The “Holy Year”—Is It Pleasing God?
“HOLY years” have been a feature of Roman Catholic tradition since the year 1300. They are filled with pious prayers and pilgrimages to Rome. Is God pleased with these special religious activities? If so, surely there would be some evidence of his divine pleasure.
However, when Pope Paul VI announced the 1975 holy year back in May 1973, few persons could then have imagined the ensuing incredible turn of secular events. The coincidence is remarkable because at this time Pope Paul reversed the traditional order of things so that local (or diocesan) holy-year observances began in 1973 before the 1975 celebrations in Rome. Formerly, extension of holy-year “benefits” to the local dioceses always came after the Roman holy year.
Thus during the very time period of the holy-year observances, one world-shaking crisis after another has erupted, beginning with the October 1973 Mid-East war. The energy crisis, a world at the brink of economic collapse, heads of governments toppling like dominoes, famine looming more menacing than ever—all these events have occurred during this amazingly critical holy-year period.
Now the year 1975 itself with its own calamities threatens to cap the climax. Events in southeast Asia tear at world heartstrings. The Mid-East situation remains critical.
‘What a sad coincidence,’ you may say, ‘that a period set aside for noble religious purposes should be plagued with such disastrous events!’ But more remarkable still is the fact that this is not the first time that such a coincidence has occurred. In fact, a Rome correspondent for The Sun of Melbourne, Australia, asserts that “Romans say they have a terror of Holy Years. Some disaster is reputed to arrive in its wake.”
But, of course, such a superstitious fear of holy years merely because of coincidental events would be foolish. Rather, the fact that such events occur even during these periods may tell honest observers something about how God views this kind of worship. Do all those pilgrimages and prayers influence God to bless holy-year celebrations? Here is a partial record.
THE 1933 HOLY YEAR
The 1933 holy year, said Pope Pius XI upon opening the traditional “Holy Door” at St. Peter’s Basilica, “will remain the greatest of all Holy Years.” It was declared a special “Holy Jubilee” to mark the nineteenth centenary of Christ’s crucifixion in 33 C.E. Expectations were not confined to internal affairs of the church. The hope was also expressed that a ‘tide of religion will arise and sweep the nations into peace and prosperity.’
Yet shortly after Pius XI’s December 24 announcement, 1933 events began occurring that were to ruin world ‘peace and prosperity’ for years to come:
January 30—Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany; receives dictatorial power March 23.
February—First concentration camps improvised in old barracks, castles and other places.
March 27—Japan withdraws from the League of Nations, “the first serious blow at the League structure and . . . a stimulus to aggression elsewhere.”—An Encyclopedia of World History, pp. 1126, 1127.
July 27—Failure of World Economic Conference in London.
October 14—Germany withdraws from world disarmament conference.
October 21—Germany resigns from the League of Nations.
Thus, instead of ‘peace and prosperity,’ this “greatest of all Holy Years” saw groundwork laid for a coming global holocaust the like of which this generation had not experienced. But were not the nominal “Vicar of Christ” and his Church acting as a spiritual bulwark during this special year in honor of Christ? Note some “religious” events during the holy year:
“(March 24), the Center party and the Bavarian People’s party, whom German Catholics rightly considered representatives of their interests, had approved the enabling act that gave Hitler unlimited powers.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967), Vol. 11, p. 415.
“The German bishops had declared unequivocally (March 28) that Catholics could cooperate with the new State.”—Ibid.
“Colonel von Papen [Hitler’s Vice Chancellor] and Captain Goering [“Hitler’s right-hand man”] were received by Pope Pius with the pomp and ceremony appertaining to their rank. The Vice Chancellor . . . wore the insignia of a secret chamberlain of the Pope . . . von Papen and Captain Goering will receive communion at the Pope’s hand tomorrow.”—New York Times, April 13, 1933, p. 1.
“Late in June von Papen visited the Pope seeking a new concordat for the whole of Germany and bespeaking the influence of the Pope to have the German Catholics abandon their political organizations and place themselves in line with the new Germany.”—1934 Americana Annual (Events of 1933), p. 272.
“Soon after the concordat (June 5, 1933) with Austria . . . another was concluded (July 20) with the German Republic.”—New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 415.
“This handshake [German concordat] with the Papacy, the greatest moral power in the history of the world,” glowed Bavaria’s Cardinal von Faulhaber in his handwritten letter of congratulations to Hitler, “is a feat of immeasurable blessing.”—Kirche und Nationalsozialismus: Dokumente 1930-1935, Hans Müller, 1963, doc. 77, p. 170.
Thus the reputed “greatest moral power in the history of the world” became involved in political dealings with one of the basest, most immoral powers in the history of the world. Can you imagine Christ making such political agreements? On the very day of his crucifixion, Christ said: “My kingdom does not belong to this world . . . my kingdom is not here.” Yet in a year specially set aside to honor Christ’s crucifixion, the “Vicar of Christ” himself brought dishonor on Christ by political involvement in the name of Christ!—John 18:36, Catholic New American Bible (NAB).
But any misrepresentation of Christ that arose from Christendom’s ensuing brother-against-brother slaughter during World War II was quickly shrugged off. By the next holy year, Christ-dishonoring political meddling by the church was again making headlines.
THE 1950 HOLY YEAR
Among the aims of the 1950 holy year, said Pius XII, was the hope that there might “rise during the Holy Year a new era—a more just Holy Year, happier for the whole great human family.” There were special prayers for world peace.
Just the month before opening the 1950 holy year, Pope Pius himself revealed where he put his real trust for peace: “Pope Supports U.S. in West Arms Plan,” flashed a New York Times headline. “His remarks,” noted the November 17 Rome dispatch, “assumed special significance today because they were addressed to members of the United States Senate Military Appropriations Subcommittee.”—November 18, 1949, p. 1.
“Advocating rearmament,” says the Times, Pope Pius told the weapons officials that (Western) law “can hardly hope to prevail . . . unless it has the backing of a reasonable force.” As if to add emphasis, the Vatican reaffirmed its confidence in force of arms during the holy year itself. Another Rome dispatch, headlined “Vatican Approves Decision on Bomb,” reports:
“The Vatican, through its official newspaper, Osservatore Romano, assured the United States Government and people today that it fully understood the reasons why President Truman had decided to approve the construction of a hydrogen superbomb.”—New York Times, February 3, 1950.
How unlike Christ’s view of arms! He said that “those who use the sword are sooner or later destroyed by it.” Is whatever the world does about arming itself the business of Christians? Should followers of Christ be meddling with the world’s military machine when Jesus said that true disciples of his “are not of the world, any more than I belong to the world”?—Matt. 26:52; John 17:16, NAB.
How could God answer the prayers of those who directly violate these Christian principles? He says to people whose actions belie their prayers: “Though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood!” Thus holy-year prayers for peace from those who actually trusted in armaments must have rung hollow in the heavens.—Isa. 1:15, NAB.
Rather than peace, “the event for which the year 1950 was likely to be most vividly remembered was the outbreak of war in Korea on June 25,” observes the 1951 Britannica Book of the Year. Violent disorders in sixteen countries, six different acute border disputes, as well as the Chinese invasion of Tibet, also marred the holy year.
Surely the Church had learned from these bad experiences by the time she entered her extended 1975 holy year in late 1973. But had she? Judge for yourself from the record.
THE 1975 HOLY YEAR
The theme of the present holy year is “reconciliation and renewal.” But more notable than any spiritual “renewal” has been the renewal of political ties. Stepped-up efforts continued “to bring the Church toward a closer relationship with the world’s Communist nations, in a complete about-face from cold-war years,” observes U.S. News & World Report. In early 1974 this political “about-face” brought about the embarrassing Communist-demanded removal of a bitter Cardinal Mindszenty from his post in Hungary. And now the Vatican can appoint only Communist-approved “peace” clergy there. Can you imagine Christ checking with Caesar for approval on his choice of apostles?
Also reflecting this trend is the first inclusion of Communist North Vietnam and East Germany in the Holy See’s official delegate listing for Rome’s 1974 Synod of Bishops. Hanoi’s Archbishop Trinh Van Can told the Synod bishops that his country’s “Catholic faithful give an admirable example of their attachment to the Church.”
But as Pope Paul officially opened the 1975 holy year, the startling headline also appeared: “North Vietnam Honors Loyal Catholics.” To quote Agence France-Presse news service’s 1974 Christmas dispatch from Tonkin’s Phat Diem Diocese, over the years “greater and greater numbers of young Catholics enlisted in the armed forces,” even becoming “heroes of the People’s Armed Forces.”
Thus, once again there is the spectacle of Catholic killing Catholic in political warfare—even during a holy year! But have not most churches always displayed a similar willingness to befriend political nations in order to preserve themselves? But how does God view those who befriend the world at the sacrifice of Christian principles?
Well, what do you call women who outwardly attach themselves to husbands but then give themselves to anyone else who comes along? The Bible says that God requires exclusive devotion, so it describes such people “as unfaithful as adulterous wives.” The Bible continues:
“Don’t you realise that making the world your friend is making God your enemy? Anyone who chooses the world for his friend turns himself into God’s enemy.”—Jas. 4:4, Catholic Jerusalem Bible.
Is it any wonder, then, that God has not answered holy-year prayers for spiritual “reconciliation and renewal”? Instead, 1974 also saw Italian Catholics hand the Church a stunning defeat in the referendum on divorce—a referendum that the Church itself had urged! And London’s Economist reports that last year an estimated 65,000 West German Catholics ended their obligation to pay church tax by canceling their membership. That is 20 percent more than 1973’s loss, and “this year the figures are going up sharply.”
Meanwhile, 1975 has already brought a public Vatican reprimand to the famous Swiss theologian Hans Kung, who remains defiant. The Vatican also ordered the Conference of International Catholic Organizations to destroy a recent book they sponsored on population problems.
Does this sound like spiritual “reconciliation and renewal”? Or is the mood better described by an editorial on the holy year as published in Catholic Commonweal magazine: “Paul VI seems to feel that he must continually warn his people in public addresses about unnamed dissidents . . . and thus he inevitably projects himself as a harried worrier rather than a source of strength and hope.”—January 3, 1975, p. 283.
But should our source of strength and hope lie with any man or church-declared “holy” events? Let these words from the Catholic Jerusalem Bible answer:
“Now that God has acknowledged you—how can you want to go back to elemental things like these, that can do nothing? . . . You and your special days and months and seasons and years! You make me feel I have wasted my time with you.”—Gal. 4:8-11.
No year of outward piety can truly be called holy in the eyes of God as long as this wicked world exists. Only He can bring a time of holiness for all mankind when, as the Bible promises, “the former world has passed away.” Then, on the promised “new earth,” not just one year, but eternity, will be holy or sacred because “God who is always with them . . . shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain.”—Rev. 21:1, 3, 4, NAB.
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GERMANY QUITS LEAGUE AND ARMS PARLEY; HITLER SCORES TREATY, DEMANDS EQUALITY, CALLS ELECTION NOV. 12 TO OBTAIN APPROVAL
New York Times, October 15, 1933
TRUMAN ORDERS HYDROGEN BOMB BUILT FOR SECURITY PENDING AN ATOMIC PACT; CONGRESS HAILS STEP; BOARD BEGINS JOB
New York Times, February 1, 1950
REICH CONCORDAT SIGNED AT VATICAN
Papen and Cardinal Pacelli Put Signatures on Accord and Text Will Be Issued Today
New York Times, July 21, 1933
Pope Expresses Pain Over Vote on Divorce
The Miami Herald, May 23, 1974
VATICAN APPROVES DECISION ON BOMB
New York Times, February 3, 1950