Q. In one of the readings at Mass after Christmas, St. John talked about the Antichrist. He said that “many antichrists” had appeared “and thus we know this is the last hour” (1 John 2:18). What are we to believe about the Antichrist? — T.K., California.
A. The Antichrist is specifically mentioned only in the letters of John (cf. 1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3, and 2 John 7), and John identifies the Antichrist as “whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist” (2:22). St. Paul doesn’t use the word “Antichrist,” but talks about “the lawless one…the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god” (2 Thess. 2:3-4).
Paul goes on to say that “the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord [Jesus] will kill with the breath of his mouth and render powerless by the manifestation of his coming, the one whose coming springs from the power of Satan in every mighty deed and in signs and wonders that lie, and in every wicked deceit for those who are perishing because they have not accepted the love of truth so that they may be saved. Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned” (2 Thess. 2:8-12).
Commenting on these verses, the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible says that the lawless one is “a man of extraordinary evil. When he comes, he will deify himself, claiming to be God (2:4); he will dazzle the wicked with displays of his power (2:9); and he will deceive the world with falsehoods of every kind (2:10). Most identify this figure with ‘the antichrist’ prophesied by John (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 675-677).”
The commentary also says that “the Antichrist will declare himself God and demand to be worshiped,” but “Christ will descend from heaven as a divine Warrior to destroy the man of lawlessness with a word and trample the last remnants of evil underfoot (1 Cor. 15:24).”
While some evil historical figures, such as Nero and Hitler, have been labeled as antichrists, and there are even those misguided souls who think that the Pope is the Antichrist, the common Catholic interpretation is that the Antichrist is a real person who will engage in a final apocalyptic struggle with Christ before the end of the world. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 675) says that “before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers [cf. Luke 18:8; Matt. 24:12].”
The persecution of the Church, the Catechism continues, “will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh [cf. 2 Thess. 2:4-12; 1 Thess. 5:2-3; 2 John 7; 1 John 2:18, 22].”
In n. 676, the Catechism says that “the Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment.” After going through “this final Passover,” says the Catechism (n. 677), the Church “will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection [cf. Rev. 19:1-9]. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven [cf. Rev. 13:8; 20:7-10; 21:2-4]. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of th e Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world [cf. Rev. 20:12; 2 Peter 3:12-13].”
Q. If the Jews could not legally put Jesus to death, how could they put Stephen to death? — M.W., via e-mail.
A. According to the Book of Numbers, certain crimes could be punished by stoning outside the camp. Thus, when the Israelites wondered what to do with a man guilty of violating the Sabbath by gathering wood on that day, “the Lord said to Moses, ‘This man shall be put to death; let the whole community stone him outside the camp’” (Num. 15:35).
Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel which, according to John 18:31, was prohibited from imposing capital punishment. So Jesus was taken before the Roman authorities, falsely accused of political crimes, and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Stephen, on the other hand, was not given a trial, but was taken outside the city by an enraged mob and stoned to death.
Q. In his column in the parish bulletin on the Feast of the Holy Family, my pastor said that “the first family of Christianity reminds us that there is no such thing as normal. Every family is different and this means that we need to broaden our understanding of family life beyond TV sitcoms and applaud the virtues of family living wherever we find them: two-parent families, single-parent families, blended families, families with two mommies or two daddies, and adoptive families.” But what virtues are exemplified in “families” headed by two homosexual men or two lesbian women? Doesn’t the Church teach that such relationships are contrary to God’s plan and therefore sinful? — T.L.H., Massachusetts.
A. Yes, that is what the Church teaches, and we find it hard to believe that the pastor of a Catholic parish would applaud those living in sin. It’s one thing to love the sinner, but aren’t we also supposed to “admonish the sinner,” a spiritual work of mercy, and lead persons to holiness? The Lord told the Prophet Ezekiel how to act toward those engaged in sin:
“If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life” (Ezek. 3:18-19).
But perhaps your pastor doesn’t consider sexual activity between persons of the same sex sinful, even though God and the Church teach that such activity is permitted only between a man and a woman married to each other for life. Or maybe your pastor was thinking about the statement of Pope Francis last summer that he would not judge “a gay person who is seeking God, who is of good will.” He said that “the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says one must not marginalize these persons, they must be integrated into society. The problem isn’t this [homosexual] orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters.”
Yes, the Catechism does explain this matter very well. “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” says the Catechism, “tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (n. 2357).
Conceding that those with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” have a difficult struggle, the Catechism says that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided” (n. 2358). However, the Catechism also says that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” and that “by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection” (n. 2359).
We are all for applauding “the virtues of family living,” as your pastor suggested, but two men and two women do not constitute a family and their sexual activity is far removed from anything virtuous, as the statement from the Catechism indicates. Your pastor would have done these couples a far greater service by calling them to chastity.