by Fr Richard Heilman | September 3, 2015 10:02 AM
Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 with the primary goal of the Christian re-conquest of the sacred city of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. So great was the pope’s speech in Clermont, France, on that day that the crowd was inspired to cry out: “Deus Vult! Deus Vult!” (“It is the will of God! It is the will of God!”). This became the battle cry of brave and noble knights who sought to recover that holy ground.
In our vastly secularized modern world, the need has never been greater to reclaim the surrendered ground of the sacred. Why? Without a sense of the sacred, we are left to live pitiful superficial lives; lives prone to every whim of the devil. This is precisely why the devil’s strategy has been to, first, remove every sense of the sacred from our churches, our homes, and our hearts.
The unfortunate reality is that the modern campaign of militant secular indoctrination has been so severe that only a dwindling remnant remains who believes or trusts in God’s supernatural power. As a result, the spiritual hearts of many are reduced to the size of a thimble, only capable of receiving a few meager drops, if any, from the wellspring of God’s graces (Rev 22:1-2). In spiritual terms, this makes us puny and scrawny rather than strong and powerful mighty warriors ready to confront the powers of darkness in the heavenly realm. With so many modernized Christians ignoring the reality of grace, it is no wonder that evil is thriving in our day.
In speaking of the need for a New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI said, “the true problem of our times is the ‘Crisis of God,’ the absence of God, disguised by an empty religiosity” … a kind of lukewarm superficiality – going through the motions of one’s faith – which ends up collapsing completely. The terrible consequence of this war on the supernatural is seen in the epidemic of spiritual sloth in our times — hearts deadened to the Divine Life of God.
Bishop Robert Barron draws attention to this very real epidemic in our times:
“A real concrete statistic around this is that 70 percent of the baptized faithful are staying away from Mass on a regular basis. And we’re doing well in comparison with the European countries. Vatican II said the Mass is the source and summit of the Christian life … everything leads to and flows from the Mass. The Eucharist is everything, and 70 percent could care less about it. Yes, there are many reasons around why some do not go to Mass, but I suspect that, for most, they are suffering from spiritual sloth; they could just care less.”
While it was nearly a millennium ago that Pope Urban II challenged would-be warriors to “reclaim the sacred,” in our times it was Pope John Paul II, in his January 6, 2000, Apostolic Letter for the New Millennium, Novo Millennio Ineunte, who made his clarion call for us to put aside all fear and pursue daring apostolic goals which are rooted deeply in prayer.
The spiritual devastation of the last few decades of the twentieth century compelled Pope John Paul II to draw up his master plan for the new millennium. The Gospel story he sets as the foundation for this appeal is the “Call of the First Disciples” (Lk 5:1-11). This is the classic scene in which Jesus tells Peter to “Put out into deep water (duc in altum), and let down the nets for a catch.” Peter’s response is: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets.” They proceed to catch the maximum amount of fish their nets can hold. Peter, filled with awe and wonder once he realizes he is in the presence of divinity, does not feel worthy to be called. But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men.”
Why does the Holy Father choose this particular Gospel reading as the basis for his new millennium master plan? Because Peter’s words — “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything” — could not speak any more directly to the modern tsunami-like wave of secularism rolling across our planet, as well as our endless parade of parish programs that are mostly done as though God were not there (etsi Deus non daretur).
In other words, the story of the great catch is meant to show that when we try to move only under our own natural power without God (we’ve worked hard), we will flounder in the chaos of darkness (all night) and come up empty (caught nothing) every time. Jesus asks us to get in sync with Him (to obey Him) and not be afraid to set aside our superficial (man-powered) tendencies, as we enter the depths of a supernatural (God-powered) life.
What does our first pope do in the moment he puts aside superficial living and goes deep? He falls at the feet of Jesus saying, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In that breakthrough moment, Peter “Gets it!” Having broken through to “wisdom living,” Peter understands that there is no “fooling God.” In this deeper place, Peter had made a “Divine Connection.” Jesus knew it. Therefore, Jesus said, in essence, “NOW I can use you, because NOW you are among those who ‘get it’ … and because you are leaving aside superficial living and are now willing to move forward in ‘wisdom living,’ from now on you will be fishers of men.”
Everything in the religious order — sacraments, teaching, scripture, moral discipline, preaching, etc. — is meant to bring us to this deeper state of being, to this Divine Connection. Jesus calls it “abiding.” The Latin for this is “maneo” which means “to remain” or “to stay” or “to endure” (or like the Marine Corps’ semper fi). This Divine Connection, this conformity to love, this participation in the Divine Life of God is the very power of the Holy Spirit and is referred to as being in a state of grace.
Fr. John Hardon wrote: “St. Thomas Aquinas believed that man is more than a composite of body and soul, that his is nothing less than elevated to a supernatural order which participates, as far as a creature can, in the very nature of God. Accordingly, a person in the state of grace, or divine friendship, possesses certain enduring powers, the infused virtues and gifts, that raise him to an orbit of existence as far above nature as heaven is above earth, and that give him abilities of thought and operation that are literally born, not of the will of flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Nobody is calling for WWIII. We pray we can avoid physical warfare. What we are referring to, here, is full-on “Spiritual Warfare!” The time is now to amass and train an enormous army of “New Crusaders,” who are ready to reclaim the surrendered ground of the sacred.
In a follow-up article, I will lay out what this training and strategic plan of attack should look like. Stay tuned!
It’s uncanny how prophetic Paul Harvey was in 1965:
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