On October 13, 1884 Pope Leo XIII, just after celebrating Mass, turned pale and collapsed as though dead. Those standing nearby rushed to his side. They found him alive but the pontiff looked frightened. He then recounted having a vision of Satan approaching the throne of God, boasting that he could destroy the Church.
According to Pope Leo XIII the Lord reminded him that his Church was imperishable. Satan then replied, “Grant me one century and more power of those who will serve me, and I will destroy it.” Our Lord granted him 100 years.
The Lord then revealed the events of the 20th century to Leo XIII. He saw wars, immorality, genocide and apostasy on a large scale. Immediately following this disturbing vision, he sat down and wrote the prayer to St. Michael. For decades it was prayed at Mass until the 1960’s. Like many of the Church’s spiritual defenses, it was discontinued in the second half of the 20th century.
Some have speculated that the century of testing the Catholic Church began in 1914. Regardless of when the time of testing officially began, it is important to note that three years into World War I in 1917, the same year the Communist Revolution in Russia was unleashed, Pope Benedict XV penned an encyclical entitled, On Preaching the Word. It would prove to be prophetic. In it he addressed an issue that had to be “looked upon as a matter of the greatest and most momentous concern.”
More on this “momentous concern” in the next post.
Up until 1917, Western Civilization had begun to drift away from the light of Gospel. The Reformation, the French Revolution and, as mentioned, the Russian Revolution, were highly instrumental in ushering in the era of secularism. Pope Benedict XV could not escape the conclusion that the world was changing. He wrote the following in the same encyclical:
“If on the other hand We examine the state of public and private morals, the constitutions and laws of nations, We shall find that there is a general disregard and forgetfulness of the supernatural, a gradual falling away from the strict standard of Christian virtue, and that men are slipping back more and more into the shameful practices of paganism.”
With the return of paganism, comes an intolerance of Christianity. Indeed, the Church would produce more martyrs during the 20th century than in any other century. But as bad as things were in the world, the real test for the Church would come fifty years later during the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. Similar to that of the Reformation in 1517, scores of Catholics would leave the Church. Priestly and religious vocations would dry up. Mass attendance would sharply decline. Catholic clergy and laity would no longer be on the same page in terms of belief and behavior. And as for many church-goers that would remain, their morals and lifestyle would prove to be comparable to non-Catholics.
Perhaps, this is the apostasy Pope Leo XIII saw in his vision. Did not our Lord ask in the Gospel of Luke, “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
What was foreseen by Pope Leo XIII on October 13, 1884 – exactly 33 years before the miracle of the sun at Fatima – has been confirmed, not only by subsequent events, but by other credible sources. The work of iniquity which had gained much momentum outside the Church in the late 19th century and early 20th century, was about to make its way in the institutions of the Church.
In fact, on June 29, 1972 Pope Paul VI confirmed just that when he addressed his audience. He said, “It is as if from some mysterious crack, no, it is not mysterious, from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”
About a year later, on October 13, 1973, Our Lady of Akita, in an approved apparition in Japan, took this point further and gave us some idea how this “smoke” would take effect. She said, "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 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.”
This is exactly what happened. As for the consecrated women in the religious life, their numbers plummeted dramatically in the 1970s. One consecrated woman, Sister Lucia, was the only surviving seer of Fatima who witnessed all of this. Her nephew, Father Valinho, wrote her a letter in 1971 inquiring about the convulsions the Church was experiencing. In response to the letter she said, “It is indeed sad that so many are allowing themselves to be dominated by the diabolical wave that is enveloping the world, and they are so blind that they cannot see their error.”
“I am convinced,” Lucia continued, “that the principal cause of evil in the world and the falling away of so many consecrated souls is the lack of union with God in prayer. The devil is very smart and watches for our weak points so he can attack us. If we are not careful and attentive in obtaining the strength from God we will fall, because our times are very bad and we are weak.”
Lack of prayer and compromises among priests and the religious led to a more general problem of relaxed standards in the Church! These were the manifestations of a deeper and more sinister force at work in the Church. But the Catholic practitioner, be it cleric, evangelist or teacher, has to mindful of both natural and supernatural causes if a remedy is to be applied for the problems that exist in and outside of the Church.
In 1944, Father Paul Furfey, former professor and head of the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, published a book called, The Mystery of Iniquity. In it, he provides wonderful insights into the necessary task of dealing with the symptoms as they appear to the naked eye. But he doesn’t leave it there. He said that permanent cures for the pressing social problems of the day require us to look beyond secondary causes:
“(T)he mystery of iniquity is at work. Its activities do not usually appear on the surface of events; rather, it operates through secondary causes. Therefore, when one traces the causes of social problems, one finds that the immediate reasons for these problems are quite natural and understandable by human reason. It is only by following the chain of causation back far enough that one is led to suspect the workings of the Evil One.
The Catholic approach on social problems must take both natural and the supernatural factors into account. Catholics must be concerned with natural factors underlying the evils of society and to meet these they must use natural methods suggested by experience.
We Catholics have a precious possession in our doctrine of the mystery of iniquity. In it we have the key to the solution of many problems which torture our weary world. Realizing as we do that the mystery of iniquity is the basic cause of these problems, we can attack them at their source by the use of supernatural means. Herein lies the hope of victory.”
The hope of victory. Catholics have to be mindful of this hope. They have to live out this hope. But in order for this hope to translate into a real, solid victory, we have to know that evil is communicated through practical and even ordinary means. Through pastoral practices and habits of evangelization and teaching that are defective. Evil doesn’t just happen. And this is where Pope Benedict XV encyclical On Preaching the Word comes in. In his 1917 letter, he prophetically anticipated some of the things through which the Church would be tested…tested within her own institutions.
Next week: The Papal Letter of 1917
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.