Time For a New Crusade
His Holiness Pope John Paul II had hardly finished his extraordinary confession of corporate guilt for the individual actions of ancient Crusaders when Osama Bin Laden and his fanatical followers demonstrated, on 11th September 2001, that death and destruction by militant Islam would be the answer to Western misdeeds real or imaginary.
Pious apologies by the Roman Pontiff were brushed aside. Not seeing the Satanic mote in his own eye this new ‘Mahdi’, this self proclaimed ‘Promised One of Allah’, has declared war on the ‘Great Satan’, the United States and its Western allies and, oh yes, on you and me.
In so doing Al-Qaeda has plunged the whole world into a crisis potentially more terrifying than the Hitlerite and Marxist tyrannies. With nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction available for sale to the highest bidder, and in the absence of restraining hands holding the balance of power, we are all in mortal danger.
It is time to think the unthinkable and embark upon a new Crusade.
Since the Twin Towers fell, faithful Catholics and what is left of Christendom, have been waiting for their religious leaders to call upon the world to unite behind the banner of Christ the King and confront the fanaticism which has inspired untold numbers of Muslims to support the sacrifice of their children as suicide bombers and to applaud the televised beheading of innocent captives.
Islamic extremists are fortified by a perverted belief in the justice of their cause. The ‘Holy Jihad’ upon which they have embarked has one aim: the forcible conversion of the whole world. The sleeping giant of Islam which the Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc pointed to in the 1930’s has awakened. The military power of the United States, behind which its erstwhile Western allies are now cravenly cowering, cannot prevail without a new Crusade of the Spirit.
Led by the Catholic Church or at least by those of its leaders who still hold to the true faith, there must be a universal call for a return to Christian values.
The restoration of the Tridentine Mass, that Mass for all time, must take place immediately. Without the Sacrifice of Calvary and the True Presence of Christ re-enacted daily, hourly, upon the altar by a worthy priest, nothing can be done.
The central role of Our Lady, the ‘Mediatrix of All Graces’ must once again be declared to the whole of humanity. No more phoney ecumenical bowing and scraping from prelates running their own agendas.
Western leaders and others must be prevailed upon to stop the slaughter of the innocents in the wombs of their mothers. The transmission of pornography and exoneration of sexual perversion must be curtailed and condemned in the strongest terms.
On the banner of this new Crusade of the Spirit must be emblazoned the Decalogue and the Cross of Christ and images of Our Blessed Lady and the Seven Sacraments.
The Rosary must be taught and everyone, everywhere, encouraged in its daily recitation.
The institution of this new Crusade must be transmitted to the millions of Muslims whom we are led to believe are appalled at the barbarities perpetrated in their name and that of their holy book, the Koran. A book which, in part, honours Jesus and Mary.
The acceptance or rejection of this pilgrimage of peace will be the measure of their bona fides. By the fruits shall we know them.
It takes great courage to combat terrorism by military force and the necessity to resist, which has been forced upon us, remains. But it will take greater courage to confess our sins, to convert and take up the Cross of Christ.
All this is impossible you say. A major if not a manic attack of wishful thinking. ‘Why, it would take a miracle!’
The Catholic Church is built on a miracle. Our faith is a miracle of God freely given. The Cross and Resurrection of Christ are miracles.
Let the Pope who apologised for the Crusades launched by his predecessors embark on this new Crusade of the Spirit.
Let him lift up that rugged Cross forever at his side, and proclaim to the world:
In hoc signo vincit
(By this sign you will conquer)
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[As flagged above, along with other articles in the February edition, a new ‘spiritual crusade’ is required of Catholics if we are to meet the post-9/11 challenges. CO’s contribution to the cause is a soul-searching series on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes, to run between now and the August/September issue. – Ed.]
The Return to God
~ Part I ~
"If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome."
The temptation offered by Satan to Eve was that by rising up against God "You shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil." When Adam and Eve fell prey to this, then "the eyes of them both were opened…." [Gen 3:6-7].
It is an almost impossible thing for modern man, raised in a cultural milieu which virtually worships the acquisition of knowledge – "knowledge for knowledge’s sake" – to believe that there is any knowledge which can be the fruit of evil, or that sin can produce "open eyes."
Yet from the beginning, God made it clear that there was a knowledge that was forbidden to man – "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat" [Gen 2:17].
I think that what many of us fail to realize in all this is that God placed this restriction on our first parents not just as a test of their obedience, but also as a blessing in itself, that they might thereby retain that singularity of mind and will that knows all things in God and His Being, and receives all things from Him.
Secondly, however, we also tend to believe that this "simplicity" was something integral to Adam and Eve before they disobeyed God, but that since the Fall a New Order of things has come into being wherein we are called to divide our attention between God and the acquisition of every form of knowledge, wealth, and power which the world can offer. Secretly, or not so secretly, we tend to think, "O happy fault, that allows us to serve both God and Mammon."
Our Lord, on the contrary, teaches just the opposite:
For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [Mt 6:21-24].
"If thy eye be single…." The whole of Christian life consists in this simplicity of heart (St. Francis called it "holy simplicity") which seeks God above and in all things. The great Flemish mystic John Rüsbröck’s teaching on this subject is marvellous for its clarity:
Which is the road that we may go forth to meet the Lord? The Road of the most perfect resemblance and most blissful union? Every good act however small, provided it be referred to God by simplicity of intention, augments in us the divine likeness and replenishes us with eternal life.
Simplicity of intention collects the dispersed powers of the soul into unity of spirit, and unites the spirit itself to God. It is simplicity of intention which honours and praises God, which offers and presents our virtues to Him; thus entering into and overstepping itself and all creatures, the soul finds God in its own depths. Simplicity is the beginning and end of all virtues, their splendour and their glory.
I call a simple intention, that which aims at God alone, referring all things to Him, comformably with order and truth. It puts to flight all pretence, hypocrisy, duplicity; in every possible action simplicity should be chiefly aimed at, practiced and cultivated …. It is that single eye of which the Lord speaks, as giving light to the whole body; that is, to the whole vital energy, which it delivers from evil.
In other words, the Christian life – the way that leads to perfection – is not a mystery. There certainly are a good many mysteries to our Faith which will not be fully understood until we possess the blessedness of Heaven and the Beatific Vision. But the path itself which leads to this blessedness has been clearly laid out for us by Our Lord. To believe otherwise is simply to indulge in self-deception, and is almost certainly motivated by our wish to serve two masters.
Nor do we need to "search all the scriptures" to decipher the essentials of this path. The Church has always taught that the spiritual life leading to holiness and blessedness is encapsulated in the Beatitudes, and in the Sermon on the Mount which contains these Beatitudes (Matthew, chapters 5,6,7 – and also parts of the other Gospels).
In my series "The War Against Being" [CO, June/July, Aug/Sept, Oct. 2003] we examined the process by which man, through erroneous philosophy, has descended into darkness, rejection of God, and rejection even of the dignity and reality of his own being and that of the rest of God’s creation.
In this series, we will carefully examine these Beatitudes and their corresponding Gifts of the Holy Spirit, in order to understand the path laid out for us by Our Lord which will lead us back to Him and, in turn, back to all reality and truth. We must realize that the only real protector of true philosophy is our continual intimacy with God Who is the source of all being.
* * * * *
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes
St. Thomas teaches that the Beatitudes are the perfect fruits of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These Gifts are enumerated in the following passage from Isaias:
And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness (piety). And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord [Isaias 11:1-3].
This passage is, of course, a prophecy of the coming of Christ. Since the Gifts mentioned here are the anointings of the Holy Spirit which made the Humanity of Christ pleasing and perfect in the sight of His Father, they are also the same Gifts which the Holy Spirit confers on us in baptism (and strengthens in Confirmation) in order to accomplish our sanctification.
These seven Gifts are, in fact, dispositions which empower us to be receptive to the workings of God’s grace in our souls.
Both St. Augustine and St. Thomas taught that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit correspond to the first seven Beatitudes as taught in the Sermon on the Mount. In other words, the Gifts empower the transformations of human nature which are enumerated in the Beatitudes, and which reveal what it means to be a saint.
We might therefore say that our effective living of the Beatitudes is a test as to our cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls. We will begin, therefore, by listing the correspondences between Gifts and Beatitudes:
In our further study, we must never forget that these seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit and their corresponding Beatitudes are the very interior life of Jesus Christ. In sending them to us through the action of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord has given us the gift of His own Life, that we may be transformed into His likeness and attain to union with Him.
The passage from Isaias lists these gifts from the highest to the lowest. This is only appropriate since they are there applied to Christ Who is God become Man. As we will be especially interested in the process by which a man or woman is transformed into sainthood, we shall begin with the lowest and work upwards towards the more sublime.
* * *
Fear of the Lord
~ The Beatitude of Poverty ~
Fear of the Lord may indeed be the most lowly of the Gifts. It may also be the most important for man’s salvation, since it is the absolutely necessary foundation of the entire spiritual life.
Scripture says, "Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Prov 9:10]. There can be no consummation, no heavenly destiny for man, unless there is the proper beginning.
There is something about this, the most humble of Gifts, which also might lead us to consider it the most marvellous. It is, after all, this Gift which transports us from the realm of darkness to light, from evil to goodness, error to truth, death to life, enmity to friendship with God.
We must first be clear as to what this Fear of the Lord is not.
It is not what is usually called abject or servile fear – the type which one might feel towards a human tyrant, or towards things which might constitute one’s own personal phobias.
It is, rather, a fear which brings liberation, and not bondage, to the human soul. This is so because it establishes the soul in that truth about both God and man which is the foundation of all genuine freedom. This liberation is the fruit of a twofold knowledge which is infused into the heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.
On the one hand, He imparts to us knowledge concerning the Infinite Goodness and Majesty of God; on the other, He grants us a profound awareness of the poverty, sinfulness, and helplessness of our own souls. This is a most wonderful grace for the soul, at any point in its spiritual life, to receive. It is the pre-eminent gift of reality, of how things really are with both God and man.
Such a "beginning of wisdom" establishes in us that root-virtue of humility upon which all future spiritual growth must be nourished; and it has the powerful effect of making both heart and mind turn away from self and towards God – this being the very nature and definition of conversion. The soul which is receptive to this gift finds itself thrown into the arms of God as its only refuge.
Fear of the Lord is, therefore, the beginning of all wisdom simply because it places us in the embrace of God Who is Eternal Wisdom.
Further, we must keep in mind that this Gift is designed for the entirety of our life here on earth, for the saint as well as the sinner. For even the saint is tempted every day to turn away from God to the things of this world. We suffer great delusion therefore if we come to any point in our life where we no longer believe that this Gift is necessary for our continuance in God’s friendship. If it rested even upon the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ, then it must also be our constant companion.
Ironically, it is this Gift of the Lord which is most denied in the modern world. Most catechisms, for instance, either never mention it or overtly change its name – it may be called "Awe", or "Wonder", or "Reverence", or some such nicety as "Reverence for Life in All Its Forms."
This denial of Fear of the Lord as being integral to our faith runs parallel to what Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II have called "the sin of our century" – "the denial of the sense of sin." If a man knows that he is a sinner, then he has no problem admitting that he needs the Gift of Fear of the Lord, and the humility and poverty of spirit which is their fruit in his soul.
The Beatitude proper to Fear of the Lord is therefore "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." The soul which comes to understand itself truly in the light of God’s Infinite Goodness and Wisdom has no trouble in admitting its own poverty, and therefore its need to lose its life in God.
Jesus said, "He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it" [Mt 10:30]. In other words, blessed are those who through their own poverty of spirit make room for the Holy Spirit to live in and transform their souls into a heavenly kingdom. When asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation….For lo, the kingdom of God is within you" [Luke 17:20-21]. Every Catholic who is truly committed to his own sanctification should, with intense concentration of mind and heart, meditate on this profound truth of our faith, and ask himself if he believes that God literally and truly dwells within him; and then, consider what should be the consequences of such a belief.
Christ Himself, in what may be the most often quoted yet least contemplated passage of scripture, very clearly tells us what we should discover if our meditation is genuine:
No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat: and the body more than the raiment?
Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?
And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit?
And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin.
But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these.
And if the grass of the field, which is today, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?
Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed?
For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.
Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. [Matt. 6:24-33]
There is a beauty and loveliness to this passage which has easily rendered it the claim of being great poetry. There is also something to poetry which allows it easily to escape serious consideration as it applies to our daily and practical actions. However, Christ here is teaching with powerful concreteness and practicality. The truths enumerated in the above passage constitute the Way, the only Way, which leads us surely and safely through the snares of this life to blessedness in Heaven. The Catholic Church takes this passage very seriously, and it possesses a body of teachings and wisdom capable of unraveling its meaning.
First of all, the Church teaches that these words of Our Lord are not a call to a false other-worldliness – a kind of pietism or quietude which would avoid all work and responsibility.
It teaches, for instance, that a father is morally bound to work for the reasonable support of his family. Jesus and his foster-father St. Joseph worked together for many years in support of the Holy Family. They worked for their shelter, their "meat", and their "raiment." And even the "birds of the air" labour hard for similar necessities which God provides them.
The key word in the above passage is "solicitous" – Jesus says, "Be not solicitous" for the things of this world and the physical necessities of this life. The word "solicitous" may be used in two ways.
In the first, it connotes a kind of anxious worrying. The Catholic Church considers all worry as a failure to fully trust in God and His providence. The truly Christian response to any disturbing or frightening situation is not worry, but prayer and trust in God. Any form of worry is an act which place the things and events of this world over God, and therefore constitutes a kind of sin.
Second, the word "solicitous" may identify a heart which is fixed upon acquiring the things of this world for their own sake – of placing her hunger for such things above and before her hunger and thirst for God. This constant temptation to turn to the things of this world (including our own personal conceits and vanities, and our own aspirations for a knowledge which is independent and exclusive of God) is a "natural" effect of the consequences of original sin in our lives. It is this loss of simplicity – the loss of the "single eye" of which scripture speaks – which produces that duplicity and hypocrisy which are the objects of Our Lord’s continual condemnation.
The person who desires God and the kingdom of Heaven above all things is therefore intuitively and necessarily drawn to Lady Poverty as his mistress.
This is true of the married, as well as the single and religious. Christian life, in all its states, integrally demands a devotion to poverty – both physical and spiritual. Pere Gardeil, in his wonderful book, The Holy Spirit in Christian Life [Herder Book Co., 1953], points out that the Beatitude of Poverty is most aptly expressed by an attitude towards all things of this world which can be formulated in the simple words "just a little – just a little, and no more." It is that attitude, so profoundly cultivated and perfected in St. Francis of Assisi, which seeks out poverty as a necessary means by which the soul dies to self so that it may live in Christ.
Western civilization is the antithesis of this beatitude and virtue of poverty; and the degree to which it has continually placed its energies in the service of economic and material growth reflects the extent to which it has abandoned the Gift which is called Fear of the Lord.
There is no question but that Christ demands of us a radical commitment to both physical and spiritual poverty. In the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "Sell what you possess and give alms. Make to yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in heaven which faileth not: where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" [Luke 12:33-34]. This is the great central truth concerning the necessity of both spiritual and physical poverty: our hearts will be where we have stored up treasure – they will belong either to God or to Mammon.
We are to live lives of holy simplicity. Since we are creatures of both spirit and flesh, we certainly do need a certain amount of physical things for our survival and dignity. However, we are to keep these things to the minimum necessary for basic needs, and we are to subject these things and all things to the service and love of God and our neighbour. In other words, all things of the flesh are to be subjected to, and integrated into, the demands of the spirit.
The Church has generally considered that the 13th century was the "greatest of centuries", simply because this was the historical period in which Christian values most fully permeated all the institutions of society in the West. The Protestant revolt has largely destroyed this divinely ordained order of things.
Luther taught that only the spirit mattered: the flesh counted for nothing. Man was saved through faith alone, and works were in no way necessary to our friendship with God. The effects of this teaching upon western civilization over the past 475 years has been absolutely devastating. Virtually all areas of human action in this world – economics, politics, education, the media, and even our forms of recreation – have been liberated from the demands of the spirit and Gospel. And Catholics, over this same period of time, have also been drawn into this vortex of modern paganism and materialism.
The Catholic response to the Protestant revolt was the Council of Trent, which was mainly concerned with the dogmatic formulation of Catholic truths and the refutation of Protestant errors in the realm of faith.
This certainly had the result of effecting a partial counter-Reformation and Catholic renewal. However, without a corresponding reaffirmation of the necessity of poverty in all facets of Christian life and a militant struggle against the liberalisation of social life in all the areas mentioned above, Catholics were bound to be increasingly drawn into the milieu of cultural and economic Protestantism through a gradual transfer of their hearts and minds to the "mammon of iniquity", and away from the hard demands of Christ and His Church.
Such spiritual duplicity and prostitution to the world could only result in a final massive loss of faith. To this we have been witnesses during the past several decades. Several years ago America’s most famous pollster, George Gallup, made the statement that the attitudes and values of American Catholics now almost perfectly coincide with those of the rest of American society. There could be no greater condemnation of the state of Catholic life in the USA.
Our Lord said to St. Catherine of Sienna, "You are she who is nothing." The soul bearing the fruit of poverty of spirit not only accepts this fact, but rejoices in it, and hungers after it. Rooted in the genuine discovery of God’s Supreme Being, he intuitively distrusts everything to do with his own individuality. Taking Lady Poverty as his mistress, he pursues her down all the paths of his life.
He recognizes how deceptive are his own mind and heart, how easily they conclude that they can live an interior poverty "of spirit", while retaining the duplicitous attachment to the luxuries and sensualities of modern life. Such a soul fears this self-deception above all things, and therefore hungers and thirsts for the grace and strength to mortify itself in all things both spiritual and physical.
For the religious the parameters of this path of poverty should be well defined by the rule.
For the lay person and the secular priest, this devotion to poverty should call forth a sustained creativity seeking always to implement this spirit of poverty in all our daily activities.
We must always remember that God cannot draw close to a soul that is double-minded. The same St. James who wrote "Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God [James 4;4], also gives us the following:
Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double minded [James 4:8].
We must always remember that all the great mystics and masters of the life of prayer say that we cannot even begin to draw closer to God in the deeper forms of prayer if we are at the same time attempting to serve both God and the world. If we wish God to come close, we must embrace His Poverty of Spirit.
Next month: Godliness (Piety) and Meekness