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 Volume 1.6 This View’s Prose March 18, 2002 


    The Special Peril of the Time Before Us    
         
   

I know that all times are perilous, and that in every time serious and anxious minds, alive to the honour of God and the needs of man, are apt to consider no times so perilous as their own. At all times the enemy of souls assaults with fury the Church which is their true Mother, and at least threatens and frightens when he fails in doing mischief. And all times have their special trials which others have not. And so far I will admit that there were certain specific dangers to Christians at certain other times, which do not exist in this time. Doubtless, but still admitting this, still I think that the trials which lie before us are such as would appal and make dizzy even such courageous hearts as St. Athanasius, St. Gregory I, or St. Gregory VII. And they would confess that dark as the prospect of their own day was to them severally, ours has a darkness different in kind from any that has been before it.

The special peril of the time before us is the spread of that plague of infidelity, that the Apostles and our Lord Himself have predicted as the worst calamity of the last times of the Church. And at least a shadow, a typical image of the last times is coming over the world. I do not mean to presume to say that this is the last time, but that it has had the evil prerogative of being like that more terrible season, when it is said that the elect themselves will be in danger of falling away....

Our prospect in this time before us is that we shall be so large that our concerns cannot be hid, and at the same time so unprotected that we cannot but suffer. No large body can be free from scandals from the misconduct of its members. In medieval times the Church had its courts in which it investigated and set right what was wrong, and that without the world knowing much about it. Now the state of things is the very reverse. With a whole population able to read, with cheap newspapers day by day conveying the news of every court, great and small to every home or even cottage, it is plain that we are at the mercy of even one unworthy member or false brother. It is true that the laws of libel are a great protection to us as to others. But the last few years have shown us what harm can be done us by the mere infirmities, not so much as the sins, of one or two weak minds. There is an immense store of curiosity directed upon us in this country, and in great measure an unkind, a malicious curiosity. If there ever was a time when one priest will be a spectacle to men and angels it is in the age now opening upon us....

I am speaking of evils, which in their intensity and breadth are peculiar to these times. But I have not yet spoken of the root of all these falsehoods — the root as it ever has been, but hidden; but in this age exposed to view and unblushingly avowed — I mean, that spirit of infidelity itself which I began by referring to as the great evil of our times, though of course when I spoke of the practical force of the objections which we constantly hear and shall hear made to Christianity, I showed it is from this spirit that they gain their plausibility.... My Brethren, you are coming into a world, if present appearances do not deceive, such as priests never came into before, that is, so far forth as you do go into it, so far as you go beyond your flocks, and so far as those flocks may be in great danger as under the influence of the prevailing epidemic....

We must gain the habit of feeling that we are in God’s presence, that He sees what we are doing; and a liking that He does so, a love of knowing it, a delight in the reflection, “Thou, God, seest me.” A priest who feels this deeply will never misbehave himself in mixed society. It will keep him from over-familiarity with any of his people; it will keep him from too many words, from imprudent or unwise speaking; it will teach him to rule his thoughts. It will be a principle of detachment between him and even his own people; for he who is accustomed to lean on the Unseen God, will never be able really to attach himself to any of His creatures. And thus an elevation of mind will be created, which is the true weapon which he must use against the infidelity of the world. (Hence, what St. Peter says: 1, ii, 12, 15; iii, 16.) Now this I consider to be the true weapon by which the infidelity of the world is to be met.

And next, most important in the same warfare... is a sound, accurate, complete knowledge of Catholic theology. This, though it is not controversial, is the best weapon (after a good life) in controversy. Any child, well instructed in the catechism, is, without intending it, a real missioner. And why? Because the world is full of doubtings and uncertainty, and of inconsistent doctrine — a clear consistent idea of revealed truth, on the contrary, cannot be found outside of the Catholic Church. Consistency, completeness, is a persuasive argument for a system being true. Certainly if it be inconsistent, it is not truth.

   
         
   

Ven. John Henry, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890)

   
    from The Infidelity of the Future
Faith and Prejudice Sermon 9, 2nd October 1873
   

    The Celibate Priesthood    
         
   

St. Mark begins his account of Jesus with the words, “The gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (1:1) Later he explained the passion and death: “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (10:45) He concludes his gospel in the words of the pagan centurion, spoken as Jesus breathed His last: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (13:12) Even to the pagan soldier, no doubt here touched by grace, the outpouring of love and forgiveness he had just seen, not to mention the superhuman patience, could be nothing less than divine.... By the manner of his death Jesus had fulfilled the announcement at the beginning that He is the Son of God.

It would be foolish as well as false to say that Christ loved so much because He was celibate. Yet surely we may think that by means of celibacy He was able to enlarge the human matrix of his love. The human emptiness incurred by His celibacy expanded His capacity for total love of others. He had hollowed out His human affections to their limit, enabling Him to incarnate in them His divine love. Destined from the beginning to be “a sign of contradiction,” His celibacy was a piece with the paschal mystery of His death and resurrection, the final and complete outpouring of His love. Obviously, therefore, we shall not be able to say a last word on the subject of celibacy, or on any of the matters we have so far considered, until we can place them... in the full context of the paschal mystery and the folly of the cross.

Jesus would gather all peoples within His love. If there is anything like sadness in heaven, it could only be because of those who have resisted that desire. He has given us, not only the Father’s but also a brother’s and a mother’s love. We may think of Him weeping over the modern city as He did once over the ancient Jerusalem. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Mt 23:37)

The virginal Jesus, in appropriating to Himself also a maternal love, was assuredly aware of words the Father had spoken through Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” (49:13)

All this does not prove that celibacy is necessary in order to assume the priesthood of Christ; but it certainly is shown as appropriate for those sharing in the priestly role of Him whose whole life “was a cross and martyrdom,” and who was both priest and victim in His culminating cosmic sacrifice on Calvary. Whether it should be made obligatory for those who are called to the priesthood is another matter. On the basis of comtemporary experience many would assert that it is not even feasible. Assuredly, taking the vow of itself does not exempt the celibate from the present human condition, within which “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and “if you live according to the flesh you will die.” (Rm 3:23; 8:13) The celibate will therefore do well to heed the counsel of Prospero to the young lovers of The Tempest (Act IV, Scene 1):

Look thou be true; do not give dalliance
Too much the rein; the strongest oaths are straw
To the fire i’the blood; Be more abstemious,
Or else good night your vow!

To put it differently, celibacy is not feasible if it is not received and observed in the deep mainstream of evangelic and Christian spirituality. So far this has not happened. The mainstream has trickled down only into a few oases here and there. To make it available for all (and it must also reach the families from whom candidates are expected) the clergy, led by their bishops, rather than allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by material duties, need to drink deep of these living waters and channel them to the whole Church.

St. Francis de Sales, explaining in his Introduction to the Devout Life why he, a bishop, undertakes the task of spiritual direction, writes: “I tell you, dear reader, with the great St. Denys, it belongs principally to bishops to conduct souls to perfection, since their order is as supreme among men as that of the seraphim is among the angels, so that their leisure cannot be better employed.” One would only dissent here from the use of the word “leisure.” The apostles, we are told, declined to give themselves to the administration even of the works of charity. “It is not right,” they said, “that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Ac 6:2-4)

The mainstream of the Christian and evangelic spirituality we speak of has its origin in the Beatitudes. Celibacy and virginity fall within the scope of, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” But celibacy can survive only if this Beatitude is taken together with those meeting it on either side, “Blessed are you poor... Blessed are the poor in spirit....” (Mt 5:3) This is not a mitigation but, literally, a radicalization that extends poverty into the roots of all human actions. These beatitudes raise the minds and hearts of those who know them beyond earthly goods and samples. Here is Gandhi’s desirelessness and John of the Cross’s purification of desires. All the Beatitudes must therefore be taken together, as indicated by that other one mentioned by Matthew: “Blessed are the singlehearted, for they shall see God.” (Mt 3:8) The first three empty the heart only to fill it with the perfection of love which is the meaning and content of the holiness for which all are to hunger and thirst. Only in such radical Christianity can celibacy thrive.

   
         
   

Rev. John J. Hugo (d. 1985)

   
    Your Ways are not My Ways:
The Radical Christianity of the Gospel
Volume Two pp. 134ff
   

    The Defense of Liberty    
         
    What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage, and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of those around you, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises.
   
         
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
   
    from Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, September 11, 1858
Collected Works
Volume III p. 95
   



The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”