These words are fearful indeed. Those of us still in this vale of tears, should never lose sight of the fact that we are in a battle field facing the Enemy of mankind who, like a roaring lion looks for a victim to devour. A moment of somnolence, a moment of self assurance, can bring about a grave moral fall. It can ever happen while administering an exorcism: that is a face to face confrontation with the Evil one, while armed with the powerful tools given us by Holy Church.
Our deadly enemy never sleeps. He can tempt monks fleeing into the desert (St. Anthony); it can penetrate into religious orders; he can prey on us while in Church. Sobrii estote et vigilate…
But the message of Christ is luminous: the world in this sense is the Kingdom of Evil. There is a clear Either Or: The City of God or the City of Satan. There is no “both and,” there is no “in between,” just as little as there is a middle ground between the truth and the lie. The “world” as the City of Satan, is our deadly enemy.
Finally, we can mean by “world” the society in which we are born and in which we live. Very few of us receive the extraordinary vocation to be anchorites. Their vocation strikes many people as a form of madness.
They will accuse these privileged souls of being cowards, selfish individuals, so self centered that their only concern is their own salvation. These are people “refusing” to contribute to “progress” and the material betterment of human conditions. (Joseph, the l8th century Emperor of Austria, waged war on contemplative orders, while respecting “active” orders who were doing something for humanity).
But those blessed with spiritual hearing not only believe but know that silence, contemplation, prayer and penance do more for the world than what “busy-ness can ever achieve. It is often self seeking, garbed with the vestment of “love for humanity.” Behind this façade lurks the pursuit of honor, money and power. It is noisy, but does not create music.
Most of us are called to live in society with other human beings coming from a huge variety of backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. If one lives in an apartment building, one inevitably is in daily contact with a surprising variety of views and outlooks. Some people are believers; some are indifferent; some are atheists. Some are kind and helpful. Some are unfriendly and selfish. A single such building is a “small cosmos” and could be an inspiration for any talented writer.
This also applies to one’s professional life. Spending one’s life teaching at a university is a most enriching experience. It is true indeed that one finds both “wheat” and “cockle” wherever we go. It is, however, seriously misleading to write that this also applies to the Church and to the world, without making it clear that by “church” is meant sinful members of the church and not to the Church as Holy Bride of Christ, who is “without blemish and without wrinkles.” I know by experience that non Catholics have no clue as to what is meant by the Holy Catholic Church. It is true that the fields of both “church’ and the world share the same fate: a mixture of good and evil. But the consequence to be drawn is that we should wisely pick up the wheat in both fields while rejecting the tares they share.
This claim sounds charitable and fair. To state that we find “weeds” “in the church” (its members) is sadly true, provided it clearly refers to its sinners who “officially” belong to the Church. Among her members, there are good and bad fish. The Bible, a book authorized by God, tells us that although the Jews were God’s chosen ones and therefore highly privileged people, there were good and holy ones, and also great sinners.
This also applies to the “pagan”’ world. It gave us a Socrates and some very unsavory characters. When Socrates declared that if someone proved him to be wrong, he would consider him to be his greatest benefactor, our response should be one of boundless admiration. It is a superb “existential“ refutation of the Calvinistic claim that original sin has perverted our nature to its very core. Our modern world would do well to learn from The wise man of Greece, (as Kierkegaard always refers to him) and that Plato called “…the wisest and justest (sic) and the best man I have ever known (Phaedo, 118).”
Such wise men are rare and desperately needed today in our colleges and universities.
We cannot “flee” from the world in this sense. If God placed us in a concrete situation, this is where He expects us to put our humble talents at His service. Every Catholic, every Christian for that matter, is necessarily “engaged” in the world and is called upon to be a missionary: we have been the beneficiaries of The Good News, and are called upon to share it with others. The radiance of this message of joy can even lead to a conversion in an elevator as I was once privileged to experience !
But we should not assume that because it is our mission to “engage” in the world, we need not take precautions when entering a “danger zone,” and forget for a single moment that Satan never sleeps.
No man is permitted to practice medicine, if he does not have a valid medical diploma. No one can teach at a university if he does not have the proper credentials. If one does not practice his faith, does not pray, forgets that “without God he can do nothing,” and thereby “engages” in our so called culture, and our decadent world, he is like a person visiting a patient afflicted by a infectious disease without wearing protective garments.
(Column continues below)
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One cannot give what one does not have. (Nemo dat quod non habet). The endemic ignorance of their faith which characterized most Catholics in the aftermath of Vatican II, has not equipped them to do “missionary” work. He who has accepted the popular view that everything is relative, and that everybody has a right to his own opinion (why should your opinion be better than mine?) not only cannot help others, but moreover, is likely to catch their disease.
Worse yet are those infected by the spirit of the time, who “believe” that the Church has changed on all fundamental issues, has finally came out of the ghetto of the Middle ages, and are eloquent at propagating heresies, whether they realize it or not.
There are also those armed with a shallow optimism who assume that everybody is good, or at least seeks the good, and are totally unaware of the difficulty of evangelization. The danger is great for the evangelizer who goes about his “mission” totally unprepared for the arduous task lying in front of him, remains unaware that our society is afflicted with some deadly disease, and refuses to take the indispensable precautions to protect himself from catching the contagious disease of dictatorial relativism. Before “engaging” with the world, prayer, the sacraments, sacrifice are essentially required.
Alas, many sicknesses are contagious; health is not. Those of us who have had the doubtful privilege of staying long in rehab, and became acquainted with the layout of these places of penance – my name for hospitals – know that there is a special section for infectious diseases. No one is permitted to enter except those who have received the assignment of serving the sick. But before entering this forbidden space, doctors and nurses cover themselves with special gowns, wear masks, never touch the patient directly, and upon leaving the room, once again, go through a whole procedure to make sure that they have not caught deadly germs.
Are these precautions taken by those Catholics who “engage with the world,” but they expose themselves to grave moral dangers? There are “red zones” including certain types of bars, movies, dark places where most people should never enter. What of those poor creatures enslaved in such places of harm? Should they be abandoned to their fate? Far from it; we all have the strict duty to pray and sacrifice for those of our brothers who are “sick unto death.” Moreover, there are extraordinary cases in which God calls some of his children to penetrate into places of horror because he had given them a special mission. For them it had become “the theme of Christ.” St. Raymond of Pennaford and St. Peter Nolasco received the mission to go to the dreadful jails in North Africa where innumerable Christians were held captives by Muslims in the most awful moral, physical and psychological conditions.
They did a great work because they were spiritually armed and never forgot that without God, they could do nothing. Those called upon to actively “engage” in the world and its decadent culture, need a long novitiate. It is easy to harm our neighbor; it is only with God’s grace that we can truly help him.