The purpose of Christianity is not to make God knowable. God can be clearly known from the things He has made in this world and has set before our eyes. Christianity has as its purpose to make God visible.
The birth of Jesus in Holy Scripture was all concerned with the visible — an ox, an ass, and a manger! The surroundings of His birth were made so simple that even as you tell it, the story is in terms that are visible to any nation on the earth. Every nation knows a manger, an ox, and an ass.
If the place of Our Lord’s birth were some elaborate citadel, or some enormously decorated room, no one could envision it. But when you see a few animals, and a Mother, and the things in which you wrap a baby, you can see as far back as Christmas — and see it all.
The first visitors who were asked to go over to greet Jesus at His birth were little men who never read books, but who were, nevertheless, living up in the hills with nothing but eyes! Shepherds are always on the lookout — for stars, or stray sheep. The shepherds to whom the angels came were simple men to whom the visibility, tangibility, liftability, touchability, gatherability, holdability of God were the first gifts of Christ at Christmas.
When that little Baby — our Jesus — grew up and went out into the world to preach His story — to tell Who He was, and how a world was to be saved by Him, every single item of His telling was vivid and visible.
Jesus did not gather together a large committee and have meeting, at which one member in the sixth row spoke and somebody else made a remark, and the whole thing was lost in the vagueness of the crowd. He picked, selected, and named twelve men. Everyone knew who these twelve men were. We read in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapter 10:
And having called his twelve disciples together, he gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of diseases, and all manner of infirmities.
Even over the invisible world Jesus gave power to them — to such visible, to such tangible people as these twelve men:
Matt. 10:2. . . . The first, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother,
3. James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the publican, and James the son of Alpheus, and Thaddeus,
4. Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
That is how clear, reachable, touchable and findable they were.
All Our Lord’s miracles were clear and open. All His teaching was clear and open. Instead of reserving His deepest and most profound revelations for a special clique behind closed doors in a conference — with reporters outside hoping for a few crumbs of news — Jesus had as His private chamber a mountain, where He poured out all His secrets. It was a mountain to which everyone could come, and that anyone could climb, clear and visible before Heaven and earth; and where mothers and children could sit and animals lie down beside them. And when the people were come out, and were seated on the grass, Jesus took His place before them, clearly and visibly. And He said to them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 5:3.)
Jesus’ death for the redemption of the world was wildly visible. So definitely visible and focussed was it as a flesh and blood death that He died on a place where men died public deaths — criminals, stripped of their garments. He was nailed to a Cross on Golgotha, with not one tree to get in the way of the One bleeding and dying. It was a place reachable by anyone who was interested — clearly visible before all.
Jesus’ death on the Cross was so tangible and material and visible, and so definite and clear, that even after He died and there was nothing left on the Cross but the corpse of our dear Jesus, we have commemorated in the Thirteenth Station of the Cross a pause — a little hushed interval, when even the Roman soldiers stood in awe. The scoffers stopped scoffing. The spitters stopped spitting. The mud throwers dropped their mud. It was the moment when Our Blessed Lady took that visible Flesh and Blood in her arms, held it to her heart, and took off His crown of thorns.
When Jesus died on the Cross, the whole city was shaken with earthquakes, and corpses walked in the streets. Jesus was put in a grave so visible that soldiers knew which grave to guard. He came out of that grave so visibly that you could walk up and see the empty tomb.
Before Jesus visibly ascended into Heaven, He said: “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them [visibly pouring water on their heads] in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matt. 28:19.)
Some days after Our Lord’s Ascension, the Holy Ghost, the Third Person of the most Blessed Trinity, sent down by Jesus triumphant, descended upon the Apostles, as audible as wind, as visible as a dove, to evoke the messages of Christianity from raging tongues of fire, and to make the men who announced it to the world sheer targets for blazing martyrdoms that God will ever remember and the world can never forget.
That is the way it is. Either Christianity is visible, or else Christ was not God.
But, what have we in our day? Good God! We have Theosophists looking around for non-Calvary religions, or religions in which God was not scourged at the pillar. We have Buddhists walking through Harvard Square, their slanted eyes looking wildly into windows and thinking thoughts in their horrid minds too deep and subterranean to utter. We have Protestants in an arrangement religion that never knows what to call itself from one week to an other, that never knows what its new minister is going to tell it from chapter to chapter of Holy Scripture. We have Unitarians who have no faith in an assured Jesus, getting more indefinite about what Christianity meant to say. And, of course, we have Jews evading the Faith, running away from it, pretending they do not hear the name of Jesus-pretending Christmas is not the birth of Jesus Christ, and getting civic leaders to remove “Merry Christmas” from in front of City Hall and to substitute for it “Season’s Greetings,” because the word “Christ” in “Christmas” annoys them. All this, horrible as it is, I am prepared to cope with.
But imagine priests in the Holy Roman Catholic Church, ordained by the successors to the Apostles — dedicated to the Name and purpose and Blood and robes of Jesus — sitting at Harvard College week after week and listening to religion being lectured about in invisible terms. And imagine their going back, then, to their people and talking about the “soul of the Church,” of “salvation outside the Church through sincerity” — apart from the teachings and Sacraments of Jesus Christ; and calling this arrangement “Baptism of Desire” and expecting men to be members of the Catholic Church without even knowing they are members.
What kind of teaching is that?
That is Christmas without any manger; Good Friday without any God bleeding; Easter Sunday without any Flesh and Blood coming out of the tomb. That is the Christian Faith without any Pope, — the most visible religious leader in the world!
That is what is breaking my heart. Perhaps I am not fair to you to let you know how a priest’s heart can suffer. I am letting you see it tonight. We priests are dedicated to the preaching of a visible religion — the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church, governed and ruled by our Holy Father the Pope, to whom we here in Saint Benedict Center are faithful.
Christ did not come to found an invisible Church. If you would prefer an invisible Church — if that is your interest in religion — Christianity has nothing to offer you; absolutely nothing.
Furthermore, the word visible is a word that must be watched, if you want it to have its right meaning as applied to the Church. In the first place, it does not mean that the Church has to be visibly seen with your seeing organs — your eyes. It would be possible for a blind man to see the Church with his ears. He could hear the sounds that go with the visible values to which his eyes are closed.
I could even be deaf and blind, and the Church could be visible to me. If somebody were able to talk to me by some sort of touch language in which one of my senses could vicariously do duty for two missing senses, I would be given, in defective form but somehow, the same kind of message that my eyes and my ears would give me if I had them.
Once, in New York, I was invited to a private showing of an educational French film, La Nuit Silencieuse — The Night of Silence. At the end, I was weeping like a child. The picture took place in a Catholic school in France where deaf, dumb and blind girls and boys, taken care of by Sisters and Brothers, were taught Christianity through their sense of touch. Values were given to them by some sort of arbitrary, but easily recognizable, alphabet. Through movement, shape, size and texture, the children got on to the fact that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us . . . .” (John 1:14.)
I shall never forget one part of this motion picture. It concerned a very brilliant French boy who was deaf, dumb and blind. Even though he had never heard any sound or seen anyone speak, this boy was able to make sounds himself. He had been taught how to shape and coordinate his sounds to make them like ours. He stood there and, in very painful but nevertheless understandable French, made the most beautiful profession of Faith I have ever heard. He knew what the Blessed Eucharist was. He knew what the vestments of the priest were.
We were told that when this French boy went to Confession he would tell his story into the priest’s hand with his fingers, and to show that he was sorry for his sins, he would pull down the priest’s face and dry the priest’s eyes with his handkerchief. Even though you are deaf and dumb, you can still weep! You still can have the gift of tears!
The boy was told that there was an audience watching him. I do not know what “audience” or “watch” meant to him, but somehow he was told that he was on exhibition, and people were observing him as he talked and made his profession of Faith. He was asked, “Have you anything to say to your audience?” They led him to a blackboard. He stood by it, found it with his hand, made a line on it so that he could get some sense of straightness, and then he wrote:
Priez pour moi. “Pray for me.”
He put down the chalk, after that, and bowed his own head to show us what he meant.
That boy had found the visible Church. You might almost say that to him it was tangible — that to him the Church was the first value that visible meant.
I am going to tell you now, and will tell you many times again, how grateful I am to Saint John for making the Incarnational message of Christianity so completely unmistakable and never to be doubted again, by his brilliant phrase in the beautiful canticle which opens his Gospel. Instead of saying, “God became visible,” Saint John says, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Everyone knows what “was made flesh” means, whether he be deaf, dumb or blind.
“The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” Visible gets a very strong, central and safeguarded value when you put it that way. Flesh is visible, and unmistakably so. God is there to be heard, as flesh speaks; to be seen as flesh walks. A woman could touch the hem of God’s garments.
The whole story of our Emmanuel’s entrance into the world is finished after that matchless challenge of Saint John. There can be no arbitrary discussions about what you mean by visible any more. There can be no handing over of the debate to academic theologians who are more anxious to speculate on it than to see. God has been flesh in this world, and if you are not finding Him from the messages, the words, the pictures, the records, the reports that ultimately stem from Flesh and Blood pointing to Himself, opening His Heart, and saying: “This is God! Bones and blood, and nail-pierced hands”— you have not got Christianity. I do not care what else you are touching — you have not got Christianity.
You may have the grand, cosmic edition of religion which has taken the spotlight on the stage today — the weird apostrophe to vagueness called “the soul of the thing,” the “spirit of the faith,” “my general inner feeling about the matter.” You may have all that, but you have long ago left Christianity.
It may even be to your interest to have Christ go out of the world. I do not know. Maybe you do not want Christ! — Christ of the manger, of the bloody sweat, the crown of thorns, the grave, the risen Flesh and Blood, the Blessed Eucharist. Maybe you would like to drop Christ — and keep something you privately call “Christianity,” and hyphenate it with some other idea, and see what you have in common with a Protestant minister or a Jewish rabbi!
I am here only to tell you what Incarnational Christianity is — Flesh and Blood Christianity. That is the only Christianity I was ordained to preach, in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. I start off by calling it visible, and I am not going to let visible be a weak word.
All the seven Sacraments — which are the great instruments of our sanctification — are visible signs instituted by Christ to confer grace. Why are they outward signs? Because He Who instituted them was an outward performer. When He talked, He moved His head. When He taught doctrine, you heard a voice as well as an idea. So the Sacraments, if they are going to be reflections of their Author, have to be visible. There has got to be something in them that is a signature of the fact that there was flesh in the God Who instituted them.
Behind-your-eyes religion, deep-in-your-depths religion, the great nirvana, personal annihilation, negation of pain — all those horrible escapes, are not Christianity. Christianity is an overt, seeable, tangible, liftable, dealable-with religion. You can point to it! There it goes! Here it lies!
It is so precious in visible form, in Incarnational form, that even when the great soul that kept it alive is gone — let us say when the soul of a saint has left his body — the body is still sacred to Christianity. Its bones are relics. Its clothing is a relic. The beard of Saint Francis, the robe of Saint Dominic, the Little Flower’s hair and shoes, the mantle which she wore, the little bed she slept on, and the straw on which she coughed herself to eternity — all are relics.
And so the Sacraments by which we are sanctified are outward signs instituted by Christ to confer grace. Without the outward signs you just do not get the Sacraments. You can stand around and commune with the Holy Spirit all you want, but if you do not have water, you do not have Baptism. You can be the most devout priest in all the world, you can love the Blessed Sacrament beyond utterance, you can have your vestments on, your altar there, your candles lit, the altar boy ready to say his prayers, but, if you have not got wheat and wine, there is no Mass. And nothing can take the place of that Mass.
You may say, “Well, I will sit down and read the Mass.” I am sorry. Unless you stand up and take bread and wine and say, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” there is no sacrifice. and you are not a functioning priest of the Catholic Church. And if you are a priest of the Catholic Church, and if you have enjoyment, pleasure, peace of soul, in going around and associating with so called “Christians” who are not interested in “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” you are a Catholic priest without the Faith, and you will lose your soul.
There are hundreds of Catholic priests in this country who are going to lose their souls — not for the kind of sins that vulgar people like easily to suggest or imagine. I do not know any group of men more free from sins of that kind than the Catholic priests of this nation. But priests are losing their souls because they have not the courage to preach Incarnational Christianity to vague American minds. And it was for this purpose — the teaching of Incarnational Christianity — that they were put in Holy Orders.
But let me go back and speak again about the word visible. Visible means: visible either in origin or termination. Either the lead or the finish is something tangible, seeable, or holdable.
Suppose I start talking to you about the Passion of Our Lord. I will be talking to you about a body that you will never see while you are on this earth. I will be talking to you about a crown of thorns which you will never take from His head on the Cross. I will be talking to you about sacred eyes that will never look into your eyes while you are in this present trial. Yet, Jesus was visible, tangible, seeable. Do you understand what I mean by visible?
Suppose I should talk to you about my mother. I would be speaking about a visible mother, albeit you might never see her. Maybe the terms in which you would be thinking of her would be leading more to abstraction than to concretion, but you would know in the depth of your mind that in a certain house in a certain street in a certain town there is a little gray-haired lady with a beatable heart and holdable hands whom I am talking about. Is that not right?
So it is, with regard to the visibility of the Church. Visibility must occur somewhere in the arrangement that touches you, if you are going to be a true Catholic according to Christ’s Incarnational requirements.
Take the subject of Baptism for example. Take a little baby and the priest who is going to baptize him. The little mind, the little soul of the baby do not know what is being done, but the sponsors and the priest are there to see that the thing is done visibly. Visibility is dealing with the child in Baptism of Water.
In our day, Baptism of Water has been made invisible by a phrase which the Liberal Catholics of America are constantly employing, to the delight of the Protestants. That phrase is “Baptism of Desire.” You will notice that as the Liberals use it the insistence is on the desire more than on the Baptism, on the thirst more than the water, on the longing more than the Sacrament, on the inner holy impulse more than the outward holy rite.
Christ’s Baptism was not “Baptism of Desire.” Christ’s Baptism was so overwhelmingly a Baptism of Water that He, Himself, stripped of His garments, waded into the River Jordan to be baptized by His servant, John. He made the liturgy of His foundational Sacrament so visible that it evoked from Heaven the Holy Spirit, fluttering in the form of a dove, and the voice of His Eternal Father, crying: “This is My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
Desire is a splendid diabolical word with which to confuse people. Up until recent times, even the most ambitious of the theologians of the Church never dared to use it in connection with Baptism except in a study of the nature of justification, which still left the problem of salvation unsolved — salvation by “Baptism of Desire.”
Perhaps I had better pause for a moment to explain the difference between justification and salvation.
We achieve salvation after our death. We can be justified in this life. Salvation is of the whole man, body and soul. Justification is of our spirit, and our spirit alone. Salvation is our entrance into the Beatific Vision. Justification is our entrance into the state of sanctifying grace. Salvation is our reward for persevering in grace. Justification is our reward for accepting grace. We may or may not persevere in justification, but if we do persevere, we will attain salvation — at the hour of our death.
When the Council of Trent was discussing the problem of justification, it had to remember that it was possible for one to have been justified in the Old Testament as well as in the New, and that is why the Council allows the distinction between the actual reception of Baptism and the eager willingness to receive it. A man in the Old Testament waiting and wanting Baptism to be instituted, and a man in the New Testament waiting and wanting Baptism to be administered could both be justified.
It was possible to be justified in the Old Testament, but not to be saved. When those who died in the state of justification, in the Old Testament, went out of this life, they did not go to Heaven. They went to what is technically called the “Limbo of the Just” (appropriately referred to as “Hell” in the Apostles’ Creed), until the visible Body of Jesus led them to salvation on the day of Ascension. This is how important visibility is to the notion of salvation, whatever it may mean in the realm of justification.
It is sinful to call men to salvation by offering them “Baptism of Desire.” If this so-called substitute for Baptism of Water were in any sense usual, or common, or likely — or even practical — Jesus Christ would never have told His Apostles to go forth and baptize with water for the regeneration of the world.
I have said that a Baptism-of-Desire Catholic is not a member of the Church. He cannot be prayed for after death as one of “the faithful departed.” Were he to be revivified immediately after death — were he to come to life again — he would not be allowed to receive Holy Eucharist or any of the other Sacraments until he was baptized by water. Now, if he can get into the Church Triumphant without Baptism of Water, it is strange that he cannot get into the Church Militant without it. It is an odd procedure for priests of the Church Militant to be shunting people off to the Church Triumphant before these people have enrolled in the a Church Militant, which fights the good fight and preserves the Faith.
What the Baptism-of-Desire teachers make of Our Lord’s great text, “Unless a man eat My Flesh and drink My Blood he shall not have life in him,” I am very much puzzled to know. Perhaps there is a Eucharist of Desire, as well as a “Baptism of Desire”? And why could there not be Holy Orders of Desire, as the Anglicans would like to have it, or Matrimony of Desire, which would so please the Mormons? And what becomes of the Mystical Body of Christ, made up of invisible members and a visible head — invisible branches on a visible vine? I would very much like to know!
Our priests in America now go around preaching this dry substitute of “Baptism of Desire” for the waters of regeneration. Their “Baptism of Desire” is no longer an antecedent to the Baptism of Water to come. They make it a substitute for Baptism of Water, or rather an excuse for not having it. These priests have brought our Church in the United States into a desert, far removed from the life-giving waters of Christ.
Neither “Baptism of Desire” nor “Baptism of Blood” should truly be called Baptism. Neither is a Sacrament of the Church, and neither was instituted by Jesus Christ.
Suppose a non-baptized person had his choice between Baptism of Water on the one hand, and what is called “Baptism of Blood” on the other. Were he not to choose Baptism of Water, the shedding of his blood would be useless and he would lose his soul. It is Christ’s Blood that counts in Redemption, and the fruits of it in application to Baptism. It is not our blood that counts at this foundational point. And it is only when we have received both the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist that Christ can be said to be shedding His Blood in one of us. This last is the real martyr, and the one who has preserved the Faith.
Baptism is a sacrament instituted by Jesus Christ. It is the redemptive power of God’s words in an instituted rite that gives power to the trickle of water and the invocation in the name of the Blessed Trinity. This little trickle of water so administered is worth more than all the blood shed in the history of the world, for any cause whatsoever. This certainly is the testimony of John the Baptist, who preached redemption, not from the shedding of his own blood or the serving of his own head on a platter at a royal dinner.
Saint John the Baptist did not even preach the value of his own baptism in the River Jordan. He preached the value of the Sacrament instituted by One Who joined water and the Holy Ghost as the foundational requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of God, both on earth and in Heaven. And that is why, thank God, though Zachary and Elizabeth’s son was martyred for the Truth, he is not called John the Martyr, but John the Baptist. His is a living testimony that the water of Jesus is more precious than the blood of John.
How beautifully the Blood of Jesus and the Waters of Baptism are linked together in the heart of our Saviour is shown by what happened to Him after He had died and one of the soldiers opened His side with a spear. Immediately there came out Blood and Water, the Blood by which we were redeemed and the Water by which the fruits of Redemption are applied to our souls in the Sacrament of Baptism. Forget this Water that flowed from the heart of Christ, and you will soon forget the Blood that anteceded it.
When the Vatican Council reconvenes, I humbly plead with our Holy Father the Pope, that he will immediately gather his plenipotentiary powers of infallible pronouncement to clear up the wild confusion of visible orating (on the part of his priests and bishops) about an invisible Church — or else the gates of Hell will have all but prevailed against us. The most visible ruler in the world, our Holy Father, in his white robe and white zuchetto, may well take off his triple tiara and get down from his golden throne, and leave Christianity to the kind of committee arrangements to which it is committed in the present-day America, if we keep on preaching “Baptism of Desire.”
I beseech our Holy Father to clear up this unholy confusion for the love of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom his sacrosanct infallibility has now dogmatically and irrevocably secured as assumed into Heaven, body and soul. It was this glorious Queen who, with roses on her feet and stars about her head, suggested water to a little girl at Lourdes as the indispensable symbol of our salvation. It was this Immaculate Mother who caused a spring to break forth from the dry earth so that our sick might be refreshed by the fountains of her love, as our sinners are sanctified by the baptismal waters of her Son.