The Task Before Us (continued)
The person with eyes to see the spiritual warfare. A warfare which shows itself in conflict and division against a supernatural faith does not loose heart. He resists a secular mindset whos diversionary tactics are to find refuge in political ideology or simple avoidance by a negative silence. When faced with the truth delivered to the Saints there are those within the body of the Church who actively seek to recreate a new Church in their own image. The action of the Deceiver is to clothe himself in a semblance of reasonableness. In safeguarding the Traditional Catholic Faith the man of faith does not waste his energy but makes full use of the spiritual weapons given to us which the enemy lacks.
Penance and prayer
Love of the Holy Mass
Practise of the moral virtues
These are the weapons which help us in our daily counter-revolutionary struggle. Indeed, we find a mention of this struggle in Holy Scripture itself. St John, under the dictation of "He that hath the seven spirits of God and the seven stars", that is, under the dictation of Our Lord, addresses himself to the Angel of the Church of Sardis by saying "Esto vigilens et confirma quae moritura errant" which means "Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, which are ready to die" (Apoc 3:2)
It is our sacred duty to protect "the things that remain", the unbroken cord of Apostolic tradition and faith. For when the Master comes it is necessary that He finds us vigilant. Those that understand God's plan and who seek to comply with it, form, one will agree, "the few" to whom Our Lady of Salette appeals when she says "Fight, children of light, you, the few who can see".
What is the significance of this few, in terms of the supernatural order, and what can one expect of it in our earthly fight? God always gives strength to the few when humanly speaking it all seems lost. Often to a single man For example Moses had only his staff, and his faith, to take the Hebrews out of Egypt. David too, had only his sling and faith to overcome Goliath. Also, at the time of the incarnation, a single family was perfect, the Holy Family, the head of which was St Joseph.
So for us God has given us the weapon of prayer to which must be added penance which gives wings to prayer.
Our Lady has shown herself to us by her solicitude and anxiety in the face of the rise of iniquity so that we would not lose heart. By the prophetic words she gave us at Fatima. She consoles her little ones and fulfils before us the celebrated prophecy contained in the Canticle of Canticles:
"who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array" (Cof .6a)
The Task Before Us.
When we talk of the crisis of the faith in our times, when we desire the true renewal of Christian life we must not put or hope in any outward solution. For the struggle in which we are engaged is a spiritual one against the heresy of Modernism. This system of thought believes that the Church must accommodate itself to the world by changing the essentials of faith given to us by Our Lord in sacred scripture and tradition. It finds refuge in endless changes and projects, always avoiding a truly supernatural faith as witnessed in the lives of the Saints. Of the unknown saints, the good and humble men and women of the past, who lives their lives in humility and hiddenness.
The face of the Church is the face of Christ and it is a thing of beauty. No Church reform that is not faithful to tradition, to a supernatural faith, can draw souls to that beauty. Rather a distoration a rupture takes place. Nothing lasting has or will come from this as we see all around us. The springtime of renewal that was promised decades ago has become the chill winter of discontent. Everywhere the "experts" began making change after change thinking in making a pact with the values of the world it would win respect and be listened to in the marketplace of babel.
The way to go is another: "Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls"
The way of the ancient path is that of working every day in the education of souls to live the Mass faithful to holy tradition. To help everyone to understand its sublime beauty, the face of Christ.
Intelligent fervent priests are needed, able in prayer, study and sacrifice to teach, help and support their people to rediscover this divine beauty so that they can strive to be saints passionate for the work of God.
Human games of continuous change are the sign of the bored man, always in search for the latest novelty, always restless, never still, fearing the silence of the Divine gaze.
There is nothing external that can replace our conversion to sincere personal devotion, to an authentic love of Christ. Our conversion, however, worked through grace, will spring from the prayer of the Church which Tradition has given us and which is the prayer of Christ Himself.
People raise every conceivable kind of objection to making their Confession, and give a hundred reasons. I can give you another hundred, but they are completely useless and I can tell you where they come from. They come straight from the devil, the father of lies, who tempts us to think that we are in complete control of our destiny. The sin of our first parents was the sin of pride. All sin is pride and that pride makes us resist the light of the Holy Spirit that searches our inmost conscience. We fear surrendering ourselves, we fear inward changes even though it will give us freedom from the burden of an unexamined life. I can't make anyone go to Confession, I can't make them have a shower, but I know it is a good thing to have a shower and I know it is a good thing to go to Confession. Our Lord wants to make us clean from the odour of sin. For this odour impairs our relationship in knowing Him and loving Him.
All I can do, as any other priest, is to tell you that this Sacrament of the Lords healing and mercy helps us to grow in holiness. Daily examination of conscience will help us prepare to come to this sacrament. There is nothing to fear if you have been away from Confession for a long time for the priest is there to help and guide you. Remember there is no sin that the Saviour cannot forgive if you are truly sorry and make a commitment to a new beginning. It is not the number of sins that matters but knowing our need of the Lords healing and forgiveness that sets us free. And this I know, that every priest on the day of his personal judgement will be asked this question by the Lord: "Did you teach the people this way of forgiveness?".
What is it then, to be a priest? (part 3)
The Mass is the Sacred Action of the whole Church in a particular place and moment in time. It is the offering that Christ has made by his Passion upon the Cross and the fruit of that Sacrifice is that a new relationship between us and the Blessed Trinity has come about in a new Covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus. This is an eternal offering made once and for all time, the graces of which continue in time and beyond it. It's effects hold out the promise of eternity. That is the intimate union with God which is mans destiny.
The mediation of grace through the Sacraments comes through the hands of the priest, in Persona Christi. On the human level this is an awesome responsibility because the priest is a sinner like everyone else. But the path of his own particular call to holiness is in being faithful to the call to "feed my sheep". His call is to give only what Christ gives. God chooses the weak and makes them strong if they are faithful to Him in love and service. He must preach and teach a supernatural faith so that he can be a signpost to mans eternal destiny. He cannot afford to be trapped in the worldiness of the world for his mission is to draw all souls to Christ.
It is true that he has many things to do each day and he must use that time well for it is given to him on trust. An internal discipline, formed by a life of prayer, will give him the discernment to know how to respond to his peoples needs. But whatever he does there is one fundamental thing that underlines every moment of every day, what St. Francis de Sales declares,
"at every moment of the day I am preparing myself to celebrate Mass".
What is it then to be a priest? (part 2)
The calling to the priesthood is a calling to spiritual Fatherhood through the love of the Heart of Jesus in the Body of the Church. As a Father the priest must follow the command of the Lord to "feed my sheep". When the Lord asked Peter three times, "Do you love me?", and Peter said "yes", the condition of that love was "feed my sheep". The priest follows the Good Shepherd by service and sacrifice. He is not himself because he is the servant and minister of Christ. Any by his Fatherhood he is the spouse of the Church. And so far as he does not understand that he is like the hired man who has no concern for the sheep. He just gives himself (stones) when his children ask for the True Bread (Christ).
But the priest who understands the depth and mystery of his calling has no fear in speaking the Truth in love. He is prepared to risk everything because God has given him everything.
In himself he is nothing so that in Christ he may be everything.
In all his lifes journey, despite all difficulties, he feels the hand of God upon him, waiting patiently at his side. In the secret harbour of the Sacred Heart of the Lord he finds rest and peace. Safe from error and the assaults of the Evil One, he is renewed and refreshed.
We are all dependant upon one another in some way. The meaning of all life only makes sense in relation to others. A child is utterly dependant on it's mother for food. Food that makes life grow. As adults, in a spiritual sense, we are utterly dependant upon our Creator and Redeemer, who gives us life, both physically and spiritually. We cannot understand the nature of His giving unless we make space within ourselves for Him to enter. A quiet recollected mind receives that Divine giving. This giving is a movement from God who gives, to us who receive or put it another way, a movement from contemplation to action . St Thomas Aquinas states that the highest spiritual perfection consists in this movement. This is shown, for example in the Gospel account of Mary and Martha. Martha's activity was not wrong, rather Our Lord says that we must begin from a state of receptivity to purposeful activity.
The essence of all worship begins in this way. Above all, in the Holy Mass we are fed with that which is given, the Bread of Life, that has come into the world. We do not take to ourselves that which we can barely understand but we receive it in child-like trust.
The Mass is always a communal act, it is the action of Christ Himself as head of the body, that is mediated through the hands of the Priest. The prolongation in time of the incarnation. Therefore the attention of the Priest and people does not lie in each other but upon the altar.
What is it, to be a priest?
This is an important question. We might say that a faithful Catholic priest allows all the little children to come to Christ (are we not all children?), and strives to enable everyone he meets to live and die in the state of sanctifying grace. A priest who tries to consider everyone whom God's Providence puts into his life to be his own potential companion in the way of the Vita Aeterna - in Beatitude - if he and they also both faithfully persevere unto the end, in Grace. For he knows that the gift of final perseverance is itself a great gift. That gift of God is never to be presumed upon. Until the moment of our death, we retain the permanent possibility of voluntarily defection from Divine Grace and from God Himself: in what Dante called "the Great Refusal". Such is the terrible gift of our human freedom, for we can only love God freely. It cannot be forced.
He must be a witness. A man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences. This view is rooted in the incarnation and the incarnation's continuation in the Seven Sacraments of Christ; especially in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where the Eternal Himself intersects with Time, where the Sacred Mystery and Concrete Intimacy are graciously joined. Such is the Sacred action of the Mass. The Universal is present in the Particular. It is also present to our senses, especially in the Mass's sacramental visibility which elevates and draws us into our contemplation of God, with love. That is to say, from the visible to the invisible beauty, the heart with love is raised in rapt attention to God.
The humble Cure of Ars does not, in his humility, realise that his own "spiritual childhood" would awaken the souls of his little village to a greater life of grace. But the cost is at times heavy. Faced with apathy, boredom and a lukewarm response to his pastoral care, he identifies with Our Lord's mental and moral agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He is a man for others, a father and shepherd of his flock whose joys and sorrows he shares. Aware of his deflects and sins, he is an instrument by virtue of God's calling to teach, govern and sanctify his people, continuing in time the same work of Jesus Christ . Whatever his personality and human skills may be, he knows that they are dependent on Divine Grace.
We have to do all we can to preserve the inner silence that brings peace to our souls. If we really want to follow the Lord we will thirst for the water that Jesus wants to give us. Knowing and loving God is something that demands time and attention. Whatever is going on outwardly in our life, He wishes to pour into us the fullness of His peace. When we are still and at peace there comes the bliss of something that cannot be put into words. Life for many is stressful and busy. In that case, each evening before going to sleep, examine your conscience and see how much you can change by God's grace. Do not put things off , for the cycle of entanglements will continue. A calm and reflective self-examination will help us deal with attachments to the world, the flesh and the devil. When you are eating, eat. When you are going for a walk, walk. Don't say "I must be doing something else". What is important is not so much what we are doing but whether we give our calm and unhurried attention to it. For the eternity of God in this life is Now, in the present moment. That is all we have, For all is His gift.
We can find God in everything. We do not have to try for He simply IS. His presence fills the whole universe and pervades every creature. Our concern should not be to reach some exalted spiritual state but to begin where we are. To see that he gives Himself to us in everything even though we may not always be aware of His presence. But to know the truth of the fact. If we know deep down, this knowing will bring with it a quality of listening. A listening beyond the ordinary. Listening that brings about, through the light of the Holy Spirit , a compassionate awareness. Everything we experience in life, however onerous or unappealing, is a message of God's will. Sometimes that can be hard to see or accept. On closer analysis it is pride and self will that stops us letting go and trusting with a child-like simplicity, His holy will. Just as Jesus came to do the will of His Father, through His self-sacrifice and suffering, He also teaches us to say "Thy Will be done". We must wait in peace and without anxiety, simply fixing our gaze on Him and our own nothingness. Happy is the person who knows he is nothing. This seems to go against everything we feel. But from that seeming nothingness the mysterious gift of the Holy Spirit makes all things new.
We exist so often on the surface of things, satisfied with so little. The brain is forever active, making sense of what we experience. In a sense it is sorting out information. But the imagination is a different thing. That is why we must try gently to bring it into a state of control. A quiet and compassionate mind brings with it simplicity and clarity to see beyond the surface. To live this way gives the soul the space to receive the warmth and flame of the Holy Spirit. Distractions in prayer do not mean that we not praying deeply. Like a good parent who gives a child a toy, we give the mind something to occupy it when it is restless. Try saying a short prayer like the Our Father or Hail Mary as slowly as you can, and this will bring you again into calmer waters. The Holy Spirit prays in us, and whether it is by word or in silence, it is the same Spirit praying in us. He is really touching different strings of the same instrument. And do not be discouraged that you do not feel anything at the time, but whether afterwards you feel better and more determined to serve God. We are on the same journey together. It is a great adventure, to be led by the hand of the Lord.