The Return to God
“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 lightsome. But if thy eye be evil 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 marvelous 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 of articles on The War Against Being, I examined the process by which man, through the primary disorders of intellect (false philosophy) and will (love of mammon) 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. Here, I intend to explore 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:
Gifts (Isaias 11:1-3) Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-9):
Fear of the Lord: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Piety: Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land
Knowledge: Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall
Fortitude: Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after
justice: for they shall have their fill.
Counsel: Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain
Understanding: Blessed are the clean of heart;
for they shall see God.
Wisdom: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall
be called the children of God.
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 these gifts to us through the action of the Holy Spirit, Our Lord has given us the graces 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. Since 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 and the Beatitude of Poverty:
Fear of the Lord may indeed be the most lowly of the Gifts. It may also be considered 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 marvelous. 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 Paul VI 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 are their fruits 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 but the 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.” (Mt 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” labor 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 places 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 material 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 material 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 neighbor. 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 have 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 the 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 liberalization 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 this country.
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 himself 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 their 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.
The Gift of Godliness (Piety) and the Beatitude of Meekness:
We have come to understand that the Gift of Fear of the Lord is a singular grace of God by which the soul turns away from self and comes to rest in God. Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart.
For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.” (Mt 11:28-30).
Having taken upon itself the yoke (Fear of the Lord) of God, the soul begins to learn of God. Moreover, it begins to learn Who God is. Its first lesson is astonishing. God’s nature is meekness, and the soul comes to live a life of godliness to the extent that it learns this lesson of meekness.
If we seriously meditate on the life of Christ as given to us in the Gospels, this certainly makes very good sense. The Cross is meekness incarnate. Jesus Christ, Infinite God, suffers infinite pain, subjection, and humiliation in obedience to His Father and in love for sinners. Such love is indeed infinite, incomprehensible meekness. Certainly the most profound description of this meekness and self-abnegation of Our Lord is to be found in Isaias 53, in that passage which is commonly referred to as the prophesy concerning the Suffering Servant:
“Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not.
Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath lain on him the iniquity of us all.
He was offered because it was his own will,and he opened not his mouth he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth,” (Isaias 53:3-7).
If this passage offers us a deeply moving description of Our Lord’s meekness during His Passion, it also encapsulates its opposite in one penetrating and horrifying phrase: “every one hath turned aside into his own way.” There are, therefore, two ways offered to every man. The first, the Way of Christ, is the path of singleness of will and meek surrender to God, and self-sacrificing love for others. The second, always offered to us by Satan and by our own fallen nature, is the way of the world which seeks to grasp onto the gifts of God (and all creation is His gift) and “turn them aside into one’s own way.” Choice of this second path, even if made by one who is a member of Christ’s Church and possesses the integrity of the Catholic Faith, makes such a person an enemy of God: “You ask and receive not; because you ask amiss: that you may consume it on your concupiscences….Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God.” (James 4:3-4).
The most terrifying power man possesses is his freedom and inclination to consume every single gift of God in his own lusts (concupiscences), not even excluding God’s gift of Himself. The reader has most likely had the experience of viewing a self-proclaimed evangelist loudly and vehemently heralding his faith in Jesus Christ, and feeling intuitively that there is something phony and deeply un-Christ-like in that proclamation. Man, in other words, possesses the power to turn even God aside “into his own way” – that “way” which is the way of the world and the path to spiritual death. The reasons for such concupiscence and self-deceit may be many: fame, money, spiritual and intellectual conceit and false security, lust. In all such cases, the result is the same: the “pocketing” of God, and the failure to surrender and learn of Christ Who is meek and humble of heart. The most common sin and deadly peril of Christians is this turning of God aside into the desires and conceits of one’s own heart and mind. The only escape and remedy for this sin is to take Christ’s yoke upon us, and learn from Him how we may acquire this virtue of meekness.
What does Christ mean when He states that He is meek and humble of heart? We should first make clear what He did not mean. Such meekness and humility certainly cannot be identified with any kind of weakness or timidity – physical, mental, or spiritual. Christ fasted for forty days. He endured all the agonies of His Passion in loving obedience to His Father. He was fearless in confronting demons, including the intellectual and spiritual conceits of Satan himself. He boldly and with great mental authority demonstrated the truths of the Gospel to His enemies. He drove the money-changers out of the Temple. He was vehement, authoritative and assertive in everything that had to do with defending and teaching the ways and truths of God.
So wherein was Christ meek? In everything that had to do with His own human will: “He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth.” (Isaias 53:7). Everything involving His own personal humanity on this earth was turned into an oblation, a sacrifice in love for the Father and in love of man: “there is no beauty in him nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him.” At the supreme moment of the Passion of Christ, His love knew no return. Mankind, for whom He suffered, was not desirous of either His suffering or His love. There was no immediate reward, no “turning aside into one’s own way.” There was no other way than the will of God.
There are two forms of meekness which Christ practiced, and which we are therefore to imitate: meekness towards God, and towards man. Certainly the clearest scriptural account of the first occurred during His Agony in the Garden when He said, “Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou will.” (Mt 26:39). Jesus’ human nature and will, suffering total repulsion at the thought and foreknowledge of the agony which He was to endure on the Cross, yet humbled Himself in total meekness and submission to the Will of the Father.
There are many passages in the Gospel which teach us to imitate this meekness towards God. Possibly the most penetrating is to be found among those parables which deal with what it means to be a true servant of God:
“And the apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith.
And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you.
But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat:
And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him?
I think not. So you also, when you shall have done all things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.” (Luke 17:5-10).
The above passage begins with a request addressed from the apostles to Our Lord: “Increase our faith.” Our Lord’s reply may be summed up as follows: If you wish to increase your faith, increase your work for God without seeking any reward. Such will increase your faith and expand your piety because it will deepen the willful sacrifice of yourself to God and His Ways. It is this meekness, neither expecting nor demanding any return for one’s love, which both prevents the mind and heart from “consuming” God, and establishes the soul in the true rest and peace of Jesus Christ.
The second form of meekness which Christ practiced was that which was exercised towards man. The Passion is, of course, the supreme example of this form of meekness. Christ was kissed by His betrayer, judged, struck repeatedly, mockingly crowned with thorns, scourged, spat upon, crucified – all at the hands of those towards whom He had shown Infinite Love. He did all this in meekness, silence, prayer, resignation, and without calling upon the legions of angels which were instantly available for His defense.
The Gospel contains many passages in which Jesus gives specific instructions for the living of this virtue of meekness among our fellow men. However, we need look no further than the very same chapter of the Gospel which contains the Beatitudes:
“You have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek,turn to him also the other:
And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him.
And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two.
Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away.
You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy.
But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.” (Mt 5:38-44).
In these lines we are again faced with words of Our Lord which are often quoted, but rarely taken literally and with the seriousness which Jesus seems to intend. They are nothing more or less than precise descriptions of actions and attitudes which Christ demands of us, and which are duplications of His own self-immolations during His Passion. Let us look at the above passage line by line: Christ did not resist evil; when given blows upon His face He did not resist, and simply turned the other cheek; He allowed them to strip Him of His garments; He allowed them to force Him on the interminable walk to Golgotha while carrying His cross; and finally, He prayed to his Father for forgiveness for those who had subjected Him to this suffering and death.
If we believe that Christ demands anything less of us than His own self-sacrificing meekness, we are sorely mistaken; for this same Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel ends with Christ’s command to us: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).
It may at first seem strange to us that the reward offered to those who possess the virtue of meekness is that “they shall possess the land.” For the Israelite this word “land” was redolent with meaning. It immediately called forth God’s original command given to Abraham:
“Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed.
I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in Thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3).
All the promises of God scattered over the pages and prophecies of the Old Testament, and deeply imbedded in the suffering hearts of the Jewish people: that God would be a Father to His people; that He would come to dwell with them and in them; that He would right all wrongs and end all sufferings; that He would reign with them in an everlasting kingdom – all these and more were contained in the Jewish concept of the Promised Land. And when Christ the Messiah did come and showed them that this Land was one attained by meekness rather than aggressions, plowshare rather than sword, mercy rather than pharisaical righteousness, they killed Him.
The Jews simply refused to understand that the Land promised by this, the second Beatitude, is not the earthly nation of Israel, but rather the kingdom of God which is to be found within the human heart truly united with God. As such, it also places us in direct inheritance of the very Heart of Jesus Christ and His merciful love of all human souls. To possess the Land is therefore to enter into a whole new world of community with all men. It shatters competition, aggression, and self-seeking. It has the effect of creating an intense desire for the salvation of souls, a longing founded upon a vision of man which now sees both intense suffering and hope where before it only found fault. Though the soul under the influence of such a gift may indeed experience increased sorrow and pain in love of God and sorrow for sin, it at the same time finds rest simply because it now rests in God’s love rather than in its own self-seeking. There is no greater sweetness than this: to have surrendered one’s soul in meekness to Christ: “For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.”
For the soul that has set its heart upon God above all things, there remains only one true pleasure left upon this earth: love of the brethren and the thirst for souls. Among the early converts to Christianity this love and this passion simply dissolved all competitiveness, all desire for individual accumulation:
“And all they that believed, were together, and had all things in common
Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need.
And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart;
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:44-47).
“And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” The massive conversions of early peoples to the Christian Faith were largely due to the love which these people witnessed in Christians living in community with one another. In what is called His priestly prayer at the First Eucharist, Christ prayed:
“And not for them (the Apostles) only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;
That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
The primary reason why the rest of the world has not converted to Christ and to His Catholic Church is that His supernatural meekness and love are not visible in His Body the Church. Catholics are, and have been for a long time, living in ways which far more represent the conceits and ambitions of the world rather than the meekness and the single-minded love of Christ. Even as early as the third century (250 A.D.), St. Cyprian could write:
“But amongst us, that unity of mind has weakened in proportion as the generosity of our charity has crumbled away. In those days [the very early days of the Church], they would sell their houses and estates and lay up to themselves treasure in heaven by giving the money to the Apostles for distribution to those in need. But now, we do not even give tithes on our patrimony, and whereas Our Lord tells us to sell, we buy instead and accumulate. To such an extent have our people lost their old steadfastness in belief. That is why Our Lord says in His Gospel, with an eye on our times: ‘The Son of man, when He cometh, shall He find, think you, faith on earth?’”
There is a very deep and extraordinary relationship between charity and meekness. True charity is a surrender, in meekness, of one’s very substance. What, after all, did the early Christians surrender when they sold their land and possessions, “and divided them to all?” They surrendered much of what we treasure as our individuality and independence; they surrendered any security for themselves and, possibly even more difficult for us to accept, for their children – except that security which was derived from their trust in Christ and in His Mystical Body the Church. Do we see how such meekness, trust, and singular love enabled 12 men to convert whole nations to Christ? In contrast to pagan society, Christian community shown forth as a heaven on earth.
There is a principle of the spiritual life which has been validated repeatedly in the history of peoples and nations: that the failures of Catholics are the seeds of heresy. The particular heresy which, I believe, is the bitter fruit of Catholic failure to live the Beatitude of Meekness is Communism. Ironically, the passage which we have quoted from the Book of Acts is often touted by Communists as an example of an early form of communistic living. In reality, it is the very opposite. The community of early Christians founded their unity and trust upon God. Atheistic Communism claims the death of God, and a unity founded solely upon human pride and invention. Christians voluntarily offered themselves and their properties to the Church; Communism confiscates private property for the State, and denies freedom to the individual person. At the same time, however, Communism’s errors do point an accusing finger at Catholics.
The triumphs of Marxism were the fruit of the death of true Christian community, and the continued growth of economic and political systems based on unbridled competition, aggression, and exploitation. Capitalism is the spiritual descendent of Protestantism and its liberation of economics, and especially finance, from the demands of the spirit and the teaching of the Church. Millions have been seduced and oppressed by Communism because of their desire to be free of such sophisticated savagery as is modern capitalism. Communism murdered (outside of war) approximately 150 million people in the 20th century. Nor is it yet dead. And even if it were, the same deadly and murderous hunger will only reappear under another name, another philosophy, until Christians are able to show the world what it means to be in communion with Christ and one another.
Unquestionably, when we consider the formation of true Christian community, we are now faced with what might seem insurmountable obstacles. The early Christians came and laid their money and properties at the feet of the apostles. This was not some sort of democratic commune, but rather the gift of themselves, their families, and their possessions to Christ through His Church. We might well doubt at the present moment in history whether we could find bishops willing, reliable, and orthodox enough to exercise such authority and paternity. On the other hand, if we harken back to the principle taught by St. Gregory the Great that “Divine justice provides shepherds according to the just deserts of the faithful”, we might also conjecture that God is waiting for us to bring our desires and aspirations into accord with the Gospel so that he might then justly provide these needed shepherds. Nor are we sure exactly how this early Church actually fulfilled this community living. The Book of Acts speaks of them as “breaking bread from house to house”, which surely means that families had their own dwellings and privacy.. What is essential in the whole thing is the spirit of generosity and charity which truly “held all things in common” in Christ’s Mystical Body the Church. We must not misuse the fact that the vow of poverty is a voluntary act taken by religious, and that this evangelical counsel is not at all necessary for salvation. The command of the Gospel is that all persons are called to give themselves entirely to Christ, and that poverty of spirit is necessary for all.
Nor does God have to work now in the same manner as He did in the early Church. I see things growing out of our own home-schooling community which truly meet the demands of Christian community, and extending beyond the immediate family. Young people who have graduated from high school are actually beginning to work together in trades, and are establishing their own families while cooperating with one another in all the various aspects of daily life which we have mentioned. No Christian who knows the circumstances of Christ’s birth should have to be told that God can begin great things in very unlikely places and under very unusual circumstances. The pre-requisite for true Christian community is not necessarily any particular exterior form, but the interior disposition of soul which truly does seek God in holy simplicity, meekness, and poverty of spirit. What is most important is that we become like the prophet Daniel who is repeatedly called a “man of desires” by God and who from the depths of his exile in Babylon, prayed:
“For we, O Lord, are diminished more than any nation, and are brought low in all the earth this day for our sins….
And now we follow thee with all our heart, and we fear thee, and seek thy face.
Put us not to confusion, but deal with us according to thy meekness, and according to the multitude of thy mercies.” (Dan 3:33, 41-42).
The Gift of Knowledge and the Beatitude of Mourning:
The first and Original Sin of man engendered a very great paradox at the center of every man’s life and knowledge of the world. What before was unadulterated goodness, God’s created world, now becomes a threat to man – not because created things have suddenly become evil in themselves – but because man’s disordered intellect and will are always tempted to use these things against God’s Being and Will. Due to this paradox, many key words in Holy Scripture are used in ways which may at first appear contradictory. We can read, for instance, that “God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son.” (John 3:16). Yet, Christ says, “I am not of this world.” (John 8:23), and “I pray not for the world (John 17:9);” and St. John flatly declares, “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.” (1John 1:15). Our world, our language, and our own selves are all full of apparent contradictions because our minds and hearts have contradicted God.
We tend, I think, to think of this “contradicting of God” as primarily an action of our lower appetites and will. Most of us are familiar with St. Paul’s teaching concerning the war which occurs in all men between these lower appetites and the “higher” mind:
“For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do.
Now if I do that which I will not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present with me.
For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man:
But I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members.
Unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
The grace of God, by Jesus Christ my Lord. Therefore, I myself, with the mind serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:19- 25).
We tend to interpret this passage as saying that the root cause of sin lies “in the flesh” – in other words, in the lower appetites, and in the war which they wage against what the mind knows to be the truth. In this we are simply wrong. It certainly is true that these appetites of the flesh do war against the law of God written on our hearts and mind, but this rebellion of the flesh is, in reality, a secondary effect of a much more profound rebellion. We need to go back and understand the nature of original sin in order to understand the real roots of all actual sin, and the effects that sin has upon our perception of reality.
On this subject St. Thomas has the following to offer:
“Now man was so appointed in the state of innocence, that there was no rebellion of the flesh against the spirit. Wherefore it was not possible for the first inordinateness [disorder] of the human appetite to result from his coveting a sensible good, to which the concupiscence of the flesh tends against the order of reason. It remains therefore that the first inordinateness of the human appetite resulted from his coveting inordinately some spiritual good. Now he would not have coveted it inordinately, by desiring it according to his measure as established by the Divine rule. Hence it follows that man’s first sin consisted in his coveting some spiritual good above his measure: and this pertains to pride. Therefore it is evident that man’s first sin was pride….Now the first thing he coveted inordinately was his own excellence; and consequently his disobedience was the result of his pride….Gluttony also had a place in the sin of our first parents. For it is written (Gen 3:6): The woman saw that the tree was good to eat, and fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold, and she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat. Yet the very goodness and beauty of the fruit was not their first motive for sinning, but the persuasive words of the serpent, who said: Your eyes shall be opened and you shall be as Gods: and it was by coveting this that the woman fell into pride. Hence the sin of gluttony resulted from the sin of pride….The desire for knowledge resulted in our first parents from their inordinate desire for excellence. Hence the serpent began by saying: You shall be as Gods, and added: Knowing good and evil.” (II,II, Q.163, a.1).
To put this in very simple terms, we might say that all sin has its roots in that fundamental act of man by which he attempts to replace God by seeking to “know” creation independently of God, and without God at the root of each created thing.
Such knowledge constitutes not only a rebellion against God; it also deprives man of his intellectual foundation in Being, destroys his ability to perceive reality, and profoundly perverts his whole moral life. St. Paul analyzes the effects produced in men’s souls when they reject God as creator and refuse to see God’s presence and power at the root of all created things:
“And as they liked not to have God in their knowledge>/em>, God delivered them up to a reprobate sense, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all iniquity, malice, fornication avarice, wickedness, full of envy, murder, contention, deceit, malignity, whisperers,
Detractors, hateful to God, contumelious, proud, haughty, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Foolish, dissolute, without affection, without fidelity, without mercy.”
(Rom 1: 28-31)
Reading this, is it not astounding that any Catholic parent could send their child to the public school where it is the law that the presence of God must be excluded from the study of His creation?
The Gift of Knowledge is that Gift of the Holy Spirit which restores us to a proper relationship to created things. It has been common practice to teach that it reveals to us the emptiness of all things, and therefore liberates our minds and hearts for the pursuit of God and His Ways. There certainly is truth in such an approach to this very important Gift, but it also has its limitations and dangers. Man’s sin brought death and disorder into this world, and it is therefore correct to speak of the vanity of pursuing created things. There is also, however, a very real danger in this limited approach of embracing a kind of Manichaean dualism which deprives God of His creation and seeks to degrade man’s legitimate and Christian responsibilities in this world to the status of emptiness or even evil.
In other words, it certainly is very appropriate to speak of the emptiness of the of created things, but it is profoundly wrong and destructive to speak of the emptiness of the things themselves which God has created. I believe it was Chesterton who said something to the effect that just as Christ restored man to God, so it was St, Francis and St. Thomas who penetrated through Manichaean dualism in order to restore God to the world. This does not at all mean that they did not see the dangers that were present in the things of this world, or that they did not practice a great deal of asceticism. Any one who has studied the life of St. Francis, for instance, knows the absolute absurdity of such a claim. It does mean, however, that along with this asceticism, they offered an incredibly rich knowledge which penetrated to the very heart of God’s being within each created thing. And they did it in very different ways. We might say that St. Francis did so through a kind of divine poetry of immediate mystical perception of God’s presence within everything; and that St. Thomas accomplished the same through a mystical union with Christ which expressed itself in an intellectual analysis of the ontological nature of both God and creation. Two very different ways of doing a thing; yet both derived their unique visions of God and the world entirely from the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And both offered to the world a renewed vision of what it means that “In Him we live, and move, and have our being.”
The soul that is restored to this vision of “God in all things and all things in God” (without a tinge of pantheism) intuitively abhors all those forms of knowledge which presumptuously come between God and His creation. We live in a country which has enshrined in law the absolute necessity of prohibiting the inclusion of God in any way in the public education of our children. Therefore this country is at war with God and Being. There is no more appropriate way of illustrating this twofold war (against the Being of God and the being of man) than by stating the two greatest sins of this country: the exclusion of God from the education of our children, and the virtual unrestricted legal right to the murder of the unborn. This war, however, is not exclusive to this country or any group of countries. It is inherent in the system of so-called “classical education”, largely an outgrowth of Renaissance philosophy, which has sought to place virtually all knowledge on a foundation of human reasoning and experience independent of God’s Being and Revelation. It is therefore incumbent upon those who wish to struggle for a return to God, and for that holy simplicity which establishes the soul in God, to examine the whole educational curriculum and renew it in the light of God’s life and wisdom. This, of course, requires first and foremost that parents take their children out of public schools (and certainly most private schools, including those which call themselves Catholic), and take upon themselves the primary task and responsibility for their education.
All human life is created by God to be established in the mystery of His life. This is a mystery which does not shut down our hearts and minds, but rather one which draws us deeply into His presence. St. Paul speaks of “the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints….which is Christ, in you the hope of glory.” (Col 1:26-27). This mystery of God, however, is not just within us, but in all of creation, which is designed to be seen by the “single eye” of man as the footprints of God.
Our proper response to all created things is therefore meant to be wonder, and the glorification and praise of God which such wonder evokes. Anyone who has prayed the Divine Office is quite familiar to what degree the Psalms embody this spirit. It is our primary duty in regard to both our own education and that of our children to exercise that art of Catholic creativeness which sees to it that this presence of God is brought into all the fields of our studies; and that we expend every effort to bring ourselves to that singleness of intention which desires God alone in all things.
As explored in my series The War Against Being, the primary “carrier” of the spiritual disease of our times is scientific materialism. Any “science” which reduces created things to their accidental realities (which, as we have seen is precisely what such modern sciences as chemistry and physics do) tends to destroy this worship, and constitutes a war upon both God and man. Since it would be imprudent (especially in regard to the demands of the State and the exigencies of modern life and technology) to ignore or eliminate these sciences entirely from our curriculums, we must focus a great deal of our efforts in placing them in their proper and truly Catholic perspectives.
We might say that our primary obligation as good Catholics in regard to the physical sciences is to de-emphasize them. This immediately will place us in a position which runs counter to the world and the State. This is necessarily true, because the world worships material and technological progress, and scientific education is the key to this “progress.” There are a number of ways to accomplish this de-emphasis. The first, and most important, is through proper training in philosophy. Children, from a very early age, should be taught the irreducible mystery of every created thing. This is the foundational truth of all philosophy and true science: that the being of every created thing is rooted in God. It is also true that from the very earliest introduction of a child to the material sciences, they can be taught the absurdity of scientific reductionism – they will easily learn and retain the knowledge that to believe that water is equivalent to H2O or that salt is NaCl, or that the nature of any thing is reducible to this kind of quantification is far more silly than believing that the world is flat.
Secondly, they can be encouraged to choose a life rooted in simplicity and humble work. This involves basically dropping out of the whole educational, scientific, and technological rat-race rooted in always being more, and having more, of the world. It is very difficult to retain a true philosophy, or a heart which perceives God in His creation, if we allow ourselves to be drawn into the ever-increasing vortex of secular knowledge, technology, and material progress. If the industrial revolution de-humanized our world, then the computer revolution internalizes this process of de-humanization. I believe that there is a principal of smallness built into the human soul by God which, if violated, results in the loss of true personhood. Man is created finite, with only a finite ability to handle information. The effect of the so-called “knowledge revolution” and the massive amounts of information absorbed through TV, the Internet, and the Media has been to place souls in a mode which is predominantly passive, incapable of real rationality and creative thought or love. The legions of Hell, I believe, have a tremendous investment in this revolution. There is no easier means for Satan to gain possession of a soul than through that open passivity which is now the almost universal fruit of this overload of information.
There is a second psychological principle at work here which I believe to be even more frightening in its effects. If into such an overloaded system one actually places absolute or revealed truth as one of the possible “bites” among all the other information “bites” which the mind is receiving, then the usual effect is to relativize this truth and make it only a personal option in a relativistic and pluralistic medium. True Christian conversion always requires the perception that truth is something radically different – a city seated on a mountain, a light on a candlestick, a distinct light separate from the world. Whole nations were converted by the early Christians because this “difference” was perceived in the way that Christians lived, worked, recreated, and worshipped in holy simplicity.
As a third psychological principle, we can say that even when the truth is accepted through such an overloaded system it tends to become like the seed that falls on poor soil. Since this soil is lacking in simplicity, overburdened with complexities, and found to be growing in the midst of the weeds of this world, it most often fails to take deep roots and is easily choked out simply because of the superficial way in which it is received. TV evangelism and the Charismatic Movement are powerful evidence to such superficiality.
Certainly, it is at least theoretically possible to engage in scientific analysis and still retain a sense of this wonder and worship. After all, the incredible richness and complexity of material reality is a wondrous thing and points directly to God as its creator. Yet, we must ask, how is this knowledge obtained? How much of our analytical knowledge of life processes is obtained through reducing life to death, just to satisfy our lust for knowledge or unneeded material comforts and pleasures?
And what does such coldly analytical killing do to a child’s soul? I would like to suggest, for instance, that the process of dissecting a frog is inherently conducted in some sort of spiritual degradation and revulsion. I would also like to suggest that such “science” does not have the same effect on the soul as killing for food or, as in the Old Testament, the offering of religious sacrifice. The sacrifice of a lamb to God was meant to be a sacrifice – an act that is sorrowful, and one in which man is fully conscious of his own sinfulness as being the cause of this death of God’s created life. Without this sorrow, such sacrifice would be hypocritical. In fact, every time we are obligated to kill an animal our hearts and minds should be scarred with the consciousness of our own sin and fallen nature. Such humility and sorrow are not the accompaniments of laboratory science.
In our teaching of science we must simply follow the following golden thread: Any study which transforms the heart and mind of a child (or adult) into wonder and praise of God through his creation is acceptable. Any means which we can use to expose the philosophical and scientific errors of reductive science, and to reveal the presence of God as the source of being in all created things – these are also of tremendous value. But most important of all, we must be willing to say no to those methodologies, textbooks, classes, programs, which can infiltrate the virus of reductive science into our children’s souls. And we must do so, even at the expense of their not keeping up with the world.
As I have said, true Catholic creativity must be exercised within all the fields of human study. The study of English literature is another example. It is incontestable that far more than ninety percent of the English literature studied in the average course of studies is written by authors who are either Protestant, agnostic, or atheistic. Many believe that this does not necessarily affect the greatness of these authors’ genius, and that these are still worth our careful study because of the depths of their artistic merit and their insights into life and reality. This belief tends to ignore one of the most important truths of the human condition, and of Catholic moral teaching. Our natures are deeply damaged by the effects of original sin, and extremely subject to the influences and temptations of the world, often at levels within our minds and hearts which are not conscious. It is extremely naïve of us to believe that there are not powerful errors and immoralities present within the writings of such non-Catholics, which can adversely affect our children (and their parents) despite our conscious efforts to be moral watchdogs. It is one thing to study non-Catholics authors on an individual level in order to accomplish some very specific purpose (studying the writings of an evolutionist, for instance, in order to be able to refute their position); it is another to saturate a child with non-Catholic and even anti-Catholic writings as part of a curriculum adopted by a secular culture. This, of course, has been going on for centuries with virtually every English speaking Catholic child in the world. During all that time our priests were rightly counseling alcoholics to avoid bars, and admonishing those who had temptations against chastity that they must stay away from pornography and bad forms of entertainment We might well ask why they were at the same time giving their blessings to the study of John Milton or Walt Whitman. What has happened to the Catholic prescription to avoid near-occasions to sin, when these sins are temptations to the intellect, and especially to intellectual pride?
It is also important to realize that most literary genre were virtually non-existent before the Protestant Revolt, and certainly before the Renaissance. They therefore carry in their train the hubris of Renaissance humanism, and the Manichaean dualism which is characteristic of all Protestant culture. The modern novel, for instance, is a recent invention. Scripture is emphatic that we are to set our mind on things above, not those below; that no man can really know another’s heart; that we are to promote peace and overcome evil with good; and that we are to be more concerned with removing the beam from our own eye rather than focusing on the motes in the eyes of others. The novel is a genre which necessarily focuses on things below, relies on conflict in order to hold the attention of its reader; and captures the fascination of the reader with its probing into the interior emotional and psychological nature of its characters. Is all this beneficial to the formation of that “single eye” which Our Lord tells us is necessary in order to “make our whole body lightsome?”
Further, these spiritual principles should be applied to all the arts. We might draw a comparison, for instance, between the novel and the symphony. There would seem to be something grandiosely psychological and humanistic about the symphony in comparison to such things as Gregorian Chant, Palestrina, simple folk tunes of the High Middle Ages, or even Baroque music. It is not an accident that even Mozart was a Freemason.
Nor should the fact that something is quite specifically “religious” enable it to escape our scrutiny. Compare, for instance, the gracious and modest genius of Fra Angelico’s art with the grandiose crudeness of Michelangelo. Both are geniuses, but is the art of both truly conducive to moral purity and growth? Someone once commented that in the work of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel even the knuckles on the hands of his women are biceps. From a distance this work might appear awesome and overwhelming. I would like to suggest that from close-up it is gross, crude, sensuous, and debilitating to the spiritual life, and especially insulting to women.
Finally, we must mention that there is nothing which has been more effective in the diffusion of cultural and religious error than has been the discipline and teaching of history. From the labeling of the High Middle Ages as the “Dark Ages”; the designation of the Protestant Revolt as the Protestant Reformation ; the conferring of the title “Good Queen Bess” upon the perverted mass-murderer Queen Elizabeth I; the canonization of the American “Fathers” as those who established true liberty; the vilification of Cortez; the silence in regard to the horrendous martyrdom of Mexican Catholicism; the glorification of the “republicans” in the Spanish Civil War (in a period of six months to one year they destroyed 20,000 churches, murdered almost 7,000 priests and religious and untold numbers of lay Catholics); the vilification of Pope Pius XII as “Hitler’s Pope”; the absolute failure to recognize that in the 20th century more human beings were slaughtered than in all the other centuries of human history combined, and that, in the West at least, this carnage was almost totally directed by such things as militant Communism and Nazism against Christianity – all these and many more extraordinary distortions of true history have created a cultural milieu which is profoundly anti-Catholic, militantly pluralistic, and deeply immoral.
We must mention that the resources now exist to counter such historical delusions. For a firm grounding in what may be called the “theology of history” and a proper view of the true contest which has been and is taking place between the Church and the organized forces of evil in the world, I strongly recommend the books of Fr. Dennis Fahey, especially his Mystical Body of Christ in the Modern World. I also highly recommend the books of the great American historian William Thomas Walsh, especially: Characters of the Inquisition; Phillip II; Isabella of Spain. And just to add several more: William Cobbett’s: A History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland; Msgr. Patrick O’Hare’s The Facts about Luther; Bishop Francis Clement Kelley’s Blood Drenched Altars (History of Mexico); Fr. Wilfrid Parsons’ Mexican Martyrdom; Warren Carroll’s The Last Crusade (The Spanish Revolution); Robert Royals The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century. This is only a partial list, but it should certainly convey the impression that there is now no excuse for Catholics not to be educated in these truths of history, and able to counter the demonic distortions of popular history. All these books are now in print, as are many other valuable resources.
In this discussion of the Gift of Knowledge I have focused very specifically on various subjects of education, especially of our children. I have done so because I believe that the classical education curriculum has been the primary means of fostering that duplicity in our lives by which we attempt to serve both God and Satan. St. James declares, “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world.” (James 1:27). What we pursue as knowledge is the primary means by which this simplicity and “singleness” are violated. St. James also says, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners: and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to sorrow. Be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:8-10). The purifying of our minds and hearts and the restoration of single-minded love of God is remedied by the Beatitude of Mourning, which in turn is the fruit of true Knowledge. As we said, we may justly speak of that mourning which sees the emptiness and vanity of created things, and thus causes the soul to turn to God for its comfort and fulfillment. This “negative” mourning does not, however, plumb the depths of sorrow to be found in the world. The greater sorrow of our lives is that all which is good in God’s creation has been damaged; what was created for eternal life is now subject to death and decay; that which was pure is now besmirched with sin, and all things which were created “by Him and in Him” (Col 1:16) now lie in confusion and darkness. St. Paul does not say that he cannot wait to be rid of a body which is simply worthless or evil, but that he moans and groans “waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:23). It is this “positive” mourning which is the fruit of true knowledge, frees us from bondage to created things, and inflames in us that single-minded passion which seeks to restore all things in Christ.
There can be nothing part-time about genuine Christianity. This may be our single greatest delusion: that the Christian faith is a possession among other possessions, and that it does not therefore require the full attention of every element and moment of our life. We worship a jealous God. We do not, in fact, appreciate the nature and extent of the jealousy of Our God. Scripture is emphatic: “The Lord his name is Jealous, he is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14). Let us repeat that to ourselves: “his name is Jealous”, and this is so “Because the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deut 4:24).
It should not surprise the reader, therefore, the extent to which, in our discussion of the Gift of Knowledge and the Beatitude of Mourning, we have descended to the very particular and concrete. Is it not true, after all, that what we chose to make the matter of our education and knowledge is also that which we chose to pursue and love? It is said that true love pays attention to details, and is known and proved by the particulars of its attentions and actions. There is nowhere that this is more evidenced than in our choice of education curricula. We must therefore choose very carefully. We will be judged upon these choices, especially in regard to our children.
The Gift of Fortitude and the Beatitude of Hunger:
Western history since the Protestant Revolt in the beginning of the 16th century has seen a continual progression (or retrogression) towards paganism and materialism. There certainly have been many exceptions to this general trend: many saints and saintly efforts, including that of some very great Popes. The decay, nevertheless, has been continuous, and we have seen its almost unbelievable acceleration in our own times. The father of the 1950’s bought a TV and watched, along with his entire family, what he mistakenly thought were innocent programs. His children matured and watched the ever spiraling stupidities, crudities, and impurities of the 60’s and 70’s. His grandchildren and their descendants in the beginnings of the 21st century have access to the Internet and to every perversion imaginable.
We especially see this progression in regard to human sexuality and the loss of respect for human life. Seventy-five years ago all Catholic and Protestant churches opposed all contraception. In 1930, at the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church admitted the use of contraceptives for “serious” reasons. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion. Just recently the Federal Drug Administration legalized and approved the use of RU-486, which enables every woman basically to exterminate her own child through pharmaceutical means in the privacy of her own home.
There is an immense power which the process of liberal change exercises over minds and hearts. People are changed, and lose their faith and morals, without really ever knowing that they have been seduced and dramatically changed. In my own lifetime this progression was most dramatically illustrated in the 1996 race for the U.S. Presidency. In the summer of 1996 Bob Dole, who had virtually secured the Republican nomination, announced that he would be willing to accept as his Vice-Presidential running-mate a person who was pro-abortion – this despite the fact that his long voting record in congress had always been considered strongly pro-life. He bothered to state that his choice could even extend to the woman governor of New Jersey, who had publicly supported incumbent President Clinton’s veto of a bill which would have banned partial-birth abortions. It matters little who was his ultimate choice – he had stated the principle, and never retracted it. At the Republican Convention held in August, Pat Buchanan, who had been a principal rival for the nomination and the man who was considered (especially by conservative and traditional Catholics) to be impeccably pro-life, proceeded to endorse Bob Dole for the Presidency. The vast majority of “Pro-life” Republican delegates followed suit, and gave Mr. Dole a virtual
In order to understand what this all means, let us draw a hypothetical, similar scenario for the Democratic Party nomination. Suppose that President Clinton announced during his re-election bid that he could accept as his running-mate a person who supported everyone’s legal right to kill black people. Can we, even in our wildest imagination, believe that the leaders of the Civil Rights movement would have accepted this as some sort of political reality which had to be swallowed, and would have endorsed him? Or, consider the consequences if the “criteria of acceptability” might be expanded to include someone who thought it perfectly acceptable to kill Jews or women. Would the presidents of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League or the National Organization of Women have given him their endorsement? These scenarios are, of course, absurd. Yet those who are supposed to believe in the equal dignity and right to life of the unborn actually endorsed a man who had made such a statement. The year 1996 was the year that the Pro-Life movement died as a viable political force in this country. It died mainly at the hands of professed Christians. It died because its members did not really believe what they claimed to believe. They had been robbed of their belief, even while continuing to assert that they possessed this belief.
A similar thing has happened within the Catholic Church. There are millions of Catholics within this country who still attend Mass every Sunday and receive Holy Communion, and yet have been robbed of their Catholic Faith. Nor are we here speaking only of those manifest heretics who explicitly deny some article of Catholic Faith – the Papal Primacy, the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the reality of eternal punishment in Hell, or the Virgin Birth, etc. Rather, we also include those who, despite their knowledge and belief in the sixth and ninth commandments, allow their children to watch all kinds of impurities on TV; of those who, knowing the third commandment, engage in unnecessary manual labor on Sunday; of those who engage in business practices which lack moral integrity; or those who out of embarrassment, fear, or other more subtle forms of social pressure submit their minds and hearts to error and immorality, and publicly fail to witness to their Catholic Faith. And what is the reason that this has happened? Most often, it is simply because the person has a desire and need to belong to groups, communities, and organizations which Christ would identify with the “world”. Something happened in the souls of Patrick Buchanan and all those delegates at the National Convention which made belonging to the Republican Party and defeating Bill Clinton more important than belonging to God and His truth. Similarly, something has happened within the hearts and minds of all those people who have abandoned the full integrity of the Catholic Faith which has made them need to belong more to the world than to Christ. It’s as simple as that.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit which is the great protector of the Catholic Faith is the Gift of Fortitude. We tend to think of both the Gift and the virtue of Fortitude in terms of their highest expression: the saint who boldly proclaims his faith in the face of certain persecution, torture, or death. Fortitude, however, is most often the protector and strength of small fidelities in the pursuit of our everyday lives. The scripture which I believe most exemplifies this Gift and virtue is the following:
“He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater: and he that is unjust in that which is little, is unjust also in that which is greater….No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:10,13).
Satan long ago learned that a man is more easily whittled away than chopped down; that it is very possible and often quite easy to bring a man to the point where he stands arm in arm with the legions of Hell without ever really knowing that he has really changed at all. The vast majority of people in this country who believe in a woman’s right to abortion, who have surrendered their children to schools and to forms of entertainment that are anti-Christ, or who believe in homosexual rights, also believe that they are decent people and, very often, good Christians. Such persons have come to this point of stark self-contradiction because they have allowed themselves to be carved down, shaving by shaving, compromise by compromise, by the “Mammon of Iniquity”, until they stand there, little more than a decayed stump of a Christian, while claiming to be good human beings. This is the great lie of our times, the nightmare of our portion of human history. We stand on the very precipice of the remnants of Christian civilization, not yet having reaped the full reward of this massive accumulation of infidelities – this giant apostasy which has been largely the great labor of innumerable small prostitutions of Catholic truths and morality.
And what is the key to resisting this process of compromise which leads to spiritual death? The answer given to us is the same as that given to Israel at the very beginning of covenant history:
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength.
And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thy heart:
And thou shalt tell them to thy children, and thou shalt meditate upon them sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising.
And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and they shall be and shall move between thy eyes.
And thou shalt write them in the entry, and on the doors of thy house.” Deut 6:5-9)
Our faith is not enough to save us or keep us secure. God demands our hearts also, because they are created in Him and for Him. The above-quoted passage from Deuteronomy describes a soul possessed by desire and hunger for God – a soul living in the fullness of the fourth Beatitude. We should notice here something else which accompanies this deep hunger and thirst for God: the beginnings of profoundly deep meditation and contemplative prayer. If through the Gift of Knowledge the soul is emptied of the false conceits of this world, then it becomes obviously necessary that it begin to be filled with God: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.”
We are here at an extremely crucial step in the soul’s ascent to perfection in God. The Gift of Fortitude and the Beatitude of Hunger are, in a sense, the whole foundation upon which the higher Gifts, and the union with God which they accomplish in us, are based. This “filling” of our souls with God’s justice and life is nothing we can accomplish by ourselves. It is the gratuitous gift of God – this being the very nature of contemplative prayer. We are in absolute need of this deeper prayer life if we are to continue our ascent to God. At the same time, however, we must understand that such prayer is an infused gift of God and totally dependent upon His Will; we must also understand that it is an art which is to be attendant with our understanding and very human preparation upon these movements of God’s gratuitous favors. It will be well for us at this point, therefore, to discuss some very crucial points in regard to contemplative prayer.
We are familiar with the saying that there is a law to the spiritual life which says that there is no standing still: if we are not progressing, then we must of necessity be going backward. We tend to apply this law to our growth in understanding of the Faith, and to our progress in virtue and charity. Yet there is an almost universal tendency to ignore this law in its application to the life of prayer, which is the very substance and source of our communion with God. In fact, most people tend to come to a certain level of oral, liturgical, and limited meditative prayer, and then consider fidelity to this routine as being fidelity to the whole life of prayer. We tend to resign ourselves to the notion that there is a sort of graduated, tiered system of prayer within the Church that goes something like the following: oral, liturgical, meditative and contemplative prayer for religious; oral, liturgical, meditative prayer for secular priests; oral, liturgical, and possibly a smattering of meditative prayer for the laity. This is in direct contradiction to Holy Scripture which instructs all Christians “to be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mt 5:48), to “pray always.” (Luke 18:1), and to so pray in contemplative union with God that “we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2Cor 3:18). St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila (our Doctors of the Church on this subject) are both adamant that contemplative prayer is something to which all Christians are called.
These two saints are also insistent that contemplative prayer is meant to be a subject for systematic teaching to all the faithful. According to St. Teresa many errors can be avoided and obstacles overcome in one’s prayer life by the systematic acquisition of knowledge concerning all the advancing stages of prayer – this even before one has personally experienced the more advanced forms of contemplation.
There is one particular form of ignorance regarding this progress in prayer which is so destructive that it deserves some treatment here, especially since it so directly concerns this stage of the work of the Holy Spirit which is concerned with the Gift of Fortitude and its corresponding Beatitude of Hunger. Just as we have spoken of the necessity of Fortitude in order for a soul to continue upwards in the spiritual life after it has been effectively liberated from the conceits of the world through the Gift of Knowledge, so also is it in need of such special assistance and strength for a radical change which is needed in its prayer life. St. Teresa writes that a very great number of people are stopped at virtually the same point in their progress, and at the very beginnings of contemplative prayer, by a very profound ignorance of true Catholic psychology.
St. John of the Cross writes, “Not much time ordinarily passes after the initial stages of their spiritual life before beginners start to enter into the night of the senses [we may, I think, compare this loosely to the “mourning” of the third Beatitude]. And the majority of them do enter it, because it is common to see them suffer these aridities.”
What St. John speaks of here is what St. Teresa would consider to be a soul having reached that point in prayer which is probably a transition between her third and fourth mansions. The person at this point is a quite serious Christian. He or she has probably spent a good deal of time being formed in the faith, and in either formal or informal meditation on the truths and mysteries of our Faith, the virtues, personal examination of conscience, etc. There has been considerable growth in virtue, such that mortal sin is certainly militantly shunned, and even attachment to venial sin is likely to be assiduously combated and avoided. The soul comes to the point also where it has a strong aversion to discursive meditation (meditation that involves an organized step-by-step process of reasoning or considerations). It feels an emptiness towards created things, and yet at the same time a painful lack of closeness to God, and even a loss of delight in prayers, devotional practices, and considerations which used to give it at least some pleasure. It will also, almost certainly at this stage, experience a deep aridity in prayer and possibly even very powerful temptations and evil imaginings and thoughts. And herein lies the destructive ignorance which we have mentioned: what most souls fail to realize is that God has brought them to this point; and that through gentle, often dry and imperceptible infused longings and hungers for something deeper, He is trying to draw the soul away from the world (and a sort of “sensual” spirituality) and deep into His own Life and Being. St. Teresa says that very many come to this point, and very few go beyond it – not because God does not wish everyone to progress further – but because of a lack of good spiritual direction, a lack of understanding of true psychology, or a lack of magnanimity on the part of these souls. In other words: a combination of ignorance and a lack of fortitude and holy desire.
If we think of the person who has come to this point, we realize that we are dealing with someone whose higher faculties – the intellect and will – are fairly well formed. He stands at the threshold of a higher, contemplative relationship with God, to which Our Lord is surely inviting him. At the same time, however, his soul is divided because the lower faculties – memory, imagination, and sensual appetites – have not yet been brought into subjection. It is at this stage that countless souls have stagnated in their prayer life simply because they lacked spiritual direction and the necessary knowledge concerning these faculties of the soul which will enable them to take the proper course of action. St. Teresa’s solution to this conflict is startling. We need, says St. Teresa, to treat the mind in its wild imaginings, distractions, aridities and perversities as a madman of little consequence. Most important, we need to pay little attention to it, and “to laugh at it and treat it as the silly thing it is.” This makes a great deal of sense once we understand the teaching of St. Thomas that it is the higher faculties of intellect and will that determine our friendship and unity with God, and that the imagination (what Teresa calls “thoughts”) is a lower faculty of interior senses. In St. Teresa’s own words:
“Hence proceed the afflictions of many people who practice prayer, and their complaints of interior trials – especially if they are unlearned people – so that they become melancholic, and their health declines, and they even abandon prayer altogether, because they fail to realize that there is an interior world close at hand. Just as we cannot stop the movement of the heavens, revolving as they do with such speed, so we cannot restrain our thought. And then we send all the faculties of the soul after it, thinking we are lost, and have misused the time that we are spending in the presence of God. Yet the soul may perhaps be wholly united with Him in the Mansions very near His presence, while thought remains in the outskirts of the castle suffering the assaults of a thousand wild and venomous creatures and from this suffering winning merit. So this must not upset us, and we must not abandon the struggle, as the devil tries to make us do. Most of these trials and times of unrest come from the fact that we do not understand ourselves.” (Interior Castle, Fourth Mansion)
The solutions offered by St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross resonate with the Gift of Fortitude and the Beatitude of Hunger and Thirst. Above all, we must persevere in the midst of all temptations, aridities, distractions, etc. We should simplify our prayers and meditation to the point of often simply making them short acts of love, longing, beseeching God for His help, sorrowing over our sins, unfaithfulness, etc. We must be prepared also to be interiorly silent in what is called the prayer of quiet, which is accompanied by indistinct, confused awareness of God’s presence, and of an infused, often undetected, quiet, and usually arid longing for Him. None of this, of course, comes easy to us. Without the Gift of God we can do nothing.
We must never forget that the ultimate foundation of love is the will, stripped of all consolation, return, and reward. What God is preparing us for at this stage of prayer is the precise imitation of Christ’s perfect love, in complete surrender of His human will to the Father. It is indeed very difficult for us at the beginning of this stage to see the joy and beatitude which exists on the other side of this total immolation of self. It is here, therefore, that our faith must be molded in the fire of hunger and thirst for God alone. It is the Gift of Fortitude which empowers us to persevere in this ultimate quest, and which unlocks that interior world to which, according to St. Teresa, God calls all of us.
We have already mentioned that the highest manifestation of Fortitude is the act of martyrdom. There is a strong possibility that many of us now living will be called to such a witness of our faith. I would like to suggest that fidelity to the action of this Gift which calls us to contemplative prayer may be integral to our ability to respond to this call of supreme sacrifice. It certainly seems that it should be easier to say no to the world outside, if we have experience of the Heaven within.
The Gift of Counsel and the Beatitude of Mercy:
On the eve of his going up to Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment, St. Paul discloses to the priests of the Church at Ephesus the depths of God’s Counsel under the New Covenant:
“For I have not spared to declare unto you all the counsel of God.
Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Spirit hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
I know that, after my departure, ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
And of your own selves shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Therefore watch, keeping in memory, that for three years I ceased not, with tears to admonish every one of you night and day.
And now I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, who is able to build up, and to give an inheritance among all the sanctified .” (Acts 20:27-32)
All of God’s Counsel towards man is fulfilled in the Catholic Church. This is so because the Church is the consummate union between God and man in one Mystical Body. It is both the mirror and ultimate fulfillment of Christ’s Incarnation. In the Incarnation God took upon Himself one particular human soul and body, and by so doing redeemed human nature. In the Church, Christ takes upon Himself, as it were, every particular soul and body which are united to Him in the one Truth and Charity of His Mystical Body, and by so doing redeems all those who are destined for Heaven.
By the Gift of Counsel, therefore, we receive the power to effectively give ourselves totally to Christ through His Church, and are thereby fully taken up into His merciful love for all souls. The single greatest tragedy of all of Christian history is that the vast majority of Christians do not love Christ as they should because they do not understand and love the Church as Christ wills it to be loved. It is precisely against this “dullness” of lukewarm love which Paul warns us in the above quoted passage from Acts. The man or woman who loves deeply is not easily drawn away from his or her beloved. The person whose love for the Church is shallow and convenient is easy prey for the wolves who would draw the soul away into schism and heresy.
How then is the Church to be loved with that totality which God commands? The answer is simple enough: through the total gift of oneself to Christ through His Church. It is true that baptism brings us into membership in the Church, yet baptism is only the beginning. The grace of baptism is easily smothered if the human heart and mind do not respond to the fullness of its grace and meaning. The first Christians responded with this depth of love. There are, in fact, two passages in the Book of Acts which describe this total commitment made by the earliest converts to the Church. In our discussion of the Gift of Godliness we quoted one. However, being now in a position to penetrate further into this mystery, we will quote it again, and later on its sister passage:
“They therefore that received his word [Peter’s], were baptized; and there were added in that day about three thousand souls.
And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
And fear came upon every soul: many wonders also and signs were
done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all.
And all they that believed, were together, and had all things common.
Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need.
And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart;
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:41-47)
There is, in this first passage which we have quoted, all the elements of the Counsel of God. The world – that world which according to St. John is all “pride of life, concupiscence of the eyes, and concupiscence of the flesh” – this world has disappeared, and in its place a new creation.
This new creation shows forth all the sinews of God’s Counsel. There is first of all the divinely constituted Church, founded upon a hierarchy willed and anointed by God, and embodying a threefold ministry: teaching, sanctifying, and ruling. To this source of God’s love and truth, all immediately submitted in wholesome fear.
Secondly, there springs forth from this fear, trust, and surrender a total dissolution of all hunger for riches and the acquisition of private property: “And all they that believed, were together, and had all things in common.”
Thirdly, this generosity of soul immediately opens up the floodgates of God’s grace, which enables them to live the very life and merciful love of their Saviour: “Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need.”
Fourth, despite what the world would consider their total poverty and financial insecurity, “they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Their happiness, in fact, was the fruit of their simplicity, of that purity of heart which truly believes that God will surely, as He has promised, provide “all these things” (Mt 6:33) to those who seek Him above all things. Finally, this visible leading of Christ’s merciful love amongst these earliest converts found “favour with all the people,” and “the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved.”
If all of God’s Gift of Counsel is to be found in His Church, then it is evident why this Gift corresponds to the Beatitude of Mercy. This is why Christ established His Church: that the mercy accomplished in His Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection might remain incarnate and operational in the world. These first Christians believed in His mercy, were literally overwhelmed by it. In surrendering everything to His Church, they in turn became vehicles of His mercy. The world, seeing Christ’s mercy incarnate in their total surrender and love for God and one another, could not deny this goodness and gladness and converted to Christ’s Catholic Church in massive numbers.
We have already noted in our previous discussion of this passage the claim of St. Cyprian that the great loss of faith and unity prevalent in his day was to be attributed to the diminution of this charity which we have witnessed in Christians of apostolic times. He is not alone. The one extensive commentary which we possess on the Book of Acts from the early Church Fathers is to be found in the homilies of St. John Chrysostom. Most of his comments are made concerning the second passage we mentioned, which we shall here quote:
“And the multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul: neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but all things were common unto them.
And with great power did the apostles give testimony of the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord; and great grace was in them all.
For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the price of the things they sold, and laid it down before the feet of the apostles. And distribution was made to every one according as he had need.” (Acts 4:32-35)
The middle verse in the above passage speaks of the great power and grace which came upon the apostles. This verse is sandwiched between verses which speak of the extraordinary renunciation of private property, sacrificial gift of these riches to the Church, and serving of the poor which characterized all these early Christians. We are led to assume that the power and grace possessed by the apostles (hierarchy) was the fruit of this sacrificial giving of the faithful. This is precisely the conclusion drawn by St. John Chrysostom:
“For this is the foundation of all that is good, this of which he now for the second time [the passage from Acts 2 being the first] makes mention, exhorting all men to the contempt of riches….
This why the grace was upon them all, for that there was none that lacked: that is, from the exceeding ardour of the givers, none was in want. For they did not give in part, and in part reserve: nor yet in giving all, give it as their own. And they lived moreover in great abundance: they removed all inequality from among them, and made a goodly order. And with great respect they did this: for they did not presume to give into their hands, nor did they ostentatiously present, but brought to the Apostles’ feet. To them they left it to be the dispensers, made them the owners, that thenceforth all should be defrayed as from common, not from private, property. This was also a help to them against vain-glory. If this were done now, we should live more pleasant lives, both rich and poor, nor would it be more pleasant to the poor than to the rich themselves….But, you will ask, what should we do after the money was spent? And do you think it ever could be spent? Would not the grace of God be ten thousand fold greater? Would not the grace of God be indeed richly poured out? Nay, should we not make it a heaven upon earth? If, where the numbers were three thousand and five thousand, the doing of this thing had such splendid success, and none of them complained of poverty, how much more glorious would this be in so vast a multitude? – But, to shew that it is the living separately that is expensive and causes poverty, let there be a house in which are ten children: and the wife and the man, let the one work at her wool, the other bring his earnings from his outdoor occupation: now tell me, in which way would these spend most? by taking their meals together and occupying one house, or by living separately? Of course, by living separately. For if the ten children must live apart, they would need ten several rooms, ten tables, ten attendants, and the income otherwise in proportion. Is it not for this very reason, that where there is a great number of servants, they have all one table, that the expense may not be so great? For so it is, division always makes diminution, concord and agreement make increase. The dwellers in the monasteries live just as the faithful did then: now did ever any of these die of hunger? Now, it seems, people are more afraid of this than of falling into a boundless and bottomless deep. But if we had made actual trial of this, then indeed we should boldly venture upon this plan. What grace too, think you, would there not be! For if at that time, when there was no believer but only the three thousand and the five thousand: when all, throughout the world, were enemies, when they could nowhere look for comfort, they yet boldly entered upon this plan with such success; how much more would this be the case now, when by the grace of God there are believers everywhere throughout the world? What Gentile would be left? For my part, I think there would not be one; we should so attract all, and draw them to us!”
“The dwellers in the monasteries live just as the faithful did then.” What an extraordinary statement! Nor did St. John Chrysostom believe that such a life for the faithful (especially families) was only a dream; for his next sentence runs: “But yet if we do but make fair progress, I trust in God that even this shall be realized. Only do as I say, and let us successfully achieve things in their regular order; if God grant life, I trust that we shall soon bring you over to this way of life.”
Faced with these facts we should ask ourselves several questions – several very hard questions. Just why are we, as St. John says, “more afraid of this than of falling into a boundless and bottomless deep?” I certainly feel the same “fear” or aversion to the notion of living such a “communal” life as any one else; but I certainly cannot justify this fear in the face of what the gospel has to say. How many of us who consider themselves serious Catholics have longed to live the totally integrated and consecrated type of life which they imagine belongs only to the vocation of the monk or nun? The Gospel and St. John Chrysostom say that this is the life that all the early Christians – bishops, priests, parents, children, single persons – lived. St. Cyprian longs for this life for the faithful and attributes the loss of faith and disunity in the Church of his time to the dissolution of these forms of true Christian community. St. John Chrysostom says that such should be the norm of Christian life, that we must work for its return, and that the conversion of whole peoples and nations awaits our compliance with this Gospel norm. Is it possible that our deep aversion to such a lifestyle is somehow a profound reflection of a deep duplicity in our love of God, the nature of which we hardly have the courage to face?
All of which we are now facing in this modern world – the chastisement within the Church and the massive apostasy of the world at large – is forcing us into one inevitable conclusion: neither we nor our children will be able to retain our Catholic Faith unless we take radical steps to “go out from them and be separate, and touch no unclean thing.” (2Cor 6:17). What is more, the world will only get worse, and the persecution of true Catholics greater, until it is able to see and be drawn towards visible Christian community, which is Christ’s mercy incarnate in the world. God is backing us into a corner where we will no longer be able to blame the world, or our local parish priest or liturgy committee, or our bishops. It is we who have amalgamated our faith to the world and the devil; we who have given our families over to the spirit of the world in our political and economic lives, in the forms of entertainment we pursue, in our various pursuits of knowledge, in the educational principles and institutions to which we submit our children, and in the way we eat, dress, and talk. Moreover, all this is not going to be changed from without – from electing better politicians, changing economic structures, spending more money on education, getting better bishops, or convincing the Pope that he must follow some specific course of action. The reform, the renewal, the transformation must come from within – from the lives of individuals and families. We may do so now and voluntarily, thus saving the souls of countless numbers of our children now living and yet to be born; or we may wait until the face of tyranny and anti-Christ crushes us into making that inevitable choice. And at that point we might ask, will we still posses enough of Catholic love and truth to save even our own selves, without even considering what will have happened to the souls of our children?
The Gift of Understanding
And the Beatitude of Cleanness (Purity) of Heart
We have seen that the Gift of Knowledge establishes the soul in its right relationship to created things. The Gift of Understanding, on the other hand, is concerned with restoring integrity within the soul itself – a much greater and difficult task indeed. The reward, however, is infinitely greater than the difficulty.
The Beatitude which corresponds to this Gift is “Blessed are the clean (pure) of heart: for they shall see God.” It is this Gift of Understanding which sets our souls upon the vertical ascent to the vision of God. It may do so, in part, through those individual graces which impart to us understanding of God’s Revelation. Even more important, however, it draws us to God through that deeper and more integral understanding by which our hearts are transformed into the likeness and life of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
The single sin which is condemned most often by Christ and with the greatest vehemence is that which has come to be called “Pharisaism.” Jesus defines this sin using the words of Isaias:
“This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.” (Mt 15:9-10).)
The heart or will of a man is that faculty by which he puts into action or practice what he knows and believes. It is the fundamental faculty of integrity within the human soul. A person may know, profess, and even believe the truth; and yet, if his heart is “far” from God, he may turn that truth into a lie, goodness into evil, beauty into ugliness, love into perversion, purity and cleanness into duplicity and hypocrisy. This is why Pharisaism is such a grievous sin: it violates the truth about God at that very deepest part of the human soul where this truth is meant to be transformed into life and love.
Jesus clearly makes “understanding” something which is primarily a matter of the heart. Speaking to the multitude which came to Him as He preached by the Sea of Galilee, he says:
“And the prophecy of Isaias is fulfilled in them, who saith: ‘By hearing you shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing you shall see, and shall not perceive.
For the heart of this people is grown gross, and with their ears they have been dull of hearing, and their eyes they have shut: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and be converted, and I would heal them.” (Mt 13:14-15).
All of the Pharisees’ hatred and condemnation of Jesus is targeted at two things – His identification of Himself as the Son of God, and His acts of mercy. They hate Him for allowing those who were following Him to pick corn to eat on the Sabbath (Mt 12:1-7). They hate Him for eating with publicans and sinners (Mt 9:9-13), and for healing on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1-6). When he casts out devils He is accused of doing so by the power of Beelzebub (Mt 12:22-28); and when He raises Lazarus from the dead, this great miracle of mercy becomes the primary justification for seeking His death (Jn 11:1-51). Jesus says to them, “And if you knew what this meaneth: ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’: you would never have condemned the innocent.” If they had known anything about mercy, God’s greatest attribute, they would not have crucified Christ.
The single greatest sin of the Pharisees was their obdurate conviction that the faith was something to be possessed rather than lived. They were the chosen people who possessed the Law, possessed the Temple, the Sacrifice, the Land, and even God Himself. And they used these gifts of God to condemn the innocent, deny mercy to the suffering sinner, and most of all, to retain their own hearts far from God.
In similar fashion, the single and most powerful effect which the victory of Manichaean-Protestant thinking has exercised over post-Reformation Catholic consciousness is the reduction of Catholic life to the possession of the Faith. To an extraordinary degree, Catholics have surrendered virtually everything else to the dominant Protestant or secular culture. Nor is this something which is only a post-Vatican II phenomenon. The child of fifty years ago grew up memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and was taught that his primary duty in life was to retain this faith until death. At the same time he was immersed for twelve or more years in an educational system (Catholic, Protestant, or secular – it made little difference in this regard) which virtually idolized such things as Americanism, democracy, capitalism, unlimited economic and technological growth, science, religious liberty and pluralism, and the supremacy of individual conscience and choice. He was never really taught anything about the content and demands of those Beatitudes which we have been studying. He was not taught, in other words, that he could not be a friend of Christ and at the same time a friend of this modern world.
We now can look back at the devastation which has been wreaked within the Catholic Church over the past few decades and can give our answer as to what has gone wrong. It is not, as has been proposed by so many traditional Catholics, that the Church has been usurped by an elite cadre of Modernist theologians, priests, and bishops. This certainly has happened to a large extent, but it is not the cause of this devastation. Rather, these men and their modernism are simply the fruits of a pharisaical and Manichaean-type Catholicism which had placed its heart and its treasure far from Jesus Christ.
How are we to bring our hearts back to Christ? The answer is very simple: we must listen to Him and understand Him. It is very possible, as Jesus has said, to listen and yet not understand. The Pharisees, for instance, heard, read, and studied the scriptures with great diligence; and yet they did not understand the most fundamental and simple truths concerning God and man. There are many scriptures scattered throughout the Old Testament (especially the one which we have already quoted from Isaias 53 concerning the “Suffering Servant”) which clearly foretold that the Christ would not be a worldly ruler, but rather a suffering Messiah. Yet when He came in the likeness of the Paschal Lamb rather than a worldly king, they scoffed at, tortured, killed, and rejected Him. It is easy for us to call the Pharisees hypocrites – we have the benefit of historical hindsight and Jesus’ own condemnation of them. We might well ask, however, if we are doing the same, with some slight variations which now make us blind to our own hypocrisy.
I have been a Catholic for over 30 years, have read the New Testament several times, and the Sermon on the Mount many times more. I have never failed to be disturbed, to feel twinges of conscience at certain passages. I have read, for instance, Christ’s words to the rich young man, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” (Mt 19:21). I know that it has been the tendency in my own mind to conclude that Christ was not addressing these words to me, that He was probably calling this particular man to the priesthood, and that this “extreme” request of Christ was therefore only applicable to that particular vocation and situation. Having looked a little deeper, however, I have noticed that Christ makes this renunciation of riches, devotion to poverty, and service to the poor a condition for perfection – “If thou wilt be perfect….”, and that He demands perfection from every human being: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48). Moreover, Christ also clearly makes this same request (and it seems to be more than a request) of the multitudes:
“Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.
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 you heart be also.”
No one has ever been able to convince me that these words of Our Lord were only addressed to the Twelve Apostles or to those who would become priests and religious. It is certain that the Church teaches that evangelical poverty is a “counsel”, and not necessary for salvation. We are faced with the fact, however, that this was what the first Christian converts actually did, and that it was, as we have seen, the means by which Christ converted nations.
The reader is probably aware that in these discussions of the Gifts and Beatitudes I have repeatedly emphasized a devotion to poverty as being integral to Catholic life. I believe this repetition to be necessary. St. Paul teaches that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” (1Tim 6:10). Since there are many people who are not rich who do evil, we may safely assume that this avarice is present in the nominally poor as well as the rich. It is easy for us to dismiss this scripture as not personally applying to us – after all, none of us place one hundred dollar bills on an altar and worship them. I would like to suggest, however, that St. Paul is here pointing to something much deeper and deceptive in the soul of the average person – the fact that underneath much of what we simply consider moderate living, necessary possession and financial security, and acceptable comforts, pleasures, recreation, etc., is a hidden love and possessiveness towards money. And it is this hidden “love” which detains our hearts in ignorance of Who Christ really is, and what the Christian life is really all about.
So far we have focused on poverty mainly as a means of liberating ourselves from the clutches of the world. There is, however, a far more intimate and profound reason for giving our money and possessions to the poor. If done rightly, it places our hearts in union with the Heart of Christ. It unlocks our hearts so that we may truly understand what the Gospel is all about. Scripture concurs. The Psalmist says, “Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the needy and the poor: the Lord will deliver him in the evil day.” (Psalm 40:2). Possibly the most beautiful passage concerning almsgiving is to be found in the book of Tobias:
“If thou have much, give abundantly: if thou have little, take care even so to bestow willingly a little.
For thus thou storest up to thyself a good reward for the day of necessity.
For alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness. Alms shall be a great confidence before the most high God, to all them that give it." (Tob 4:9-12).
“Prayer is good with fasting and alms, more than to lay up treasures of gold:
“For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting.” (Tob 12:8).
We should, I think, be initially quite puzzled by all this. Just how can “alms deliver from all sin?” We certainly are familiar enough with the Gospel to know that full deliverance from sin in our lives demands all sorts of profound inner transformations. It is, in fact, the assertion of the scripture quoted above that it is almsgiving, when properly done, which “maketh to find mercy.” In other words, it unlocks our hearts so that we might understand with our hearts, be truly converted, and allow Christ to heal us. As the Psalmist says, “Blessed is he that understandeth concerning the poor.” To understand concerning the poor is apparently to posses the very heart and mercy of Christ for suffering souls. This amounts to something far more than routine tithing or nominally giving to the poor. Obviously it means that we give of our “substance,” and not just of our surplus or superfluities. Such “blessedness” can only mean that we have come to that point where we truly understand what it means to love our brother as ourselves, and are thus truly worthy of obtaining Christ’s mercy in return.
We should therefore be very practical and specific in our self-assessment as to just how locked up our hearts are in money and possessions. If, for instance, we have $100,000 in the bank, would we be willing to give $50,000 to a destitute family or a person in need of some medical help? If not, then let us ask what it means to us when the scripture says, “If thou have much, give abundantly?” If we have $10, would we give $5 to someone who is hungry? If not, then how do we interpret, “if thou have little, take care even so to bestow willingly a little.” If we have expensive cars, boats, snowmobiles, sports equipment, land, houses, jewelry, vacations, expensive pilgrimages, and a host of other things that are not really necessary for our survival and dignity – if we possess these things while two-thirds of the world go to bed hungry at night, how difficult is it for us to understand, and for our hearts to “find mercy?”
It is almost as though purity of heart requires a profound contempt for money – not because these pieces of paper, gold, and silver are evil in themselves – but because of the profound effect they almost inevitably have upon us once they are in our hands. There are many wonderful stories told about St. Francis in this regard. St. Francis referred to money as “Flies”, as something almost living and consciously disturbing our serenity, peace, and purity in Christ – a thing always wanting to contaminate us with the world. This is an attitude we might well consider adopting if we wish to cleanse our hearts in the merciful and self-sacrificing love of Christ, and to come to an understanding of Who Christ truly Is.
The Gift of Wisdom
And the Beatitude of the Peacemakers
The Catholic Church teaches that Wisdom is simply another name for Jesus Christ. The Gift of Wisdom, therefore, is the consummation of Christian life, as expressed by St. Paul when he proclaims, “And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal 2:20).
We find that Wisdom is also a name given in the Old Testament to what appears to be the work of the Holy Spirit. And we also find it prophetically applied to Mary, the Mother of God. One example of the latter is to be found in Ecclesiasticus 24:12: “Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle.” We may also see in Wisdom, therefore, the whole work of the Incarnation by which we are meant to be formed into God’s children through the combined work of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and Our Blessed Mother.
We are here dealing with that which is almost unspeakable. If we attempt to understand it in terms of prayer, we are faced with the depths of contemplation – that form of prayer in which the soul ceases to be the active agent, and God is in command. St. Paul, quoting Isaias, says, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2:9). This is the most hallowed of ground, the end of human destiny, and the depths of the mystery of God.
The layman, in being confronted with such a subject, tends immediately and instinctively to shy away. Surely such a subject as this must be suitable for exploration only by hermits in their caves, monks in their cells, saints who have been given extraordinary graces and visitations from God. This, however, is not the teaching of Christ Who, as we have seen, demands perfection from all. Nor is it the teaching of Vatican Council II which, in its Decree of the Apostolate of Lay People, teaches the following:
“Perfect model of this apostolic spiritual life [of the laity] is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles. While on earth her life was like that of any other, filled with labors and cares of the home: always,however, she remained intimately united to her Son and cooperated in an entirely unique way in the Saviour’s work.” (#2).
The Church teaches that Mary’s union with Jesus Christ is more intimate and profound than that which ever has been or ever will be achieved by any other man, woman, or angel. Since the Church also declares that she is the “perfect model” of the laity’s apostolic spiritual life, then such union with Christ must also be normative for those who have chosen this vocation.
Both Holy Scripture and the Church teach that there is one word, one concept, one sacrament which is appropriately applied to this union: marriage. St. Paul speaks of the “great mystery” of Christ’s union with the Church on this earth as a marriage (Eph 5:22-23) and the Book of the Apocalypse speaks of the final union of both the individual soul and the Church with Christ as the “Marriage of the Lamb.” (Apoc 19:7).
As we have said, we are here dealing with a very great mystery. We make a serious mistake, however, if we believe that the only proper attitude towards Christian mysteries is silence and avoidance of any attempt towards understanding them. Silence certainly can be an appropriate response. Humility, and the admission that we can never penetrate to the full depths of these mysteries while in exile on this earth, is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary. At the same time, however, such mysteries are not meant to be things which shut down our hearts and minds, but truths which draw us ever inwards towards understanding the life and love of God. This is something we shall attempt to do in regards to the Gift of Wisdom. And following the advice of the Vatican Council, we shall approach it by way of Mary. One of the names which the Church gives to Mary is “Spouse of the Holy Spirit.” Since this title directly calls forth the concept of marriage between man (woman) and God, it will hopefully be a very fruitful place for us to begin. In gaining some understanding of the relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit we hope, at the same time, to come to a deeper understanding of how the Gift of Wisdom works towards our complete union with Jesus Christ.
Mary and the Holy Spirit
Pope John Paul II did a great deal of teaching on the meaning of marriage. Because of the excesses of the Theology of the Body movement, it has been the tendency of traditional Catholics to dismiss all of his work on this subject. This total dismissal is an imbalance in itself.
The basis of John Paul II’s teaching is that God, Who is a Communion of infinite Love between three infinitely Holy Persons, created man in His own image: “Love is, therefore, the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.” From the very beginning of creation, this image of God’s holy love is revealed in the communion of persons that constitutes what the Pope calls “the original truth of marriage.” It becomes incarnate in the marriage of Adam and Eve, blossoms into the often turbulent covenant between God and the Jewish people, and discovers its ultimate fruition in the Church which was born from Christ’s side, and of which He is the Head. Marriage is, therefore, a kind of primordial sacrament which both symbolizes and actualizes God’s love in this world, whether that love be between man and woman, or between God and man.
The extraordinary correlation between these two “marriages” is the subject of the 5th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:
“Because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body….Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament [mystery]; but I speak in Christ and in the church.” (Eph 5:23, 30-32).
In examining this passage we immediately take note that both the marriage relationship between man and woman, and that between Christ and His Mystical Body, are characterized as being “two in one flesh” (this is also the expression used for the marriage between Adam and Eve in Gen 2:24). There are three points I think we need to understand about this expression.
First, in the words of John Paul II, “the body expresses the person, it reveals man.” Body and soul form an intimate union. If the human person is to possess and retain integrity, then what he does in the flesh must reflect and express that image which is formed in the soul by God. Correspondingly, the soul is both expressed and shaped by these very actions. Therefore, the marriage spoken of as becoming “two in one flesh” must also be a total unity of persons.
Second, we often fail to realize to what extent our Faith is an incarnational faith. St. John says, “By this is the spirit of God known. Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” (John 4:2). If Christianity denies and disciplines the flesh, this is done only that this same body might be purified and made worthy of union with God. St. Paul instructs the Corinthians: “Glorify and bear God in your body (1 Cor 6:20).”
This leads us into our third point. For in comparing these two loves and marriages, the one between Adam and Eve at the beginning of time and the other between Christ and His Church at the end, we discover this astounding truth: what began as a human institution has somewhere along the line been taken up and made divine. In other words, there exists a point in human history wherein God and woman married, became two Persons united in one flesh, and brought forth a Child truly God and fully human Who would, in turn, draw all men unto Himself. This marriage took place between the Holy Spirit and Mary at the Mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ (the Annunciation).
How little we have thought about the relationship established between Mary and the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation. How impersonal have we viewed the Holy Spirit; and how utilitarian, Mary? And yet we are concerned here with that woman who, because she was totally sinless and unselfish, was the most personal human being on the earth; and we are essentially ignoring the nature of that Divine Person Who is the very Gift of Personal Love. Unless we come to see the absolutely personal nature of this union, we will never be in a position to understand the “personality” of the Incarnation; it will always remain in the realm of necessary but abstract truth. And without “seeing” the Incarnation, we will never comprehend the deeply personal nature of our own sanctification – of Christ being formed within us. For He (the Holy Spirit) Who conceived Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary was, in turn, sent at our baptism to conceive Jesus within us; and She who is the Mother of Our Lord was, from the Cross, given to us as our Mother that she might form this new life into the fullness of Christ within us.
We are now in a position to understand Our Blessed Mother’s role as both Mother of the Church and Mediatrix of all graces. In the indissoluble total union of Mary and the Holy Spirit, we must recognize that whatever grace and life come through the Holy Spirit must also come through Mary. And since, as St. Maximillian Kolbe said, “All graces come from the Father through the Son and by the Holy Spirit”, they must also therefore come by way of Mary. Vatican Council II teaches that “Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power.” (Lumen Gentium, 60). Being absolutely nothing in herself, all her power derives from her union with the Holy Spirit Who is sent by Christ. Nor does she take anything away from the Holy Spirit. For again, as St. Maximillian says, “Our Holy Mother is given to us to help us understand the Holy Spirit better”, and “when we honor the Immaculata we are, very specifically, adoring the Holy Spirit.”
I believe that God has miraculously given to us an actual physical picture of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Our Lord – of that moment in historical time when Christ was conceived a human child through the spousal love between Mary and the Holy Spirit. This image is called “Our Lady of Guadalupe.” It was miraculously imprinted on the tilma (a coarse cactus-fiber cloak) of the humble Indian convert Juan Diego (canonized 7/31/2002) in the year 1531. We will not here focus on the actual account of the apparition, or try to prove the supernatural origin of this image. What follows is simply a meditation upon its meaning. I believe it has much to show us concerning the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is called Wisdom, and the path which we must take if we are to achieve union with Christ. Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Immaculate Conception,
And the Mystery of Marriage:
We will begin by attempting to penetrate somewhat into the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.
Our Lady’s first appearance to Juan Diego occurred on Dec 9, the original date on which the Feast of the Immaculate Conception was informally celebrated within much of the Church (it is now celebrated officially on Dec 8). All of Our Lady’s appearances occurred during the octave of this Feast. What is surprising in this is that the image does not at first appear to have much to do with the Immaculate Conception. Our Lady appears wearing a black sash tied at her waist, a custom which immediately told the Indians that she was with child. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the day on which Mary was conceived as a baby without sin in the womb of her mother Anne. At first sight, therefore, it does not appear to make much sense that she should make her appearance as the Mother of God on this date.
Three hundred and twenty seven years later, at Lourdes, Our Lady did something which was essentially the reverse of what she had done in Mexico. On March 24 (the day before the Feast of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Our Lord), 1858, Our Lady announced to Bernadette Soubrious, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This statement immediately posed a dilemma for theologians. They certainly would have understood if she had said, “I was immaculately conceived” – Pope Pius IX had only four years earlier defined this as a dogma of the Faith, and had set the date for the universal celebration of this Feast on Dec 8. They could not, however, make sense of her definition of herself as The Immaculate Conception.
So, we are left with a double mystery. On the one hand, Our Lady of Guadalupe identified herself as the Mother of God on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (to Juan Diego she said, “I am the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God….”). On the other, at Lourdes, she defined herself as “The Immaculate Conception” on that day which anticipates the Feast dedicated to that moment when she became the Mother of God. The clue to unraveling this mystery lies, I believe, in understanding the fact that to say that Mary was immaculately conceived is not the same as saying that she is The Immaculate Conception. To put it simply, Mary was immaculately conceived on December 8 (or 9) in order that she, in union with the Holy Spirit, might become The Immaculate Conception on March 25th. In other words, when Mary identified herself as The Immaculate Conception, she was identifying herself both as the Mother of God and the Mother of all those who are immaculately conceived through the saving waters of baptism. We must realize that, although the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb of her mother Anne is prior in time to the Annunciation, it is not prior causally or in God’s eternal plan. Mary was pre-redeemed by what took place at the Annunciation (the Incarnation, which according to St. Louis de Montfort, carried the grace and intention of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice)).
On the Feast of The Immaculate Conception, the Church applies to Mary the following verses from Proverbs: “The Lord possessed me in the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made. The depths were not as yet, and I was already conceived….I was with Him, forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world: and my delight was to be with the children of men.” (Prov 8:23-35). God’s time, in other words, is not necessarily our time. Mary was conceived immaculately in order that 1) she might immaculately conceive Jesus at the Annunciation and, 2) that she might also immaculately conceive within her spiritual womb all the future members of the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. Mary is therefore properly called The Immaculate Conception because she is, in union with the Holy Spirit, the source of all rebirth in Jesus Christ. She is the New Creation spoken of by Holy Scripture. This is simply to say that she truly is both Mother of Christ and Mother of all the redeemed.
The other half of this mystery is that Mary, as The Immaculate Conception, is already present from the moment of her own immaculate conception within the womb of her mother Anne. In God’s eternal Will, and in the fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit, she is already present as the Mother of God. And it is this which we also see in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Our Lady appears surrounded by what many have called the sun. It may indeed be seen as a sun. The Indians worshiped the sun, and this would certainly show them that she was more important than that physical sun. However, the rays of this sun do not radiate outwardly as do those of the physical sun. Rather, they seem to project and expand inwardly, touching, enfolding and embracing Mary. I believe that this “sun” is actually an image of the Holy Spirit (“Ray of Heavenly Light”, as he is called in the Litany of the Holy Ghost) overshadowing Our Blessed Mother at the very moment of the Incarnation. We may see in this, in other words, the fulfillment of the Angel Gabriel’s promise to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy One which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”
Further, this Ray of Heavenly Light gives forth the powerful image of fruitfulness. It has the appearance of the pith of a fruit which surrounds, sustains, and nourishes the growth of new life. It would seem that the image shows forth both mysteries at once: of Mary immaculately conceived, and Mary immaculately conceiving – both through the power and spousal love of the Holy Ghost.
Most astonishing to all who gaze on this image is the face of Mary. There is no image in the world that is as beautiful as this, for there is none other that so captures the souls intimate and total union with God in interior prayer. The Indians of course immediately knew that she was not God. Her hands are pressed in profound prayer, and gods do not pray. It was her face, however, which showed forth everything and attracted everyone. It was the face of an infinitely tender Mother, as expressed in her own words: “Listen and understand well my son, smallest of all, that you have no cause to be frightened and worried. Let your heart be troubled no longer, have no fear of that sickness, nor of any other sickness or sorrow. Is this not your mother here next to you? Are you not here in the shelter of my loving shadow? Am I not your health? Are you not safe here within my loving bosom? What else hast thou need of?” This face showed that, despite recent experience and history, their universe was one of light and not darkness, love rather than hate, beauty and not chaos – a world in which an Infinitely Good God and His Mother were the victors over the Evil Serpent (Our Lady is shown standing triumphantly on a burnt-out crescent moon – an image of the Serpent). Most important, it was a world in which man was called not just to witness, adore, and sacrifice to this God and His Goodness, but to be drawn into and fully participate in His abundant Life and Love. This was the face of love, of tenderness, of fullness of life, of rest and peace, of divine participation and knowledge. It was, in other words, the face of Wisdom.
All this, we now must realize, is the fruit of the marriage between Mary and the Holy Spirit. We simply cannot imagine God in any way using Mary for the production of the Incarnation. The Incarnation must therefore be the fruit of a total self-giving spousal love between the Holy Spirit and Mary. It is precisely this love and its fruition which are pictured in the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And because the Conception is Virginal and the Holy Spirit is pure Act without potentiality, the Marriage between the Holy Spirit and Mary and the Incarnation of Our Lord are therefore simultaneous, are depicted in sublime beauty in the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and form the content of what Mary meant when she said at Lourdes, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
The purpose of Mary’s becoming The Immaculate Conception is twofold: the humanization of God (the Word become flesh) and the divinization of man. In gazing upon the Image of Guadalupe, we are pre-eminently made aware of the transcendent destiny of the human person; we see, as St. Louis De Montfort says, “the divine Mary.” The divinization of man comes about through a full sharing in the very spousal love and fruition of God.
We have heard it said that the greatest act of God’s mercy occurred when He willed to become man and to suffer for man in order to raise him up from sin and death. It is further explained that Christ could have assumed human form without “being born of woman”, but that He did so in order fully to participate in human nature and experience.
There is however, another aspect to the mystery of Christ's Incarnation and God’s Mercy. It consists in this: that Christ willed that His Incarnation should be the fruit not only of Divine Love but also of a fully human love; so that, in the very act of the Incarnation, mankind (in the person of Mary) becomes a full sharer in that spousal divine love which brings Our Saviour into this world. Man thus becomes a full participant in that act which is, according to theologians, most proper to God, namely His Divine Mercy. To share in the inner life of God is, therefore, a continuous call to a love which deeply participates in God’s Merciful Love, and makes it incarnate in this world. What extraordinary beauty there is in all this, and what a revelation of the exalted calling and dignity of the human person in Jesus Christ! And what simplicity and startling unity in variety when we consider the various vocations to love, all of which are a call to a vocation of spiritual marriage – these vocations certainly varying in form, but united in that substantive love which is our common union with Christ. Further, it is almost as though Mary is the embodiment of this unity to be found in all three vocations which the Church recognizes: the virginal consecration of the religious, the child-bearing and family life of the married, and the consecrated love of a widowed lay person after the death of St. Joseph.
The above thoughts also reflect the words of Pope John Paul II: “An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us.” (On the Mercy of God, 14). Must we not dare apply this “rule of mercy” to God? If we do, then we may see the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as depicting this mutual gift of mercy by which Our Lord, in the very moment of that supreme Act of God’s Mercy which is called the Incarnation, is seen to be receiving mercy from His Blessed Mother. This merciful love in union with the Holy Spirit constitutes Mary’s definition of herself as The Immaculate Conception. And it is this spousal union with the Holy Spirit which results in the “divinization” of the human person, by which Jesus is fully formed within us and we are brought into brotherhood and sisterhood with Him. For this reason, in the Canticle of Canticles, the Bride is several times called “My sister, my spouse” Full adoption as brothers and sisters of Christ comes only through the spousal love between God and man which we call marriage. This is the Gift of Wisdom in our souls.
Finally, I would like to turn to an examination of that love which exists between man and woman in the Sacrament of Marriage. Pope John Paul II calls matrimony “the primordial sacrament of creation…which effectively transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden from eternity in God.” In the traditional prayer at the end of the nuptial Mass, the priest prays:
“…O God, who, by so excellent a mystery has consecrated the union of man and wife, as to foreshadow in this nuptial bond the union of Christ with His Church: O God, by whom Woman is joined to Man, and the partnership,ordained from the beginning, is endowed with such blessing that it alone was not withdrawn either by the punishment of original sin, nor the sentence of the flood….”
In considering these words of the Pope and the traditional liturgy it becomes easy to see why the Church has always recognized that the family is the basic unit of society, and that the health of any society is founded upon the love which exists between man and woman in the Sacrament of Marriage. It is also easy to recognize that as this love goes, so goes the Church. I therefore believe that a renewed theology of the Sacrament of Matrimony is essential to genuine renewal and reform in the Church. I further believe that this renewal must be based on an actuation of marriage as a vocation of love whose primary purpose is the building up of the Mystical Body and its union with Christ.
There is little doubt that we have imbibed a sort of false Manichaean dualism as regards the vocation of marriage in respect to the vocations of priestly and religious life. Put very simply, we tend to believe that whereas the life and love of a religious is for Christ, the love of husband of husband and wife is primarily for each other and their children. We must flatly state that if this were so, every marriage would be an act and institution of fundamental idolatry. The love between husband and wife and children must be primarily focused on God, or it is a violation of the First Commandment. The most concrete answer to this error is to be found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
“So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself.
For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it,as also Christ doth the church.
Because we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.
This is a great mystery (sacrament); but I speak in Christ and in the Church.” (Eph 5:28)
This passage reveals quite clearly that the primary purpose of the marriage between man and woman is for this cause of the nourishing, cherishing, and building up of the bond which exists between Christ and His Mystical Body the Church. Every single valid marriage is designed by God to participate in and image that spousal love which we have discovered in the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe – that love by which we and our children are conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, and consecrated unto Christ’s Mystical Body for the labor of the world’s sanctification.
It seems to me that the single greatest need of the world today is that a way be found for families, living in the midst of massive apostasy, to live this love which is demanded of us all. I do not believe that the laity will ever again be truly effective in this modern world unless they are provided with some means to divest themselves of their personal riches, and the further means of giving themselves totally to the Church in some way reminiscent of the early Christians and early Christian community. Christ instructed his followers to do so, and after Pentecost they did so by the thousands. The Gift of Wisdom is deeply tied to this total surrender of self to the merciful work of the Holy Spirit and the Church in this world. There is no reason why it cannot be done. What a difference it would make! We might work the same jobs, but with what different motives! We would have the best of both worlds: the security and support of the Church and one another, and the defeat of money’s powerful hold over our minds and hearts. And we would have the wonderful motivation of charity, the knowledge that every extra dollar not needed for the support of Christian community would go to the service of the poor, the conversion of souls, the care of the sick and dying, and all those works of mercy which would draw us deeper into the Heart of Christ. And our children – they would no longer be secure in our bank accounts, our properties, our college educations. They also would be secure in Christ. Do we believe that Christ will provide for all those who surrender all they have and follow Him? This is the ultimate test of our Faith, of whether we truly seek the Wisdom of God, the Peace of God, and the status of truly being children of God; or whether, on the other hand, we merely seek the comfort of a Faith which is professed with our lips but allows our hearts to remain in duplicity, ignorance, hardness, and coldness.
St. John Chrysostom, in commenting on the communities formed by the first Christians, said, “let all Christians live so now, and the whole world would be Christian.” The pagan world of Juan Diego looked upon the Face of Mercy and Wisdom incarnate in the simple Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and something like seven million people converted to Christ in the space of eight years. At that rate the conversion of the whole world should only require the reconversion of a few hundred Catholics to that charity which is the Gift of Wisdom and the simple demand of the Gospel.
In my articles concerning The War Against Being, I examined the contention of several Popes that the general apostasy and evils of modern times are the direct fruit of philosophical error. Here, in these examinations of the individual Gifts of the Holy Spirit and their corresponding Beatitudes, I have proposed that these philosophical errors were themselves the fruits of a much deeper infidelity to the living of the Christian vocation itself. It is therefore the final contention of this article that any attempt to explain the current crisis in the Church as being the result of the imposition of these errors from the top (by modernist bishops, priests, religious, theologians) upon the faithful, while being true, is also profoundly superficial. A careful examination of the Beatitudes and their corresponding Gifts of the Holy Spirit necessarily draws us to the conclusion that before the crisis which seems to have been precipitated by Vatican Council II, Catholics were almost universally living in deep prostitution to the values of the secular world, especially in their pursuit of the “mammon of iniquity.” We are therefore faced with the further conclusion that God could no longer allow such hypocrisy and that the taking away of entirely gratuitous gifts, including the Traditional Mass, was a chastisement well deserved. Vatican Council I teaches:
“That which the Prince of Shepherds and great shepherd of the sheep, Jesus Christ our Lord, established in the person of the Blessed Apostle Peter to secure the perpetual welfare and lasting good of the Church, must, by the same institution, necessarily remain unceasingly in the Church, which, being founded upon the Rock, will stand firm to the end of the world. For none can doubt, and it is known to all ages, that the holy and Blessed Peter, the Prince and chief of the Apostles, the pillar of the faith and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind, and lives, presides and judges to this day, always, in his successors the Bishops of the Holy See of Rome, which was founded by Him and consecrated by His Blood. Whence, whosoever succeeds to Peter in this See does by the institution of Christ Himself obtain the primacy of Peter over the whole Church. The disposition made by Incarnate Truth (dispositio veritatis) therefore remains, and Blessed Peter, abiding in the rock’s strength which he received (in accepta fortitudine petrae perseverans), has not abandoned the direction of the Church.”
Twenty-three years ago I converted to the Catholic Faith. Almost immediately I was aware of two things: the extraordinary way in which traditional Catholic teaching was being compromised and denied; and secondly, the discrepancy between the profundity of what I envisioned traditional Catholic worship to be, and the banality which accompanied contemporary worship. This necessarily included the awareness of the degree to which these awful transgressions of Catholic truth and worship were being imposed from the top down by the hierarchy of the Church.
I also absorbed the teaching of Holy Scripture and the whole import of the Incarnation that “God so loved the world as to give His only begotten Son”, that Christ desires the salvation of all men, and therefore does not in any way desire the death of the sinner. Faced with the indisputable fact that many souls (especially children) were being lost because of these scandals, I was faced with a very disturbing question: If God truly is merciful and desires the salvation of all men, why doesn’t He just “take” this priest, bishop, or even Pope, and give us another? It simply will not do to say that God just does not interfere in such a way. Any Catholic sensitive to historical realities knows for certain that there were saints, bishops, and Popes who were obviously special “graces” for the Church at certain times of historical necessity. At this particular moment in history, I could not help but focus on what I believed to be the millions of children who were being lost to the Catholic faith through these errors and banalities. And I could not help but ask, therefore, “Why doesn’t God do something?”
Any traditional Catholic faced with this question is bound to experience a profound internal confusion which reaches to the depths of his or her Catholic sense of the Faith, and actually to the depths of that most fundamental of questions as to whether God really is Infinitely Good. It certainly is true that God is not bound to give us every extraordinary grace for our salvation and the salvation of our children; but it certainly is enormously difficult for us to make any sense out of Our Lord’s statement, “I will be with you even unto the consummation of the world,” if it appears that He has simply abandoned the Church in this period of history to the machinations and foibles of what appears in very many cases to be its worst members.
I think that in this situation we are faced with only two choices in regard to God’s providential direction of the Church. The first is simply this: that God’s direction of the Church is indeed very limited – circumscribed by that infallibility of teaching on truth and morals which constitutes the charism of the Infallible Magisterium. Under this interpretation of things, virtually everything else regarding Church government and discipline is open to the vagaries of human freedom.
Our second choice is to believe that, in the words of Vatican I, Peter (through Christ) “lives, presides, and judges to this day, always is his successors the Bishops of Rome…”, and that he “has not abandoned the direction of the Church.” If we accept this Church teaching, then I would suggest that we are forced into accepting the fact that Christ is directing and “orienting” the Church in such a way as to be a chastisement upon us. At this point, then, we are faced with an absolutely radical shift in our questioning. Instead of, “Why doesn’t God do something?”, we are forced to ask, What have we done to deserve this?”
Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote that “Divine Justice provides shepherds according to the just deserts of the faithful.” If we believe this statement, which in itself is only a powerful and succinct summary of what Vatican I teaches, then several things follow of necessity. If we have a Pope who is in any way sinful or weak, then that infirmity must be intimately connected within the Mystical Body of Christ to our own hypocrisy, duplicity, and sinfulness. The same may be said of the hierarchy in general. This, of course, does not excuse bishops, priests, religious, theologians, catechists, etc. from sins, nor disallow us from combating error and abuses. It does, however, profoundly deepen our understanding of the roots of such sin, and also our proper response to it. Most of all, it forces us to acknowledge our complicity in this immense tragedy; and, hopefully, especially in the light of our exploration and study of the Beatitudes, it should teach us humility, and destroy some conceits. In such humility, we might begin to find the answer, as did Daniel the Prophet:
“All this evil is come upon us; and we entreated not thy face, O Lord our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and think on thy truth. And the Lord hath watched upon the evil, and hath brought it upon us: the Lord our God is just in all his works which he hath done: for we have not hearkened to his voice….we have sinned, we have committed iniquity….For by reason of our sins, and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem, and thy people are a reproach to all that are round about us. Now therefore, O our Lord, hear the supplication of thy servant, and his prayers: and shew thy face upon thy sanctuary which is desolate, for thy own sake.”
Daniel has always seemed the premier Old Testament image of purity and sainthood. The scriptures repeatedly call him the “man of desires”, as though to underline the singular way in which his mind and heart were united to God, and therefore possessed that understanding which truly “sees God.” Daniel never says “they have sinned”, but repeatedly “we have sinned, we have committed iniquity.”
The man who lives in fidelity to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes simply attains to such a state of charity with God and all His creation that he sees things very differently. This does not mean that he loses his ability to discern sin, or the lack of fortitude and righteous desire to combat it. It does mean that he penetrates to such a depth into the merciful heart of Christ and also into the poverty of every single human being, including himself, that he cannot help but say we have sinned many more times each day than they have sinned. This seems to me something which those who call themselves traditional Catholics, and consider themselves as a remnant of God in a world turned to general apostasy, have largely yet to learn. I do not know that in any of my reading of contemporary traditionalist literature I have ever seen the question asked, “What have we done wrong?”
It is the contention of this article that an honest reading of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount should make the answer clear. It should also direct us to the solution. As always with God, where there is the proper will, there is the Way.