The Sixth Hour

By Phil Ropp
For Christian Democracy Magazine

July 1, 2013

On a hill far away. At the horizon of our memory as a people and as a Church, the vision of the great horror of human history remains vivid. It casts it's long, dark shadow down upon us from that stormy day to this, and it haunts us now as then. The world (and perhaps even most of the Church in it) turns away. From the darkness of the sixth hour they look past the gloom of the shadow of death, and fix their gaze longingly and hopefully upon the light of false promise that shines from beyond the ninth hour. They see a world reemerged from the darkness of the darkest day, and in a sense of desperate relief they say, "Historical Jesus studies show he was not the son of God. His disciples contrived the story to hide their grief -- to profit as we would do. Nothing supernatural happened here. It was but an ill-timed eclipse; a passing storm in a time of great superstition. But the storm has passed, the clouds have broken, and we now know better scientifically and stand in the bright sunshine of a bold new day. Dead men don't rise from the grave, and, if there is a God, he has no hold over us."

But there remains a remnant. A precious few. When they walk into the Sanctuary of God and see his body, broken for them, hanging in this darkened place between time and space, and heaven and hell, they fall to their knees before his Divine Presence in the Tabernacle. And they do this not because the rubric so instructs it, but because the heart so demands it. Because the legs grow suddenly weary and the knees buckle. Because the broken human heart suddenly feels the wound of the lance, and, so pierced, the only possible response is deep and profound and desperate prayer to his Sacred Heart, "Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!" And the Spirit that emanates from the Real Presence whispers into the ear of the faithful penitent that most joyous revelation to human history, "Jesus lives!" And our faith is not in vain because Jesus is truly Lord and God has indeed raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 15:17).

Deep in prayer, the mind's eye comes into focus on that scene of long, long ago, on that hill, far, far away, and the silhouette of Jesus and the two thieves stands in even darker contrast to the cold, steel gray of the sky. But in this darkness shines an eternal light that radiates from the cross in the middle. In this light we see the faces of these two thieves. And they are you and I. As such, we are crucified by the sin of our forebears, and by our own sin that hangs upon our souls and brings its agonizing weight to bear upon the nails of avarice and lust and hubris that have us pinned helplessly upon the tree of death. In the midst of we who so hang awaiting our own death (a fate that is rightfully ours as the just reward for our misdeeds), is this man of mystery who dies here with us though he has done nothing wrong. And the choice is now ours to be as Gestas, and the many, and mock the Lord and turn away, or to be as Dismas, and the few, and turn to the Light of Christ in faith, offer up our sin, and so pray, "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom."

Jesus is not dead! Jesus has a kingdom! Jesus is a king! And not merely a king in the sense that we recognize earthly rulers as such, but, as St. John tells us in the Revelation, he has as his title King of kings and Lord of lords. He is called Faithful and True. He is called the Word of God. And as this same Jesus, who was tortured to death in abject poverty and in total degradation upon the Roman cross, did indeed remember St. Dismas when he came into his kingdom, so he did not forget Gestas either. And he will not forget all of the nations and peoples and kings and kingdoms of this world who have betrayed him to the cross as did Judas, and who have denied him without claiming the repentance of Peter, who sits to this day upon Christ's throne and offers God's forgiveness to those who would but seek it. And I offer you not my words on my own authority, but those of the Evangelist himself, from the very Scripture the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ has officially proclaimed True and Holy Writ:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed which no one knows but himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, followed him on white horses. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly in midheaven, "Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great." And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who sits upon the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had worked the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur. And the rest were slain by the sword of him who sits upon the horse, the sword that issues from his mouth; and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Revelation 19:11-21 (RSV)

What is this then? Should we tremble because God has gone mad? Or perhaps we should tremble more because He has not! Who speaks such things as these? Whose testimony is this? These are, to be sure, fair questions. And they are well answered by the mighty angel who brought this message to St. John when he says in verse nine, "These are the true words of God." And in verse ten when he divulges that such a spirit of prophecy is the very testimony of Jesus Christ himself. We would do well to heed the advice of good St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians and not be so deceived. For God is not crazy and neither is He mocked. What a man sows that shall he also reap. He who sows to the flesh shall, therefore, like Gestas, reap corruption. While he who sows to the Spirit shall, therefore, like Dismas, reap eternal life. And while the opportunity is still with us, it would be wise to do good to all, and especially to those who seek Christ on their knees beside us in the household of faith, for Paul also tells us, " were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another" (Galatians 5:13, 6:7-10).

This is that time of the year in America when we celebrate our freedom. It is a time when we look back and remember that which was wrought upon these shores by a people who once embraced the love of being servants of one another, and who created through this brand of freedom a land of unbridled prosperity and unequaled opportunity. In these days, we are witness to the dying gasps of this very freedom that was the reason for our success, and in it's place has arisen that other brand of freedom that is an opportunity instead for the flesh.

It is no coincidence that the wealth of the nation evaporates as our freedom to be Christian in the public square gives way to an ever greater freedom to celebrate these sins of the flesh. Homosexual men marry homosexual men, and lesbian women marry lesbian women, and woe be to he who utters a word against this abomination which maketh desolate! And the great irony in this is that now heterosexual men and heterosexual women see no need to marry at all. Debauchery takes on the name of love and love gives way to lust, and the progeny of this sin is easily prevented -- or simply flushed away.

When a doctor such as Kermit Gosnell, who practices this sin of murder by abortion, botches the attempt and finishes the job in a toilet, he is demonized as a monster -- and rightly so! But when Nancy Pelosi defends this same practice of late term abortion with these words, “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me..."(1) many others who consider themselves "practicing and respectful Catholics" look the other way, or even embrace this same attitude, and choose to speak self righteously instead of the "stupidity" of Michelle Bachman (2) or Sarah Palin,(3) both of whom adamantly and boldly defend life in the public square, though neither of whom are Catholic. “I don't think it should have anything to do with politics,” Ms. Pelosi goes on to say, and with this I most heartily agree. But it should and does have everything to do with faith, and anyone who denounces life and embraces abortion, late term or otherwise, as the "sacred ground" of a "respectful and practicing Catholic" should expect the harsh criticism such remarks will draw from truly Catholic organizations and individuals: and an outright and well earned excommunication, if the Church ever finds the cojones to do it. And in an America in which freedom of religion is withdrawn from public life, it is anti-Catholic and anti-Christ lies and proclamations such as those which periodically fall from the lips of Nancy Pelosi which will remain as politically correct, while the truth of God as spoken by others goes forever silent. And many cheer this as their "freedom to choose," and applaud one who calls it "Catholic" to spill the blood of the most innocent of the martyrs upon the "sacred ground" of Christ.

This is that time of the year in America when we cheer for freedom and celebrate our prowess as a warring people. We dress our youth in camouflage and march them stern faced down our streets, cheering them on to victory against enemies both real and imagined, as we send them off to join the armies of the beast. And for those who don't return, the false prophet lays a wreath, and soothes us in his eloquence, as he sheds a crocodile tear to honor the memory, and mourn the sacrifice, of our once innocent and callow youth: children trained to kill the children of others, and, as such, murdered by those in other lands, trained to do the same. And it is testimony to the propaganda of the false prophet that he convinces the multitudes that, because our children march off to war beneath the banner of the stars and stripes, they do so not to join the beast but in the righteousness of the Prince of Peace -- who they otherwise deny. So we sing, "God Bless America!" And so we cheer our freedom to choose war and fight for its protection. And woe be to any citizen who does not salute and cheer the right to kill as God given and foreordained for the United States of America!

Oh, the glory of a warring a nation! Let us so remember fondly our forebears, killed in the line of duty, protecting the wealth and property of others and their freedom to amass it! Fathers and grandfathers who have gone off and done their duty, and who left the bravest and the brightest and the best of their generations in pieces and pools of blood upon the battlefields of history. And let us not dwell upon those who manage to come home, deranged from killing enemies and (especially) innocents. Let us lock them away and drug them so they cannot do us any harm, and so we do not have to see or hear them, as the nightmares of war stalk them in the quiet of the night, and bring them screaming up out of sleep. Some feel for phantom limbs no longer there, and some look at us with haunted eyes and look away, as loved ones whisper in our ears, "PTSD." And we are told that they deserve the best of care -- and they do! So we are solicited endlessly for donations that serve as compensation for the funding diverted to the battlefields. And those who come home heroes, and those who anxiously await the chance to march behind the beast, these we cheer as gladiators within our stadiums, as we sing our 911 anthem and invoke God's blessing upon the nation at the seventh inning stretch.

Today, in America, this is what we call "Independence Day." Oh, for that 4th of July we once knew! Box lunch picnics and happy children playing. The hometown band playing hymns and songs of Christian inspiration in the gazebo of the town square. Amber waves of grain awaiting harvest. Square dances in barns filled with laughter and mirth, and neighbors who knew each other and who cared and served each other as St. Paul so instructed, because this is what they all heard in church each Sunday. Communities that were, in reality, extended families, and a nation that merely collected them into one and called them to celebrate that freedom through love to be servants to one another. Young ladies in gingham and young men in denim. Marrying and giving in marriage that brought with it big, healthy families that worked together to reap the bounty of the land, as farms with white houses and red barns dotted an idyllic landscape. In the towns, supplies were purchased at a general store with a wooden floor and not at a Walmart or a K-Mart. And if there was a Meijer in town, he was the dutch man down the block, and, if he was a merchant, only one of many friends and neighbors who owned the stores of Main Street. And though mocked by the urban sophisticates and Hollywood in satire, it was this culture that built the America of which Archie and Edith could rightly sing, "Didn't need no welfare state. Everybody pulled his weight. Gee, our old LaSalle ran great. Those were the days!"(4)

But even in those days the specter of war and the curse of the warring nation would raise its ugly head and the peace of the peaceful would be broken. The very founding of the United States was secured by a violent and bloody revolution. The War Between the States broke the heart of the country in a way that has never been, and never will be, fully healed, and every other abomination of man's hubris and violence that came along tore families apart and rent the fabric of the nation. And every time, the patch that was sewn in place to mend the nation tugged more violently at the stitches that held us together as a people.

In the 20th century, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as those less remembered and more occasional horrors, gave us a rapid succession of violence in which those of every generation could claim the war, or some other disturbance of the peace, that belonged specifically to them. And between the "hot" wars of Korea and Vietnam, illustrating in the idea of the "cold war" what Orwell meant by "doublespeak," the mask of the well adjusted and attractive "average" America of the 1950's was torn away to reveal the truth of an ugly America; a nation deeply divided, racially and economically unequal, and so angry and deeply at odds that terms from the 18th and19th centuries such as "revolution" and "civil war" were bandied about as real and viable possibilities. And the burgeoning police state that has been instituted to protect us from ourselves, and the great malaise that has arisen because of it, are symptomatic of a long and steady period of decline that today brings us to the precipice of third world socialism, and a global environment that does not mourn the decline and fall of a dominant United States of America, but celebrates it.

Yes, time for America now runs short. She hangs in the balance of history, rightly crucified for her sins and with one last chance to make the choice of Dismas and repent, or to make the choice of Gestas and continue to mock God in her unbelief and, in banishing Christ from the market place of ideas, condemn herself to the damnation of Egypt, Greece, Babylon, Rome and the other pagan empires that lie in ruins upon the earth. In the fading light of the American Dream, we find ourselves, each and every one of us, hanging upon the cross next to Christ, who has come into our midst to save us. And it is up to each and everyone of us to make the choice of Dismas and cry out with our dying breath, "Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom," or to choose as Gestas and mock him in our one last act of unbelief.

In a democracy, the will of the majority wins out. The conversion of America to Christ is the result of the conversion of the majority of her people, and given the dire straights of modern times in general, and the predicament of our nation in particular, it would seem that the New Evangelization should, for us, take on a certain immediacy and urgency. But the truth is that the many who call themselves Catholic, or Christian by any other choice of denomination, do so with a particular and peculiar lack of religious conviction. And while this does not usually manifest itself in the extreme "doublethink" of a Nancy Pelosi, the effect is remarkably the same, and, in the end, the line between apathy and antipathy is indeed a thin one.

In the fundamentalist and evangelical churches, and even to an extent among the more mainline Protestant churches, this does result in a "God and Country" mentality in which the cross is effectively replaced with the flag, and the will of the nation -- right or wrong -- is conceived to be the will of the Lord. The result is a mythical and historically ridiculous understanding of America as the defacto kingdom of God, and this is exploited with relative ease by conservative so-called "patriots" who presume him to be one of them.

In the Catholic tradition, the result is a certain and perceived self consciousness about the radical nature of the act of salvation, and its supernatural and other worldly aspects, that results in the elevation of Catholic social doctrine to the pinnacle of Calvary. In the modern, scientific world of democratic government, all religious views are to be given equal credence and respect before being effectively discarded. This means that no claim can be made to the uniquely salvific aspect of the Catholic faith, which has, at its heart and core, the cross. Indeed, the modern Catholic must ignore the crucial importance of the sacrifice of Christ to the salvation of the world in order to even engage in the debate of temporal politics, which has, at its heart and core, a merely secular and completely relative definition of what it hopes to accomplish. And while it is certainly legitimate to inject Catholic social teaching into the political discourse, it must be done secure in an underlying knowledge, and with a true and deep conviction, that the more dogmatic aspects of the act of eternal salvation at the cross are what is truly important. To ignore this opens the potential for those like Ms. Pelosi to claim her personal, political belief in murder by late term abortion to be Catholic "sacred ground" when it is, in fact, the antithesis of the teachings of the Catholic Church. This is also what our bishops seek to stress to the faithful when they insist that the Church should not endorse any particular candidate, but speak only to the importance of making decisions in the voting booth that reflect this deeper character of our faith.

It is impossible to conceive of a more apolitical personage than Jesus of Nazareth. He did not appeal his conviction but accepted his condemnation, as placed before him, as the greater will of God. He did not debate the cruelty of the cross, he merely subjected himself willingly to it, and did so without question or compromise. He makes not one suggestion pertaining to the wielding of power within the world, but instructs us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's: to be in the world but not of it. Yet the central theme of the gospel message is that of the ultimate and unassailable politic of a supernatural and eternal coming kingdom of heaven. And so he tells Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world." It is a kingdom that will supersede this world system and abolish the nations that still inflict the will of the mighty upon the weak, and, in so doing, create an unnatural and opulent standard of living for the elite at the expense of an unnatural level of pain and suffering for the huddled masses.

It is the sixth hour in America and darkness has descended upon the land. America hangs upon the cross of time run out as the great thief of history, with the plundered treasure of the nations at her feet. She hangs convicted as a killer, with the blood of the holy innocents she has martyred, and the contrived enemies she has conquered, staining her hands. And already it would seem that judgment is upon her. Out of the storm darkened skies the wrath of God is funneled, and whole cities explode into an angry sky. Out of the seas come great tempests and great cities are drowned. Forests burst into flames and the mountain top homes of the great and powerful are incinerated as a harbinger of the greater holocaust to come. And the great and powerful capitalists, seeing the chance for profit, discard the business suits of wolves and disguise themselves in the jeans and flannel of sheep, and tell us that if we just trust the rising global government and "go green," we will stem the wrath of God and (somehow) save the planet. And that time is nigh upon us when the American eagle will cry, "Woe! Woe! Woe!" as the mighty voice of the angel of Revelation announces, "Fallen, fallen is America the Great!"

As the earth trembles under the weight of greed and sin, the light that shines from beyond the ninth hour of our suffering planet is the Light of Christ. But it is not the sweet, gentle Jesus who went to the Holy Cross of Calvary as the Lamb of God unto the sacrificial slaughter, but he who returns that is called Faithful and True. The Word of God. From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. He mounts his white horse and prepares to make war against those who make war as the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the Son of Man who returns when least expected and, in a world that has denied his power to save us, and has banned him from the public square, that time is now. The nation that so denies him so rides against him, and it would seem the sharp sickle is put into the cluster of the vine.

But there remains a remnant. A precious few. And so we pray...


(1.) : "She also framed the protection of late-term abortion as a matter of faith. 'As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this,' she said. 'I don't think it should have anything to do with politics.'"

(2.) : Michelle Bachman on Abortion: "Well into my teens, I was naive about abortion. I was 16 at the time of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and I will admit that I didn't quite understand what it was all about. But then a Catholic friend explained it to me, the full disastrous dimensions of
what the Supreme Court had just done to our culture and to our nation."

(3.) "The NEW feminism is telling women they are capable and strong. And if keeping a child isn't possible, adoption is a beautiful choice. It's about empowering women to make REAL CHOICES, not forcing them to accept false ones. It's about compassion and letting these scared young women know that there will be some help there for them to raise their children in those less-than-ideal circumstances. I believe this so strongly because I've been there. I never planned on being the mother of a son with special needs. I thought, 'God will never give me something I can't handle.'"

(4.) "Those Were the Days" Theme song to "All in the Family" written by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams