This sermon was given on the last Sunday after Pentecost November 21, 2021 in St. Nicolas-du-Chardonnet church in Paris France. I post it here because I personally have no musings on the end of the world since those who might find themselves in these times can do little to change things and as father says at the end his sermon our job will be to keep ourselves free from sin in these times. I also post it because I know it is a popular topic and movies are made on many speculations about it these days. This is to give the view of one trained in the possible meanings of the end time prophesies and try to reign in run-away fears regarding whether our times are the end times.
My very dear faithful,
It is truly Apocalyptic vision that the Church is giving us in todays Gospel. With tour Lord describing what apparently are the end times – difficult, painful times, the days of which will be shortened for the sake of the elect, as our Lord tells us Himself.
You notice that we all have a little bit of curiosity to know how these things are going to happen, what the end times are going to be like, and maybe some of you have been curious enough to pickup and read the book of the Apocalypse and try to guess very concretely, very materially, how these things are going to come about. You will have read about those famous beasts and the “mark of the Beast,” the sign of the Beast.
My very dear faithful, our curiosity about these things can tend to be morbid. Morbid curiosity does exist: a curiosity that attracts us more toward sin than toward what is beautiful and good. We can see it for ourselves – there are examples all around us. It is sad to see how many young people are attracted toward bad pictures, instead of going to read the Gospel or take an interest in what our Lord did during His life. And we have to admit that we can be affected by this morbid curiosity when we are thinking about the end times, wondering what the Antichrist is going to be like, how he is going to be born, wo he is going to be, how we are going to be able to recognize him, what the mark of the Antichrist is going to be … And you know that people right now are making all kinds of speculations about these things. Whereas it also says in the Apocalypse that each one of the elect will be marked with the seal of God – and I have never had a single one of the faithful come up to me and ask me what the seal of God is. Everyone asks, “What is the seal of the devil? What is the mark of the Beast?” Nobody wonders, “What is the seal of God?” My very dear brethren, this is just an example of how our curiosity is more easily turned toward what is evil and ugly than toward what is good and beautiful, and it is a sad thing.
So, to quiet down all this curiosity a little bit, today we are going to speak about this sign of the Beast, as it appears in the Apocalypse and as certain Fathers of the church understand it. Wd hear a great deal of talk about these things today, unfortunately, with all that we are living through in our world.
It is true that the Apocalypse includes that famous statement that those who follow the Beast will have a mark on their forehead and on their arm, and that they will not be able to buy anything if they do not have this mark. Many people are wondering if the vaccine might be the mark of the Beast – the way these same people wondered if credit cards were the Beast, and them if barcodes were maybe the sign of the Beast.
Then the Apocalypse adds the name of the Beast, saying it is the name of a man, and the number of its name is six hundred and sixty-six. People also speculate about these expressions in the Apocalypse.
First of all, the mark of the Beast is a seal on the hand and on the forehead, and St. Augustine actually explains what that means. St. Augustine does not describe this seal as a mark visible to the eye, like a tattoo a person gets or like a chip inserted into our body. He says that the mark on the hand and the character on the forehead mean two ways of belonging to the devil.
The first way of belonging is the mark on the forehead, which means belonging by open confession. The first way we belong to the Beast – the mark on our forehead – is by proclaiming openly that the Beast is almighty and at the same time denying that God is almighty. Another Father of the Church gives the same interpretation, that one of the marks of belonging to the Beast is denial: the denial of God, the denial of His almighty power, denial that God created the world, denial of His Incarnation, denial of the Redemption . . . In a word, the mark on the forehead equals apostasy, apostasy in the heart. The forehead is what appears openly, and St. Augustine explains that what appears on our forehead is what we show on the outside of our thinking on the inside, the way the sign of the Christian is the sign of the cross, which we begin on our forehead, with our hand. So, just as the sign of the Christian is the sign of the cross, by which the Christian shows outwardly that he belongs to Jesus Christ – meanin that he wants to follow Jesus Christ his Master and carry his own cross – in the same way the firest sign of the devil, that mark on the forehead, means that a man openly denies God and claims that the devil has almighty power.
The second mark is the one on the hand. There again St. Augustine explains that the mark is not some kind of tattoo or a chip that someone imposes on a person’s hand. He explains that in Scripture the hands express works. The second mark of belonging to the Beast is evil actions, the works of sin. The one who belongs to the Beast is the one who follows the devil by doing evil, by the accomplishment of evil, the work of sin.
My very dear faithful, there you have the meaning of these marks, the signs of the Beast.
Our salvation is not material, first and foremost, any more than our combat is material, first and foremost. So, our belonging to God or to the devil is not first and foremost anything material. It is not first by inscribing something on our body that we belong to the devil, nor is it first by inscribing something on our body that we belong to God. The first mark of our belonging to God is a character, an indelible character, imprinted on our soul by baptism. That is the first mark of the Christian’s belonging to God. And it is this character which gives him access to all the other sacraments. The mark of belonging to the Beast is also a character of the soul, not an indelible one, thanks be to God, but the character of a will that turns toward evil and commits sin.
Our combat is spiritual, and so our belonging to Bod is spiritual. And belonging to the devil is spiritual as well. Belonging to God happens through grace, and that is the sign by which we recognize the elect of God. The elect are those who are marked with the seal of grace, in other words, the seal of charity, of the love of God and the life of God. Belonging to the devil means sin. That man belongs to the devil who does not have the love of God in him but only the love of things earthly, material, sensible, or even simply human with nothing beyond.
As for this number six hundred and sixty-six that the Apocalypse talks about, the Apocalypse also says that this number of the Beast is “the number of man.” St. Irenaeus gives perhaps the best explanation of this number. Many people have tried either to find this number literally or find the name that it contains, the way rabbis used to do, since numbers in Scripture always have some symbolism. There is even a science called numerology, which gives the interpretation of numbers. St. Irenaeus says more than just that.
The Fathers of the Church are in agreement that this name is unknown to us until the Antichrist actually appears. This prophecy in the Apocalypse is like any other prophecy: it only becomes clear at its fulfillment. But St. Irenaeus can still explain that the number six hundred and sixty-six is full of symbolism, just like the number of one hundred and forty-four thousand elect who are counted in the Apocalypse, twelve thousand from each tribe, as we heard on the Feast of All Saints. Numbers in Scripture really are symbolic. Seven represents a perfection, eight represents a fullness, and six represents and imperfection. Not just any imperfection, but the Fathers say that stopping at six means holding the number back from opening onto God. So the number six indicates not some natural imperfection inherent to the creature but a turning inward of man upon himself. And St. Irenaeus goes on to explain that the triple six represents a triple turning in of man on himself: not just a sin of the body but a sin of the soul, that is to say, of the intellect and the will, and also of a third sin which he calls a sin of the spirit.
That sin of the body, as we know, means all those sins that are very widespread today – no point in spending time speaking of it – sins against nature, those sins that call down the vengeance of Heaven. The sin of the soul, that is, of the intellect and the will, corresponds to the sin of man today keeping the intellect from reaching the truth. My very dear brethren, we need to thank those who devote themselves to our children and to giving them a genuine education in the truth that brings them to Jesus Christ. But the sin of the soul, of doing everything to keep the child from coming to the truth, also effects the will. It is another side of those modern education programs, to keep the child from knowing the good, the true good, and how to practice the good. The last of the three sixes means the sins of the spirit, the sin of closing ourselves off from God; it is the sin by which man refuses God. This sin corresponds to the abomination of desolation in the holy Temple, perhaps as we see it today with this new Mass where adoration is completely oriented toward man.
My very dear faithful, there you see how the Fathers of the Church explain these mysterious words of the Apocalypse, which still do remain mysterious. We have to stop ourselves from running after interpretations, each wilder than the next. No matter the difficulties that we are going through today, no matter the lies and errors being served up to us and plenty of lies and errors are being served up to us! – no matter how dangerous may be certain products that people are wanting to inject into us, let us not forget that the mark of the Beast is something spiritual: it means sin. We belong to the devil by sin; we belong to God by grace and by charity.
There you have it, my dear faithful. Our Lord is very clear on this point, and He tells us, “Do not fear those who can kill the body” – and today we have a direct application – “Don not fear those who can kill the body; rather fear Him who has the power to cast into hellfire.” And again, our Lord said to His Apostles just before He left them, ”Take courage: I have overcome the world.” We have nothing to fear from the material things of this world. We have to fear sin. We are not to fear the death of the body; we are to fear eternal death.
It is true, my dear faithful, that the future is unknown to us and to us and it can look very dark indeed. Yet there are things we know absolutely for certain: God is our Father; God does not forget His children; God protects His children; God feeds His children.
Whatever the trials we are going to have to face, let us be perfectly confident: we might know nothing at all about the sufferings to come, but we do know with absolute certainty that grace will never fail us. That is our hope and our joy in this world of sadness. Amen.