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October 22, 2012
The Supernatural on trial
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

If asked to diagnose the present situation of Roman Catholics in the United States, the first word that comes to mind is: their abysmal ignorance of fundamental Catholic dogmas, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemptive value of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, the Holy Mass and the real presence of Christ is in the Eucharist.

One is bound to be deeply grieved by young people’s ignorance. I have kept my high school text book entitled “Christian Religion,” a 439 page book (without the footnotes) fairly large format,  relatively small print. At the age of sixteen, I knew the content of this work, divided in three parts; doctrine, moral teaching, and sacraments.

Not only had my father convinced me that to know one’s faith was the most important thing in life, but I was convinced of its truth: this doctrine truly came from above, and shed light on the meaning of our fragile human existence. The most important thing was to adore, love and serve God in this life, to die in the state of grace, and then enjoy the beatific vision forever and ever. I believed the content of the Credo, and was aware of all the key heresies that have plagued the Church from the beginning – heresies that keep reappearing in the history of the Church, usually disguised under slightly different formulations.

Of course, to know one’s faith did not guarantee living it. Inevitably one was bound to realize that daily life was a struggle, and that constant grace (given through the sacraments) was necessary to take the small steps necessary to assent the mountain the Lord.

Constant defeats did not justify discouragement for Christ said: “ … without me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5) and “Come to me all those that are burdened and I will help you.” (Mt. 11:28) His succor was constantly needed. How uplifting was the prayer of St. Augustine: “Da quod jubes et jube quod vis.”  “Give me what you command, and then command that you will.”

It clearly means, I am much too weak to fulfill your commandments, but give me your grace, your divine help and then I shall be able to “scale mountains.” St. Therese of Lisieux wrote these admirable words; “I have never been able to do anything alone.”

After Vatican II, Catholic schools were bombarded with “new catechisms” that were supposed to upgrade the “old” Baltimore Catechism which has been the spiritual food of Catholic children for years. Apparently its content was no longer satisfactory for “modern youth.” The “climate” of the time was “renewal.” It became a “magic” word; everything had to be changed to be in accord with the Zeitgeist.

In the frame work of this modest article, it is not possible to go into details; it should suffice to make a couple of revealing remarks.

One thing that was striking in the “new” teaching was the omission of many traditional doctrines of the Church. Not to even mention some key truths of the faith inevitably deprived it of some of its pillars, and rendered the whole “building” shaky. All revealed truths are like rings in a golden chain…any break in it is a threat to the whole. Omission is dangerously subtle, because not to mention a doctrine does not necessary imply that its truth is denied. Therefore, the authors of new catechisms could not – prima facie –
 be accused of propagating heresies, or defending false doctrines. But silence is an insidious way of misleading the reader.

Another striking characteristic of the “new catechisms” is the systematic watering down (or downright elimination) of the supernatural. Christianity stands or falls according to whether or not the supernatural is not only acknowledged but given pride of place in both doctrine and in daily life.

A quote taken from the Benziger Catechism is most revealing. Referring to the episode of Jesus’ visit in Bethany in which St. Luke tells us that Martha was busy preparing the meal while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet drinking His words, at one point Martha objected to her doing the whole work alone. Mary should indeed help her.

To which, Jesus responded with the sublime words: “Martha, Martha, you are concerned about many things. One thing alone is necessary; Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Lk. 10:41-42) The divine message is clear: Contemplation is above action – adoration is above “social work.”  While sleeping, the Holy Virgin still adored God because her life was totally and radically rooted in Him.  The greatest saints have learned never to stop contemplating while acting.

The words just quoted coming from the mouth of the Savior are supernatural nuggets that have been the spiritual food of the saints – the holy spiritual treasure handed us from Christ, to His apostles, to the Holy Church. The supernatural not only transcends nature, but heals it from the wound inflicted upon it by original sin. The mystery of mystery: the Incarnation testifies to God’s love for his rebellious creatures that, having severed the bond uniting them to their Creator became “sick unto death.” They could not by their own power, heal the disease. They needed a Savior. The “madness” of divine love chose to send us a Savior: Christ, the Second person of the Holy Divinity. As prophesized by Isaiah 7:14, “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel (God among us).” This Savior will be a man of sorrow, despised,  rejected by his own people. (Is. 53:3) Indeed, Kierkegaard has a point when he refers to God’s saving action in sacrificing His only Son, as “madness.” (“… such a doctrine could only occur to a god who has lost his wits – so must a man judge who has kept his wits.” (Sickness unto death.)  It ended at Calvary; the most abominable tragedy in the history of mankind.

The way St. Luke’s text mentioned above is now presented to “modern” Catholic children should make the Angels cry.  “Jesus said: “Martha, do not worry too much about dinner; just do the best you can.”

Such caricature is a form of “treason.” Not wishing to pass judgment on the unfortunate person (I fear it was a nun) who wrote these words, we must sadly acknowledge that she was “betraying” Christ’s message, a female Judas.

Whereas the Savior reminds Martha that man’s greatest and holy task is to love and serve God, is it now reduced to the common sense word that every child is told when for the first time, he clumsily holds a pen, and tries to write his name. He is “warned” that the result might not be perfect, but all that is asked of him is “do his best.”

Revelation is certainly not needed for this flat footed “wisdom” which is sheer blasphemy when put in the mouth of the God-man – the Savior of the world. May God have mercy on her: hopefully “she did not know what she was doing,” namely shutting the door to the supernatural, and “canonize” mediocrity and pettiness?

Indeed, we did not need the Self Sacrifice of a God on Calvary to teach us “to do our best.” If the Angels cried, the evil ones must have had a diabolical laughter at the abysmal human stupidity.

This is bad enough, but what is still more tragic is that we would expect the local bishop to prohibit this catechism from being used in Catholic schools and to alert all his brother bishops of the fearful danger of this attack on the supernatural. Not only should the imprimatur be denied, but words and pen should be used to condemn this apparent “innocent betrayal.” The tragedy is increased because it sounds so “harmless,” so innocuous, so common sense.

We touch upon another facet of the terrible danger threatening us: religious and spiritual “insensitivity.” People are no longer shocked by such pronouncements. “I do not see anything wrong with it.” Once the sense for the supernatural has been sapped, the door is open to religious indifference. When a priest in his Sunday Homily refers to God as “the good guy upstairs,” people do not protest. “He means well,”  “Be charitable,” “He is a good, friendly man.”  But the Bible tells us that Angels prostrate themselves in front of their Creator, while uttering the words: Holy, Holy, Holy.

When another pastor (that was in Europe) says in his Homily that he is getting “sick and tired” of all these mothers who come to him sobbing because their son has disappeared for several days and then was found in a nightclub, “I remind them that Jesus disappeared for three days and then was found in the Temple.” He adds, “He too was a nasty brat, but Mary did not make such a fuss.” Any comment is unnecessary, but it makes us realize of the deadly gravity of the crisis that our beloved Church is going through. That such a man was ordained a priest of the Catholic Church makes one wonders what happens in seminaries.

The silence of many Bishops was deafening. I wish they would daily meditate on the words of Ezekiel 3:17-18: “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel.” If a watchman does not warn the wicked, “... his blood I will require at your hand ...”

To be in a position of authority is an honor, but one that requires moral courage and even heroism. Alas, if the three cherished apostles of Christ, Peter, James and John fell asleep in Gethsemane, we should not be overly surprised that their successors follow in their footsteps.  Let us not forget however, that all the apostles after receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, became, “new men and joyfully shed their blood for Christ.” St. John had his own special type of martyrdom.

But the evil fruits that sprang up in the wake of the Council (for the “enemy” sowed tars when the watchmen became somnolent) did not end there. Always again, under various forms, the same war on the supernatural was – and is – making many victims.
 
Another text expresses the same betrayal. One again the supernatural is systematically eliminated. The following text proves it: Grammar school children are told that George Washington, Daniel Boone, Babe Ruth are praised for their remarkable accomplishments – whether as general, scout or baseball player. Then Christ is mentioned among them and we are informed that he became famous, “because he loved people so much.”
 
Once again, this is so scandalous that one has to turn to prayer to recover one’s breath. How is it possible that a “so called” Catholic (whether priest, nun or layperson) should place on the same level military or sportive performances with the God-man who came down from Heaven to save us by dying on the Cross? How does the Savior differ from a philanthropist?  Inevitably the abyss separating the supernatural from the natural is once again flatly denied.

May God have mercy on those who – while pretending to give children the holy food of Catholic doctrine – give them poisonous secular food, distort their vision, and the beautiful innate sense of God given to the little ones. Indeed, “... unless you become like one of these little children …” Would it not be better for these writers to have a millstone put around their neck?

Alas, the picture is not brighter when it comes of “biblical scholarship.” That there is a valid and worthwhile Biblical scholarship has been acknowledged by Benedict XVI, but as the Devil never sleeps, there is also one which in the name of “research.” Eliminates the supernatural, and forgets – to quote Kierkegaard – that the Bible (to be properly understood) should be read on one’s knees.

We are now referring to the Dutch catechism the poison of which is much more difficult to detect because it is couched in “scholarly” language, and has therefore a show of respectability. We are trained to be “awed” when hearing the words’ “scholarly” or “Biblical research.” That several Dutch bishops were infected by secularism and modernism cannot, alas, be denied. We only need refer to their purposeful vagueness on the key Christian issue of the divinity of Christ. Some of them tell us that scholarship has not yet “entirely decided” whether or not Christ had an earthly father! The perpetual virginity of Mary might have been “figurative.” Do we need say more?

Let me repeat; from the very beginning, the Evil one has spread lies and heresies. Today, they are presented as “better ways” of communicating the faith that is more likely to appeal to “modern ears.” In other words, instead of adapting our “mentality’ to the Holy teaching of the Church, we are now taught that this divine message should be adapted to the ever changing vagaries of “modern man.” (Forgetting that what is “modern” today is “old fashioned” tomorrow).  How right Chesterton was when he reminded us that mysteries being mysteries have always needed an act of faith – that is, an act of intellectual humility that some Biblical scholars seem allergic to. In his Epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul urges us to “pray constantly.” (Thess. 5:17)  To obey this loving command is today, more urgent than ever. For we seem to have entered into apocalyptic time, a time of such confusion as to seduce even the elect, as St. Luke tells us.

However, the gravity of the present situation should not make us forget for a single moment Christ’s promise: “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” Indeed, final victory is certain, but in the mean time, we are called upon to “be sober and watch” as St. Peter urges us in his First Epistle. (1Peter 5:8) Woe to those who fall asleep when the Bridegroom comes. 

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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