4-9 He said, ‘Imagine a sower going out to sow. As he sowed, some seeds fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the edge of the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on patches of rock where they found little soil and sprang up straight away, because there was no depth of earth; but as soon as the sun came up they were scorched and, not having any roots, they withered away. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Others fell on rich soil and produced their crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Listen, anyone who has ears!’
And the explanation;
Matthew 13: 19-23 ‘You, therefore, are to hear the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom without understanding, the evil one comes and carries off what was sown in his heart: this is the man who received the seed on the edge of the path. The one who received it on the patches of rock is the man who hears the word and welcomes it at once with joy. But he has no root in him, he does not last; let some trial come, or some persecution on account of the word, and he falls away at once. The one who received the seed in thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this world and the lure or riches choke the word and so he produces nothing. And the one who hears the word and understands it; he is the one who yields a harvest and produces now a hundredfold, now sixty, now thirty.’
In Matthew 24 the “falling away” which Jesus mentions is in relation to persecution.
How else might people fall away? How does this relate to the current abuse crisis in the Catholic Church?
People might fall away through disillusionment. Something happens which leaves them very disappointed in the church or very hurt by it. They might question why they are in this church at all.
People might fall away because there is a challenge to their faith which is just too much too bear.
People might fall away because the church has lost credibility. They feel like the foundation under them has been taken away or shown to be irretrievably rotten.
People might feel they are being put in a position of defending the indefensible and walk away.
All these four things are consequences of the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. We could be seeing that “falling away” which is a prelude to the very last days.
What might our response be?
This is a time to be sure and certain in our faith in Jesus Christ. From the parable of the sower we want to deeply rooted in Christ to withstand all these things and heal the church and those damaged by it. When we are speaking with others we should remember that it is Jesus we are presenting as Lord and Saviour and only secondarily the Church. We do not defend the indefensible but continue to present Jesus to the world. My personal take on this is that if after an encounter with Jesus a person wants to become a Catholic then that is a good thing, but if they want to go to some other church that is okay with me. I’m not trying to be particularly ecumenical here just acknowledging the reality of those who proclaim that “Jesus Christ is Lord” in other churches. All Christians who proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord” can recognise each other without consciously practising ecumenism.
Having been on a personal journey through a number of other Churches, all of whom experienced scandals of one kind or another why do I remain with the Catholic Church. Answer – I love the mass.
If I can use a scripture at the risk of being misunderstood – In John’s Gospel Chapter 6, Jesus presents himself as the bread of life and says “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you will not have life in you.” Many find this teaching unacceptable and leave him. He then says to the apostles, “What about you, do you want to go away too?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life.”
Now bearing in mind that Jesus is all truth, he is the one to stay with.
What might I say of a damaged Church? Well, that the Church may be compromised but the message isn’t. The Church has the message of eternal life and points to Jesus. There is much work to do and it will be a long haul. It is always much harder to build than it is to destroy.
On a flight to Portugal, to visit Fatima, on 11th May 2010 Pope Benedict XVI took questions from the media. This was one of them;
Your holiness, what meaning do the Fatima apparitions have for us today? In June 2000 when you presented the text of the third secret in the Vatican Press Office, a number of us and our former colleagues were present. You were asked if the message could be extended, beyond the attack on John Paul II to other sufferings on the part of the popes. Is it possible, to your mind, to include in that vision the sufferings of the Church today for the sins involving the sexual abuse of minors.
Here is an extract from Pope Benedict’s answer;
The Lord told us that the Church would constantly be suffering, in different ways, until the end of the world…. As for the new things which we can find in this message today, there is also the fact that attacks on the Pope and the Church come not only from without, but the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way, that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one had, but also the need for justice, forgiveness does not replace justice.
Telling words, attacks on the Church from within and without. Even Jesus experiences this when Judas betrays him.
To close I would recommend reading Matthew 24. We have been in the last days since Jesus’ resurrection. Could we be at the beginning of the very last days?
Except there be a falling away
Also have a look at the Third Secret of Fatima.