Today's Gospel sets the stage for what is to come, yet the Apostles do not grasp the fullness of what Our Lord means.
"But Jesus taking to Himself the Twelve said to them, 'Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that have been written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and scourged and spit upon; and after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death; and on the third day He will rise again.' And they understood none of these things and this saying was hidden from them, neither did they get to know the things that were being said" (Luke 18: 31-34).
The disciples did not understand because it "was hidden from them". That must have been the hardest part for Jesus. On whom could the Son of Man rely for support in facing His Passion? Peter even tried to tell Him that it would never happen, and Jesus had to reply sharply: "Get behind Me, satan, thou art a scandal to Me: for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men" (Mt.16:23). Except for His Mother and a handful of the holy women, they would all abandon Him. But for Jesus there was no turning back.
The Church is now undergoing her passion. The many, who call themselves Catholic but are so in name only, understand "none of these things." Those who still hold to the true faith know that they are following the way of the Cross, but for them there is no turning back. As scandal multiplies, the enemies of the Church, bolstered by distorted and falsified media reports, are circling for the kill like a pack of hungry wolves. What is left of the official Church is merely a shell which cannot be fixed, as even bishops and cardinals are now openly denying the authenticity of the Gospels. Faithful Catholics can only pray and keep the faith as best they can while all they hold dear falls into ruin around them. This is the time for saints. The Church, abandoned by her own and at the mercy of her enemies, will suffer her own crucifixion and apparent death. But purified through suffering she will rise once again as the holy and immaculate Bride of Christ, prepared to welcome her Lord when He comes again.
The saints, like St. Athanasius, testify: "Catholics who remain faithful to Tradition, even if they are reduced to a handful, are the true Church of Jesus Christ." The holy Augustinian nun, Ann Katherine Emmerich said about the Church that "she would seem to be in complete decline. But she would rise again; even if there remained but one Catholic, the Church would conquer again because she does not rest on human counsels and intelligence."
St. Nicolas von Flue, canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1947, made this sobering prophecy: "The Church will be punished because the majority of her members, high and low, will become so perverted. The Church will sink deeper and deeper until she will at last seem to be extinguished, and the succession of Peter and the other Apostles to have expired. But, after this, she will be victoriously exalted in the sight of all doubters."
How does one remain a faithful Catholic when faced with the crucifixion of the Church he loves? That, dear friends, is what Lent is all about! We must be obedient to the Church and observe a true Lent. On Wednesday of this week, Ash Wednesday, we will receive the ashes on our foreheads as a sign of penance - the penance we intend to do during Lent. Without the Church's Lenten program - prayer, penance and almsgiving - the ashes remain a meaningless symbol. We must not let that happen.
This is perhaps the most important Lent we shall ever observe, since without it we will remain spiritually weak, unable to resist the coming days of suffering, falling away as the persecution intensifies. Take the inspired word of God as your support, such as the following passage from Jesus [not the Christ Jesus], son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, who wrote the book called Ecclesiasticus:
"My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and He will help you; make straight your ways and hope in Him..."
"Woe to craven hearts and drooping hands, to the sinner who treads a double path! Woe to the faint of heart who trust not, who therefore will have no shelter! Woe to you who have lost hope! What will you do at the visitation of the Lord? Those who fear the Lord disobey not His words; those who love Him keep His ways. Those who fear the Lord seek to please Him, those who love Him are filled with His law. Those who fear the Lord prepare their hearts and humble themselves before Him. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord and not into the hands of men, for equal to His majesty is the mercy that He shows" (Ecclus.2:1-6;12-18).
Many are beginning to see that the judgment of God is at hand. Consider the mockery of the holy Sacrament of Matrimony taking place in San Francisco, as same-sex couples attempt to legalize their sinful unions. Think of the corruption in the entertainment industry, a deluge of salacious movies and television programs, vile music videos that corrupt our youth. As the sword of God's vengeance seems about to fall, God speaks to us through the prophet Joel:
"Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, sound an alarm in my holy mountain, let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: because the day of the Lord cometh, because it is nigh at hand… Blow the trumpet in Sion: sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather together the people, sanctify the church… Between the porch and the altar, the priests the Lord's ministers shall weep and shall say: 'Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God?'" (Joel 2:1;15,16a,17).
This must be a Lent like no other. We must all be fervent in prayer. Come to Holy Mass if possible sometimes during the week. Observe the fast carefully. Even if you are not bound to keep the strict fast because of age there are many ways to practice self-denial - no eating between meals, giving up sweets, cutting out or severely limiting TV and radio, abandoning idle talk, and practicing patience behind the wheel. Giving to the needy and good deeds of all kinds are called for also, to bring down God's blessing upon His suffering Church.
"Blow ye the trumpet in Sion, sound an alarm in my holy mountain, let all the inhabitants of the land tremble: because the day of the Lord cometh, because it is nigh at hand… (Joel 2:1).