Roughly four years ago I was in a late-night discussion with a Baptist friend when our attention turned to the subject of hell. I wondered aloud what would happen if a soul in hell legitimately turned to God with a contrite heart and pleaded for forgiveness. My assertion was that it is entirely possible that exceptions could be made by an infinitely merciful and loving God who dispenses perfect justice.
My friend (in a tactful way) said that I was being absurd and cited numerous biblical passages to buttress his point.
Enter stage right, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, author of 1988’s Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?
As Fr. Robert Barron says on the back cover of a 2014 reprinting:
“Critics contend that von Balthasar espouses universalism, the idea that all men will certainly be saved. Yet, as von Balthasar insists, damnation is a real possibility for anyone. Indeed, he explores the nature of damnation with sobering clarity. At the same time, he contends that a deep understanding of God’s merciful love and human freedom, and a careful reading of the Catholic tradition, point to the possibility — not the certainty — that, in the end, all men will accept salvation Christ won for all. For this all-embracing salvation, von Balthasar says, we may dare hope, we must pray and with God’s help we must work.”
Perhaps the impetus for my conclusions come from repeated dreams with a friend who died in an ATV accident. We were raised Catholic, but it was my understanding that he drifted away from the Church and somewhere along the line decided that he did not believe in God. In my dreams he comes to me, and when I tell him that he is dead he gets a frightened expression on his face and runs away — often exploding in a ghostly mist when he hits a nearby door or wall. (Note: I get chills when I think or write about these dreams.)
My reaction to these experiences has always been to pray for my friend’s soul because at the end of the day I have zero knowledge about his ultimate fate. If he is in hell, then do I have an obligation to pray for him? If he is consigned to eternal separation from God, then may I pray to ease his suffering?
I do not believe that God would send me on a fool’s errand; therefore, I have to believe that the urge to pray for my friend’s soul — whatever has become of him — has deep meaning.
Furthermore, it seems to me as though Søren Kierkegaard offers an incredibly wise blueprint for how a Christian man should think:
“Telling other people … ‘You are eternally lost’ is something I cannot do. As far as I am concerned, the situation is that all the others will, of course, go to heaven; the only doubt is whether I shall get there.'”
What he says is something that is perpetually at the forefront of my mind: No matter how hard we try, at the end of the day we are all unworthy to stand before God. Pure justice in the earthly sense of the word would require all of us to be banished to hell; it is only God’s infinite love and mercy that saves. Given that, why would I ever tell another man that he is destined for eternal damnation?
It seems to me that when a man constructs a moral pedestal high enough to proclaim that others are destined for hell that all he has really done is create a personal high-dive into “the lake of fire.”
Von Balthasar puts it far more eloquently than I could when he observes:
“It can be taken as a motif running through the history of theology that, whenever one fills hell with a massa damnata of sinners, one also, through some kind of conscious or unconscious trick (perhaps cautiously, and yet reassuredly), places oneself on the other side,” (152).
Additionally (and I believe this is of utmost importance):
“The strong Christian would have to endure the tension and ‘prepare himself seriously for the possibility of himself being among the rejected. Love of God first shows itself in its full purity only when one affirms God’s will even though it destroys one’s own happiness,” (155).
There is much more to say, but for brevity’s sake I will simply recommend reading Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? if this post has piqued your interest. It’s a fascinating book for all Christians — and those non-Christians who honestly want to better understand the faith.
One of the most comforting feelings for individuals who have deeply thought about their faith is to find serious minds who came to similar conclusions. Top-tier intellectuals articulate complex ideas with a clarity and eloquence that makes readers sigh with relief and exclaim — “I think I’m on the right track!”
Hans Urs von Balthasar’s The Christian and Anxiety is one such example for this blogger.
“Inasmuch as the accomplished salvation remains eschatological and the sinner is still journeying toward perfect righteousness, then to some extent the twilight between ‘fear and hope’, or, to put it more clearly, between the sinner’s fear of God and of condemnation and the believer’s hope for salvation, will never be completely illuminated. Does not the New Testament foster this twilight by strengthening both the promise and the threat and making them definitive? Yet, in so doing, which requires anyone who stands in its force field to endure a superhuman tension (to fear in earnest and to hope simultaneously, to be certain yet to leave everything in suspense), has it not overstrained the human soul by winding its powers too tightly? Is it feasible to live within this contradiction? […] Does not the Christian who takes sin and salvation seriously get lost in a dialectic with no exit, in which each increase in grace brings forth an increase in unworthiness, even guilt, so that in this tangled thicket religion becomes the real inferno? …
Christianity cannot be blamed for this loss of footing; it has to be laid at the door of the man who does not want to take Christianity seriously. Christianity offers man, not a bottomless pit, but solid ground — grounding in God, of course, and not in self. To place oneself on this solid ground involves relinquishing one’s own ground. The sinner wants to stand on his own, not on God. And whoever tries to stand both on God and on his own is sure to fall into the bottomless space in between. …
The uneasy conscious that many Christians have, and the anxiety based on it, do not come about because they are sinners and backsliders but because they have stopped believing in the truth and efficacy of their beliefs; they measure the power of faith by their own weakness, they project God’s world into their own psychological makeup instead of letting God measure them. […] They lie down to rest in the chasm between the demands of Christianity and their own failure, in a chasm that, for a Christian, is no place at all.” — Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Christian and Anxiety.
I, like anyone else who honestly wants to become a better person, found myself at some point looking for ways to monitor my progress — a “goodness barometer” of sorts. That is extremely difficult for a Christian because the benchmark for most people is, “What is the guy next to me like? How do I compare to my neighbors? How do I compare to my local politicians? How do I compare to the president?” And so on and and so forth.
All that, however, is irrelevant. We cannot see into another man’s heart and soul, and therefore it is spiritually dangerous to compare yourself to those around you. The only soul you can ever read is your own — and even then we often use our minds as a vehicle for self-deception.
Who, then, is the proper litmus test for spiritual progress? Answer: Christ.
And that, dear reader, is where the chasm von Balthasar mentions comes in. On many levels, your entire life is just a one-on-one conversation with God. The clearer God becomes to you, the more of your own blemishes you will see — and that can be terrifying.
The challenge for Christians is to keep their eyes focused on God while walking toward Him, because when one looks down into the chasm of their own wickedness for too long the experience can mutate from something humbling into something crippling.
There is much more to say, but for now I will just suggest reading The Christian and Anxiety if this is a topic that has ever concerned you. Von Balthasar is a brilliant man, and I have no doubt that if you read his works then your faith will be strengthened by the experience.
My wife was working an overnight shift not long ago and I had the apartment all to myself. I used that time to think about my love for her and, more specifically, the metaphysical price of that love. I thought about how my love grows exponentially with each year that passes, the grief I would feel if she died tomorrow, and then marveled at the level of suffering that awaits the first one of us to pass away many decades (I hope) from now.
Translation: The price of love is sorrow. We are all debtors to love. There is no escaping it, and anyone who truly engages in such a conscious act of the will towards another human being must pay the bill.
Given this truth, it is reasonable to conclude that many of the perpetually angry people you encounter on a day-to-day basis (whether online or in person) take on that state as a kind of defense mechanism. They may not even be conscious of it, but on multiple levels they are scared of sorrow and, by extension, terrified of truth.
“Okay Doug, that’s all well and good,” you say. “But why is this relevant to my life?”
The answer, dear reader, is that how you answer life’s big question — “Why are we here?” — will determine how you absorb and process the inevitable love-born sorrows to come. If the love within us is infinite (while paradoxically being able to grow within our finite bodies), then a commensurate level of pain will ensue as a result of losing a spouse or a child. If you have not seriously pondered the aforementioned question, then it behooves you to begin now, as on some level you too are running from truth.
The longer a man runs from the truth, the more likely it is that his final destination will be a place of hatred, anger, and spiritual unrest.
The follow-up response now becomes, “Okay Doug, but how do you plan on absorbing grief?”
This is where I humbly submit to my non-Catholic friends that all I have is an answer as viewed through my own faith. Even if you do not agree with my conclusions, I hope that there is something — no matter how small — that helps to comfort you in the years to come.
It is my assertion that many American preachers you see on television who subscribe to what has been called the “prosperity gospel” are, besides perverting the Christian faith, setting people up for spiritual and psychological failure. They want to experience the Glory of God without the Cross. They weirdly stress the idea that material wealth springs from faith in the Lord when, in actuality, one should dwell in the Crucifixion of Christ: It is through the Passion that we gain self-knowledge and (although counter-intuitive to non-believers), peace and joy.
“The willing desire to bear every pain, even death, for the salvation of souls is very pleasing to me. The more the soul endures, the more it shows that it loves me. By loving me, it comes to know more of my truth. The more it knows, the more pain and intolerable grief it feels at the sins committed by others against me.
You asked me to sustain you and to punish the faults of others in you. You did not say that you were really asking for love, light, and knowledge of the truth. I have already told you that as love increases so do grief and pain. Those of you who grow in love also grow in sadness. I say to you all, if you ask, I will give it to you, for I do not deny anything to the one who asks of me in truth.
The love of divine charity is so closely joined in the soul with perfect patience that neither can leave the soul without the other. If the soul chooses to love me, it should choose also to endure pains for me in whatever way that I send them. Patience cannot be proved in any way other than suffering, and patience is united with love.”
There is much more to unpack here than a single blog post would ever allow, but for brevity’s sake let me once again reiterate that anyone who wants to fully experience love must also willingly accept that they can only do so by embracing pain, suffering, and sorrow.
A Catholic man knows that when he suffers for love — true love — he can rest easy, as he is being drawn closer to Christ on the Cross.
Last night my church had a presentation on the Internet and social media. I attended because I thought my job (and the many hours it requires me to be online) might give me some insights into the subject that may benefit others. The Sacrament of Reconciliation was offered afterward, which got me thinking about a time in my life when I embarrassingly yelled at God — and the lesson that followed shortly afterward.
Roughly six years ago, my life was filled with many personal and professional transitions. There were stresses involved, and on one bad day I pulled the car over to the side of the road and screamed, “What the f***! I’m just trying to be a good person! What the F***! Why are you doing this to me?!”
Without going into details, something I would deem miraculous happened following that outburst, which would lead me to believe the following: We weren’t mean to “just” be “a good person” because we were meant to be saints. We obviously cannot all die as saints, but that is what we must strive to be.
We live in a world where the Internet is omnipresent and the rule of thumb is that it gives us what we want faster … and faster … and faster. Anything you crave, the Internet can provide in a hurry. If you want to be a saint, you have access to all of their wisdom. If you want to explore all sorts of fiendish behavior, then your desire is just a click away. Whatever you want to put into the infinite caverns of your heart, social media can supply — good, evil; love, hate; peace, violence; temperance, concupiscence, and on and on.
The point is that “just” being “a good person” is never good enough, but especially not in a world where technology allows for hyper-exposure to our worst vices. Perverts become hyper-perverts. Partisans become hyper-partisans. Rage is intensified, and flesh’s already-ravenous desire for flesh is awash in images of bodies … and bodies … and bodies.
It is my prediction that in the years ahead you will see a small cadre of rare spiritual pearls emerge within a black sea of ghouls already torturing and raping people live on social media, beheading people in the Middle East and North Africa, and living only for hate.
That is why “just” being “a good person” is not good enough. From all sides you are being bombarded with spiritual blows to sap and warp your will. Invisible sludge is being thrown in your spiritual eyes and shoved down your throat because in time it blinds a man and clogs the arteries of his soul.
The answer to all of this is to strive — every day — to become more like the saints. The process is painful, but it is a good pain. I promise.
Perhaps the best way to explain the spiritual growth that is needed in this time and this place in history, I should point to the old bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Witness the physical and emotional strain he imposed upon himself while sculpting the perfect body and winning the Mr. Olympia title. Anyone who exercises knows that pushing the body — the finite body — to its limits is painful. Now consider doing that to the spirit, which is infinite.
Virtue is something that is very real and tangible, despite being invisible. It paradoxically has a kind of mass and a weight to it even though it’s not something that can ever be measured. The reason for this is because virtue is part of the realm of the infinite. The human heart contains conduits to the infinite — chambers to the divine, if you will — but your body as a whole is, again, finite. That is why as one grows in spirit it often feels like his body is under enormous strain.
Like the weightlifter who adds more iron to his routine, the man or woman who engages in strenuous spiritual exercise brings themselves to tears. The difference is that instead of muscle breaking down and building up, the soul often feels like it is being torn asunder. In some ways it is, because its worst elements are being ripped off and replaced with that which is good and pure.
If you’re wondering why sin does not produce similar experiences, it is because that behavior produces a kind of spiritual atrophy. Just as a man often does not feel the pain of a slothful lifestyle until diseases like diabetes set in, the soul can shrivel in slow and steady increments.
We are living in a very unique time in history. Every year it seems as though technology improves by leaps and bounds. Each new milestone brings with it enormous potential for spiritual growth or decay. It is my hope that you realize that aiming to be “a good person” is like shooting for the the outer ring of the bullseye in a game of darts — only life is not a game and the consequences of your actions here and now have eternal consequences.
If you push yourself each day to live as a saint, then I have no doubt in my mind that upon your death you will be welcomed home by the one true God who loved you in eternity well before you were cradled, in time and space, in your mother’s arms.
Fans of The Amazing Spider-Man plopped down $10 this week to read the start of The Osborn Identity, which was jam-packed with extra stories (some of them not so good). While your friendly neighborhood blogger is happy to talk about the issue as a whole, one exchange in the main story stuck out for the anti-faith claptrap that writer Dan Slott shoved into Peter Parker’s mouth.
Since this issue takes place after The Clone Conspiracy, Peter Parker goes to check on reporter Betty Brant to see how she’s doing. She mentions seeing a spiritual advisor and possibly bringing Aunt May along since her second husband just passed away, to which the hero replies:
“You’re a reporter. You live for facts. When did you start looking to the spirit world?“
Note that at this point Peter knew nothing about Betty receiving phone calls from the clone of her deceased husband. All he knew as that she wanted to see a spiritual advisor. And his response? A condescending remark that people who deal in “facts” should not be turning to spiritual advisors.
Spider-Man fans who subjected themselves to Jose Molina’s atrocious Amazing Grace will note how he also infused Peter with anti-faith smugness. In 2016, however, the message was that faith in God and science are somehow at odds, which is not true at all (my guess is that Dan Slott and Jose Molina have never even heard of Georges Lemaître, for example, but I digress).
What makes Dan Slott’s decision so weird, as has been stated before, is that it makes even more sense in the Marvel Universe for people to believe in the supernatural because citizens witness it on a regular basis. Peter has literally been to the astral plane, dealt with demons, and knows first-hand that they exist, and yet Dan Slott makes him act like a callous jerk towards a friend who is spiritual.
The absurdity of Peter’s statement is made even more bizarre when, moments earlier, he is seen talking to “Uncle Ben” — a dead man — at his grave. Why would scientists and reporters and superheroes talk to long-dead relatives unless they believed that on a spiritual level their words were being heard?
And why would Peter behave like such a jerk towards Ms. Brant when Amazing Grace ended with a meeting between he and a priest — “Hey, Father. You got a minute?”
Here are some historical “facts” for Dan Slott.
- There was once a man named Jesus who made some pretty “bold” claims (Understatement of All Time Award material, I know.)
- Jesus was crucified — just as he foretold — for those claims.
- Jesus’ enemies were so terrified of Him that they literally entombed his corpse behind a giant rock and used an armed guard to watch over it. (Yes, an armed guard for a dead body.)
- Christ’s own disciples, from a historical perspective, had every reason in the world to say, “Well, I guess it’s over,” after he was executed. False prophets came before him, and all their movements soon died with the individual. But these apostles didn’t turn in the towel. They too were eventually executed for telling all the world that Jesus rose from the dead. They traveled far and wide to tell everyone who would listen that they saw him, that they literally put their hands in his wounds, and that He is exactly who He claimed to be.
I can go on and on (What came before the Big Bang, Dan Slott?), but the point is this: Peter Parker would never behave the way he did in that scene with Ms. Brant because it was a total jerk thing to say. If you think that he would say that — despite hanging on occasion with Doctor Strange … traveling throughout the multi-verse … and generally dealing with the supernatural on a regular basis, then good luck making that case.
If Dan Slott is not a religious man, then that is his prerogative, but he should not turn Peter Parker into a condescending jerk when a story delves into spiritual matters.
With that said, I highly suggest checking out Stillanerd’s review of ASM #25 over at Whatever A Spider Can.
I should also mention that the two of us will be discussing the craft of writing (through an ASM prism) on my YouTube channel on Saturday, March 25. As of now we plan on starting at 3 p.m. EST. Make sure to subscribe and hit YouTube’s little bell icon to receive a notification when we go live.
Not too long ago I was sitting at the kitchen table with my wife after Mass and she told me that I seemed restless. I agreed, and when we started to dig down into the reasons why, one of them was the kind of “dumbed down” Catholicism that Bishop Robert Barron criticizes so eloquently on his YouTube channel.
I sometimes sit in Church on Sunday and listen to our priest deliver the same New York Jets joke that he has used at least three times in the last 18 months. I’ll hear another priest tell well-prepared homilies that seem to concentrate on feel-goodisms (e.g., “Make someone smile and you’ll bring them closer to God”), instead of anything substantive. It’s maddening to know that there is a wealth of intellectual treasures in the Catholic Church, but for some weird reason priests never seem to challenge people in the pews to pick up a good book and read.
It boggles my mind that I have never — in nearly 38 years — heard a priest on Sunday tell me to read Saint Augustine’s Confessions, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas, or a whole host of intellectual giants who have helped me over the years to understand my faith on a deeper level — and to cogently share it with those in my circle of friends. I searched out the above-mentioned authors because at some point in time I realized that I had to take as much personal responsibility with my spiritual health as I have with my physical and mental development over the years.
And it is here, dear reader, where Trappist monk Thomas Merton enters the equation. Long story short, his autobiography is a must-read for anyone who has drifted away from the Church because they received too many helpings of “dumbed down Catholicism” without realizing how much stimulating content was within reach.
Regular readers know that I am a huge fan of Saint Augustine’s Confessions and now they know that I fully endorse Merton. But what they don’t know is that one of the reasons these men resonate with me is because the flaws they both acknowledge — their spiritual deficiencies — have been my own.
“Where was my will? ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,’ and I had not laid up any treasures for myself in heaven. They were all on earth. I wanted to be a writer, a poet, a critic, a professor. I wanted to enjoy all kinds of pleasures of the intellect and of the senses and in order to have these pleasures I did not hesitate to place myself in situations which I knew would end in spiritual disaster — although generally I was so blinded by my own appetites that I never even clearly considered this fact until it was too late, and the damage was done.
Of course, as far as my ambitions went, their objects were all right in themselves. There is nothing wrong in being a writer or a poet — at least I hope there is not: but the harm lies in wanting to be one for the gratification of one’s own ambitions, and merely in order to bring oneself up to the level demanded by his own internal self-idolatry. Because I was writing for myself and for the world, the things I wrote were rank with the passions and selfishness and sin from which they sprang. An evil tree brings forth evil fruits, when it brings forth fruit at all,” (Merton, Thomas. 253).
Who knew that a deceased monk could peg me to the wall and make me weep like no man who walks the earth? You exposed me to all the world, Thomas Merton. Touché! But I thank you, because I am better for it.
The point here is not so much to treat this blog as a confessional booth (although in many ways it is), but to point out just how imperative it is to read the best and the brightest that has ever been written. If you really want to see spiritual growth, then you must put in the same type of time and effort that you do with any other endeavor deemed important.
If you are a Catholic or a lapsed Catholic, then I highly recommend Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. If you are not Catholic but you are interested in exploring this kind of subject matter, then I would start out with C.S. Lewis since it’s easier to step into a warm bath than a brisk pool.
Regardless which route you take, the point remains: Get reading!
George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic is a wonderful book, but oddly enough I must begin this review by griping about the title — it’s something that Catholics of any age should read. In fact, the publisher does not lie by billing the book as “a modern spiritual classic,” which is why I recommend it to anyone who is interested in such issues.
Like many Catholic kids, my parents took me to Mass every Sunday growing up. And, like many Catholic kids, I was not exposed to the writings of G.K. Chesterton, George Weigel or other intellectual heavyweights. What I did have access to were kind adults who lacked the ability to articulate the faith in a way that “clicked” for me. I drifted from the Church as a young man and did not come back until I learned many painful lessons. If I were exposed to a book like this as a teenager then it probably would have saved me a lot of lost time, although I admit to having a largely impenetrable chip on my shoulder in those days. (And yes, I know that some of you would argue that it’s still there!)
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Letters to a Young Catholic is that in many ways it doubles as a must-read for those who are wondering why America’s political institutions are crumbling before our eyes. The way in which the author travels the globe, goes back in time, covers essential questions about the Catholic faith that all young people ask, and then ties it into our contemporary political landscape is like watching a gymnast who puts everything out on the floor before the judges — and nails it.
Mr. Weigel writes:
If American popular and high culture could ever agree on a theme song that captured the idea of freedom driving much of contemporary life, it would almost certainly be Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” I did it my way seems to sum up the widespread notion that freedom is a matter of asserting myself and my will — that freedom is really about choice, not about what we choose and why. Suggest that certain choices are just incompatible with human dignity and with growth in goodness, and you’ll get some very strange looks these days, whether on campus or in the workplace.
Catholicism has a different idea of freedom. In the Catholic idea of freedom, freedom and goodness go together. A great contemporary moral theologian, Father Servais Pinckaers, OP, explained all this. […] Learning to play the piano, he reminded us, is a tedious, even dreary business at first: well do I remember my own distaste for a book of technique-strengthening tortures entitled Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios. But after doing one’s exercises for a while, what originally seemed like a burden comes into clearer focus — learning to do the right thing in the right way is actually liberating. You can play anything you like, even the most difficult pieces. You can make new music on your own. Sure, Father Pinckaers writes, anybody can pound away on a piano. But that’s a rudimentary, savage sort of freedom,” not a truly human freedom. …
I did it my way teaches us an idea of freedom that Father Pinckaers calls “the freedom of indifference.” Doing things “my way,” just because it’s my way, is like banging idiotically on the piano or talking gibberish. The richer, nobler idea of freedom the Catholic Church proposes is what Father Pinckaers calls freedom for excellence — the freedom to do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, as a matter of habit. That’s the truly human way. Because that’s the kind of freedom that satisfies our natural desire for happiness, which itself reflects our desire for God, who is all Good, all the way. […] What’s all this got to do with democracy? Everything. Freedom untethered from moral truth will eventually become freedom’s worst enemy. — Weigel, George. Letters to a Young Catholic. Basic Books, 2015. 305-306.
A friend of mine texted me on Monday and said she hoped that I would cover the first U.S. presidential debate on the blog. In many ways, the text from Mr. Weigel’s book shown here tells us everything we need to know.
Why is America forced to choose between a woman who should be wearing an orange jumpsuit in a federal prison, and an egomaniac with occasionally orange skin?
Answer: Because America long ago decided it wanted to untether freedom from moral truth.
There really is no way to read Letters to a Young Catholic and not have a crystal clear understanding as to why civil society in the U.S. is unraveling. Our cultural influencers embrace a kind of nihilism “that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion, convinced that all of this — the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history — is really just a cosmic joke,” and we are now paying the price.
Mr. Weigel counters that “against the nihilist claim that nothing is really of consequence, Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence, because everything has been redeemed by Christ. And if you believe that, it changes the way you see things. It changes the way everything looks.”
If for no other reason, wayward Catholics should read this book to realize that what they thought was Catholicism growing up was in all likelihood a grossly watered down version of the Faith that denied them knowledge of its true richness and beauty. There are numerous reasons for this, and the author does a masterful job spelling it all out. I found myself thinking, “Finally! Someone who gets it,” and I am sure you will too.
Easter is here — that wonderful day when Christians rejoice and atheists shake their head and ask, “Why the heck are we still talking about that guy Jesus after 2,000 years?!” That is a fair question, which is why today seems like an ideal opportunity to revisit G.K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man.”
“If Christ was simply a human character, he really was a highly complex and contradictory human character. For he combined exactly the two things that lie at the two extremes of human variation. He was exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge. What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate.
Take a thing like the point of the parable of the tares and the wheat. It has the quality that united sanity and subtlety. It has not the simplicity of a madman. It has not even the simplicity of a fanatic. It might be uttered by a philosopher a hundred years old, at the end of a century of Utopias. Nothing could be less like this quality of seeing beyond and all round obvious things, than the condition of an egomaniac with the one sensitive spot in his brain. I really do not see how these two characters could be convincingly combined, except in the astonishing way in which the creed combines them.” — G.K. Chesterton.
Every year countless YouTube videos pop up by wannabe Joe Rogans, who blast the so-called “fairy tale” known as Christianity. They go apoplectic over said “fairy tale” and its longevity. Generation after generation after generation picks up the Bible, studies it, and then billions of people conclude that Christ was exactly who he claimed to be.
The reason for this, as Chesterton points out, is that Christ spoke with authority while simultaneously being “exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge.”
The Jesus of the New Testament seems to me to have in great many ways the note of something superhuman; that is of something human and more than human. But there is another quality running through all his teachings which seems to me neglected in most modern talk about them as teachings; and that is the persistent suggestion that he has not really come to teach.
If there is one incident in the record which affects me personally as grandly and gloriously human, it is the incident of giving wine for the wedding-feast. That is really human in the sense in which a whole crowd of prigs, having the appearance of human beings, can hardly be described as human.
It rises superior to all superior persons. It is as human as Herrick and as democratic as Dickens. But even in that story there is something else that has the note of things not fully explained; and in a way there very relevant. I mean the first hesitation, not on any ground touching the nature of the miracle, but on that of the propriety of working any miracles at all, at least at that stage; ‘my time is not yet come.’
What did that mean? At least it certainly meant a general plan or purpose in the mind, with which certain things did or did not fit in. And if we leave out that solitary strategic plan, we not only leave out the point of the story, but the story.
The imitation Joe Rogans often preface their derision of Christianity with lines like, “I went to Catholic school” — as if they weren’t like every other high-school kid who slept through classes, wrote notes to girlfriends, and generally just goofed around with buddies for four years. The same people who cannot understand basic economics in their 40s would have us believe they fully understood Christianity by age 16, but I digress.
The more one studies the Bible, the more obvious it becomes that Christ was unlike any man who walked the earth up until that time — and that He maintains that distinction to this very day. All the “flying spaghetti monster” jokes in the world cannot diminish the genius and goodness dispensed by Christ in ways, as Chesterton says, “more than human.”
Christ was born. His primary purpose in life was to die a horrible death — and then rise again. He did.
“I willingly and warmly agree that it is, in itself, a suggestion at which we might expect even the brain of the believer to reel, when he realized his own belief. But the brain of the believer does not reel; it is the brains of the unbelievers that reel. …
I care not if the skeptic says it is a tall story; I cannot see how so toppling a tower could stand so long without foundation. Still less can I see how it could become, as it has become, the home of man.
Had it merely appeared and disappeared, it might possibly have been remembered or explained as the last leap of the rage of illusion, the ultimate myth of the ultimate mood, in which the mind struck the sky and broke. But the mind did not break. It is the one mind that remains unbroken in the break-up of the world.
If it were an error, it seems as if the error could hardly have lasted a day. If it were a mere ecstasy, it would seem that such an ecstasy could not endure for an hour. It has endured for nearly two thousand years; and the world within it has been more lucid, more level-headed, more reasonable in its hopes, more healthy in its instincts, more humorous and cheerful in the face of fate and death, than all the world outside.
Happy Easter, everyone. I am grateful for all of you who regularly give me precious time out of your day and I pray for your regularly.
It has always been my belief that the vast majority of men, if not all men, have seriously wondered at some point how they would fare on the field of battle. War, for all of its wretchedness, offers men a clear picture of their inner virtue — or lack thereof. These “What if?” games are unnecessary, however, as Dom L. Scupoli Apulia’s The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul demonstrates.
The Italian author pointed out in 1589 what many men in 2016 fail to realize — bombs are already dropping all around us. Spiritual warfare rages in all directions. A man not only can be a war hero, but he must — his very soul depends upon it.
What men often fail to realize is that they are stuck in a no-man’s land reminiscent of World War I. This is a bad place to be. Man’s rational faculty is called from both sides in the only war that matters: “God moving it by His grace, and the flesh by its appetites.”
Being “neutral” in this war is not an option, and since tomorrow is never guaranteed it is best to pick a side now.
Fully mastering patience, humility, obedience and numerous other virtues is a difficult task. Scupoli details a few of the stumbling blocks we experience:
There are some who are so overwhelmed by their sins that they never even consider the possibility of breaking their chains. Others want to free themselves from this slavery, but they do nothing to accomplish this. Some think they are secure, and for that very reason are very far from being so. Others, after attaining a high degree of virtue, fall all the more heavily. …
When the devil has enmeshed the soul in sin, he uses every means at his disposal to distract its attention from anything that would enable it to recognize the terrible condition into which it has fallen.
The devil is not content to stifle every inspiration from Heaven, and to suggest evil thoughts in their place. He endeavors to plunge it into new faults, either of the same or a more vicious nature by supplying dangerous opportunities to sin.
Thus the soul, deprived of Heavenly guidance, heaps sin upon sin, and hardens itself in its evil ways. Floundering in the mire, it rushes from darkness to darkness, from one pit to another, always moving father from the path of salvation and multiplying sin upon sin, unless strengthened by an extraordinary grace from Heaven.” (Scuplio, Dom. The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul. Tan Classics, 2010. 89-93)
In many ways the soul is the beacon which directs a man towards virtue. If a man is not careful, a sinful calcification can take place around the soul. It soon becomes difficult, if not impossible, to hear or see the beacon and before long the captain of the ship “rushes from darkness to darkness.”
If you seek to become a virtuous man or woman, then The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul is a must-read. If you are a Christian who has ever wondered, “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God foist trials and tribulations upon me?” then Scupoli’s work is for you. I would rank it with Francis De Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life and Saint Augustine’s Confessions as an essential addition to your library.
Editor’s Note: I will send a copy of “The Spiritual Combat and a Treatise on Peace of Soul” to the first regular reader who asks.