The Bible exhorts us to both observe and reject signs. Jesus performed many signs and wonders to demonstrate that he was the Messiah and the Son of God. But he also warned us against the necessity of signs because signs remove the need for faith.
“So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”
“An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
Faith is a critical component of the perfection and holiness of God’s children. God won’t permit any signs that remove the necessity of faith. But he also encourages us to recognize signs for what they are telling us because signs do have value to faith.
“In the morning [you say] ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the time.”
Scripture also teaches us that not all signs are meant for all people.
“Tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”
-1 Corinthians 14:22
Signs are important, and they are real. But signs also require discernment and prayer because sometimes we can misread them.
Today signs of the time are all around us. These signs include war, unrest between nations, financial uncertainty, natural disasters, and COVID-19. There is also the collective sign of disorder, turmoil, and confusion in the human order. It’s like a dense, black fog over the order of man that, I believe, is unique in history. It shows itself in gender theory, the assault on marriage and the family, the battle for the unborn, attacks and vandalism of churches, persecutions of the Church either culturally or legislatively, the killing of Christians for their faith, and the canceling (practical-killing) of Christians for our beliefs. Perhaps the most telling sign of our time is that some priests and some bishops are in open, public defiance of Church teaching while others are attempting to reform or overhaul the holy Faith in defiance of Sacred Tradition.
Any one of these things is troubling in isolation, but when we enumerate each one and see the whole situation, it’s especially worrisome. We all see these signs, but what are we to interpret or perceive in them?
Signs and Blunders
What I offer here is my subjective but informed opinion. I don’t intend to tell you how the Holy Spirit is speaking to you in these signs, but what I hope to do is to inform your discernment and to steer you away from how notto interpret the signs of our time. Because as I look out in the culture, on and off-line, I see many people demonstrating a total lack of hope and are in a state of panic or anxiety. They see the signs, but they’re misreading them.
Interpreting signs is not a function of the reason by itself but of the mind illuminated by the Holy Spirit. He enables our recognition of signs and guides our interpretation of them. As St. Paul suggests in his letter to the Corinthians, some signs are intended specifically for believers. Nonbelievers don’t see these things as believers do because the Holy Spirit, not reason alone, enables us to interpret signs. This reality presents us with two points to take to heart.
Since interpreting signs is, at its heart, a spiritual function, those who lack spiritual sensitivity (nonbelievers) have blocked themselves from the illumination and guidance of their minds by the Holy Spirit. Occasionally some nonbelievers may be jolted into awareness by an exceptional grace they may not merit on their own. We have seen that happen to saints and other notable faithful people in our history. We occasionally see it today (Fr. Calloway comes to mind), and I believe we will probably see much more of that going forward. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Without spiritual sensitivity open to grace, which illuminates the otherwise darkened human intellect, most nonbelievers simply cannot see what the Holy Spirit is showing us. So rather than become like Noah or even Jonah, we have to be more like Jesus in how we encourage nonbelievers to better themselves (to repent) and return to God. But that doesn’t mean we believers walk down Easy Street simply because we are open to the Holy Spirit. We face a unique risk that we must outmaneuver.
The recognition and interpretation of signs, being a spiritual function, isn’t only guided by the Holy Spirit but can also be misdirected by the unholy spirit—the devil. Through our imagination, interference with our reason or interpretive faculty, and exploitation of emotional damage or strain (especially fear and anger), the devil can practically rewrite signs according to his purposes by manipulating their meaning. We then begin internalizing those false interpretations, which become reality.
Many people see the signs of the time and are deceived about what they mean. They perceive that the Church is doomed because it’s falling into the hands of Freemasons and other heretics. They perceive that the world is ending because civilization appears to be collapsing. There may be some threads of truth to those interpretations. But predictions like those fail by a pivotal component that changes the entire formula—they end in defeat, a destination arrived at along a pavement of doom, destruction, and despair. It’s the devil who wants us to see things that way. He wants us to abandon hope because the hopeless cannot become heroes.
“S” is for Saint, Not Superman
Whenever the world (and the Church, which exists in it) has become dark, God has always sent heroes to save it. We call those heroes saints. And the darker the era that the Church finds herself in, the more saints God has sent to her service. It is in service to the Church that the saints rescue the world through the Church and her mission. You may be one of those saints! I’m confident at least a few of you reading this are one of those saints, though you may not yet realize it. So take holiness seriously. God may be calling you—yes, you—to be one of those many heroes I’m confident he is sending into the world on a stealth rescue mission.
Ultimately, it is not man who saves or rescues the Church, but the Holy Spirit. We have to be careful not to misinterpret the signs of the time so as to believe it is up to us to rescue the Church. That’s ridiculous, and it’s sadly a growing misconception amongst the Catholic faithful. The saints—those who may ultimately be canonized in time and those who may never be canonically recognized—are merely heroes devoted to her service. Tending to our mother’s wounds does not make us her savior nor give us license or freedom to subject her to our rule.
Those same saints who serve to mend the Church will also rescue the world in service to the Church and to Jesus Christ. God will rescue the world through His Church, rescue the Church through the work of the Holy Spirit, and the support and service of his saints. He will [re]evangelize the world through those saints, too—saints who are humble and obedient and aligned fully with the Church rather than positioning themselves over Her as her saviors (in which case they wouldn’t be saints, but false prophets).
In the end, God wins. But Satan wants us to either not remember that not be mindful of it, or to diminish the importance of that truth. He will let you see the signs of the time but redirect how you interpret them. “Abandon hope,” he will say. We must say in response, “Our hope is in the name of the Lord, who made Heaven and Earth.”
God is allowing the enemy to appear to gain ground both in the Church and in the world. I believe he’s allowing that illusion so that when he rescues the world and sets everything right, it will be such a surprising turn of the tables that no one will be able to deny that God did it, that it was the hand of God that set it all right again. Don’t abandon hope. Trust and believe in the mercy and providential care of God Almighty.
Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!