Second of a Four Part Series on the signs that are to precede the Last Judgment
There shall be terrible signs in the heavens and in all the elements. Erunt signa.–Luke xxi. 25. ” There shall be signs.”
These signs shall be for the wicked a source of fear, anguish, and dread; but for the good a source of joy and, exultation.–Preached on the first Sunday of Advent.
All Catholic Christians believe that in His second advent Jesus Christ shall come as the Judge of the living and the dead into this world; but no man knows the day of His coming. Yet the world shall be able to learn that the day of judgment is at hand from the signs that Christ Himself has announced as forerunners of the last day. The first sign, namely the reign of Antichrist, and what we have to learn therefrom I have already explained. I now go on to speak of the other signs.
Plan of Discourse.
There shall be terrible signs in the heavens and in all the elements. These and their causes I shall explain in the first part. These signs shall be to the wicked a source of fear, anguish, and dread; but to the good a source of joy and exultation. This I shall show in the second part. Sinners! if you wish that the last day should not be a cause of dread to you, be converted! Just Christians! rejoice if you now have to pass through times of tribulation! Such shall be the conclusion.
Help us, O future Judge, to observe it by Thy grace, which we ask of Thee through the intercession of Mary and of our holy guardian angels.
When the three and a half years of the reign of that terrible persecutor Antichrist shall have expired, then, says Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew, ” Immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved.”(1) Mark the word “immediately.” We must not understand by it that the moment Antichrist sinks into the abyss those signs shall be visible. No; for according to commentators the mercy of God shall grant a respite of some months, or, as some say, of years for those who shall be perverted by Antichrist to repent, because then almost the whole world shall return to Christ after their accursed apostasy. But when the time of the general judgment is finally at hand, “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars, and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves.”(2) The sun shall be deprived of its brilliancy and make night out of day, like to the darkness of Egypt: “There came horrible darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. No man saw his brother, nor moved himself out of the place where he was.”(3) The moon, of a blood-red color, shall appear like some grizzly phantom of night; the stars shall fall from the sky; not indeed the stars that God has placed in the firmament: for where should they fall? Not on the earth, because according to astronomers the smallest star is much larger than the earth. But the stars shall hide themselves as if they had fallen, and at the same time luminous vapor in the shape of stars shall fall in masses on the globe as if to set fire to it.
All the elements shall be disturbed; the air shall resound with fearful storms and thunder; the sea and all waters shall be disturbed by mighty waves rising and falling; the earth shall be shaken and almost riven asunder by earthquakes that shall swallow whole cities, while fire shall burst forth with a great roar from the mountains and caverns. In a word, the wheels of the vast clock of the world shall be all broken and disordered, according to the works of Louis de Ponte, as a sign that the last hour of judgment is at hand, and such shall be the fear, anguish, faint-heartedness, and dread of men and the howling and roaring of beasts, that no one will know where to turn or what to do. Hence the old expression used of very bad weather: it is like the last day.
And what is the meaning of all that, my dear brethren? To “what end that great disturbance and consternation of all creatures? First, says Abulensis, it is a sign of compassion, and as it were a fainting and death-agony of all nature at the destruction of the world. When the head of a household is at the point of death the whole family is disturbed and bewildered; the wife weeps and tears her hair in an agony of grief; the children give vent to their sorrow in noisy cries; the relatives weep; the servants run hither and thither sighing and moaning; the death-knell tolls its sorrowful note from the church-tower; friends and neighbors clad in mourning come to the funeral. All is grief and lamentation. So shall it be when the end of the world approaches, and the human race, the head of this household of the world is at the last gasp; all nature shall be stricken with fear and consternation; the sky shall lose its luminaries and put on the sable garb of night; the elements shall, as it were, weep, and become quite bewildered, while the atmosphere resounding with thunder and violent hurricanes shall be, so to speak, the death-knell of the dying world.
Moreover, these signs shall show forth the great anger and displeasure of the Almighty at sinful men. The heavens now announce the glory of God, as the Prophet David says: “The heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of His hands.”(4) “But then,” says Barradius, “they shall declare the anger of God against the wicked.”(5) For He will cause all creatures to rise up against them; by making the stars to lose their light, He will, so to speak, shut up the windows by which any light might penetrate to the earth, that He may smite in the dark without mercy, as Isaias prophesies: “Behold, the day of the Lord shall come, a cruel day, and full of indignation, and of wrath, and fury, to lay the land desolate, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it. For the stars of heaven and their brightness shall not display their light: the sun shall be darkened in his rising, and the moon shall not shine with her light.” And what then? “And I will visit the evils of the world, and against the wicked for their iniquity, and I will make the pride of infidels to cease, and will bring down the arrogancy of the mighty.”(6) “The moon shall blush, and the sun shall be ashamed:”(7) “because,” adds Cardinal Hugo, “they have served such masters,”(8) masters who have been ungrateful to their Creator. Now, according to St. Paul, creatures serve sinners against their will and as it were through force and necessity: “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly;” therefore they groan under the yoke of their slavery, and sigh for the day when they shall be freed from it; “for we know that every creature groaneth, and travaileth in pain even till now.”(9) Sun, moon, and stars groan and complain at having to give their light to men to be misused in offending and insulting God; the earth, fire, water, air, beg, as it were, the Almighty to free them from the servitude in which they are to sinners.
This shall be done at the end of the world, when all creatures are to be set at liberty and released from slavery, and then like a mighty army they will all rush in a body against the wicked to put them to shame, as we read in the Book of Wisdom: “And His zeal will take armor, and He will arm the creature for the revenge of His enemies……and the whole world shall fight with Him against the unwise:(10) “The sun will declare war, as Tamerlane did of old, with a black banner spread; the moon colored like blood, and the stars disturbed out of their course shall begin the battle. We, they will say, have given our fair light for such a long time to sinners who were unworthy of it; we have marked for them the hours, days, weeks, months, and years; we have by our regularity in our motions set them a good example of the obedience they owe to God; but they preferred to follow the suggestions of the devil, the appetites of the flesh, the customs and maxims of the perverse world, instead of obeying the law of their Creator they loved, darkness more than the light; therefore our period of service is now at an end for them, and we shall be to them henceforth a source of nothing but fear and dread.
In the same manner the four elements shall take the field against sinners. The air that gave them breath and voice, so that they could breathe and speak; from which they received the fruitful rain; in which the birds dwelt to their delight and nourishment–the air will attack them on all sides; it will throw down buildings by the violence of opposing winds; it will tear up trees by the roots; send down hail-storms to strike the beasts of the field dead, and with thunder and fierce lightnings and terrible apparitions that shall be seen in the air (such as were not beheld even in Egypt in the time of the hardened Pharao, nor in Jerusalem when that city was destroyed), it will fill every one with dismay, as if to complain of the sinner and say: “He hath stretched out his hand against God, and hath strengthened himself against the Almighty.”(11)
The water that supplied sinners with drink and with fish for their food, and with salt, and that carried them from one country to another in the pursuit of their business, will then overstep its boundaries and inundate the adjoining land far and wide; it will rage and foam against the godless, ready to swallow them up as it did Jonas: “Be thou ashamed, O Sidon! for the sea speaketh.”(12) Be ashamed, O Christian! the sea shall cry out with its rushing waves; be ashamed that I, who have no understanding like you, for whom God has not died as He has for you, who have neither eternal punishment to fear nor eternal rewards to hope for as you have–be ashamed that I have been for six thousand years obedient to my Creator, and have not gone as much as the breadth of a grain of sand beyond the limits He marked out for me, but have always kept within bounds; while you, on the contrary, endowed with reason and countless benefits, allured by the hope of heaven, terrified by the fear of hell, have yet often and deliberately transgressed the commands of God, and wallowed in a very sea of vice! Be ashamed at being overcome by a senseless thing such as I am, in obedience to God! O Almighty God, the waves will cry out as they rise towards heaven, show forth Thy justice against sinners, and since they have not wished to live in the ocean of Thy mercy and find their salvation, let them now sink into the deep abyss of Thy justice, and feel the weight of Thy avenging arm!
The earth which has hitherto served even wicked men for their nourishment, clothing, dwelling-place, medicine, and pleasure, supplying them with fruit, trees, herbs, and flowers which it brought forth in such plenty–the earth will then open with continual quakings, and as it were cry out for vengeance against the sinner for having so wantonly and ungratefully misused its gifts. The wild beasts will come forth out of their caves and dens with horrible howlings, and follow up the sinner everywhere, filling him with terror. “The whole world shall fight with Him against the unwise;” the universe shall take up arms with the angry God and fight against the foolish sinner, and by its ragings announce to him that the terrible day is at hand on which the Judge shall be revenged on all His enemies; that day which the Prophet Sophonias calls the great day of the Lord: “A day of wrath; a day of tribulation and distress; a day of calamity and misery; a day of darkness and obscurity; a day of cloud and whirlwind; the voice of the day of the Lord is bitter, the mighty man shall there meet with tribulation.”(13) Where will they creep in order to hide themselves, or to find comfort and consolation, when heaven and earth are in such disorder and are uniting their forces to attack them? Our Lord has already told us how men shall feel on that day: “Men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world.”(14) But this shall be the case only for sinners; for no matter how terrible the signs that are to precede the last day, the servants of God shall find them an occasion of rejoicing and exultation, as we shall see in the Second Part.
Suppose that a Turkish city, say Constantinople, in which many Christians are held captive and groan in chains, is beleaguered by a Christian potentate; the roaring and crashing of artillery resounds the whole day, so that one can hardly hear his own voice; the walls and towers are here and there thrown down by the cannon-balls; fire-spreading bombs and grenades are flying about incessantly in the air, burning and destroying the houses in all directions, and throughout the whole city nothing is heard but the roar of artillery, the crash of tumbling walls, and fearful howlings and lamentations. Men crawl away and hide themselves in the darkest cellars so as to avoid the cannonballs; the soldiers in despair cry out; alas! it is all up with us! we must surrender! the city is taken, etc. What do you think, my dear brethren, would be the feelings of the Christian captives on the occasion? Truly, as far as sight and hearing are concerned they are as badly off as the Turks; they too must hide away to avoid the bombs and balls; but how do they feel at heart? There is not a doubt that they rejoice and exult the more vigorously the siege proceeds. The greater the despair of the soldiers engaged in the defence the greater the joy and hope of the Christians. Why? Oh, they think, now the time is at hand when the city must surrender to a Christian power, and we shall be freed from captivity and slavery. There, my dear brethren, you have in some degree a figure and picture of the state of mind of the just and of the wicked at the sight of the awful portents that are to herald the end of the world.
The wicked, those who have a bad conscience, shall indeed wither away with fear and dismay, and seek to hide themselves under the earth; they will howl and moan and lament like the beleaguered Turks: alas! now all is up with us! We must surrender; there is an end to all the pleasures and delights we enjoyed on earth; honor and high places are no more; we must leave our wealth behind us; the last day is at hand; in a short time the terrible trumpet shall sound in our ears the words: arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! Soon shall we appear before our angry Judge, whom we have despised and made our enemy by our sins! Now the time is approaching when the shameful things we have kept hidden from men and not dared to mention even in the tribunal of penance shall be openly declared before the world! Soon shall we hear the awful words: ” Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire.”(15) And we shall have to bid an eternal farewell to God, our supreme Good, to Mary the Mother of God, to all the angels and elect, and go down to hell with the devils! Alas! how great will be the terror and anguish of the wicked at the sight of the signs and portents of the last day!
But what shall he the feelings of those just servants of God who have either kept inviolable fidelity to their Creator, or by true repentance have washed away their sins, and who have hitherto in this vale of tears, amidst so many dangers of soul and body, sighed like prisoners for their eternal home and place of rest! How, I ask, will it be with them? Hear what Christ says to them, after having spoken of the terrible forerunners of the last day: “But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads: because your redemption is at hand.”(16) To go with downcast head is a sign of sorrow and fear, and My dear children, that is not for you, but for the wicked who refused to love and honor Me. Let them wither away for fear, because they have no part in My eternal kingdom; but you, just souls! who have kept My law and in all things tried to do My will, “look up, and lift up your heads;” rejoice and be glad; why? “Because your redemption is at hand!” This is the time for which you have been sighing so long; the time for your release from captivity, from all dangers and troubles; the time for you to enter into the eternal repose of the children of God. This is the day on which your enemies and Mine, who have persecuted and oppressed you in so many ways–this is the day for them to lie trembling and shaking under your feet. This is the time when I shall make known to the world your humility and other virtues which men knew nothing of, and vain worldlings despised you for! Rejoice, My children! your redemption is at hand; the kingdom of heaven will soon be opened to you. Come, ye blessed! possess the kingdom that My Father and you yourselves have prepared for you! Come with Me into everlasting joys!
“See the fig-tree, and all the trees,” continues Our Lord; “when they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh,” and the cold winter past. “So you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand.”(17) His meaning is, in winter-time the trees are bare, without leaves or fruit, and covered with snow as with a mourning garment; but when the pleasant springtime comes, what a change takes place in them! They are adorned with the fresh buds, with green leaves and fruit, and the birds sing joyous melodies in their branches. So it is also with you. My faithful servants. Hither to you have had the cold winter-time; you were hated and despised by the world, which you disregarded for My sake; you have often had to groan under the pressure of adversity; but now, when you shall see those signs of the spring and eternal summer, “look up and lift up your heads: because your redemption is at hand.” Be ready! Raise your hearts and minds on high! Your redemption is near you; the works of virtue that you performed for Me are now about to bear fruit, and you shall be crowned with a crown of everlasting joys.
It was this thought that brought such consolation of spirit to St. Paul in his manifold trials and persecutions, as he writes to his disciple Timothy: “The time of my dissolution at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have a kept the faith.” I have been true to my God, and now what have I to expect from Him? “As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord, the just Judge, will render to me in that day: and not only to me, but to them also that love His coming.”(18) It is for that we should long unceasingly, as Our Lord Himself has taught us to pray daily: “Our Father, who art in heaven; Thy kingdom come!” “Seeing then,” says St. Peter, “that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversations and godliness; looking for and hastening unto the coming of the day of the Lord.” Truly the heavens shall be burnt up, and the elements consumed by heat. “But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to His promises, in which justice dwelleth. Wherefore, dearly beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent, that ye may be found undefiled and unspotted to Him in peace.”(19) Hasten in your desires with joy to meet the day of the Lord.
My dear brethren, what should be our thoughts on this subject? If these awful portents were visible in the heavens this very day to announce to us the end of the world, should we all have occasion to lift up our heads and to await the coming of our Judge with joy and exultation? Would you, O ambitions man, rejoice, who now value the esteem of men more than the grace and favor of your God? Would you rejoice, O avaricious man, whose greatest and only care every day of your life is to amass wealth in every possible way; whose hands and coffers are still closed on ill-gotten goods? Would you rejoice, O unchaste man, who have hitherto indulged your foul passions, and by your wicked importunities have seduced many an innocent soul; who still continue to live in unlawful intimacy with one who has captivated your heart in the meshes of impure love? Would you rejoice, O vindictive man, who still nourish anger against your neighbor, and indulge in dreams of revenge? Would you rejoice, O drunkard, who on every occasion that offers itself rob yourself of your reason, and ruin yourself and those belonging to you? Would you rejoice, O vain child of the world, who are still so much attached to the world and know no law but its false maxims, leading meanwhile an idle, tepid life? In a word, all of you who have a mortal sin on your consciences, would you exult at the coming of your Judge? Should one have reason to encourage you in the words of Our Lord when the terrible signs are seen in the heavens: “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand”? Alas! it is easy to speak to you of joy! Fear, anguish, terror, withering away for fear; such are rather the sad effects that those signs will have on you. Ah, why then do we not fear to offend God? How can we dare to spend even one hour in the state of mortal sin; for if death were to surprise us then, we should have nothing to expect but judgment without mercy and a hell without end.
Just souls who have a good conscience! for you is the joy, the exulting hope! Ah, only continue to serve your God with fidelity and zeal! “We should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world,” such is the exhortation given us by St. Paul, “looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and Our Saviour Jesus Christ.”(20) Afflicted Christians, who have to suffer all kinds of trials and contradictions, what are you to think? Troublous are the signs you now see, visited as you are so severely by the hand of God; troublous indeed! But be comforted! For as the terrible signs that are to announce the end of the world shall he forerunners of approaching redemption for the just, and therefore a source of joy and consolation to them, so the sorrows, no matter how great they may be, that now afflict you, if you only bear them with a good conscience and resignation to the divine will, are for you infallible signs of future glory in heaven, as I shall show you on a future occasion. To comfort yourselves then and alleviate your sorrows, say to yourselves: what I am now suffering shall come to an end; it will not last long; every day brings me nearer to my release. If I am poor and destitute for a short time, this very poverty is a sure sign of future riches in heaven. If I am despised, persecuted by the world, and abandoned by men, this humiliation is a sign of my approaching glory and honor in the society of the elect in heaven. If I now suffer injury and loss in my worldly goods, this loss is a sign of my future gain, of a treasure. that awaits me in heaven. If I now weep with sorrow and trouble, it is a sign of my future joy in heaven. If I am now sickly and weak, it is a sign of future eternal well-being in heaven. If I am now obliged to work hard every day in order to support myself and those depending on me, it is a sign and forerunner of future eternal repose in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, O my God, I will resign myself to Thy will and providence: with the help of Thy grace I will suffer as long, how, and whatever Thou mayest will me to suffer! No matter how great my troubles may be, they shall not be equal to the joys of heaven that Thou hast promised me. “Looking for the blessed hope and coming of the glory of the great God and Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.” With this consolation I will rejoice in all my trials, expecting the fulfillment of that most blessed hope and the coming of the great glory of my God and Saviour. “I know,” I will say with Job, “that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth……..and in my flesh I shall see my God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes shall behold: this my hope is laid up in my bosom.”(21) This one hope is comfort enough for me. Amen.
(by Rev. Francis Hunolt 1694 -1746)
1.Statim autem post tribulationem dierum illorum sol obscurabitur, et luna non dabit lumen suum, et stellae cadent de caelo, et virtutes caelorum commovebuntur.–Matt. xxiv.29.
2.Erunt signa in sole, et luna, et stellis, et in terris pressura gentium prae confusione sonitus maris et fluctuum–Luke xxi. 25.
3. Factae sunt tenebrae horribiles in universa terra Egypti tribus diebus. Nemo vidit fratrem suum, nec movit se de loco in quo erat.–Exod. x. 22, 23.
4. Caeli enarrant gloriam Dei, et opera manuum ejus annuntiat firmamentum.–Ps. xvii.2.
5. Tunc vero iram Dei, impiis annuntiabunt.
6. Ecce dies Domini veniet, crudelis, et indignationis plenus, et irae, furorisque, ad ponendam terram in solitudinem, et peccatores ejus conterendos de ea. Quoniam stellae caeli, et splendor earum, non expandent lumen suum; obtenebratus est sol in ortu suo, et luna non splendebit in lumine suo. Et visitabo super orbis mala, et contra impios iniquitatem eorum; et quescere faciam superbian infidelium, et arrogantian fortium humiliabo.–Is. xiii. 9-11.
7. Erubescet luna, et confundetur sol.–Ibid. xxiv. 23.
8. Quod talibus dominis servierunt.
9. Vanitati enim creatura subjecta est non volens. Scimus enim quod omnis creatura ingemiscit, et parturit usque adhuc.–Rom. vii.20, 22.
10. Accipiet armaturam zelus illius, et armabit creaturam ad ultionem inimicorum,….et pugnabit cum illo orbis terrarum contra insensatos.–Wis.v. 18, 21.
11. Tetendit adversus Deum manum suam, et contra Omnipotentem roboratus est.–Job xv. 25.
12. Erubesce Sidon; ait enim mare.–Is. xxiii.4.
13. Dies irae dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiae, dies calamitatis et miseriae, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulae et turbinis; vox diei Domini amara, tribulabitur ibi fortis.–Soph. i. 15, 14.
14. Arescentibus hominibus prae timore, et exspectatione, quae supervenient universo orbi.–Luke xxi. 26.
15. Discedite a me, maledicti, in ignem aeternum.–Matt. xxv. 41.
16. His antem fieri incipientibus, respicite, et levate capita vestra, quoniam appropinquat redemptio vestra.–Luke xxi. 28.
17. Videte ficulneam, et omnes arbores. Cum producunt jam ex se fructum, scitis quoniam prope est aestas. Ita et vos cum videritis haec fieri, scitote quoniam prope est regnum Dei.–Ibid. 29, 30, 31.
18. Tempus resolutionis meae instat. Bonum certamen certavi, cursum consummavi, fidem servavi. In reliquo reposita est mihi corona justitiae, quam reddet mihi Dominus in illa die justus judex; non solum autum mihi, sed et iis qui diligunt adventum ejus.–II. Tim. iv. 6-8.
19. Cum igitur haec omnia dissolvenda sint, quales oportet vose esse in sanctis conversationibus et pietatibus, exspectantes et properantes in adventum diei Domini. Novus vero caelos, et novam terram secundum promissa ipsius expectamus. Propter quod, carissimi, haec exspectantes, satagite immaculati et inviolati ei inveniri in pace.–II. Pet. iii. 11-14.
20. Sobrie, et juste, et pie vivamus in hoc saeculo; expectantes beatam spem, et adventum gloriae magni dei, et Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi.–Tit. ii. 12, 13.
21. Scio enim quod Redemptor meus vivit, et in novissima die de terra surrecturs sum,….et in carne mea videbo Deum meum. Quem visurus sum ego ipse, et oculi mei conspecturi sunt; reposita est haec spes mea in sinu meo.–Job xix. 24-2