The days are evil. We are beset. It reminds me of a quote attributed to that great philosopher, Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller, USMC: “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time” (source).
A litany of recent miseries might include: the de-Christianization of the Middle East (largely due to American “Disaster Capitalism”); the ever-advancing aberrosexual agenda, with its fresh Boy Scouts and Obergefell victories; Planned Parenthood’s barbarous monstrosities, facilitated in part by “Catholic” legislators, who remain unperturbed by their spiritual Fathers; the rapid shrinking of the Church in Germany, while that nation’s hierarchy cheers, and while the German Radio Vatikan promotes homosexuality; alarming signals pointing to a potentially disastrous Synod on the Family; the now frequent red-carpet reception of irreligious individuals and dissident Catholics into the hallowed halls of the Vatican (e.g., Sachs, Klein, Schellnhuber, Walsh); Obamacare’s triumph over the Little Sisters of the Poor(!); and the weird clash of colors between the Confederate Naval Jack and the Rainbow Flag. We could go on.
The real solution to these problems is the same as it ever was: Catholic living, that is, the life of grace. The salt of the world must regain its savor, for we were meant to serve God, “in holiness and justice before him, all our days” (Luke 1:75). Just as all creation “groaneth and travaileth in pain” (Rom. 8:22) due to man’s original fall from grace, when man is particularly sinful, and when the children of the Church, especially, are unfaithful to their God — as so many of our miseries above reveal us to be — the hand of God will strike, giving us occasions of penance. “God is not mocked” (Gal. 6:7).
Perhaps the greatest test of faith is the realization amid all the messes of our life, that I am called to holiness. Holiness is fine for the saints; they were, after all, saints. But me?
Read Father Leonard Feeney’s, What a Saint Is to be convinced of this vocation to sanctity we have by baptism.
The sufferings brought on by life’s miseries ought to purify us, as they did the saints. That is one way they became saints.
Whatever purifies brings us to what is fundamental, what is essential. We need to be cleansed of our sinful filth so that supernatural truth, goodness, and beauty can inhere in our hearts. This is, I believe the force of Saint Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. (I Cor. 3: 10-15)
Our watchword in such times as these can be another pearl of wisdom from Saint Paul: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good” (Rom. 12:21).
But how is it that we overcome evil by good? By not letting the evil (whether physical, moral, or metaphysical) corrupt us, and by becoming supernaturally better after encountering the evil than we were before. In addition, the truly holy confront evil persons with the full force of their moral goodness, often occasioning conversions.
We have spoken of purgation or purification. We can also call it “cleansing.” In this regard, what the desert fathers had to say about the sixth Beatitude, “Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God,” can help our understanding. For the monks of the desert, being clean of heart was synonymous with loving God. It was the goal of all their asceticism, of all of what later religious terminology would call “spiritual exercises.” Hear Abba Moses, as quoted by Cassian:
As we have said, the aim of our [monastic] profession is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven. But our point of reference, our objective, is a clean heart, without which it is impossible for anyone to reach our target. …
Everything we do, our every objective, must be undertaken for the sake of this purity of heart. This is why we take on loneliness, fasting, vigils, work, nakedness. For this we must practice the reading of the Scripture, together with all the other virtuous activities, and we do so to trap and to hold our hearts free of the harm of every dangerous passion and in order to rise step by step to the high point of love. [Thanks to the site, Inner Light Productions, where you can read more of this.]
Abba Moses was not some oriental eccentric. These are the words of a great saint, long venerated in the Catholic Churches of East and West (known variously as Saint Moses the Black, Abba Moses the Robber, Abba Moses the Ethiopian, …of Scete, etc.) Cassian’s Conferences (whence comes the above excerpt) were prescribed reading in the Rule of Saint Benedict, that great master of occidental sobriety.
One may say that in such times as these in which we live, such high ideals as Abba Moses’ are “pie in the sky” and not practical; today, after all, we’re doing fine if we simply keep the faith. In reply, let me point out that these were the high ideals of the Church when she was encountering the corrupt, effeminate, debauched world of pagan antiquity — days not entirely unlike our own.
Those days were evil, too.
Two liturgical texts come to mind, with which to close these somewhat disjointed considerations on evils and opportunities. The first has to do with cleansing; it is the “Munda cor meum” prayer that the priest recites just before the Gospel at Mass: “Cleanse my heart and my lips, O Almighty God, Who cleansed the lips of the Prophet Isaias with a burning coal. In Thy gracious mercy deign so to purify me that I may worthily proclaim Thy holy Gospel. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” While laymen cannot pray this prayer liturgically, we can apply it to ourselves in a loose sense inasmuch as we should all proclaim the Gospel by our very lives. And we must be clean of heart in order to do so worthily.
The second shows more directly that evil can purify us. It is the last prayer the priest recites in the traditional rite as part of the Sacrament of Penance: “May the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, whatever good you shall have done, and evil you shall have endured, be to you unto remission of sins, increase of grace and reward of eternal life.”