Continuing through the Catechism of the Catholic Church as it relates to prophecy:
675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.
676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.
677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.
The Church also informs us through the Catechism that the Church must pass through a tremendous ordeal prior to the return of Christ. It will be more than a physical ordeal, it will be a spiritual one. It is likely that this will be the ultimate attack by Satan, using every means possible. It is interesting that the problems in the Catholic Church over the course of time have shaken the faith of many. We now see tens of thousands of Christian denominations, and many Christians claiming no denomination at all. We have many commonalities and share many key beliefs and embrace them as fellow Christians. But the disunity is surely a purposeful attack, so as to confuse many (“If they can’t even get straight what to believe, why should I believe anything?”). Divide and conquer. Jesus prayed that we all be one when in the garden, and for good reason.
Of course, I am Catholic and feel strongly about the truth of my faith (unapologetic commentary, remember?) In this way, I’m surely biased. But in fact, it seems clear to me that the object of the most furious assaults by Satan must be the thing he fears most. Bad people become priests and bishops. Bad things happen because of this. heretical teachings can make their way into seminaries and to the pulpit. The very unfortunate abuse crisis is an all too stark reminder of the presence of evil that can worm its way into the holiest of institutions. Catholics are often not enthusiastic about their faith and live accordingly, causing scandal to those who are looking for positive examples of Christian behavior within the Catholic Church. None of these things are the fault of Truth, Doctrine and Magesterial teachings. These are the failings of men, at the urging of the oppressor, who wants nothing more than to see others break away or lose faith because of the failings of men.
All apostasy is in the spirit of Antichrist, but the most perverse of these is when societies and all men begin to look at themselves and/or their governments as Messianic. Making the state or self God is the worst affront to the true God. This will infiltrate all society to levels previously unconsidered, and will affect the Church as well.
The Magesterial teachings of the Church stop short of declaring the advent of a single man as Anti-Christ, focusing instead on the spirit of Anti-Christ which is really all the actions of Lucifer throughout all history. The spirit of Anti-Christ becomes ever more pervasive and leads us to worship ourselves more and more. Early Church teachers do speak to the ultimate culmination of this spirit in one man, and we’ll eventually speak to that. But the Catechism doesn’t quite go there. The fact that the Catechism doesn’t go there only means that it hasn’t felt the need to address the issue, or that it is something that can be legitimately debated. Absence is not a suggestion that the idea that there will be an individual who manifests himself as “the” Anti-Christ is erroneous.
It should also be noted here that the Church does not accept as valid the teaching of a literal Millenarianism. Thus, it is not accepted that Christ will return and reign over a perfect Kingdom for 1000 years, and then it all ends. There are many thoughts on the possibilities of a time of peace after an initial chastisement, in which a greater perfection of the kingdom reigns for a long time (1000 years is looked at as symbolic of a long period) with Christ reigning as He does today – through the Church – that is acceptable. However, this would precede the Second Coming, not occur after it. Others view the 1000 years as the reign of the Church even in its imperfection since the Ascension of Christ. We’ll look at the possibilities at a later time. The main problem with a milleniarianism philosophy is that it requires an “early” return of Jesus before the end of time, and that there are still battles between good and evil yet to be waged after His return.
Finally on these points, it is taught to us that the unfolding plan of God isn’t brought about by an idea of continued progressive ascendancy into perfection. It was previously mentioned in a previous post that there seems to be ebbs and flows in history where persecution leads to a greater state of perfection, but then we ultimately lapse and fall back into the need for chastisement. While there is progression here, in that the seeds of chastisement lead to responses that prove more salvific than before, the state of perfection can never be achieved through our work here. The final persecutions and tribulations only lead to the final perfection through God’s direct intervention and victory in the matter.
We certainly attempt to be as perfect as possible, and we attempt to evangelize to all, and we hope for everyone’s salvation. But perfection for us is unattainable apart from God. Thus, the idea of a progressive process of Messianic fulfillment in the unfolding of world events is specifically condemned as erroneous.