Now is the Acceptable Time

In the wake of the Viganò letter, we should take seriously the call to personal holiness.

Every November during the month of the dead, as the year drew to its close with the feast of Christ the King, my childhood pastor gave the same sermon.  The details would vary, but the gist was as follows.—

Many Christians, including many Catholics, spend time and energy on the fruitless question of when Christ will come again—fruitless, because Christ promised us that no one would know the day or the hour (a fact to which the many false prophesies of the end times testify.  Why, then, does Church devote readings to the end of the world?  Because we will all witness the end of the world: if not the end described in Revelations, the (for us) equally significant individual ends of our lives.  Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead; of more concern to us should be the fact that he will particularly judge each of us.

—That was the gist of Father’s annual homily.  He always managed to be edifying rather than terrifying, and there would be an uptick of confessions the following couple of weeks.

The homily stuck with me, through college and after.  And it came to mind, late one Saturday night some couple weeks ago, when I came to the end of Archbishop Viganò’s explosive “testimony.”  A great deal of commentary has been spent on the accuracy of the archbishop’s accusations: on how the factual details might be verified or falsified, and on what his motivations might be if they are not what he states in the letter (a desire to cleanse the church, and to put his own soul right before death).

But that Saturday night, on first reading the document, I was struck more by the tone of its conclusion.  After strong words calling for the resignation of those who “covered up McCarrick’s criminal behavior,” Viganò calls for “[a] time of conversion and penance” and for the reporting of all cases of abuse “to the media and civil authorities;” he even calls for the pope’s resignation.  Throughout the jeremiad, however, there are words of hope.  He invokes St. John Paul II’s famous words: Do not be afraid; he quotes St. Ambrose to the effect that “the Church is ‘immaculata ex maculatis.’”  He concludes as follows (emphasis in the original).

Even in dismay and sadness over the enormity of what is happening, let us not lose hope! We well know that the great majority of our pastors live their priestly vocation with fidelity and dedication.

It is in moments of great trial that the Lord’s grace is revealed in abundance and makes His limitless mercy available to all; but it is granted only to those who are truly repentant and sincerely propose to amend their lives. This is a favorable time for the Church to confess her sins, to convert, and to do penance.

Let us all pray for the Church and for the Pope, let us remember how many times he has asked us to pray for him!

Let us all renew faith in the Church our Mother: “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church!”

Christ will never abandon His Church! He generated her in His Blood and continually revives her with His Spirit!

Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us!

Mary, Virgin and Queen, Mother of the King of glory, pray for us!

Rome, August 22, 2018
Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The line that caught my eye, of course, was “This is a favorable time,” or, in the original Italian, “Questo è il tempo opportune.”  It’s not quite the Italian of 2 Cor. 6:2 (“ora il momento favorevole”), but the echo is at least fortuitous.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “And we helping do exhort you, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.  For he saith: ‘In an accepted time have I heard thee; and in the day of salvation have I helped thee.’ Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2; quotation marks and emphasis added).  Paul is quoting the Old Testament—one of the Messianic prophecies of Isaias.  In that prophesy a promise is made to the Chosen People that they will overcome the dark days they are undergoing:

Thus saith the Lord: In an acceptable time I have heard thee, and in the day of salvation I have helped thee: and I have preserved thee, and given thee to be a covenant of the people, that thou mightest raise up the earth, and possess the inheritances that were destroyed: That thou mightest say to them that are bound: Come forth: and to them that are in darkness: shew yourselves. (Is. 49:8-9

The prophecy continues, describing how Israel will overcome its enemies and incorporate the Gentiles.  But St. Paul makes it clear how that promise is fulfilled: through Jesus Christ, and with an overcoming that is more spiritual than temporal, an overcoming which is manifested thrice: through the Redemption; through the life of the individual Christian; and finally, on the Last Day.  Thus, where Isaias used concrete figures of children and wives and flocks, figures with eschatological import, St. Paul uses an abstract but more literal description of what constitutes the “acceptable time”:

… Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.  Giving no offence to any man, that our ministry be not blamed: But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions … (2 Cor. 6:2-5)

In essence, St. Paul (like my pastor-homilist from childhood) seizes on a prophecy which all Jews had heard many times (just as Christians hear over and over again of Judgement Day), and (like my pastor) turns it back on his readers: Here, you are used to speculating on this event, but it has no meaning for you.  Let me show what it means; and it means it NOW.

We are all speculating on these events.  What of Viganò’s letter?  What is true and what is false?  Will there be an investigation?  What will the media say?  Where is Wuerl now?  Will Pope Francis break his silence?  Which bishop will be next to make a statement?

For most of us, this is fruitless.  We can sign letters, but aside from that (unless you are a journalist, or a Catholic with exceedingly good ecclesial connections) pattering through a stream of tidbit news on the matter will solve nothing, no more than going through Revelations with a fine-toothed comb will enable the prediction of the Parousia.  How and when will this be resolved?  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter when the Acceptable Time will come.  Now is the acceptable time—yours, and mine.  And what will be accepted?

Patience, says St. Paul, and tribulation.  Confession, says Viganò.  Necessities and distresses; conversion; stripes and prisons; penance.  I will let St. Paul conclude, for the verses are eminently apropos, to anyone who reads slowly enough to comprehend their meaning:

… in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left; by honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastised, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing, and possessing all things.  (2 Cor. 6:5-10)