Article 60 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Father John G. Hillier
100 years ago this past July a most strange event occurred on the Jersey shore at Beach Haven, a town on Long Beach Island. Between July 1 and July 12, 1916, five people were attacked along the coast by sharks; only one of the victims survived.
The sole survivor, 14 year-old Joseph Dunn of New York City, was rescued by his brother and a friend after a vicious tug-of-war with the shark. Taken to Saint Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick which had opened just 9 years before in 1907, Joseph recovered from the shark bites and was released 3 days later on September 15, 1916.
Some folks viewed this random shark attack as some sort of punishment from God for some unknown deed against the Divine will. This is not the Catholic view. Although many events in the history of humanity are directly or indirectly influenced by Divine Providence, freak accidents are unlikely counted among them. Such occurrences are God’s “permissive will” not His “ordaining will.”
Divine Providence is concerned about more hope-filled, positive things like our salvation. The Second Coming of Christ is one prime example of God’s “ordaining will.” Christ coming again “with power and great glory” (ccc 671) is an event we can say is not only influenced by God’s will but in fact orchestrated by Divine Providence. Unlike the rare New Jersey shark attacks and other freak occurrences in life, the Second Coming of Christ is a theme present in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacred Tradition of the Church. We are reminded in the Catechism that the Father has given “all judgment to the Son”(ccc 679) regarding His Second Coming.
The Catechism tells us that “Jesus announced the judgment of the Last Day in his preaching” (ccc 678). Throughout the Gospels and in the Letters of Saint Paul, we are told that “the conduct of each one and the secrets of hearts will be brought to light” when Jesus comes again (ccc 678). In fact, our attitude toward our neighbor will even “disclose acceptance or refusal of grace and divine love” (ccc 678). On the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
We believe that Christ already reigns in His Church because “Christ is also head of the Church, which is his Body” (Ephesians 1:22). We likewise affirm that “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (ccc 668). His Ascension into heaven signifies Christ’s bodily participation in God’s power and authority. Possessing “all power in heaven and on earth,” he is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (ccc 668), for the Father “has put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:20-22). Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and “transcendently fulfilled” (ccc 668).
We likewise await the Lord’s return in history because, although “the kingdom of Christ [is] already present in mystery” (ccc 669) and “Christ’s kingdom already manifests its presence through the miraculous signs” (ccc 670), His reign is nevertheless yet to be fulfilled “with power and great glory” by the King’s return to earth (ccc 671). The Catechism warns us that “before Christ’s Second Coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers” (ccc 675).
Loss of faith is present in every age of course so it is difficult to know for certain when Christ’s Second Coming will occur. What we do know is that Our Lord will in fact come again. It is up to each of us to make sure we are well prepared for His return. No doubt Our loving God has given us all the necessary grace as a means to prepare. Whether we accept or reject God’s grace is in our hands.
One curious piece of information which the Catechism reminds us is that the evil one is constantly seeking our ruin. “The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist,” the Catechism says, “a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God” (ccc 675). Sound familiar? Our culture is saturated with this exaggerated self-focus. The greater problem surfaces when self-focus is replaced by selfishness. Such is the religion of secularism! “The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism” (ccc 676). The Catechism teaches that this is “especially” problematic when the “political form of a secular messianism” takes root. (ccc 676).
The good news is that in the end, “the kingdom will be fulfilled … by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven” (ccc 677). As previously noted, on the Last Day Jesus will say: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” Matthew 25:40. As members of Christ’s Body, we “will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when [the Church] will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection” (ccc 677). Hopefully, as members of His Body, we already do this daily as Christ requested: “If you wish to be my follower, deny yourself, pick up your cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
As for Joseph Dunn and his comrades who died so long ago as a result of the infamous New Jersey shark attacks, we pray that they have already received their heavenly reward, as we like them, await the Second Coming of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.