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.
There’s a “thing” that sometimes happens to me when I discuss philosophical or religious issues with my wife, which she finds incredibly humorous — I shed tears and get temporarily choked up. I told her for years that my theory on the phenomenon is something like this:
- Deep in your heart is a conduit to the transcendent. There are times when your mind comes into direct contact with Truth with a capital ‘T’, but the finite parts of your being are obviously not equipped to handle the infinite. To grab hold of the transcendent, even for a brief moment, is like grabbing hold of a live wire. The difference is that the pain you feel is something beautiful, the charring and burning of spiritual impurities like rust on the soul. So you happily search for that place again and again because you wish that you could share it with everyone.
I was recently watching a video with Jordan Peterson, the famous professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He was talking with Dave Rubin about Pinocchio, and when I saw where he was going with it I could almost predict the point at which he would tear up.
Mr. Peterson said:
“Most of your viewers will have watched Pinocchio. There’s a scene in Pinocchio where Geppetto wishes upon a star. What it means is he lifts up his eyes beyond the horizon to something transcendent — to something ultimate — because that’s what a star is, it’s part of the eternity of the night sky.
And so he lifts his eyes up above his daily concerns and he says, ‘What I want — what I want more than anything else — is that my creation will become a genuine individual.’ Right? It’s a heroic gesture because it’s so unlikely. And that catalyzes the puppet’s transformation into a real being. And we start as puppets. And so the trick is to get rid of your god**** strings.
And you remember in Pinocchio, he faces a lot of temptations. One is to be a liar; the other is to be a neurotic victim. That’s how he ends up in Pleasure Island where he just about gets sold into the salt mines and turns into a braying jackass … because it’s run by authoritarians.
Well, okay, so what you do is lift up your eyes and you say, ‘Look, I would like being to progress in the best possible manner. And that’s best for me, best for my family, best for society — maybe best for the world. Simultaneously, I would like to attain that, whatever that is. That’s what I want. You commit to that.
Then you tell the truth. And you can tell if you’re telling the truth. You can tell it physiologically. And so this is something to learn. […] That’s really the core idea in Western civilization, to build yourself into a forthright individual who’s capable of telling the truth and capable of bearing the responsibilities of citizenry.” — Jordan Peterson.
Here’s another way to explain it. Imagine your mind’s eye witnesses the transcendent, and it’s like an ocean. A whole ocean can fit inside your head and you can see it clearly, but the person sitting across from you has no clue what you’re “looking” at. The only way you can make this ocean known is by embarrassingly running it through the tiny sink that is your mouth and the filter of language. Your task is to convince someone of the beauty of the transcendent ocean — or God, or Truth, or Love — when all you can give them is a bucket filled with water.
So you cry.
You cry because in some sense the metaphysical ocean has burst forth into the physical world.
You cry because you’ve seen what lies beyond and you know that if others saw it too then they would change their lives in profound ways.
You cry because you are unworthy of something so magnificent, and you cry because of all the souls who will never have a similar experience through the misbegotten application of their own free will.
If you have never watched Jordan Peter’s videos, I highly suggest you begin sooner rather than later. He knows what he is talking about. He speaks the Truth. If you listen to what he says and actively carry out his advice, then your life will be exponentially better for it.
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!
One would think that a Martin Scorsese film with a ready-made audience of 1.1 billion Catholics would be a no-brainer in terms of marketing. Strangely, the money men behind the director’s latest masterpiece, Silence, decided to go with an “art house” angle instead of any serious outreach to those who could make it a smash hit. The decision will cost the film millions during its theatrical run, but that still does not change the fact that it is a must-see effort by the man who brought the world Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980), and a slew of other great projects.
For those who are unfamiliar with the plot of the movie, which is based on a Shûsaku Endô’s 1966 novel, it involves two 17th century Jesuit missionaries who must look for their mentor in Japan. As an “army of two” they must find out if there is truth to the claim that their mentor rejected the faith after years of torment by officials.
Mr. Scorsese recently said that “three or four great actors” turned down roles for Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), Father Sebastião Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). After watching the film (How much do you want to bet that one of those actors was Leonardo DiCaprio?), it is safe to say that it was probably a blessing in disguise. Everyone involved delivers, particularly Mr. Garfield.
In short, see the movie if you are a fan of cinema — real cinema. Those with an attention span shaped by years of time on Twitter will be nowhere to be found, and you will exit the theater better for the experience.
“Doug, Doug, Doug, you need to give me more than that,” you say? Yes, I understand. That is a reasonable request, and since I do not want to spoil too much of the film I will just say that the central question is one that I have covered before on this blog: Why does God seem absent at times?
When we go through trials and tribulations and pray, silence can be incredibly frustrating. People want God to be the cartoonish figure with a big white beard — they want Him to be a material being — and the absence of an on-call Divine Psychiatrist causes many men to believe they are alone in the world.
As Hubert Van Zeller has said, “We always imagine that if we felt strong, we would not mind having to carry the Cross. But the whole point is that we should not feel strong.”
Silence, perhaps to the chagrin of many priests, will cause people to question their own faith — but that is a good thing because the Truth can and should be able to stand up to any scrutiny. The faith that has gone through an intellectual blast furnace and survived comes out on the other side a spiritual steel, which is exactly what is needed in the modern world. Catholics need to intimately understand the value of pain and why such ordeals allowed by our Creator are always a blessing (as tough as that may be to comprehend).
As C.S. Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:
“Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object — we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.
As Scripture points out, it is bastards who are spoiled: the legitimate sons, who are to carry on the family tradition, are punished. It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children, we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be happy in contemptible and estranging modes.
If God is Love, He is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.” — C.S. Lewis.
Silence is not for the faint of heart, but at the end of the day it forces religious viewers to objectively examine the strength of their own faith.
Would you drown before renouncing God? Would you burn? Would you die any number of gruesome deaths? If not, then why?
Very few men or women ever die a saint, but that reality does not free us from the obligation to try. Mr. Scorsese may have a complicated history with his Catholic upbringing (he is certainly not alone), but there should be no doubt about the quality of Silence. Hollywood producers discouraged him from making the film for decades, but he persevered. For that, moviegoers owe him a debt of gratitude.
Former Jesuit priest Malachi Martin died in 1999, but he wrote one of the most comprehensive books on possession and exorcism in 1976 — Hostage To The Devil. Those who are unfamiliar with the man’s work may dismiss Hostage as fare for old school Catholics, but it is much more than that. Anyone who is interested in humanity’s struggle with morality, truth, free will, sex and gender, spirit and psyche would do themselves a favor by purchasing it soon.
Regular readers of this blog know that the intersection of politics and popular culture are covered on a regular basis. Movies, music and comic books are reviewed, but at the heart of it all is a fight against moral relativism.
The message is simple: Good and Evil exist. To deny that, or to pretend as though a man can go through life making morally neutral decisions, is to walk down a road of confusion. And, as Fr. Malachi notes, confusion seems to be a “prime weapon of evil.”
The author says:
“The surest effect of possession in an individual — the most obvious and striking effect common to all possessed persons, whether observed or apart from Exorcism — is the great loss in human quality, in humanness.
Curiously enough, the difficulty in talking nowadays about possession and describing its progress and effects in those attacked does not come from the weird, bizarre, or ‘unimaginable’ happens that may accompany possession.
The difficulty comes, instead, from the insistence of latter-day opinion makers that the religious view of good and evil is outdated; that the personality of each man, woman, and child exists only as a cross section of single traits and attributes best revealed in scores we achieve in psychological tests; that the truest and purest models for our behavior come from ‘lower animals’ and from ‘natural man,’ a mythical invention that has never existed and that we cannot imagine. …
Even though our coverage of these questions concerning Jesus and Lucifer must be brief due to limitations of space, we are not merely indulging in a comforting cliché when we make one observation: The best that latter-day prophets and modern doom sayers seem able to do with these matters is to ignore them and tell us to do the same. They cannot prove them false, but only increase their efforts to persuade us so. And for all their mighty efforts, they cannot repair the damage they do in this way to our humanness.,” Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1992), 409, 411-412.
In short, the bulk of Hostage deals with five cases:
- Zio’s Friend and the Smiler — 29
- Father Bones and Mister Natch — 83
- The Virgin and the Girl-Fixer — 173
- Uncle Ponto and the Mushroom-Souper — 249
- The Rooster and the Tortoise — 321
As readers can see by the pagination, trying to respectfully break down any one of these cases in a book review would be difficult. Exhaustive interviews were conducted with all parties involved, written records were examined, and hours upon hours of audio recordings analyzed.
What is important to know before buying the book — particularly for skeptics — is that Fr. Martin is not an intellectual slouch. He is a very intelligent man. He is serious, and the content within Hostage is extremely disturbing.
The fact of the matter is that possession is nothing like Americans see in Hollywood movies. It is much more insidious than that because bodiless beings that can glean knowledge from eternity are not stupid. Possession is a process by which patient demons wait for an entry point, exploit confusion, and ultimately seize control when victims voluntarily present their souls on a silver platter.
Exacerbating this threat is a culture that grants Satan “the ultimate camouflage” — the belief that he does not exist.
“Raised more and more in an atmosphere where moral criticism is not merely out of fashion, but prohibited, [we] swim with little help in a veritable sea of pornography. Not merely sexual pornography, but the pornography of unmitigated self-interest. Whether spoken or acted out without explanation, the dominant question of the younger generations among us is, What can you do for me? What can my parents, my friends, my acquaintances, my enemies, my government, my country, do for me?
The difficulty is that as individuals and as a society, we are no longer willing — many of us are no longer able — to give an answer to that question that will satisfy anyone for long. …
Not to believe in evil is not be be armed against it. To disbelieve is to be disarmed. If your will does not accept the existence of evil, you are rendered incapable of resisting evil. Those with no capacity of resistance become prime targets for Possession,” (Preface, XIII, XIV, XV).
As Fr. Martin says, “no one wants to believe in evil, really, above all, not in an evil being, an evil spirit,” because acknowledging that places a perpetual responsibility on our shoulders.
“That [disbelief] is the opening through which [Satan] crawls, stilling all suspicions, making everything seem normal and natural. This is the ‘thought,’ the unwariness of the ordinary human being which amounts to a disinclination to believe in evil. And, if you do not believe in evil, how can you believe in or even know what good is?” (389)
Hostage is an amazing book. Anyone who is remotely spiritual should read it, but they must be forewarned that it will leave them shaken to the core.
If you have any questions about the cases covered by Fr. Martin, then feel free to ask in the comments section below.