The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for April, 2007

On Faith and Golden Calves

It is not without good reason that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews enjoins us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus” (12:2). For strange things can happen when we lose sight of Him. I’ve never been able to forget the story of the golden calf in chapter 32 of the Book of Exodus. One reason, though by no means the main one (and somewhat irrelevant to my point here) is that Aaron wins the prize for the most lame excuse ever offered by anyone anywhere anytime. When Moses asked him why he made the golden calf for the people, he said, “I said to them, ‘Let anyone who has gold take it off’; so they gave it to me, and Igolden-calf.jpg threw it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” There came out this calf! Might as well worship it then! Aaron also had a knack for escaping punishment for his wrongdoing. He made the golden calf, but the people were punished for it. Both he and Miriam spoke against Moses, but only Miriam was punished for it. Just one of those mysteries, I guess.

Anyway, back to the point. Why was the calf made in the first place? It was because the people lost sight of Moses and the God whom he had revealed to them, the God who had so recently and so marvelously liberated them from slavery in Egypt. Moses was up on the mountain, receiving stone tablets written with the finger of God, but he took a little too long for the people’s attention span. “Up, make us gods who shall go before us,” they demanded of Aaron. “As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So, without the presence of the one who taught them about the true God, they immediately turned to idols.

When faith wavers, the door opens to idolatry. The making of the golden calf is only one dramatic instance of something that has repeatedly happened down through the ages and that still happens today. Jesus Christ, who has led us out of the bondage of sin and death through his own death and resurrection, has gone back to the Father. Yet through the Holy Spirit He has promised to be with us always. But if we are not in the Spirit, living in the grace of faith that the Spirit communicates to us, and if we look with hopeless eyes at the decadence of our self-destructing civilization, we may end up saying: “As for this Jesus, we do not know what has become of Him.” And we will proceed to make idols for ourselves. If we do not perceive Him, we turn to idolatry.

Idols are more easily come by these days than in the desert of Sinai. We don’t have to pitch in all our gold to create one. They are offered to us at every turn: sex, drugs, alcohol, money, possessions, power, prestige, etc, and many people eagerly and blindly worship them. (I had wondered at first glance why the Lord through the prophet Isaiah told the people to throw their idols to moles and bats. Then I realized that it is because moles and bats are blind, just like all those who worship idols!) Our modern idols are more readily available than the formidable and macabre statues of old, but they come at a higher price than mere gold: we have to sell our souls to attain them. And we have to serve them as their slaves, even with diminishing returns, for they are harsh and cruel masters, rationing pleasures more and more, even as our lust increases, until we’re finally offered nothing but despair.

The abandonment of Christ for the sake of idols is not a clear-cut or instantly definitive decision, and it may be a long process, even imperceptible at first. Christ doesn’t suddenly disappear, and we don’t suddenly start worshiping the golden calf of our fancy. If our faith is not strong, or if we simply let it languish by not feeding it with the word of God and the Body and Blood of Christ, then little by little our perception of the Lord’s presence becomes more faint, and little by little we start feeling urges to look elsewhere for fulfillment or happiness. It is then that the images of various idols begin to look more attractive, and what Jesus has to offer seems less interesting or at least something that belongs to a distant or vague afterlife. Soon we are tossing our former hopes, aspirations, and good intentions into the fire, and behold, there comes out this calf! We can’t expect to have the luck of Aaron and avoid all punishment for turning from the true God to idols. St Paul says it has to be the other way around: “turn to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1Thess. 1:9-10). See, that’s where He went. We don’t have to say we don’t know what has become of Him. He went to Heaven, but He is returning, and we don’t want Him breaking the stone tablets of God’s word upon our heads when He comes back and sees us worshiping gods of our own making!

So let us take stock of our inner lives. Have we lost sight of Jesus? Are we turning to vain or harmful pursuits in this time between his departure and his return? It is faith, given us by the Holy Spirit, that enables us to perceive that Jesus is not really gone after all, but is in and around us, and we need not look anywhere else for meaning or fulfillment in this life. Golden calves are for those who have already lost all hope, who have sold their souls to the spirit of the age, the prince of this world. As for us, we have turned from idols to serve the living and true God, whose Son is coming back from Heaven…

The Voice of the Lord

God the Son is also called the Word of God. He comes from the Father and was sent into this world, incarnate, to reveal God to man. For us, the voice of the Lord is heard through the mouth of Jesus Christ. voice-from-heaven.jpgBut the divine voice has been speaking since the beginning of time, for those who have ears to hear it.

What can we say about it? The psalmist had a few things to say: “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars… The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness… The voice of the Lord makes the doe give birth, and strips the forests bare…” (Ps. 28/29). What we see here is that the voice of the Lord is the power of natural phenomena. “Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder” (Ex. 19:19). This was one of the primary ways God spoke to his people in the Old Testament.

The voice of the Lord was also heard by the prophets, who could then confidently say: “Thus says the Lord…” As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (1:1). This could be a huge topic, but it’s not my intention here to write a history of God’s communication to man. I was simply struck a couple weeks ago by one instance of the Lord’s voice, full of majesty, and by the life of one man who must have been utterly shocked to hear it: Lazarus.

The voice of the Lord Jesus was so powerful that it was heard in the halls of Hades. It was not carried away by the wind to be lost in fruitless silence. It penetrated the barrier between this world and the next. Lazarus had joined the innumerable ranks of the dead, who never come back to tell the tale. Suddenly, his disembodied soul heard a voice, a voice he recognized, a voice that carried with it such power as to draw his soul inexorably toward it. He began to rise from the netherworld, not knowing how. The voice became louder, stronger, and he could discern distinct words: “Lazarus, come forth!” Suddenly he found himself all wrapped up in burial cloths, but behold, alive and in his own body again! The voice of the Lord, full of power and majesty, called him from death to life, and he emerged from the tomb.

I don’t know if Lazarus was present when Jesus had earlier given his teaching on the voice of the Lord: “Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live… the hour is coming when all those who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth…” (Jn. 5:25-29). This first calling of the dead to life, as I explained a few weeks ago, is the raising of the spiritually dead, one by one, to newness of life in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The second is the general resurrection, when all will simultaneously hear his voice and come forward for judgment.

St Paul was one who heard the voice of the Lord. He was one of the “dead” who came to life when the voice of the Lord spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Others heard God’s voice at the Jordan and on Mt Tabor. The whole history of the Church, seen from the perspective of the lives of the saints and the righteous, is a response to the voice of the Lord, calling his people from death to life and “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1Peter 2:9).

What about us? Do we hear the powerful, majestic voice of the Lord calling us, the dead, to life? You don’t have to hear audible sounds to recognize his voice. The Bible is the primary source of the voice of the Lord, for there are his words. Yet we must also listen for echoes of those words in our own hearts, filtering out the noisy static of other clamoring voices, until we hear the Beloved calling us by name. Listen for his voice in the wind rustling the treetops, in birdsong and ocean surf. Be also attentive to what trusted friends tell you, because the Lord’s voice may very well be heard in theirs.

If the one who seeks finds, then the one who listens will hear. “He who has ears to hear,” the voice of the Lord cried, “let him hear!” Let us pray for ears that hear, so we don’t have to wait until we are in the tombs, hearing God’s voice only as the final summons to the Judgment Seat. The hour for the Son of God to speak “now is,” and we can pass from death to life before the end of our earthly sojourn. The voice of the Lord has said so, and his testimony, we know, is true.

Consummate Determination

St Ephrem was my guide during Lent, and if you ever want to learn about sin and repentance, he’s a good man to go to. He not only gives the unvarnished and uncompromising word of truth, he does it in a beautiful way, poet that he was. For example, he won’t just ask the Lord to take away his sorrow; he will say, “cleave the clouds of my sorrow,” so as to let the Sun of Righteousness shine through. The book that contains the reflections I used for Lent is called A Spiritual Psalter (since it has 150 meditations and is divided up by the editor, St Theophan the Recluse, according to the liturgical usage of the Byzantine Churches), published by St John of Kronstadt Press.

One of the phrases that St Ephrem uses, which rather nicely summarizes our role in the synergy of divine grace and our free response is “consummate determination.” That’s what we need to have in order to do determination.jpgGod’s will fully and consistently. God’s grace provides all the strength and capacity to keep his word, but without our consummate determination to act upon his initiatives, to be doers of the word and not mere hearers, we will surely fail to carry out his will.

This determination is not simply a matter of gritted teeth and forceful effort (though these may come in handy from time to time), “for not by mere strength shall a man prevail” (1Sam. 2:9). Consummate determination is the matching of our wills with God’s will—and keeping them there! It is knowing what is right and acting accordingly, “fully convinced that God is able to do what He has promised” (Rom. 4:21), that is, that God will not leave our determination at the level of “mere strength” but will endow us with the necessary grace to complete the work He has begun in us. Without God’s grace there’s nothing we can do to overcome trials, temptations, and “besetting sins.” But with Him all things are possible; all things can be done through Him who strengthens us. If we waver or give up, however, his grace will not override our freedom, and our progress toward his Kingdom will be stalled. It takes both divine grace and our consummate determination to attain that glorious goal for which He has created us.

What is it that most easily weakens our determination to do God’s will, which is the only source of our true happiness? Oddly enough, it is probably our very pursuit of happiness—though ill-conceived. I’d like to let Malcolm Muggeridge explain this, in a passage from Jesus Rediscovered:

“The pursuit of happiness, included along with life and liberty in the American Declaration of Independence as an inalienable right, is without any question the most fatuous that could possibly be undertaken. This lamentable phrase—the pursuit of happiness—is responsible for a good part of the ills and miseries of the modern world. To pursue happiness, individually or collectively, as a conscious aim, is the surest way to miss it altogether, as is only too tragically evident in countries like Sweden and America, where happiness has been most ardently pursued and where the material circumstances usually considered conducive to happiness have been most effectively constructed… The pursuit of happiness, in any case, soon resolves itself into the pursuit of pleasure, something quite different—a mirage of happiness, a false vision of shade and refreshment seen across parched sand.

“Where, then, does happiness lie? In forgetfulness, not indulgence, of the self. In escape from sensual appetites, not in their satisfaction. We live in a dark, self-enclosed prison, which is all we see or know if our glance is fixed ever downward. To lift it upward, becoming aware of the wide, luminous universe outside—this alone is happiness. At its highest level such happiness is the ecstasy that mystics have inadequately described. At more humdrum levels it is human love; the delights and beauties of our dear earth, its colors and shapes and sounds; the enchantment of understanding and laughing, and all other exercise of such faculties as we possess, the marvel of the meaning of everything, fitfully glimpsed, inadequately expounded, but ever present.

“Such is happiness—not compressible into a pill; not translatable into a sensation; lost to whoever would grasp it to himself alone, not to be gorged out of a trough, or torn out of another’s body, or paid into a bank, or driven along a motorway, or fired in gun salutes, or discovered in the stratosphere. Existing, intangible, in every true response to life, and absent in every false one. Propounded through the centuries in every noteworthy word and thought and deed. Expressed in art and literature and music; in vast cathedrals and tiny melodies; in everything that is harmonious, and in the unending heroism of imperfect men reaching after perfection.”

So let us exercise and maintain our consummate determination to attain to genuine happiness, which can be found not in the pursuit of pleasure but only in fidelity to the will of God. For God is always exercising his consummate determination to enlighten and save us, to bring us to joy everlasting.

Anxious and Troubled

Perhaps that describes you from time to time or, God forbid, all the time, as some people tend to be. Many people are anxious and troubled for many reasons, some of them apparently good ones. Parents of school-age children may be anxious, to take an example from recent events, that their children might fall victim to some crazed gunman spraying bullets across their classroom. Some may be troubled about the stress2.jpgpossibility of accidents, illnesses, or the death of loved ones. Others may simply be so immersed in endless media reports of all kinds of economic, social, political, or personal dangers that they live in a kind of free-floating anxiety, not always able to link their troubled state to a specific or immediate threat.

Some people, like St Martha, are anxious and troubled merely over pots boiling over on the stove, or the table not set in time for dinner guests. The Lord has a word for us all, to which we need to listen more and more: “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary…” The necessary thing, in this case, is to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his word, as St Mary was doing at the time. This “one thing necessary” can be even more generally, though no less urgently, expressed, as it is earlier in the same chapter of the Gospel of Luke: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

I put these two texts together in my own reflections: “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” That isn’t a practical answer to a practical concern, but it is the Lord’s answer to that huge concern which is our whole life and eternal destiny. As such this concern must influence and guide all lesser ones. Perhaps when it comes to dealing with anxieties, we ought to focus on loving the Lord with all our mind. For that is where anxieties generally dwell, and where we generally dwell on anxieties—even if we feel them in the pit of our stomach.

“Only in God is my soul at rest,” declared the psalmist (Ps 61/62). The mind, being a faculty of the soul, ought to find rest in God, as part of that total heart/soul/strength/mind love that He requires of us. Sometimes I pray like that, when I’m anxious or troubled: “Only in God is my soul at rest,” over and over, until my soul does finally find rest in Him. Actually, that passage is a kind of measuring rod for our spiritual state. It is obvious that our souls don’t find rest in whatever circumstance or threat or impending disaster we are focusing on, and the very fact that we are not at rest means we are not in God, not choosing to find rest in Him. Aristotle defined humans as rational animals, and while this may in fact be inadequate in the light of divine revelation, sometimes I think the philosopher might actually have overestimated us, at least in those times when we do act quite irrationally. We know that worry doesn’t change a situation, so we worry anyway. We know that becoming obsessed with the pain or struggle of some crisis does not solve or improve it, so we become obsessed anyway. We know that many, if not most, things are wholly out of our control, so we try to control them anyway. We know that the way of confident trust and quietly persevering prayer really can have a positive effect on both our inner state and the outcome of events, but we find excuses to avoid it.

The Lord is patient and understanding when we give more attention to anxiety and troubles than to resting in his providence and will, but for all that He’s not going to reward our lack of trust with miracles. Rather, He will speak his gentle reproach and invitation (of which He never tires): “You are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is necessary… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart…” He tries to turn us in the only direction that will bring us peace, wisdom, strength, and the courage to face life’s hardships with hope, with inner equilibrium, and with all the means necessary to learn life’s valuable lessons, to transform pain into growth, anxiety into trust, and even sorrow into joy. This is the Cross and Resurrection, practically applied in our anxious and troubled daily lives.

So let us sit at the feet of Jesus, for only in Him are our souls at rest. “Return, my soul, to where your peace lies” (Ps. 114/115). Discovering within ourselves the fourfold love He is trying to draw out of us, we will gain the right perspective, and we will ask only “what is unto salvation.” Loving God and each other will prove to be the one thing necessary for richly living this dreadful, marvelous, troubled, joyful enterprise called human life.

Ecstatic Myrrh-Bearers

This Sunday is the Sunday of the Holy Myrrh-bearers. (On the first two Sundays after Easter we continue the Gospel mysteries directly related to the Resurrection of Christ.) This group of disciples is usually called the “Myrrh-bearing Women,” since on the first Easter Sunday it was only women who came to anoint the body of Jesus. But as we notice from the Gospels, there were myrrh-bearing men as well, who assisted with this holy work on the day of Jesus’ burial. I think we have to give the prize for myrrh-bearing to Nicodemus, for John says he bore a hundred pounds of it! In the Gospel from Mark, however, which is read this Sunday, we hear only of Joseph of Arimathea. It takes all four Gospels to give us a profile of Joseph. We learn from Matthew that he was wealthy, and that it was Joseph’s own tomb, which he himself had hewn out of rock, in which Jesus was placed. We learn from Mark that Joseph was actually a respected member of the Sanhedrin, so during Jesus’ public ministry he was playing his cards close to the chest. And Luke tells us that he was “a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their purpose and deed.” Both Mark and Luke say that Joseph was “looking for the Kingdom of God.” Another important detail is given by John. He says that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one for fear of the Jews.

Something must have happened to him at the Crucifixion of his Lord, for he evidently lost his fear of the rest of the Council and of all those who hated and killed Jesus. For Mark says that he “took courage and went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus.” This was not a small thing. It’s like barging into the office of the Governor of your state and demanding that he do what you ask—now. So Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus, while the women looked on; the women then went home to keep the Sabbath, preparing oils and spices to complete his burial anointing.

And so we come to that first day of the week, the first day of the new creation, the first day of the radical re-direction of human destiny. The female disciples of the Lord were also looking for the Kingdom of God, as they came to anoint the King. We can’t really know what they were thinking. Were their hopes for the Kingdom dashed against the Cross upon which their beloved Master was crucified? That was the prevailing mood of the male disciples, as we overhear the conversation on the way to Emmaus: “we had hoped that He was the One to redeem Israel.” They had hoped, and apparently were hoping no more. The women, from what we can gather from the text, had more practical concerns at the moment: “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” In a sense, they had not lost hope, even though they knew He was dead. He was still the object of their attention and their love. While the male disciples walked away from the tomb, toward Emmaus, toward a life without hope, the women walked toward the tomb, toward Jesus, perhaps with some inarticulate, faintly trembling anticipation, which they dared not allow to rise to full consciousness.

myrrhbearing-women.jpg

Their question was answered as soon as they arrived at the tomb, for the stone had already been rolled away. But He whom their hearts loved, He whom they sought with tears and myrrh, they found not. Yet the watchman was there, dressed in a white robe. They were awe-struck, astonished, says the Scripture. The Angel, who already knew the mystery, and who could probably just barely restrain himself from bursting into a chorus of alleluias, said, with remarkable composure, as if he were sharing an item from the daily paper: “You need not be astonished; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen; He is not here.” “What!”—the women probably would have said, had they not been frozen with wondrous fear—“Jesus was crucified and killed and rose from the dead, and you say do not be astonished! Could there be anything in the world more astonishing than that?”

The Angel just smiled and finished his message, telling them to go to Galilee, where they would see Him with their own eyes. What follows is a curious and, at first glance, rather unsatisfying conclusion to what is probably the original version of Mark: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” End of Gospel.

How can we understand this? Obviously they eventually told something to someone, since the other evangelists give us that information. Yet we should still try to understand this awestruck, trembling, fearful silence on the part of those who were explicitly told to share the news of the Resurrection with the apostles.

I read something in the book, Longing for God, by John Breck, which may shed some light on this mystery. The Greek expression for their response to the Angel’s message already points us in the right direction: tromos kai ekstasis, “trembling and ecstasy,” or, as Fr Breck expresses it, “ecstatic wonder.” I will quote here part of his reflection on the experience of the myrrh-bearing women:

“Why would the evangelist have ended his narrative in this surprising, almost scandalous way? … Why should he conclude his work with the mysterious image of the tomb, together with the women’s reaction, rather than depict, as the other evangelists did, the various appearances of the risen Lord to His disciples? The only plausible answer is that St Mark wanted to stress above all this reaction—this intense inner response—of the women to the vision of the tomb and the evidence of the burial cloths… There they beheld a young man, an angelic figure, seated where the body of Jesus had been laid, where now there was only an empty shroud. Then, filled with trembling and astonishment, with ‘ecstatic wonder,’ they fled from the tomb, struck dumb by the vision that had just been granted to them. For the moment they could say nothing to anyone, ‘for they were afraid.’

“This fear experienced by the Myrrhbearing Women was not abject terror, a kind of dread before something threatening and indecipherable. Rather, it was the experience of awe, so deep and intense that they became ecstatic, beside themselves, removed from the usual sphere of human experience, and granted the degree of self-transcending wonder that the apostle Paul knew when, in an ecstatic trance, he was ‘caught up into the third heaven, into Paradise’ (2Cor 12).

“Such is the emotion that accompanies the experience of a theophany, a revelation of divine power and majesty. This is the emotion that seized the women in the empty tomb… They saw, they were amazed, and they left the tomb in a spirit of wonder and awe-filled silence.”

Let us first realize that there is usually more to the word of God than we notice at first glance, and more even than we may notice after many readings. We should always seek what Adrienne von Speyr calls the ever-greater reality of God, in his word and in all aspects of our lives. Let us also realize that there is more available to us in our spiritual lives than we have thus far experienced. Just because we read the Scriptures and pray and receive the Holy Eucharist regularly doesn’t mean that we have exhausted the depths of life in God, or the we have known Him or experienced his grace and gifts to a sufficient extent for our earthly lives. We can still hope to roll away the stone that bars our access to ecstatic wonder, to awestruck joy at the revelation of God’s mighty works and his tender mercies. So let us go to Him, along with the holy myrrh-bearers, seeking Him whom our hearts love, and being ready for ever more profound revelations and transforming graces. Christ is risen!

A Shred of Conscience

I’m sure you are aware by now that the Supreme Court just handed down a decision upholding the ban on “partial-birth abortion.” State or federal courts can no longer challenge this law on constitutional grounds (those challenges manifested a travesty of justice anyway, not to mention a culpable blindness to the savagery of this crime). Now this barbaric method of murder is finally illegal in all 50 states. This is certainly a good thing, for it indicates a least a shred of conscience among the Justices—the five whose votes upheld the ban, anyway—and perhaps has slightly forestalled the falling of deserved wrath upon our country. But we’re a long way from saying that the leaders of this country really do unbornchild.jpghave a conscience about the life and death of the most vulnerable members of our society.

First of all, the court was quick to assure the shrieking baby-killers that this decision does not affect a woman’s “right” to have an abortion. They just have to find another way to kill the child. The court also seemed to pride itself on drawing a clear line between abortion and infanticide. But this line-drawing still misses (by a mile) the point that ought to be self-evident, the unborn white elephant in the room that everyone chooses to ignore: both abortion and infanticide are acts of murdering an innocent and defenseless human being. Why do they not see this? Are there dollar signs blocking their vision? Are power and position to be gained by brandishing the scalpel of “reproductive freedom”? Is it a sign that our debased morals have at last been recognized as the norm for “evolved” humanity? Or is it just one more fiendish way to lash out at Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular—which is the main obstacle to their hegemony of lies, the last croaking moral voice, the last hand that dares attempt to rip the masks off their sneering faces?

While we can breathe just a little easier with the court’s decision, tentatively hopeful that our country’s leaders have not sold out 100% to satan, it is still going to be business as usual in this country’s Retroactive Fertility Control Centers, or whatever euphemism they may wish to use as a rag to wipe the blood off their hands. What we can perhaps hope for is that this decision will awaken the wavering courage of those who may have become discouraged in their efforts to fight the beast. Now there’s a chink in the armor, perhaps a green light for future pro-life advances. It is becoming known that the majority of people in this country do not support abortion, but the well-greased machinery of NARAL, PP, and other engines of death manage, with heavily-funded media campaigns and deceitful rhetoric and political clout, to make it look like those who believe in the right to life of human beings in utero are the lunatic fringe that stands in the way of freedom, enlightenment, and the American Way. And too many people uncritically buy their propaganda. Perhaps we are approaching the time of the fulfillment of the prophecy attributed to St Anthony the Great: “A time will come when the whole world will go mad. And to anyone who is not mad they will say: ‘You are mad, for you are not like us.’”

You may think that this is too pessimistic, and that we should be rejoicing in a pro-life victory. Well, let us rejoice—a little. Let us rejoice for the shred of conscience we’ve seen in some of the court justices. But I wonder how many actual lives will be saved by this ruling. Abortions, even late-term ones, will go on unhindered, though perhaps a bit inconvenienced by this slight tightening of the belt.

Really, it is only going to be conscience, awakened by the Holy Spirit and fed by pro-life information, that is going to make a real difference. We are seeing in some places a growing number of doctors who refuse to perform abortions on the ground of conscience. They are sick of the slaughter, the bags of body parts, the sub-human mentality it takes to destroy tiny babies for money. (These days, you could probably obtain an abortion for about 30 pieces of silver.) It would be quite a happy irony to see abortion fully legal but never performed because no one has any longer the heartless will to do it.

So let us pray and not give up. We’ll not be personally judged because the mighty go on killing, but we will be judged on whether or not we stood up for the little ones, became a voice for the voiceless, prayed for them and their parents and the political leaders, remembering that each human being has an eternal destiny in the plan of God. Pray that this country’s conscience fully returns: “Repair what is shattered, for it sways” (Ps 59/60); “Awake, and strengthen what remains” (Rev. 3:2).

Seeing Through the Eye

I’ve heard a lot about Malcolm Muggeridge, but only now have I actually begun to read his works, and even the very little I have readmuggeridge.jpg thus far has been quite rewarding. A couple years ago an anthology of his writings on faith was published by Ignatius Press, entitled, Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith. The title comes from one of his favorite lines from William Blake, which says that we are led to believe a lie if we see with, not through, the eye. To see through the eye is to grasp the true significance of what is seen. It is to see by means of the eye of faith, “faith being the key which enables us to decipher God’s otherwise inscrutable communications.” He came to faith in Christ gradually, and ultimately embraced the Catholic faith.

He saw through the “fantasies” of this world and laid hold of the reality of God. “Built into life,” he writes, “is a strong vein of irony for which we should only be grateful to our Creator. It helps us to find our way through the fantasy that encompasses us to the reality of our existence. God has mercifully made the fantasies—the pursuit of power, of sensual satisfaction, of money, of learning, of celebrity, of happiness—so preposterously unrewarding that we are forced to turn to him for help and for mercy… I want to cry out with the blind man to whom Jesus restored his sight: One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see. How, I ask myself, could I have missed it before? How not have understood that the grey-silver light across the water, the cry of the sea-gulls and the sweep of their wings, everything on which my eyes rest and my ears hear, is telling me about God… Blake distinguishes between the fantasy that is seen with the eye and the truth that is seen through it. They are two clearly demarcated kingdoms; and passing from one to the other, from the kingdom of fantasy to the kingdom of reality, gives inexpressible delight. As when the sun comes out, and a dark landscape is suddenly glorified, all that was obscure becoming clear, all that was incomprehensible, comprehensible. Fantasy’s joys and desires dissolve away, and in their place is one joy, one desire; one Oneness—God.”

Muggeridge’s writing is crisp, uncompromising, witty, and penetrating in its insights into the state of the modern world—seen through the eye. I’d like to share a couple of passages here: one, on faith in the Virgin Birth of Christ, and the other on Western man’s self-destruction.

“Are we, then, to suppose that our forebears who believed implicitly in the Virgin Birth were gullible fools, whereas we, who would no more believe in such notions than we would that the world is flat, have put aside childish things and become mature? … It would be difficult to support such a proposition in the light of the almost inconceivable credulity of today’s brain-washed public, who so readily believe absurdities in advertisements and in statistical and sociological prognostications before which an African witch-doctor would recoil in derision. With Pascal it was the other way round; while accepting, with the same certainty as he did the coming of the seasons, the New Testament account of Jesus’ birth, he had already seen through and scornfully rejected the pretensions of science. Now, three centuries later, his intuition has been amply fulfilled. The dogmatism of science has become a new orthodoxy, disseminated by the Media and a State educational system with a thoroughness and subtlety far exceeding anything of the kind achieved by the Inquisition; to the point that to believe today in a miraculous happening like the Virgin Birth is to appear a kind of imbecile, whereas to disbelieve in an unproven and unprovable scientific proposition like the Theory of Evolution, and still more to question some quasi-scientific shibboleth like the Population Explosion, is to stand condemned as an obscurantist, an enemy of progress and enlightenment…

“It has become abundantly clear in the second half of the twentieth century that Western Man has decided to abolish himself. Having wearied of the struggle to be himself, he has created his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, his own vulnerability out of his own strength; himself blowing the trumpet that brings the walls of his own city tumbling down, and, in a process of auto-genocide, convincing himself that he is too numerous, and labouring accordingly with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer in order to be an easier prey for his enemies; until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keels over, a weary, battered old brontosaurus, and becomes extinct. Many…have envisaged the future in such terms, and now what they prophesied is upon us.”

Stay tuned; I’m sure I’ll have more to share on this wise and perceptive man of faith.

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