Biden and the Beast
Edward R. Benet
The roots of the present crisis are spiritual
The world is at a critical moment of her history. In the midst of a global pandemic which is decimating the health, educational and economic sectors, many governments have all but ignored the spiritual needs of their citizens. Here in Ireland, people cram the supermarkets, parks and take-away liquor stores, but public Masses are completely prohibited. The general attitude among governments and media is that the spiritual is of secondary importance, something non-essential that must be curtailed until the more important business of physical well-being is sorted out. Such a strategy is doomed to fail because the very roots of the situation in which we find ourselves are spiritual.
On January 25th 2018, the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, the Irish government had a conversion of a very different sort. They overturned a ninety-year old law that sought to pay due respect to the Lord on the day of his crucifixion. From 2018, Irish pubs and bars were to open on Good Friday. The Irish public was not to be denied its alcohol just to show respect to the Lord. The old law was thrown out, but – irony of ironies - the pubs and bars were shuttered anyway on Good Friday 2019 because of the pandemic, and they will be closed again this year. Our governments might treat the coronavirus as if it were entirely an issue of medical health, but, to the eyes of faith, something much deeper is going on here.
The case of Fr Giovanni Cavalcoli
The issue of whether God causes natural disasters in order to bring us to our senses was debated briefly in Italy in 2016, but the debate was quickly stifled because of a fear that God might be painted in the wrong light. During the month of August, 2016, a new law came into force in Italy permitting civil unions between people of the same sex. On October 30th 2016, a 6.6-magnitude earthquake hit the very centre of the peninsula. It was the biggest earthquake in thirty-six years. A few days later, in a transmission for Radio Maria, Dominican theologian Giovanni Cavalcoli said that the earthquake was divine chastisement for “the offence to the family and the dignity of marriage, in particular through civil unions”. Fr Cavalcoli’s statement was swiftly and roundly condemned by a host of authoritative figures in the Church. Archbishop Angelo Becciu - at that time a senior official in the Vatican’s secretariat of state but now disgraced - said Cavalcoli’s remarks were “offensive to believers and disgraceful for non-believers”. Bishop Nunzio Galantino, speaking for the Italian Episcopal Conference, said that the comments of Father Cavalcoli were symptomatic of a form of “paganism without limits”. The Osservatore Romano, official newspaper of the Holy See, described the affirmations as “offensive” and assured the victims of Pope Francis’ closeness to all those affected by the earthquake. Radio Maria moved swiftly to distance itself from the transmission and suspended Father Cavalcoli from the station with immediate effect. For his part, the Dominican theologian refused to back down. He told the Vatican to “read your catechism” and insisted that earthquakes were “caused by the sins of men”.
Norcia and Notre Dame: divine warnings?
Did Father Cavalcoli’s transmission really have foundation in the Bible and in the catechism, as he claimed? Was the Vatican right to condemn him, or was this condemnation directed primarily towards showing solidarity with the victims? It probably did not help the Dominican priest’s case that he already has a reputation for being outspoken. And there was nothing politically correct in his response to those who criticized the transmission. Homosexual unions provoke God’s chastisement, he says, because these unions involve “sins against nature”.
The epicentre of the earthquake was just five km from Norcia, birthplace of St Benedict. His order helped to re-Christianize and re-civilize Europe after the fall of the western Roman empire. As well as preaching the Gospel, the monks helped to bring order, discipline, and learning to a continent in chaos. It is no accident that St Benedict is one of the main patrons of Europe. Indeed, he and his order can be considered one of the pillars of European civilisation.
The house in which Benedict was born in Norcia was later built into a church. From the 12th century until 2016, this church remained substantially the same. Now, all that remains is the façade and part of the apse. When we consider Benedict’s role in the construction of a Christian Europe, we can perhaps better understand Father Cavalcoli’s assertion that the destruction of the birthplace of the patron of the continent could be taken as a sign – a sign that we have betrayed our Christian roots and that the Lord is calling us to repentance. Many people have taken the more recent burning of Notre Dame in Paris to be a portent of a similar sort.
Scripture attests that God speaks to us through tribulation
It is understandable and perhaps right that Church authorities quickly distanced themselves from the comments. The priority in the aftermath of the earthquake was solidarity and care for the victims. However, an important question remains: “Can a God with a merciful nature be compatible with a God who chastises humanity?” The answer to this question is a definite “Yes!” The key to the debate is the difference between punishment for the sake of punishment, and a punishment that chastises in order to lead us to the fullness of life. In such cases, God is not always the cause of the affliction, but he tolerates it for the greater good. The Bible is full of stories of this merciful God who chastises - the plagues of Egypt, the forty years of hard formation in the desert, the various exiles, and much more – “For the Lord chastises those he loves, and scourges the people he calls his own” (Hebrews 12,6). Jesus himself, in the discourse at the Last Supper, says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15, 1-2).
One of the most informative passages in Scripture that deals with this issue is Luke 13:
“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. . .’ Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?” “Sir,” the man replied, “leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.”’ (Luke 13, 1-8).
Each one of us experiences the Lord’s chastening hand in various ways. When this happens, we are being called to repentance, conversion and fruitfulness. We are not being punished for punishment’s sake! The Lord is digging around us, hoping that we will produce some fruit. To some degree or other, we have all encountered conflict, illness or tragedy in our families. The ones who suffer the most, should they be considered more guilty or more deserving of God’s “punishment”? Often the very opposite seems to be the case. The greatest sinners sometimes have lives of ease, making people envy them and despair about God’s justice! Challenging situations like the pandemic can be expressions of God’s loving call to place our trust only in him. The lives of the saints are very informative in this regard, as all of them were afflicted with significant suffering. And when we see that a saint was stricken with tribulation, do we start complaining that such affliction is incompatible with a merciful God?
Marian apparitions and divine chastisement
Marian apparitions that have the full approval of the Church speak of divine chastisement. In Fatima, Our Lady said that the First World War would be followed by an even worse war if humanity did not change its ways. If we could once say, with Our Lady, that the tragedy of war was caused by human sin, can we not also say that a tragedy like Norcia, or the coronavirus pandemic, can be traced to human failings? Has it just become too politically incorrect nowadays to associate the Lord’s chastisement with particular behaviour, especially behaviour which is most dear to the cultural establishment, such as abortion, infidelity, euthanasia or homosexual acts?
Since Fatima, virtually every purported apparition of Our Lady has involved the prophecy of a future chastisement if humanity does not change its ways. The Church has not yet made a definitive decision on the authenticity of the apparitions at either Garabandal or Medjugorje. In both cases, the visionaries were told of future tribulations and chastisements for the sins of the world. It is clear from the testimonies of the visionaries that these tribulations have one motive only: to move people towards conversion of heart. Similarly, at Akita in Japan (which was investigated and approved by the local bishop), Our Lady told Sr Agnes on October 13th 1973 that if humanity does not convert then the Lord will inflict a punishment greater than the deluge.
Biden, the New World Order and Biblical Numbers
This coming June, in the space of a week, we will have the sixtieth anniversary of the first visions in Garabandal and the fortieth anniversary of those in Medjugorje. Forty is a very significant number in the Bible and marks a period of trial or purification of some sort before a great event (for example, the Israelites were tested for forty years in the desert before entering the Promised Land). Given these significant anniversaries and the repeated warning from Our Lady about a future chastisement, are there aspects of the current world situation which indicate that the time of purification is immanent?
Many fundamentalist Christians, mostly evangelical Protestants, believed that the presidency of Donald Trump would usher in a political crisis which would culminate with the Second Coming of Christ. Of course, with Trump gone, expectations have been tempered in some quarters, but in others they continue unabated. Far-right Catholics such as Archbishop Viganò, have joined their ranks. For them, the election of Biden only heralds even more clearly the impending apocalypse, since the appearance of the antichrist is expected to accompany the rise of a totalitarian world government called the New World Order. Biden, these commentators say, is a puppet in the hands of figures who are using the pandemic to advance the creation of the new order.
In the Book of Revelation, the number 666 is described as the number of the beast. There are various interpretations but one of the most convincing involves assigning a consecutive number to each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Using this method, when the name “Nero Caesar” is written in Hebrew, the numbers add up to exactly 666. Nero was the greatest persecutor of the Church in New Testament times and this code would have permitted Christians to speak secretly against the emperor. However, as is always the case with Scripture, prophecies have a perennial relevancy and the Book of Revelation still speaks to us today. In every age, the “Beast” refers to any tyrannical state apparatus that persecutes Christians and opposes the faith. In that sense, the Beast can be considered to be very much present in contemporary life, as evidenced by ever-growing infringements on religious liberty and practice.
The pandemic is permitted by the Lord for our purification
Is it possible that the pandemic is a period of tribulation permitted by the Lord in order to purify us and prevent a greater chastisement? Our Lady revealed to the visionaries of Garabandal that all of humanity would experience a “warning” - an illumination of consciences in which the grave state of our souls would be revealed – thus presenting us with an opportunity for repentance and true conversion. If the world failed to convert sufficiently, then a terrible chastisement would come. Significantly, on March 19th 2020, the most prominent visionary at Garabandal, Conchita, posted a message on the pandemic which stated that “God is detaching us from the securities of this world”. She admonished everyone to make an examination of conscience and to spend time with God in prayer.
The Church has always encouraged us to read the signs of the times, but this does not mean discerning full-blown apocalyptic scenarios at every turn. Conchita’s simple message points to a more sober way of responding to the current crisis. The pandemic has turned our world upside down. Our jobs, worship, education, family life, recreation, and just about everything else besides, have been dramatically curtailed. How should we interpret this situation? Is it the end of society as we know it? It is natural to be alarmed, but what we need to do above all is trust in the Lord, acknowledging with Conchita that God can bring good from this crisis by detaching us from our worldly securities. The Lord may not have caused this pandemic, but, through it, he can draw humanity back to himself.