Commentary

The Coming Darkness: Punishment and Purification

By Rev. Michael P. Orsi | January 12, 2021 | 11:51am EST
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris speak during a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020. (Photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris speak during a press conference in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 12, 2020. (Photo credit: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Scripture readings for last weekend present some interesting parallels to the situation in which we find our country just now.

The first (Isaiah 55) is a product of the Babylonian Exile, a period of chastisement for the Children of Israel. In it, the prophet calls out, “…turn to the Lord for mercy; to our God, who is generous and forgiving.”

The Gospel reading (Mark 1) recounts Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. The image at the center of the story — water — has always been understood to recall Moses’ parting of the Red Sea, by which the Hebrew slaves were delivered from bondage in Egypt, the land of sin and death. It’s a powerful symbol of salvation.

Even though they were headed for freedom, we know that they would undergo another period of punishment and purification, 40 years of wandering in the desert, before reaching the land God had promised them.

Each of these readings thus evokes a time of great darkness. I can’t help pondering them in terms of the darkness that has covered the world in recent months and seems to be growing thicker.

Right now, we’re experiencing chaos in our country. We’ve witnessed rioting in some of our major cities. Just a few days ago, we saw the desecration of our Capitol building, the “temple” of our republic.

Such chaos suggests that the Evil One is present. And this suggestion is supported by many telling signs. For instance, one of the invaders of the Capitol was wearing a headdress with horns.

What can we deduce from that? Was this character just an exhibitionist? Perhaps he was mentally ill. Or maybe he was making a statement.

It could be that Satan was “outing” himself in this small way. After all, traditional representations of the Devil often show him as horned.

Whatever the case, it certainly seemed that the Evil One had his finger in this odd display. Expect his works to multiply in days to come.

It’s pretty much a given, for instance, that we’ll see an increase in abortions. Ample resources will be provided, both within our country and abroad. The Mexico City Policy, by which U.S. funding of abortions in other countries was prohibited, will be ended — as will the Hyde Amendment, which has blocked federal money from being used for abortions here at home.

Jesus is the lord of life; Satan is the lord of death. You can guess whose lordship this will serve.

In addition, the Church will undergo persecution. We see it openly already in China, where churches are being closed, religious leaders imprisoned, Christians killed.

In our own country, we can expect attempts to force on churches — on our Catholic Church, in particular — a morality that is inconsistent with what we accept as proper, and an ideology we find abhorrent. Under the guise of “equality,” we will be called upon to accept, in our schools and Catholic institutions, people who proclaim a lifestyle that contradicts what the Church teaches and believes. There will also be attempts to require religious organizations to provide contraception and abortion coverage in their medical insurance plans.

This attack on religious freedom is already in progress. Accompanying it is a concerted assault on freedom of speech.

Until recently, everyone of any political persuasion — be it libertarian, conservative, liberal, socialist, even communist — has had the right to express their views openly. This was ensured by the First Amendment to our Constitution, which was always seen as the cornerstone of American liberty.

No longer. The restrictions on opinion imposed by social media companies and the growth of the so-called “cancel culture,” in which people are losing jobs, financial services, professional credentials, and other basics because of their opinions and even their private comments is creating a climate of fear and intimidation unprecedented in this country.

It is not only affecting religion; it is bringing us to something very much like a totalitarian state. All of our rights are in jeopardy. All of our freedoms are in danger of being taken away.

There is darkness in the land. Satan is on the prowl.

I believe we are in another time of chastisement. Unpleasant as the word may sound to us, it’s a time of punishment for our sins and failings — as a society and as individuals.

Chastisement is a long process. There’s no quick fix for our national dilemma, no one has figured out who has the answer, not even the Church which has often failed to preach the Gospel clearly and consistently. We’ve all fallen short — the clergy, the laity — and many of us will not see a resolution of this crisis in our lifetimes.

But we mustn’t despair. Because even as the image of water in the Gospel reading evokes an earlier struggle, Mark describes Jesus emerging from the Jordan, the Holy Spirit descending, and the voice of God declaring, “This is my beloved Son.”

And that’s the solution to this current chaos: Jesus.

We must turn off the news, and listen to Him. We must stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated by parties and demagogues and “enlightened” entertainers. Those are all lethal to our souls.

Jesus does not bring chaos. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. There is no peace if Jesus is not present. So we must keep him before us always. We must open our Bibles, and strengthen ourselves through the Word of God.

And we must pray.

A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed here.

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