The Celestial Phenomenon on Sept. 23 and Revelation 12

Stellarium screen shot, 9/23/2017

The following will occur in the daytime sky on Sept. 23rd:

“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars: And being with child, she cried travailing in birth, and was in pain to be delivered” (Revelation 12:1-2).

As the sun envelopes the constellation Virgo (a virgin maiden in Greek mythology) the moon will cross beneath her feet. At the same time twelve stars will congregate just above her head, nine from the constellation Leo plus three visiting planets: Mercury, Venus, and Mars.* The planet Jupiter (mythological king), which had entered Virgo’s torso back on Dec. 1, 2016, will have just exited between her legs on Sept. 12th, 9 1/2 months later. (Recall that Jupiter’s entry into the constellation Leo represented the birth of a prince in Babylonian astrology and inspired the journey of the Magi).

While there should be caution and prudence in making assumptions as to what the upcoming celestial phenomenon might portend, there should be equal caution in failing to appreciate its resemblance to St. John’s apocalyptic description of the vision he experienced. I think it’s very unlikely that this is coincidental. Our omniscient God caused John to have this vision and inspired the author to describe it utilizing celestial bodies, while at the same time knowing that the corresponding astronomical formation would occur for the first time on Sept. 23, 2017. He also knew that it would be during the centenary celebrations of Our Lady of Fatima.

What also suggests that this formation might herald something important is the transcendent nature of St. John’s portrayal; the symbolism is extraordinary and pan-historical. Catholic Biblical scholar Peter Williamson explains that it portrays Mary as the personification of the whole of salvation history:

“On the one hand, the woman of this vision symbolizes the faithful people of God of the Old and New Testaments. On the other, she is Mary, the mother of the Messiah and for that reason the most exalted member of the human race after her son.”

“The image of the sun, moon, and stars are drawn from Joseph’s dream in Gen. 37:1-7, where they represent his father, mother, and brothers, the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. The woman thus symbolizes Israel, who in the Bible is often personified as a woman…”

“…Finally, the woman is the Church, whom God cares for during her time in the wilderness in this world, and brings forth other children” (Rev. 12:17).**

That this image is soon going to be re-created in the heavens is momentous in itself.

Following John’s description of the “woman clothed with the sun” he records a series of events:

  • The woman gives birth, and the Child (the Messiah) is taken up to heaven (vs. 5).
  • The woman flees to the desert “where she had a place prepared by God” (vs. 6).
  • A war in Heaven breaks out between Satan and the demons and Michael and the angels (vs. 7).
  • Satan is ejected from Heaven (vs. 9).
  • The serpent  pursues the woman (vv. 13-16).
  • The serpent leaves the woman and prepares to pursue her offspring (the persecutions of the Antichrist, vv. 17-18).

Many scholars consider most of these events as overlapping and occurring concurrently, representing the age of the Church; others interpret these as sequential events. From a broader perspective, however, the prophetic message of chapter 12 is pretty clear, a description of the Church, symbolized by the woman, entering the “eschaton”, the period of history when the mission of the Church approaches its end. It would make sense that the celestial sign on September 23, a perfect complement to St. John’s description, to be a herald of the arrival of that era.

The timing of this, occurring during the centenary of Fatima and the Miracle of the Sun, may also suggest it’s the harbinger of a response to the disregard of Our Lady’s requests. An astute observation by Catholic journalist points in this direction. Writing about the significance of the upcoming astronomical phenomenon, Patrick Archibold recalled a communication from Our Lord received by Fatima seer Sister Lucia in 1931:

“Make it known to My ministers, given that they follow the example of the King of France in delaying the execution of My requests, they will follow him into misfortune.”

Archibold explains that on June 17, 1689 Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, following Christ’s direction, implored King Louis XIV to consecrate France to the Sacred Heart. This was never accomplished and exactly 100 years later, to the day, King Louis XVI was stripped of authority when the Third Estate declared itself the sole authority to conduct the affairs of France. The Revolution had commenced; the King would be executed four years later and the Catholic Church would suffer despoliation and persecution.

God gave the French 100 years to comply with his requests and Lucia is telling Church authorities that they will have the same. The 100-year period of the Fatima apparition concludes on Oct. 13, 2017, the anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun, the same month that the pope is headed to Sweden to celebrate the Reformation. If that day passes without a significant event that would suggest that a difficult time for the Church lies ahead, perhaps we should all breathe a sigh of relief.

*I highly recommend downloading Stellarium, a free program that allows one to view space from anywhere and on any day. Its re-creation of what will occur on Sept. 23 is striking.

**Revelation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015, pp. 205-220.


‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’

In a statistical analysis of mass attendance by CARA, one of the major findings was that the percentage of U.S. self-identifying Catholics who attend mass weekly has steadily declined since 1950, and now stands at 23%. Unsurprisingly, the number jumps to 68% on Easter Sunday. Parish priests get a captive audience and an opportunity to encourage lapsed Catholics back to the faith.

If it were me I would do three things this year:

  • Encourage parishioners to park at a distance if possible, or attend a mass that is not likely to have visitors. People tend to avoid going back to places where parking is a problem.
  • Have one or more confessionals open prior to mass and, if another priest is around, during mass. Visiting Catholics might feel the call to reconciliation just by seeing that it’s available.
  • Preach a homily on Hell. It doesn’t have to be in the fire and brimstone style of Jonathan Edwards, though it worked for him, and started a movement, “The Great Awakening”:

sinners2“The Wrath of God burns against them, their Damnation don’t slumber, the Pit is prepared, the Fire is made ready, the Furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the Flames do now rage and glow. The glittering Sword is whet, and held over them, and the Pit hath opened her Mouth under them.”

“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (ca. 1741)

The fiery puritan grew tired of the malaise he noticed at his colonial-era church and community. People went through the motions of the religious life but lacked passion, which for Edwards meant an absence of an appreciation of the reality of God, heaven, and hell. He wanted evidence that a person was a true Christian through a visible “religious affection”. The malaise, however, was the unavoidable by-product of Calvinism, in which salvation or damnation was predetermined for everyone.

It has been claimed that certain readings and prayers addressing eternal damnation were purged in the mass of Pope Paul VI. Theologian Brian Harrison, O.S. examined this question in detail and concluded that there was little substantial difference between the old and new masses with respect to such matters. He added, however, that the true disparity comes from the pulpit:

“…Catholics attending the old rite heard – and still hear – a lot more about sin, judgment, wrath and Hell than their ‘Novus Ordo’ brethren, simply because post-conciliar priests, whatever the readings of the day may be, tend to avoid those topics like the plague in their bland, vacuous, and politically correct homilies.” (link)

Continue reading “‘Damnation Don’t Slumber’”

Lenten Reflections on Scripture: A Wedding in Galilee

WaterwineAs the story of the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) is one of the Luminous mysteries, many of us have contemplated the account of Jesus’ first miracle many times. The narrative is simple and easy to understand: Jesus begins to show his “signs” in order to prove who he is. Homilies I’ve heard on this text will often focus on Mary’s role here as the initiator of Christ’s first miracle and expound on that role in the life and ministry of her Son.

However, I’ve always been perplexed by the exchange between Jesus and Mary. She comes to Jesus and reports that the wine had run out. He answers, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary does not respond to Him, but addresses the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.” It’s the objectionable language of Jesus, and Mary’s non-response that I have trouble understanding.

One thing I will often do to help me fully grasp a gospel narrative is to use my imagination to picture the scene as if I was part of it. I enjoy theater and did a lot of acting in college which helps. I once heard a lecture by actor Michael York on performing Shakespeare. He noted that Shakespeare did not provide stage directions and never really cared how a play or a character was interpreted; the director or actor could do whatever they wanted. This is perhaps why his plays work in many different settings. Gospel narratives can be similar in that the text can be lacking in detail, as well as the fact that the Greek manuscripts had no punctuation, leaving it to the interpreter to picture the scene and punctuate the text. Continue reading “Lenten Reflections on Scripture: A Wedding in Galilee”