Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter
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I do not ask that you take them out of the world
but that you keep them from the Evil One.
They do not belong to the world
any more than I belong to the world.
“If I were making a religion, I would…” so says the worldly man. He lists many different desirable qualities to improve society as we know it. His religion would be more tolerant, more enlightened, more progressive, more exciting, more empowering, or more flexible. He and many others have come to the conclusion that some clever shamans in the ancient world invented religion to perpetuate their own superiority. They came up with a story, attached some rules to it, and made sure to pass it on to posterity. Not for a moment does the worldly man even wonder if any of these religions may be true.
In his novel, Lord of the World, Fr. Robert Benson depicts a future world not so far off from today. The people of that world believe in the spirit of man, the possible unity of the world, a heaven on earth. They disregard Christianity as so much myth while they greedily swallow the myth of progress. None of this is reached rationally, but simply results from the overwhelmingly materialistic atmosphere. Any defense that these “humanists” may have had against the forces evil has gone away. They have no faith and no reason; they follow the demagogues, the spectacles, and their own animalistic impulses.
As the anti-Christ, the Lord of the World, comes into power, he finds the work of harvesting souls already half-way done. He revels in the culture of death that solves problems by eliminating them – curiously, the doctors more often euthanize than cure those in pain. In this sordid setting, his mere words and presence take possession of his listeners who succumb to his power. They belong to the world, and the world belongs to him. Only the small cadre of Catholics withstands this man’s power by clinging to their faith in Christ.
Unfortunately, as more unwitting people align with the anti-Christ, the less safe it becomes for the remaining Catholics. Benson’s scenes of Christian persecution resonate prophetically for 21st century readers witnessing the crucifixion and torture of Christians today. He describes the pressure of the mob, the absence of conscience, the lustful gratification of hate. They commit abominations for a false god; they do not experience the freedom of faith, but the slavery of spiritual absence.
As in the novel, a Catholic in today’s world must counteract these pressures with the truth. His religion must come from God, not from man. How can one tell? If man made a religion, it would resemble the religion that takes hold of the people in Benson’s novel. It would glorify man, escape reality, and resort to violence to establish supremacy. The pagan religions did this; secular religions (like communism and fascism) still do this; Islam and Hinduism continue to do this. While many liberal-minded believers might try, Catholics cannot overturn the truth of their faith. Jesus’ resurrection happened, this is historical fact. The disciples of the early Church was willing to suffer martyrdom by the thousands, another fact. Catholics cannot overturn truth of Christ’s teachings, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the reality of Heaven without losing themselves. Those who reside outside of Truth, outside of Christ, expose themselves to the temptations of cruelty, slavery, and delusion—observations made by Hillaire Belloc when discussing the Modernist heresy of the early 20thcentury.
In a word, a soul lost to Christ will find himself with the Devil, the Lord of the World. Thus, Jesus prays with His disciples that they may be one and kept from the Evil One. Paul shares the same fears with the disciples of Ephesus. The Lord of the World lurks in and out of the Church always. All Catholics, both then and now, must look to the Lord of Heaven to keep them safe. Their faith will be tested.