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Are We In the "Days of Chastisement"? | Sandra Miesel and Juanita Coulson | September 22, 2005

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In the tragic wake of Hurricane Katrina, cries of "Chastisement!" were raised by many end times speculators. Oh, look how God smote sinful New Orleans and those wicked Gulf Coast casinos! (Why the French Quarter survived while nursing home patients drowned is too delicate an issue of theodicy to address.)

One website, for example, lamented that bishops and priests have failed to "remind the Catholic faithful that what happened in New Orleans can be the beginning of a chastisement that may come for all of us," and concluded: "It would seem that the time of warnings is over and we are entering the days of chastisement Our Lady predicted at Fatima." Others echoed the same strong sentiment.

Let’s give the doomsayers their moment and imagine what a century of horrors might look like:

Two separate volcanic eruptions in the Far East kill a combined total of 250,000 by fire, water, and famine. Dust generated by the explosions disturbs weather worldwide for years afterwards.

Millions perish in massive earthquakes. Ten of these events claim more than 20,000 lives apiece. A massive quake and firestorm in Tokyo kill more than 100,000 people. The most powerful earthquake in the history of North America makes great rivers run backward and carved the landscape into new contours.

The worst ever flood in China drowns as many as seven million people. A series of floods over the course of fifteen years causes about 40-50 million deaths in one region of China.

Repeated waves of famine, disease, and drought kill countless millions in China and India. The death toll reaches nearly 2,000,000 from two different famines in the British Isles.

A disease hitherto unknown in Europe and America kills tens of thousands per outbreak, some victims dying so quickly that they drop dead on the street.

Revolutions rock Europe and South America. An uprising triggered by race and religion devastates India. The insurgents’ treatment of prisoners becomes a byword for brutality. Meanwhile, a revolt led by the founder of a new religious cult leaves at least 20 million dead in China.

Old nations are torn apart, new ones stitched together. One series of wars engulfs Europe for a generation. The aggressor loses 20% of its young male population. More than a million men perish in a single campaign during the conflict. Later, armed rebellion provokes the bloodiest war in American history, leaving nearly a 600,000 dead.
So, gentle reader, how long did it take you to realize that we were talking about the nineteenth century and not the twenty-first? The events described have already happened. They’re not projections. We could have used another period to make our point: the eighteenth century was particularly bad for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions but the nineteenth century has better global documentation. It’s also worth noting that world population was less than a third of what it is today so each disaster killed a higher proportion of the people alive then.

We assembled this highly condensed list to bring a sense of perspective to discussion of natural disasters. Prophets of doom, many claiming heavenly guidance, would have us believe that catastrophes are on the rise, with Divine retribution in the offing.

Yes, last winter’s tsunami and Hurricane Katrina were grim. But consider that the 1908 earthquake and tsunami in the Straits of Messina, Italy killed roughly the same number as the Asian event, but in a far smaller area. The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 swept 8-10,000 people to their deaths and the Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 drowned 2,500.

Epidemic diseases aside, the worst natural disaster of the twentieth century was an earthquake in Tangshan, China that killed 650,000 in 1976. More than 150,000 people perished in other major earthquakes during the 1970s, a decade that began with 500,000 drowning in an East Pakistan cyclone.

Cause of death has no bearing on our eternal destination. We die as dead in a crowd as we do alone. Those who live each day as if it were their last will have peaceful hearts. Yet others are filled with the fearful expectation of impending doom. Ignoring Christ’s warning against simplistic equations between crime and punishment (Lk 13:4), they want to be eyewitnesses to the imminent apocalypse when Divine retribution will engulf the wicked.

Although Jesus cites war, pestilence, famine, and earthquake as signs pointing to the beginning of the End (Mt 24:7), no century lacks its share of these calamities. So they should be understood as perennial signs inviting repentance.  From the standpoint of eternity, the End has always been "near."

Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles:

Making Sense of Disasters
| Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The End Times Are Here! | Carl E. Olson
Popes and Prophecy | Sandra Miesel

Sandra Miesel
is the co-author, with IgnatiusInsight.com editor Carl E. Olson, of The Da Vinci Hoax. Novelist Juanita Coulson is a long-time disaster buff. This article appeared in different form in the August 16-22, 1998 issue of Catholic Twin Circle.

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