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The topic Mike Church assigned me this year is “Lex Orandi: Why What Happens in Church Matters outside of Church.” As a preliminary step in discharging my assigned task, I’ll try to situate my topic into the larger theme of the Congress: “For Altar, Culture, and Trade.” It seems that Mike has asked me to consider the fixed point at which the Altar intersects with Culture and with Trade. That is to say, my topic deals with how what happens at and around the altar touches upon culture and the the way we Christians earn our livelihoods. Therefore, we are considering the Mass specifically, but also all liturgy (including the divine office and sacramental rites), and, by extension, all prayer and the interior life in general.
At the risk of going off on a tangent this early in my talk, I would like to speak briefly of what constitutes “culture.” (Others will speak of trade, which pertains to economic questions and how heads of families make their livelihoods.) Culture is both “an environment that sustains life” and, in turn, an expression of that life. Using the word as a verb, you can culture microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts, and molds in a Petri dish. That little invention of a German bacteriologist has in its “culture medium” what is necessary to sustain the microbial life you are trying to cultivate — that is, to make live and flourish. Among rational animals, we speak of culture in matters that rise above mere biology; it is most especially what pertains to man’s highest faculties, that is, of what makes him a man and not a beast — namely, the intellect and will, and how these powers function through our bodies and our whole person. But individual persons do not make a culture; it only when societies of persons interact with one another that we have a culture, because culture is inherently social. When speaking of culture, we are therefore considering the arts and sciences, language, virtues and vices, manners, morals, and customs — as well as the passing on of all that by way of education. Andrew Brietbart made the expression “politics is downwind of culture” into a mantra in certain circles — meaning if you want to change politics you must first change the culture. I assert that culture itself is downwind of religion. If you want a culture that is truly conducive to authentic human flourishing, you need the true religion. The cultural achievements of Christendom stand as lasting monuments to this truth.
That said, I do think it is imperative that we avoid the error of certain individuals who make of religion a mere expedient to produce culture. It is not that; it is much more. Religion pertains to God and the things of God, whose rights come first. If Saint Benedict and his monks built Christian Europe it is not because they set out to; they did so only per accidens. Substantially and primarily they set out to establish monasteries as “schools for the Lord’s service,” to quote Saint Benedict’s Rule. The culture that arose in Saint Benedict’s massive wake was an impressive byproduct of the monastic ora et labora — prayer and work.
Now, onto the question implicit in our title: Why indeed does what happens in Church matter outside?
First, what happens in Church concerns our obligations to God. If we are not discharging our duties to God — adoration, love, thanksgiving, reparation, petition, etc. — nothing we do in our daily life avails us unto eternity. “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul? Or what exchange shall a man give for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). What happens in Church includes the sacrament of penance, without which most of us would die in our sins. We thank God for his mercy in giving us such a gift.
Again, God’s rights come first; for this reason, the first and greatest commandment of the Gospel is that we love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. This must be our top priority. “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you,” says our Lord (Matt. 6:33). Saint Augustine tells us that the love of God orders all our other loves, and that virtue itself is ordered love. If we have the wisdom to put first things first, the other things will be achievable to us.
Next, in order to rebuild a Christian Culture — which is primarily the task of the layman — the faithful need that spiritual energy which comes from the altar. That is, we need grace. We learn this from Jesus when He tells us, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The Code of Canon Law says that it is the especial duty of the Catholic layman “to permeate and perfect the temporal order of things with the spirit of the Gospel” (Can. 225 §2). But that cannot be done by men and women who are not themselves permeated with the Gospel by first fulfilling their duties of religion to the Holy Trinity and living the life of grace.
In addition to this, because so much of the success of the Church and of Christian society — in every way both spiritual and temporal — depends upon grace, it is of great importance that there be some who are set aside especially for the service of the altar both as clergy and as consecrated religious. And when I say “religious,” I mean both active and contemplative religious — people set apart especially for the worship of God. We Americans are, I believe, still tinged with our namesake heresy that tended to downplay religious life, especially it its contemplative forms. Apropos of this, a passage from Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson’s The Light Invisible recently came to my attention. In this work of fiction, an old priest speaks of various extraordinary experiences he had and the lessons he learned from them, like this episode he experienced while visiting a contemplative monastery of nuns:
“I said a prayer or two, and then I noticed for the first time a dark outline rising in the centre of the space before the altar. For a moment I was perplexed, and then I saw that it was the nun whose hour it was for intercession…. As I knelt there I thought deeply, wondering as to the nun’s age, how long she had been professed, when she would die, whether she was happy…. Then a kind of anger seized me, as I compared in my mind the life of a happy good woman in the world with that of this poor creature… [living] the sour life of the cloister—as loveless and desolate as the cold walls themselves. And even, I thought, even if there is a strange peculiar joy in the Religious Life—even if there is an absence of sorrows and anxieties that spoil the happiness of many lives in the world—yet, after all, surely the Contemplative life is useless and barren…. How can a soul serve God by forsaking the world which He made and loves?
“And so…I went on—poor ignorant fool!—thinking that the woman who knelt in front of me was less useful than myself, and that my words and actions and sermons and life did more to advance God’s kingdom than her prayers! And then—then—at the moment when I reached that climax of folly and pride, God was good to me and gave me a little light….
“First I became aware suddenly that there ran a vital connection from the Tabernacle to the woman. You may think of it as one of those bands you see in the machinery connecting two wheels, so that when either wheel moves the other moves too…. Now in the Tabernacle I became aware that there was a mighty stirring and movement. Something within it beat like a vast Heart, and the vibrations of each pulse seemed to quiver through all the ground….”
The priest’s face was working, and his hands moved nervously. “How hopeless it is,” he said, “to express all this! Remember that all these pictures are not in the least what I perceived. They are only grotesque paraphrases of a spiritual fact that was shown me. Now I was aware that there was something of the same activity in the heart of the woman, but I did not know which was the controlling power. I did not know whether the initiative sprang from the Tabernacle and communicated itself to the nun’s will; or whether she, by bending herself upon the Tabernacle, set in motion a huge dormant power. It appeared to me possible that the solution lay in the fact that two wills co-operated, each reacting upon the other. This, in a kind of way, appears to me now true as regards the whole mystery of free-will and prayer and grace.
“At any rate the union of these two represented itself to me…forming a kind of engine that radiated an immense light or sound or movement. And then I perceived something else, too…. I perceived that this black figure knelt at the centre of reality and force, and with the movements of her will and lips controlled spiritual destinies for eternity. There ran out from this peaceful chapel lines of spiritual power that lost themselves in the distance, bewildering in their profusion and terrible in the intensity of their hidden fire. Souls leaped up and renewed the conflict as this tense will strove for them. Souls even at that moment leaving the body struggled from death into spiritual life, and fell panting and saved at the feet of the Redeemer on the other side of death. Others, acquiescent and swooning in sin, woke and snarled at the merciful stab of this poor nun’s prayers.”
The priest was trembling now with excitement. “Yes, he said; “yes, and I in my stupid arrogance had thought that my life was more active in God’s world than hers….” (Robert Hugh Benson, The Light Invisible, excerpts from 117-124)
And now, believe it or not, I come to my last point. Yes, this early in my talk! But I will develop it at some length, so you’re not getting any break. The last reason I will give why what happens in Church matters outside is this: What happens in Church keeps us steeped in reality. I’m going to develop this in some depth because I believe it to be much more important that we might think at first blush.
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When he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1983, the great Russian thinker Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave an oft-quoted speech at the London Guildhall. The four words most frequently cited from that speech are repeated twice in this passage:
Over half a century ago [Solzhenitsyn said], while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’
Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’
What is more, the events of the Russian revolution can only be understood now, at the end of the century, against the background of what has since occurred in the rest of the world. What emerges here is a process of universal significance. And if I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: ‘Men have forgotten God.’
Solzhenitsyn directed this critique not exclusively at men of the Eastern Bloc, but Western men as well.
As a race, we humans have a problem with being forgetful of many things — perhaps especially those that are in our best interest to recall. In his meditations on ‘Memory,’ Brother Francis calls memory, “the abundance of a man’s heart,” and the “greater part of personality, the index of love, the depository of wisdom, the determinant of virtuous action, the effective and abiding part of education.” What we choose to remember and what we choose to remind ourselves of say a lot about us. So, too, does what we forget.
Thankfully, we are not alone in this task of selecting what is most important to call to mind. Under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, the Church herself has crafted the masterpiece that is the liturgical calendar, which has for one of its tasks this very serious matter of filling and repeatedly “jogging” regenerated man’s memory. Consider these words from Dom Prosper Gueranger:
“What is the Liturgy,” he asks in his introduction to The Liturgical Year, “but an untiring affirmation of the works of God? A solemn acknowledgement of those divine facts, which, though done but once, are imperishable in man’s remembrance, and are every year renewed by the commemoration he makes of them?”
“The year thus planned for us by the Church herself,” he continues, “produces a drama the sublimest that has ever been offered to the admiration of man. God intervening for the salvation and sanctification of men; the reconciliation of justice and mercy; the humiliations, the sufferings, and the glories of the God-Man; the coming of the Holy Ghost, and His workings in humanity and in the faithful soul; the mission and action of the Church — all are there portrayed in the most telling and impressive way…. Human ingenuity could never have devised a system of such power as this.”
In other words, this monumental cultural achievement that we call the Church’s traditional Liturgy, which is primarily the worship of the Holy Trinity through, with, and in the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ, is also a perpetual memorial — a constant renewal and reminder of the most important truths. These truths are themselves the very highest of realities.
When he wanted to impress upon the mind of Christians the full doctrine of Jesus Christ’s social kingship in 1925, Pope Pius XI was mindful of this, so he didn’t only write an encyclical; he also instituted the Feast of Christ the King, explaining his reasons for it in the following words of Testem Benevolentiae:
That these blessings may be abundant and lasting in Christian society, it is necessary that the Kingship of our Savior should be as widely as possible recognized and understood, and to this end nothing would serve better than the institution of a special feast in honor of the Kingship of Christ. For people are instructed in the truths of faith and brought to appreciate the inner joys of religion far more effectually by the annual celebration of our sacred mysteries than by any official pronouncement of the teaching of the Church. Such pronouncements usually reach only a few and the more learned among the faithful; feasts reach them all; the former speak but once, the latter speak every year — in fact, forever. The Church’s teaching affects the mind primarily; her feasts affect both mind and heart, and have a salutary effect upon the whole of man’s nature. Man is composed of body and soul, and he needs these external festivities so that the sacred rites, in all their beauty and variety, may stimulate him to drink more deeply of the fountain of God’s teaching, that he may make it a part of himself, and use it with profit for his spiritual life.
Later, Pius employs a kind of “holy pun” when he writes that “the feast of the Kingship of Christ sets the crowning glory upon the mysteries of the life of Christ already commemorated during the year…” In writing as he did, the Holy Father shows that he intended to institute no merely factual reminder, as if we were tying a Catholic string on one of our fingers, but a memorial that movingly and lovingly engages the entire person. That is what real liturgy does. It doesn’t simply remind us of these heavenly realities; it immerses us in them.
The ordinary of the traditional Roman Mass has a few occurrences of words bespeaking memory: including “memorial,” “memory,” and “commemoration.” Immediately after the consecration is that part of the Canon we call the Anamnesis (from the Greek word for “recollection”). The Anamnesis is common to both Eastern and Western liturgies. Here is the version of it in the traditional Roman Mass:
Therefore, O Lord, as we celebrate the memorial of the blessed Passion, the Resurrection from the dead, and the glorious Ascension into heaven of Christ, your Son, our Lord, we, your servants and your holy people, offer to your glorious majesty from the gifts that you have given us, this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life and the Chalice of everlasting Salvation.
Many liturgical propers also use this language of memorial. On February 12, the feast of the Seven Founders of the Servite Order, we learn in the collect that Our Lord moved these saints to found a religious family, “for the renewal of the memory of Thy most holy Mother’s sorrows.”
In repeatedly bringing to our minds the principal events of our creation and redemption, of our origin and our destiny, the Church’s liturgy supplies us with our “Catholic Metanarrative,” an alternative to the manifold and wicked narratives promoted by Satan’s minions. If you’re wondering what a metanarrative is, here is a good explanation in the words of James Corbett:
A metanarrative is a grand narrative that … gives meaning to our lives, to the world, to our understanding of who we are and our place in the world. [It] is the metanarrative that guides our actions. We all have some big story about what it is that is happening, why we’re here, what is happening to us … and what is our role in all of this — whether that’s a consciously formulated metanarrative … or … just the unspoken, un-thought-of assumptions that guide our actions. [Transcribed from “Writing a New Narrative.”]
This is important because, in place of a Christian world view, we are constantly being propagandized with a corrosively anti-Christian metanarrative via the the media, the entertainment industry, and Big Tech. Included in this false metanarrative are the bogus origin story of Darwinism, the myth of over-population, the fantasies of Freud and his accomplices and so much more. I am convinced that many in the Church, including some among our leaders, uncritically accept patently false, immoral, and absurd ideas simply because they have been brainwashed by this metanarrative. Indifferentism, Liberalism, Americanism, and Modernism have, of course, facilitated this colonization of the Catholic mind, much as a bad diet weakens one’s immune system and facilitates infection.
Let’s consider for a moment the nature, necessity, and efficacy of stories or narratives. James Corbett, something of a specialist in propaganda and mass manipulation, offers some wise words in response to the question, “What’s the most powerful weapon ever invented?” The following extended excerpt is well worth pondering:
Story is the most powerful weapon. Narrative. Ideas presented in such a way as to provoke certain thoughts or actions.
With a gun you can kill a man. With a bomb you can kill a family. With a nuke you can level a city. But with a story you can control the world.
This is how billions of people around the world have been locked up as prisoners in their own homes this past year. [He is writing in November of 2020.] Not because there is an inexhaustible supply of police thugs standing on every street corner ready to shoot anyone who steps outside of their home, but because a narrative has been constructed such that the vast majority want to stay home. Give a society the right narrative and they will gladly lock themselves inside their own prison and hand over the key.
This is why billions around the globe are prepared to roll up their sleeves for an experimental, unproven “vaccine” for a disease with a 99% survival rate. The masses have been given a narrative whereby this “vaccine” is going to deliver them from a deadly plague. It doesn’t matter what counter-evidence is presented to them; the ones who take the vaccine are the righteous heroes of this story, and those who question the vaccines are the villains.
This is also why … the powers that shouldn’t be spend so much time, money and effort propagandizing the public. If the world could be ruled over simply by posting armed guards on every street corner and listening devices in every home, you better believe that those who seek to rule over you would do that instead. But how could they get the armed guards to police their fellow citizens? How could they get the snoops to listen in on their neighbors? Where would the enforcers come from? The population needs to be told a compelling story about why the rulers are ruling and why it is wrong to resist their rule. If such a story is secure in their minds, they will happily police themselves.
But the foregoing is not all there is to it. The Goliath that appears to have won the day is not unconquerable. There are smooth stones with which a modern-day David might bring him down. Again, in the words of James Corbett:
There is a flip side to this seemingly depressing insight, however. Yes, people can be tricked into enslaving themselves through propaganda and narrative manipulation. To a large extent, that explains the situation we find ourselves in today. But the inverse is also true. We can be freed by a narrative that helps us to break out of our mental prison. One storyteller with a compelling tale to tell can re-frame our collective reality in an instant, and the world will change all at once.
When I read these words of the brilliant anarchist, I said to myself: WE CATHOLICS HAVE IT! WE HAVE THE GOSPEL, THE FAITH, THE LITURGY, ALL OF WHICH PASSES ON THE MOST POWERFUL STORY EVER TOLD, ONE ALL THE MORE POWERFUL BECAUSE IT IS TRUE! Moreover, with our true narrative comes God’s grace, something no merely human formulation can effect.
All civilized nations worthy of the name keep a memory of their story. If a people, a nation, a tribe, or a community of any sort is going to have a metanarrative, some portion of it, at least, must be committed to memory, with much of it memorialized in art forms intended to remind. Depending on what culture we speak of and in what era, these art forms will include folk-songs, epic poetry, sagas, Eddas, and the like, often mixed with mythology. The Greeks have their Iliad and Odyssey, the Romans, their Aeneid. God’s people of the Old Testament had their inspired historical narratives which they liked to tell over and over again. Many of the significant events in the history of the Jews were commemorated liturgically in their feasts, e.g., the Passover, annually calling to mind the escape from Egypt; Pentecost, which celebrates the giving of the Law on Sinai; the Feast of Tabernacles that commemorates their wondering in the desert for forty years; and, much later, Hanukkah, commemorating the heroic Maccabean uprising.
All peoples who had something worthily called a culture have some kind of narrative that served as their own history or pre-history, however mythologized it may be. In some cases, a people’s identity can be wrapped up in tragic events that are still fairly recent. Think Armenian Genocide; think Irish Potato Famine.
With His sending of the Apostles to evangelize all nations, Jesus Christ made us New-Testament faithful not a single people or nation in the conventional sense of those words (even though Saint Peter calls us “a holy nation, a purchased people”). Transcending national borders and ethnic divisions, we are rather a Mystical Body that is universal (or catholic) in character, composed as it is of men from “every nation, and tribe, and tongue, and people.” For this reason, our story is more complex and more diverse than that of any single nation. Because we are the Mystical Body of Christ, our local beginnings are found in Jerusalem, with the physical Body of Jesus; therefore, His Incarnation, Birth, Death, Resurrection, Ascension, and sending of the Holy Ghost will give us our major feasts. After those, the Marian feasts and the feasts of the saints complete our calendar, which brings us to an interesting point. The unity of Christendom gave our Catholic ancestors a sense of shared identity, separated though they were by language and local customs. There was much that was common across Christendom, centered on the Mysteries of Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints. But new saints arose in various places, as did Marian apparitions and other sacred occurrences, and such persons and events were all woven into the story, the ever-added-to narrative of those localized embodiments of the one people of God that is the Catholic Church. This is to speak of a legitimate “inculturation” that gives Catholic peoples and nations their own local identity in addition to the one we all share.
The Church’s liturgy repeatedly reminds us of both our origin and our destiny… At every turn, it is REALITY that our Christian Metanarrative is drumming into us — reality of the most transcendent and important kind.
Modernity and its false narratives are wiping out our Catholic memories, our Christian remembrances AND REALITY ITSELF from the minds of too many of our baptized brethren. The causes of this are manifold, but plain old bad will is at the bottom of them all. We need to reverse that horrible degeneration to save our souls, to rebuild the Church, and to restore Christian culture. We do not want it said of us what was said of the Russians after their murderous, atheist Revolution: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Well beyond temporal punishments in this life, putting God outside of our knowledge invites upon us a terrible divine sequel that extends into eternity: “Amen I say to you, I know you not” (Matt. 25:12). Whatever we can do to sanctify our memories will help to accomplish avoid that fate and to acquire the Mind of Christ.
So let’s think a little more in terms of our shared story as Catholics.
Storytelling is evidently very important to God. He gives us the story of Jesus Christ in the Four Gospels. But we also know that the Church teaches us in terms of dogma — doctrinal formulae presented to us by ancient creeds, popes, and ecumenical councils. After all, we are not some “Bible-only” sect. Here, for example is what we learn of Jesus Christ in the words of the Athanasian Creed:
Thus the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. As God, He was begotten of the substance of the Father before time; as man, He was born in time of the substance of His Mother. He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh. He is equal to the Father in His divinity, but inferior to the Father in His humanity.…
The story and the creed are two very different approaches, aren’t they? But which came first?
When the Son of God became man, He who was eternal entered time and became a subject of history, becoming thereby the protagonist of an amazing story — one no less amazing for its being completely true. Before the dogma of the Incarnation could be grasped at all by the human intellect — as in the wonderful we Creed just quoted — the story had to be told. Indeed the story of Jesus Christ, the narrative of the Gospel, had to be told even before the more fundamental doctrine of the Trinity could be known. It was in the unfolding of that very story that the Trinity was revealed in the events of the Baptism in the Jordan, the Transfiguration, and the sending of the Apostles to baptize all nations.
God gives us the truth of Divine Revelation in a narrative before He gives it to us in doctrinal formulae. Even “the Law” of the Old Testament — the Pentateuch — narrates history, including the only inspired account of Creation of the world. In telling that story, God imparts fundamental doctrine to us.
Today we are drowning in a welter of false narratives that were carefully crafted to attack the Christian “metanarrative” that God gave us in Divine Revelation — from Genesis to the Apocalypse, along with all the oral tradition that goes with Scripture. Pseudo-intellectual attacks on Creation, on the historicity of the Gospels, and on man’s place in the cosmos have been with us a long time. The enemies of Jesus Christ must keep supplementing these old false narratives with new ones if they are to achieve their objectives. Lately, these include the false Covid narratives as well as the nonsense called “gender theory.” Not that in all cases, our adversaries’ storytelling constitutes an attack on reality — on being itself.
Our Catholic metanarrative is reality. This is the true story that gives meaning to life. This is the true narrative that explains our origins and our destiny, and therefore gives meaning to our present in the way that nothing else can. It answers all of life’s existential questions. Our grand narrative incorporates not only the inspired data of revelation and the lives of the saints, but also the great historical project of the evangelization of nations, and the progress of Jesus’ Church from her founding till her glorious final union with her Bridegroom. We even know the end of it already, at least in broad outline. This metanarrative trumps the lies foisted on us by the globalists, atheists, oligarchs, and their useful idiots; and, we might add, it also trumps the false teachings — to quote an infallible document — “not only [of] pagans, but also [of] Jews and heretics and schismatics.” [The quote is from the Council of Florence.]
If this urgent and all-important Christian Metanarrative is the big story in which our complete world view is embedded, there is a corresponding reality at the small end of the cosmic spectrum. This is the ongoing inner dialogue in our minds that might be conceived as a “micronarrative.” (And here I am drawing to a close.)
While he doesn’t use this term, “micronarrative,” which I came up with to describe this, Père Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877-1964) writes on the very first page of his two-volume work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, of the intimate conversation we have with ourselves when we are alone. He conveys here a fundamental truth concerning man’s inner life as it is constituted by nature, but that grace elevates it into the supernatural. Here are his words:
As everyone can easily understand, the interior life is an elevated form of intimate conversation which everyone has with himself as soon as he is alone, even in the tumult of a great city. From the moment he ceases to converse with his fellow men, man converses interiorly with himself about what preoccupies him most. This conversation varies greatly according to the different ages of life; that of an old man is not that of a youth. It also varies greatly according as a man is good or bad.
As soon as a man seriously seeks truth and goodness, this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God. Little by little, instead of seeking himself in everything, instead of tending more or less consciously to make himself a center, man tends to seek God in everything, and to substitute for egoism love of God and of souls in Him. This constitutes the interior life. No sincere man will have any difficulty in recognizing it. The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary [Luke 10:42] consists in hearing the word of God and living by it.
If we attend to this micronarrative in terms of the great truths of the Faith that are constantly presented to us in the Church’s liturgical year, we will avoid the proccupation with what Frank Wright calls the “Current Thing.” Instead, we will be occupied with what T.S. Elliot called “the permanent things,” or what the Church herself calls in the liturgy, “heavenly things” — in other words, the highest things within that realm we call reality.
Our enemies want us living in a perpetual artificial reality of their own devising. This is to live in the “dreamworld” that Fathers Walter Farrell and Martin Healy describe in their book My Way of Life:
To live in a dreamworld is to attempt to have our hearts captivated by nothing outside ourselves and the pitiful shadows that we can produce in the mental world of our own making. If evil is a destruction of the real, and so of the lovable, the shadow world of dreams is an evasion of the real, and so of the lovable. (My Way of Life: The Summa Simplified for Everyone, Walter Farrell, OP, and Martin Healy, STD, p. 10)
The alternative is described by these same priests as a vision of reality based upon our participation in the Divine Wisdom:
Through the Gift of Wisdom man shares in the divine wisdom. He sees all things as God sees them and therefore sees…them as they really are. With the truth of this vision man can set his life in order, in the order of charity. With wisdom man moves through the world truly awake and alert, realizing the true significance of everything. (My Way of Life: The Summa Simplified for Everyone, Walter Farrell, OP, and Martin Healy, STD, p. 362)
To do all this is to be that “just man” who Saint Paul says, “lives by faith.” Here is Blessed Columba Marmion describing how this faith equips us for the battle:
At the hour of trial, at the moment of temptation, it is faith that recalls to us God’s sovereign right to the obedience of His creature, His infinite holiness, the adorable exigencies of His justice, the indescribable sufferings with which Jesus expiated sin, the gratuity of grace, the necessity of prayer, the eternity of pain with which God punishes the sinner who dies unrepentant, the endless beatitude with which He magnificently rewards the fidelity of a few years. All these truths are repeated to us by faith; and however redoubtable the darts of the enemy may be, however violent his suggestions, however prolonged the combat, a soul that has living faith finds in her faith and in her union with Christ, which is born of faith, the power of resistance, the very principle of her stability in good, the true secret of victory. (Dom Marmion, Christ and His Mysteries, p. 196)
But these helps do us no good unless they are ever renewed in our mind, and that takes concerted acts of our will.
We are at this Congress speaking of getting a firm Catholic grip on reality at a time when we are, as a species, at the apparent end stages of losing that grip on reality, even of natural things in the world around us. We are about to loose it as completely as possible thanks to the new wave of AI technology. This makes all the more urgent our obligation to be rooted in the highest realities communicated to us by the Church’s doctrine and liturgy. Doing so will help us avoid the demise of Lord Denethor, a noble character driven to mad despair by the virtual reality of the palantír — to my thinking, an apt literary image of what AI will do to us as it blurs the line between reality and a computer-generated pseudoreality.
Our Catholic “view from the pew” gives us the right perspective from which to see the world; it keeps us rooted in faith, buoyed by hope, and cleaving to the good by charity. So yes, what happens in Church matters very much outside of Church.
I’ll leave the last words of my talk to the Church herself. They come from the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter — tomorrow — and they tell us something of this right perspective:
O God, who dost make the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant unto Thy people to love what Thou commandest and to desire what Thou dost promise, so that, amid the vicissitudes of this world, our hearts may there be fixed where true joys abide.