by Fr Richard Heilman | April 19, 2016 9:38 AM
For the past few years I have been confiding to close friends my own growing sense that something is happening. I have spoken with others who have admitted the same suspicion. The way I have tried to describe it in the past is like the rumblings felt just before a volcano explodes.
Just look at ISIS. Who could ever conceive of atrocities like those we are seeing executed in the name of religion? Look at the confusion within Holy Mother Church? What we are facing, first and foremost, is a form of spiritual warfare. In a time where violence and uncertainty seems rampant, it is true that we must be ready to physically engage the malefactors (e.g., ISIS). But if we deny the spiritual nature of this surge of evil we are facing, we will have no hope of victory.
When confronted with this, the immediate reaction of most people is, “What can we do to stop it?” Yes! That is the exact question we need to be asking. But to begin to answer the question of what we can do, we must first properly assess where we are. What are our capabilities? How is our strength? What is the state of our conditioning? Without this kind of brutal honesty, we are likely to flounder rather than fight.
Jesus warned, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Luke 21:34-35).
In an article I recently wrote, “An Open Letter to All Those Looking to Restore a Sense of the Sacred,” I laid out the conditions of our times and what I believed the answer to be. I believe that underlying it all is a deeper evil, a more ancient and intractable error which gives rise to all the rest. Many have pointed to what is called “Modernism” as the heresy of our times. Modernism, while it takes many forms, is basically a break from or rejection of our past in favor of all things new. And, while it seems Modernism is on the rise, I believe that it, too, is a symptom of this more fundamental threat.
What am I referring to? Something that impacts the very nature of human existence and the opportunity for our salvation. Lacking an official name, I call this, “Stealth Arianism.” Students of history know that the Arian heresy – the worst crisis in the Church before our present age – was rooted in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a created being, not equal to God the Father. Stealth Arianism follows the same fatal error, but with a twist: while the Arians of the fourth century openly denied Christ’s divinity, today‘s Arians will profess Jesus as God, and yet through their actions deny it. In other words, they don’t even realize they are Arians.
You see, once we diminish the identity of Christ as the Son of God, we are left to view Him as simply a historical figure that was a nice guy, a respectable teacher and a good example for how we are to live. Religion is then reduced to a nice organization that does nice things for people as we seek a kind of psychotherapy for self-actualization. And this is not only not what He came to give us, but it’s something He made sure to leave no room for.
How do we recognize this pervasive Stealth Arianism? There is a story of two friends – a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. They stood in the doorway of the priest’s church, staring at the tabernacle in the sanctuary at the other end. The Protestant minister said to his priest friend, “You don’t believe that is God in that tabernacle.” The priest was startled, and said, “What do you mean? Of course I do.” The Protestant minister said, “Listen, if I believed that was God, I would, right here and now, fall prostrate on my face and crawl toward that tabernacle, with tears of joy running down my face … you don’t believe that is God.”
Over the past 50 years, the Stealth Arians have done everything within their power to remove from our lived experience of Catholicism anything that would point to the divinity of Christ, and the supernatural quality of our faith. Much has been stripped from our churches – sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music, and the sacred elements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – and we are left in the barren desert of the banal.
Moreover, the Stealth Arians have deliberately chosen to keep their teachings muddled, ambiguous and elusive in an effort to increase “pastoral sensitivity” as the highest of all values, which keeps people feeling good about themselves just the way they are – though never challenged to strive for sainthood! But whether confused and uncertain, the faithful are left prone to be conformed to the world.
St. John says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Not many today openly deny the divinity of Christ by their words, but far too many deny His divinity by their actions. Do we adhere to all of the teachings of the Church? Do we frequent the Sacraments? Do we do all we can to remain in a “state of grace?” Do we treat the devotions of our faith as precious jewels? Does our attire at Mass reflect a special encounter with God? Do we receive Communion with utmost reverence? And so forth, and so on.
I recently wrote about an epiphany I experienced at a Papal Mass with Pope John Paul II in 1998, when I began to ask myself about what I (we) have been doing until then, “Where, in all of this, was any sense of awe and wonder before God’s supernatural power? Where was the sense of God’s majesty?” Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Man should tremble, the world should quake, all Heaven should be deeply moved when the Son of God appears on the altar in the hands of the priest.” Where was that any longer?
I’ve come to understand that we have, by and large, removed the very gateway into the Divine Life. I agree (and I pray you do too) with Pope St. Gregory the Great who, wanting to capture the spiritual dynamism of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, posited the following order:
“Through the fear of the Lord, we rise to piety, from piety then to knowledge, from knowledge we derive strength, from strength counsel, with counsel we move toward understanding, and with intelligence toward wisdom and thus, by the sevenfold grace of the Spirit, there opens to us at the end of the ascent the entrance to the life of Heaven” (“Homiliae in Hiezechihelem Prophetam,” II 7,7).
As you can see, the entry point into the Divine Life is “Fear of the Lord.” What is Fear of the Lord? According to Fr. John Hardon, Fear of the Lord …
“… inspires a person with profound respect for the majesty of God. Its corresponding effects are protection from sin through dread of offending the Lord, and a strong confidence in the power of His help. The fear of the Lord is not servile but filial. It is based on the selfless love of God, whom it shrinks from offending. Whereas in servile fear the evil dreaded is punishment; in filial fear it is the fear of doing anything contrary to the will of God. The gift of fear comprises three principal elements: a vivid sense of God’s greatness, a lively sorrow for the least faults committed, and a vigilant care in avoiding occasions of sin. It is expressed in prayer of the Psalmist, ‘My whole being trembles before you, your ruling fills me with fear’” (Ps 119:120).
Fear of the Lord, or awe and wonder, is the gateway; this is the trigger that ignites all of the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. This Gift of Awe and Wonder, very simply, transforms the unspiritual man into the spiritual man.
Jesus says, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). When we deny His divinity – and our actions can point to that – we are cut off from that supernatural power to bear the fruit of becoming great disciples, great husbands and wives, great parents, and great citizens. Without that divine life – state of grace – we are left to become base and savage … merely homosapiens … just another species, satisfying our base desires. THAT is why our world is the way it is today!
On May 2nd, we celebrate the feast of St. Athanasius; a bishop who stood with a very small remnant against the pervasive Arian heresy of his day. “Stealth Arianism” is rampant in our times. Are you prepared to be a St. Athanaius today? The time is now for us to accept the challenge set before us and, with the joy of God’s grace radiating from our hearts, bring His love to a world that truly needs to find this Divine connection again.
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