The Coming Persecution: Prophetic Words from Two Popes

By Deacon Keith Fournier Published on May 5, 2015

In 1976 Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, a Polish Archbishop, attended a Catholic Church Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of the bicentennial celebration of the Declaration of Independence. His prophetic words and his encouragement should be heard again in this hour.

I remember the event well. I was a student at what is now Franciscan University of Steubenville. The prophetic speech was reprinted two years later in the Wall Street Journal:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully.

We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.

Two years later, on October 16, 1978, Wojtyla took the name John Paul II and stepped out onto the balcony in St. Peter’s Square. His Philadelphia speech, and his entire pontificate, underscored that two very different visions of the human person, marriage and the family — and the society founded upon them — are contending for the soul of the West. One leads to true progress, flourishing and freedom, the other to degradation and cultural collapse.

I recently read in these pages a poignant article by John Zmirak, “If the Supreme Court Imposes Same Sex Marriage, You Could Lose Your Church.” As a constitutional lawyer, I know that the Zmirak sees precisely what is at stake in the looming Supreme Court decision. He’s also right that the police power of the state often has been used to compel adherence to unjust laws, even to pressure believers to reject Christian orthodoxy and apostatize.

In America the pressure begins softly but won’t necessarily end softly. As I warned last month, there is an underlying spiritual warfare at the root of the war on marriage. While pundits try to interpret the oral arguments offered during the marriage case, I encourage all Christians, across the confessional spectrum, to increase our prayer. The Lord can hold back the darkness that would result from an unjust and aberrant decision.

However, even if the Court gets it wrong and the assault on marriage continues unabated, it can’t change the truth about marriage. More than this, the promise of the Lord is always dependable: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church” (Matt 16:18).

John Paul II’s successor also spoke prophetically before he became pope. In 1969, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) described what might be ahead for the whole Church. Here are a few excerpts:

From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. (S)he will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. …

The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century.

But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

Let us build our lives on the Rock and keep our doors open to the men and women of our age who will seek stability as the world is shaken around them. Truth does not change, people and cultures do; sometimes for good and sometimes for evil. “Remember your leaders,” says the Letter to the Hebrews, “those who spoke to you the word of God; consider the outcome of their life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

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