Are we in the “Last Days”? Generally it would seem not, though there are sobering indicators that the outer bands of a coming storm are overhead.
The sum total teaching of eschatology would seem to indicate that a number of things must first happen before the end: a comprehensive completion of the going out of the Gospel to all the nations, widespread acceptance by Israel that Christ is in fact the Messiah, the emergence of an antichrist figure who will deceive the nations, a final, intensive and unprecedented unleashing of evil, etc. (For more on this and for biblical references, see what I have written here: Some basics of eschatology.) And while some claim that many of these have already been accomplished, we do well to heed the caution of St. Paul, who says,
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to meet him, we beg you, brethren, not to be quickly shaken in mind or excited, either by spirit or by word, or by letter purporting to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is come. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God (2 Thess 2:1-4).
So, using the Spirit’s caution through St. Paul, we do well not to conclude too quickly that the end is close at hand, though Christ can surely come anyway “on a sudden.”
However, the same text from St. Paul does describe certain things that precede the end—things that are more clearly in place today.
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work … in those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends upon them a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thess 2:10-12).
Now we are clearly living in an age when strong delusion has come upon many. Indeed many seem deeply and profoundly confused as to the basic concepts of human sexuality, the existence of God, and the dignity of human life. Strong delusion is required for the human person to justify the killing of innocent children in the womb. Strong delusion is required for a human person to think that homosexual acts are natural, when any look at the design of the body profoundly indicates otherwise. Strong delusion is required for a human person to think that suicide is to be praised and is even “courageous.” Strong delusion is required for a person to look at a world that is so clearly designed and governed, and ascribe it all to mindless, blind, totally random mutation.
Indeed a strong delusion is upon many today. Elsewhere, St. Paul also says of those deluded in this way (especially in matters of homosexuality),
But they became vain in their thinking and their foolish minds were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error (Rom 1:21,26-27).
So it is clear today that the initial requirements for the coming of the lawless one are increasingly in place. A strong delusion has come upon many that will usher in a rebellion and cause the lawless one to be widely accepted. For again, as St. Paul said above, for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first.
And the text speaks of the cause for this delusion. On a human level, the delusion and rebellion result from that fact that, as St. Paul says, they refused to love the truth and so be saved … [they] did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Monsignor Pope could very well be right. It may not be the end of THE world, but it could very well be the end of OUR world.
Then again, the Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the comet…