Msgr. Charles Pope is currently a dean and pastor in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where he has served on the Priest Council, the College of Consultors, and the Priest Personnel Board. Along with publishing a daily blog at the Archdiocese of Washington website, he has written in pastoral journals, conducted numerous retreats for priests and lay faithful, and has also conducted weekly Bible studies in the U.S. Congress and the White House. He was named a Monsignor in 2005.
I would like to reflect on Sunday’s parable of the vineyard owner to see its application to our times. Here is a brief summary:
A landowner set forth a vineyard with great care and lavish attention. He then entrusted it to tenant farmers. At harvest time, he sought his share of the produce. Yet instead of giving the owner what was due him, the tenant farmers refused, ridiculing, beating, and even killing the servants sent to collect his share. They end by killing the landowner’s own son.
When Jesus asks his audience what they thought the owner would do in response, they replied that he would put the men to a wretched death and lease his vineyard to other tenants who would give him the produce at the proper time. Obviously, they did not realize that in the parable the Lord was actually describing them, and that such a judgment would be upon them unless they repented.
This is not merely a story told to illustrate a moral point. It had an actual historical fulfillment and remains a “real-world scenario” even today. The vineyard set forth with love and great care was Israel. God was the landowner, who gave them the land, protected them with His law, and sustained them with His love and providence. The servants who called for the fruits represented the prophets. Jesus Himself is the son whom they kill. Even in spite of this crime, God allowed Israel 40 biblical years to repent and come to believe in Him, sending forth apostles, evangelists, and teachers to convince them. Still, there was a collective and obstinate refusal to believe in Jesus, the Messiah sent to save. So, in A.D. 70, God permitted the unrepentant people to wage a foolish war against the Romans. The result was that the Romans conquered Jerusalem, utterly destroying it and the Temple. According to Josephus, 1.2 million Jewish people lost their lives in that terrible war.
The parable was a true warning of the destruction that was sure to come unless repentance and faith replaced the obstinate refusal to obey and believe. It is tragic that things were so bad that God had to act drastically in order to reset the moral and spiritual order, to and save even a few.
I would argue, based on prophecy, that we are nearing such a time now and that we must urgently pray for both mercy and repentance. The warnings and prophecies of Our Lady in the past one hundred years have become more urgent and even dire.
We all know what the Virgin Mary said at Fatima in 1917 and that she was very serious. Although one terrible war (World War I) was ending, she said that another more terrible war would come if men did not pray and repent. Further, in the aftermath of the coming war, Russia would spread her errors (atheistic Communism) and both the Church and the world would have much to suffer. Our Lady said that only prayer (specifically, the Rosary) and obedience to her Son could stave off the impending doom. She even promised that there would be a final warning of great lights in the sky before the war’s outbreak.
On Jan. 25, 1938, a remarkable solar storm and subsequent display of the aurora borealis fulfilled that warning. The northern lights were seen as far south as Northern Africa. Two months later, Hitler annexed Austria and in the following year invaded Poland. The Second World War was underway. While the death toll of World War I was approximately 18 million, estimates for World War II range from 50 to 80 million. Following the war, Russia did spread atheistic Communism. The horrific death toll as a result of the subsequent “Cold War” of the regimes of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot was arguably even higher.
This is what happens when we do not repent. In spite of this history, we have collectively refused to repent, just like the tenant farmers in the Lord’s parable. Despite the sea of blood due to our sin and our refusal to pray, not only have we failed to repent, but we seem to have gotten worse. Today we have we have abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, fornication, pornography, human trafficking, single motherhood, the celebration and outright “pride” in homosexual acts, transgenderism, unbridled greed, euthanasia, and much more.
In 1981, Our Lady of Fatima warned through Sr. Lucia that the final battle will be against marriage and the family and that anyone who tries to defend them will experience persecution and tribulation. And here we are. Even at the highest levels of the Church, certain priests and bishops mislead God’s people. Meanwhile, clergy and faithful who seek to uphold marriage are dismissed as pharisaical, rigid and unpastoral. This was also confirmed by Our Lady of Akita in Japan:
The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres … churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord (Message of Oct. 13, 1973).
Yet in our obstinately disobedient culture, no matter how high the body count, how virulent the diseases, how broken our families, how deep the sexual confusion and addiction, how onerous our debts due to greed and entitlement, we seem to have no intention of making any change. Like the tenants in the parable, many ridicule every prophet sent to us, calling them hateful, intolerant, bigoted, homophobic and misogynistic. They seek to marginalize them, to punish them legally, and to ruin them financially. Soon enough, many will be willing to jail and kill God’s prophets, who are only saying what God and the Church have always said. What we have today is a collective, obstinate refusal to obey God and produce the fruits of righteousness.
The sins of our time are not merely ones of weakness. Those who fall through weakness admit that they have done wrong and seek mercy. The greatest sin today is the obdurate refusal to repent. With a figurative clenched fist, many today say, “I will not be told what to do. I will decide what I want to do and I will determine whether it is right or wrong.”
In this sort of climate, what is God to do? In many cases, it does not seem that reasoning with people can or will bear fruit. The hardness of heart and the self-righteous attitudes of increasing numbers, who arrogantly reject even the most obvious moral guidance, brings the dire conclusion that the only viable solution is a punishment so severe that all arrogant self-reliance will be impossible.
… If men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one never seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. …
The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests. The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of my sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them (Message of Oct. 13, 1973).
I would caution every single soul reading this column not to hope for this chastisement. It will be awful—so awful that we will be jealous of the dead. No, our stance should be to beg the Lord for mercy, for more time. For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Our Lady would surely rather that we pray and repent in order to stave off the coming calamity. Pray the Rosary daily for the conversion of sinners. Beg the Lord for poor sinners to repent.
Come what may, though, we must remember that justice is with God, not us. We have seen in Scripture that God will not spare even His holy people or His holy city and temple if doing so means that more will be lost to the eternal fire of Hell. In 721 B.C., the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom were destroyed by the Assyrians. In 587 B.C., Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. In A.D. 70, Jerusalem again was crushed, utterly destroyed by the Romans.
There comes a time when a good doctor must consider severe options such as amputation or high-risk surgery in order to save a patient. It’s better to go through life maimed than to die. So also it is with God. There is nothing worse than going to Hell. No earthly destruction or loss could ever compare to horror of eternal damnation.
For now, pray that lesser remedies and more time will be our lot! But know this: as the historical fulfillment of the Parable of the Tenants teaches, God will not hesitate to do what is finally necessary to save as many souls as possible.
Listen to Our Lady’s warnings. Heed her solution. Pray the Rosary daily for the conversion of souls. The times are urgent and many well-attested prophecies suggest that time is short—very short. The year 2017, the 100th anniversary of Fatima, may be a year that brings blessings or curses. Through Mary, the Lord sets before us life and death, blessings and curses.
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live! (see Deuteronomy 30:19)