By Edward Pentin
ROME, OCT. 11, 2012 (Zenit.org).-This month is filled with significant anniversaries for the Church: not only does today mark 50 years since the opening of the Second Vatican Council, but another highly significant anniversary fast approaching is that of Emperor Constantine’s victory at Milvian Bridge.
The Rome battle that took place on October 28th 1,700 years ago marked the beginning of Constantine’s conversion, ending 300 years of Christian persecution – a time when Christians had been subjected to violence and murder for refusing to worship the god of the state.
“Constantine’s victory led to an edict of toleration that resulted in the birth of Christian civilization as we came to know it: churches, universities, hospitals, orphanages and other legacies” that would take root in the high Middle Ages, says Edmund Mazza, a professor of history and political science as Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles.
But he argues “we’ve now come full circle.” The modern world, he says, “has forgotten its Christian origins, those of tolerance, the university, the Christian foundations of art and science.” Instead of erecting triumphal crosses and cathedrals like St. Peter’s and St. John Lateran “we see Christian symbols are being torn down or not permitted.”
Speaking to ZENIT on the side lines of an international Rome conference he had organized, titled: “Mary, Sign of Faith (and Only Hope),” Mazza highlighted the main error of our times: that we’ve lost the sense of transcendent. “People are concerned about saving the planet, global warming, and so forth, and there’s certain legitimate concerns here, but what we’ve lost is an awareness of the salvation of the soul,” he says.
“Without getting too dramatic about it, one could say we’re either nearing the End Times or we’re in the End Times, because what we have is the disintegration of Christian civilization.” He draws comparisons with the year 312 A.D., the date of Constantine’s victory, which led to an era of unprecedented culture and peace for the Church (though not of course without its problems), and the apparitions at Our Lady of Fatima at the beginning of the 20th century.
Mazza also notes that this month is also the 95th anniversary of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, when tens of thousands of people witnessed extraordinary solar activity. The miracle, officially recognized by the Vatican in 1930, took place soon after the famous series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta.
“It foretold the Bolsheviks would take over Russia, institute a secular socialism where government controls everything, tells everyone what to do, and where government contradicts the people’s religion, Christianity in particular,” says Mazza. “And what do we see today? In America, the Church is being persecuted now quite openly; individual Christians, let alone Church institutions, are going to be forced to pay for contraception and abortifacients, to go against their moral principles.” He adds: “It’s Diocletian’s persecution all over again: if you refuse to follow the norms of state, you’re going to suffer.”
During the apparitions, Our Lady of Fatima talks about the “errors of Russia”, meaning the errors of atheism and socialism which would lead to the deaths of 60 million people in the 20th century. “Russia will spread her errors throughout the world,” she warned, “raising up wars and persecutions against the Church, the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated. "
But even though Communism has ended, the remnants of it are still very much alive. Speaking at the same Rome conference was Edward Lucas, a correspondent for The Economist and author of a new book “Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today.”
Lucas explained that instead of spending millions of dollars on weapons as it did during the Cold War, Russia is now a state of espionage and deception, with a former KGB agent as its president – a remarkable reality if one imagines the Nazis had won World War II and then, after it had collapsed, they remained in power. For this reason, Mazza compares the errors of Russia to a vampire that refuses to die. “If you want to kill a vampire, you can’t shoot it, you’ve got to use a wooden stake,” he says, “and here, Jesus and Mary gave us the solution: the consecration of Russia.”
He recalls that Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated the whole world in 1984, but Russia has still not been singled out for consecration. “The only thing that will kill the errors of socialism and the dictatorship of relativism that the Pope has talked about is this,” says Mazza. “We need the Pope and the bishops to take five minutes of a public ceremony in which they consecrate Russia to Mary’s Immaculate Heart.”
The Year of Faith may be the perfect time to do so.
One of the perennial concerns about the modern Church is the weakening of an awareness of the Church’s vital role in the salvation of souls. For the vast majority of people, salvation is pretty much a given: the broad way is to Heaven, they believe, but the narrow way leads to Hell.
“Many of our fellow Catholics look at the world like this,” says Professor Ralph Martin, author of a fascinating new book “Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. “And it is hugely problematic.”
Martin stresses that of course, the truth is the exact opposite. Jesus says in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
He therefore strongly believes this significant teaching in Vatican II “hasn’t been paid sufficient attention to” and that clarification of this “amazing doctrinal confusion” is vital if the new evangelization is to have any effect at all.
He notes that in the council decree Lumen Gentium, it explains how those who are not Christian but are inculpably ignorant, seeking God seriously, trying to live their life according to their conscience assisted by Grace, can be saved. But he argues that “almost everyone” ignores the next few words which says “Often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.”
For this reason, the urgency for evangelization remains, Martin says, because “we’re not talking about a neutral environment, we’re talking about where the world of flesh and the Devil are doing their best to put people on the broad way or keep them there.”
He adds: “Lots of people aren’t seeking God and really do need to hear the Gospel, and be called to repentance, faith, baptism and conversion in order to be saved.” Christianity, he continues, “isn’t just about enriching somebody’s life. For many people, it’s a matter of Heaven or Hell.”
He stresses that simply saying one believes in God or that one is a good person isn’t salvific, but rather some kind of surrender to God and a change of life. “Nobody pays any attention to that,” he says. “They just think it’s as easy as walking down the street to be saved because we’re all good people and God’s merciful. But that’s not what’s being taught there. The reality of the world, the flesh and the Devil is being reaffirmed.”
“This truth needs to be brought forward at this time because all our exhortations to be more enthusiastic about evangelisation, more zealous, are going to fall on semi-deaf ears unless people really believe [the Gospel] will make a significant difference to people’s lives – not just for this life, but for eternity.”