For Thoughts Like These from Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson was an English convert to Catholicism. No big deal, right? Wrong! You see, RHB had been ordained an Anglican priest in 1895. The thing was, his dad was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time.  Think of how proud his parents and the rest of his family were of him.

In 1896, his father passed away suddenly, and Benson himself was ill as well. While on a field trip to recover his health, he began delving into his beliefs and began to lean toward becoming a Catholic. His relatives were underwhelmed with the idea of the son of the late head of the Church of England doing such a thing. Preposterous—but Bobbie did just that in 1903. [Read more…]

YIMC Bookclub, “The Great Heresies,” Chapter 4

“Why should we suffer? Why should we die?”

Ah, the eternal question. And in this chapter “The Albigensian Attack“, Belloc gets to the heart of the matter of why the Incarnation came about, Christianity was founded, and why the Catholic Church exists. Because as we know, we are mere human beings. We die. And since the beginning, mankind has wanted to know “why?”

And in this chapter, Belloc synthesizes the ideas that we have formed in an attempt to come to terms with this truth. He touches on Manicheanism, Stoicism, and heck, even Buddism. For example he writes,

Various ways out of the torturing enigma have been proposed. The simplest and basest is not to face it at all…another way less base, but equally contemptible intellectually, is to say there is no problem because we are all part of a meaningless dead thing with no creative God behind it… another nobler way, which was the favourite way of the high pagan civilization from which we sprang, the way of the great Romans and the great Greeks, is the way of Stoicism. This might vulgarly be termed “The philosophy of grin-and-bear-it”… another way is the profound but despairing way of Asia, of which the greatest example is Buddhism: the philosophy which calls the individual an illusion, bids us get rid of the desire for immortality and look forward to being merged in the impersonal life of the universe. What the Catholic solution is we all know.

Or hopefully you do. If you didn’t before reading this chapter, you know now. A lot of ground is covered here. Heck, you might want to let your children read this chapter so they will understand what all the fuss is about regarding being a practicing Catholic. What’s the deal? Well,

Shaw, Belloc, And Chesterton

the Catholic Church has on this particular problem a very definite answer within the field of her own action. She says, first, that man’s nature is immortal, and made for beatitude; next, that mortality and pain are the result of his Fall, that is, of his rebellion against the will of God. She says that since the fall our mortal life is an ordeal or test, according to our behavior, in which we regain (but through the merits of our Savior) that immortal beatitude which we had lost.

And then he proceeds to discuss and explain the various manifestations of this particular heresy. First up is Manicheanism. Have you ever seen Star Wars and it’s various sequels and prequels? May the Force be with you? The Dark Side of the Force and the good side? Now you know where George Lucas got that idea. Remember in The Empire Strikes Back when Yoda is training the young Jedi(the Good Side) Luke Skywalker and he punches Luke in the shoulder and says “not this crude matter” referring to his human body? Hmmm, sounds like,

But one thing the Manichean of every shade has always felt, and that is, that “matter” belongs to the evil side of things. Though there may be plenty of evil of a spiritual kind yet good must be “wholly” spiritual.

You’ve probably heard, or maybe even experienced, Christianity of some stripe that treats matter and the human body like this. Not to mention any other religions out there, or new age thinking, that does the same. I know I’ve bumped into people who have said exactly what Belloc says when he describes the human body and its characteristics as follows:

That is something you find not only in the early Manichean, not only in the Albigensian of the Middle Ages, but even in the most modern of the remaining Puritans. It seems indissolubly connected with the Manichean temper in every form. Matter is subject to decay and is therefore evil. Our bodies are evil. Their appetites are evil. This idea ramifies into all sorts of absurd details. Wine is evil. Pretty well any physical pleasure, or half-physical pleasure, is evil. Joy is evil. Beauty is evil. Amusements are evil, and so on. Anyone who will read the details of the Albigensian story will be struck over and over again by the singularly modern attitude of these ancient heretics, because they had the same root as the Puritans who still, unhappily, survive among us.

I’m glad I’m a Catholic now because finally the world makes some sense! And I’m glad I’m a Marine too, because there is a lot of warfare in this chapter. But before I continue, I’m going to hand the reins over to Jason, one of our YIMC Book Club volunteers has these words to say about this chapter:

The Albigensian heresy today is also known as the Cathar heresy. Belloc points out that this heresy is actually a form of Manicheanism. Belloc connects the rise of the Albigensian/Cathar heresy as an attempt of answering the “the problem of evil”. Why are there evil, suffering, and death?

Atheists propose the solution that there is no God. Stoics grin and bear it. Buddists claim individual existence is an illusion.

The Albigensians/Cathars resorted to dualism, that is that God is good but not omnipotent. And that goodness is opposed by evil that was equally as powerful. God the Father is no more powerful than Satan. Furthermore, all matter (being subject to decay) was of evil and good was only spiritual.

The conclusions based on that claim are far-reaching. If matter is evil and God is good, then Jesus could not have been human (no Incarnation), could not have suffered, and was not resurrected. If matter is evil, then the sacraments are false being present in matter. How can Jesus be present in evil matter? Thus no Eucharist.

The heresy divided France. The southern lords embraced the heresy in opposition of the King of France in the north. Belloc isn’t explicit about this but we can see the violent conflict had significant political aspects. Both England and Spain (neither of which embraced the heresy) supported the heretics in hopes of weakening the French.

Belloc shows his bias in his historical account of the battles between the northern and southern French factions.

Of course, Belloc is many things but unbiased is probably not one of them.  Not for the purpose of this book anyway. Jason, and probably others,  have questions about the historical accuracy of Belloc’s accounts.  Footnotes would have been nice here, but perhaps the best thing to do is to consider this chapter as a springboard for following your own curiosity regarding the historical facts surrounding the conflicts that ensued as a result of this movement. A preview of The Inquisition – A Political and Military Study of Its Establishment is available on Google Books.

But as an overview of an erroneous idea that just keeps cropping up over and over, I found this chapter to be very helpful.  How about the rest of you? Share your thoughts with us in the comment box.

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter Two

It’s meat and potatoes time here at the YIM Catholic Bookclub. Old Thunder (Belloc) kicks off this chapter with these terse and direct words, “Arianism was the first of the great heresies.” Where are the footnotes to back up this claim? You won’t find any footnotes in Belloc’s books. I suppose he is confident in making the claim because “everyone knows” this to be true.

Sure, I didn’t, and maybe you didn’t either. But I’ve stated before that I don’t know everything, so if I were you I would make a note to myself to check out these assertions. Perhaps by reading the works of St. Athanatius, for example, or more recently the words of Cardinal John Henry Newman. But for now, let’s just let Belloc draw back the veil on the early Church and see what almost happened to Christianity.

And let me remind you that from almost the very beginning of the Church, it has not been “smooth sailing.” Consider the words of St. John (1 John 2:18-19) when he states,

Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour.  They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was our number.

Yes, the bold is my emphasis, but I’m not the one making the point. St. John is clearly stating that even in his lifetime (6 – 100 AD), controversy and heresy were getting off the ground. Heck, it sounds like they were actually thriving because otherwise why would he mention it? This is shocking to no one who is deep in the scriptures, which is probably why Belloc didn’t encumber every one of his points with footnotes. For the rest of us though, it wouldn’t hurt for you to keep the Bible and the Cathechism close at hand while reading the rest of Belloc’s book. And may I suggest Freiderich Knicht’s helpful book as well?

Belloc writes,

Now the central tradition of the Church here, as in every other case of disputed doctrine, was strong and clear from the beginning. Our Lord was undoubtedly a man. He had been born as men are born, He died as men die. He lived as a man and had been known as a man by a group of close companions and a very large number of men and women who had followed Him, and heard Him and witnessed His actions.

But, said the Church, He was also God. God had come down to earth and become Incarnate as a Man. He was not merely a man influenced by the Divinity, nor was He a manifestation of the Divinity under the appearance of a man. He was at the same time fully God and fully Man. On that the central tradition of the Church never wavered. It is taken for granted from the beginning by those who have authority to speak.

Did I mention that everything hinges on authority for Belloc? And in the end, isn’t that True?

Before I blather on, recall that at the start of the meeting for this book selection, I asked for volunteers to take a leadership role in guiding our discussion here. Up to the plate this week is “Mary R.” What follows is Mary’s brief synopsis of this weeks chapter and the high points as she saw them.

Let’s give Mary R. a hearty welcome and a dose of gratitude for being the first out of the gate in my little experimental twist on the YIMC Book Clubs’ rules of engagement: “all readers should be prepared to help discuss the book.” Maybe Webster, Allison and I will eventually just bring the refreshments!

Mary R., you have the floor,

Chapter 3 – The Arian Heresy
I erred in my first reading of this chapter. Hillaire Belloc stated, “There is no greater error in the whole range of bad history than imagining that doctrinal differences, because they are abstract and apparently remote from practical things of life, are not therefore of intense social effect. … Merely to say that Arianism was what it was doctrinally is to enunciate a formula, but not to give the thing itself.”

I read “enunciate” as “eunicate.” “Eunicate” is not a word (ed.- LOL) but “eunuch” is and that is what I did to the Arian heresy when I first heard about it. I removed the essential and kept the dogmatic part. I knew that Arianism concerned the denial of the divinity of Jesus but I did not take into consideration the society and the uniqueness of the era.

Belloc, referred to as HB going forward, corrected my view and gave me the history, the flesh and blood, of the Arian heresy. This chapter covers roughly 250 years from 300 to 550. It is about generals, emperors, men and motives. HB explains the cultural groundwork that allowed Arianism to take root.

There are the people who supported Arianism – the noble families who were reluctant to accept the social revolution of Catholicism; the intellectuals who were concerned about the loss of their social position; and the Army who supported it. It is the history of people and how their support strengthens or weakens the Church. And it is the doctrines that must be defended.

The competing doctrines were:

* Catholic Christianity: Jesus was at the same time fully God and fully man. “On that central tradition of the Church never wavered.”

* Arianism: Jesus was man and our Lord but not divine. He was not God.

The two main characters who supported opposing views were Areios and St. Athanasius. Both men were charismatic. Both were passionate and both believed what they taught. And finally, halfway through this chapter we find out how St Athanasius defeated Arianism. He was sincere, he was tenacious, he was Patriarch of Alexandria (2nd most important town in Eastern Empire), he enjoyed popular backing, he was a genius, and he was young when the Arian heresy started. He had a lot going for him but he also endured five exiles. Through it all, St Athanasius defended the doctrine.

If you are like me looking for answers, be careful not to read too fast this chapter or you might misread words, change meaning, and miss what you are looking for. Fortunately, I wrote this introduction and had to reread the chapter several times. Thus I have an answer to how I can personally combat heresy. No, I am not male therefore I cannot be a bishop. I don’t have a following of people to support my ideas. And I am not young. Finally, I shouldn’t look for an Army general (HB tells us how the Army was finally converted from Arianism).

What I did learn is that I need to study and understand Church teachings – the dogmas of what it is to be Catholic. I need to believe by both reason and faith.  I need to listen to my bishop and give him my support as he leads me back to union with God.

Okay. Now it is your turn. What did you learn?

Thanks Mary R., and Bravo Zulu! I’m looking forward to our members’ (and anyone else who has read the chapter) discussion in the comm-box below.

YIMC Book Club “The Great Heresies” Chapter 1

In last weeks introduction, Belloc spelled out why we should study heresy. This week, he explains the plan of his book and why he choose the five heresies that he did. Although the number of heretical ideas that assault Christianity are as numerous as sand is on a beach, Belloc argues that the five heresies he covers here should suffice in alerting us as to what we need to be aware of.

It’s disclaimer time here at the book club: I’m fully aware that Belloc’s book is provocative. And his point of view is that Christianity is seen in it’s fullness in Catholicism. Period. This will likely irritate many modern readers, but so be it. As Belloc discussed in the introduction, heresy has become an unused word.

For example, he is unapologetic about the following statement:

There is, as everybody knows, an institution proclaiming itself today the sole authoritative and divinely appointed teacher of essential morals and essential doctrine. This institution calls itself the Catholic Church.

Going further, Belloc states that,

Many through antagonism or lack of knowledge deny the identity of the Catholic Church today with the original Christian society. 

Are you still with us? Because for Belloc, and for many others who have converted to Catholic Christianity, the matter of authority is a key issue. One which many don’t concern themselves with. Not Belloc, though, because for him the matter of authority is crucial. May I suggest you switch off your “know-it-all-ness” for a bit and just listen to what he says? You’ll be glad you did because in doing so you will gain the knowledge to identify “old hat” heresies dressed up in new clothing.

Santayana opined, and I paraphrase, that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Do you believe that? I admit that I do.  Qoheleth, in Ecclesiastes, flatly states that what has been before will be again. So if we don’t know what was “before,” how will we know if we are being led astray? Well, I’ve come to believe the Church because,

From the day of Pentecost (some time between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33) onwards there has been a body of doctrine affirmed for instance, at the very outset, the Resurrection. And the organism by which that body of doctrine has been affirmed has been from the outset a body of men bound by a certain tradition through which they claimed to have the authority in question. 

It is further historically true (though not universally admitted) that the claim of this body to be a divinely appointed voice for the statement of true doctrine on the matters essential to man (his nature, his ordeal in this world, his doom or salvation, his immortality, etc.) is to be found affirmed through preceding centuries, up to a little before the middle of the first century.

Belloc then provides brief sketches of the following heresies and how they attack the Catholic Church. Belloc claims that each of the following present a type of attack. They are as follows,

1) Arianism: Attacked the authority of the Church by denying the divinity of Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity. But even more, it was a “large-scale reaction against the supernatural.” Ever meet a Christian who scoffs at the miracles the Catholic Church has approved of? Sure you have.

2) Islam: So you thought this was an indigenous religion of the Middle East like Shinto Buddism is to Japan or Confucianism is to China? Belloc notes that Islam is essentially,  a heresy alien rather than intimate. It threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within. This should be interesting.

3)Albigensianism: Much like the Manichean heresy (that St. Augustine dabbled with prior to his conversion) with the concept of good fighting evil, and the equal power of the two. Combined with this is the idea that matter is evil and that “all pleasure, especially of the body, is evil.” Ever heard Christians lamenting that our bodies are just corrupt and that we would be better off without them? Show of hands?

4)Protestants: Here is the elephant in the room, eh? Protestants denied the unity of the Church and the central authority Christ gave to Peter as his vicar. Denial of “not the doctrines it(new denominations) might happen to advance, but its very claim to advance them with unique authority” while rejecting unity. This one is going to be hairy!

5)The Modern: Belloc claimed this heresy was on the rise when he wrote this back in 1936 and it is probably blowing full force by now, wouldn’t you say? If I can’t touch, taste, see, or smell it, then it obviously doesn’t exist. If it can’t be measured and tested by the scientific method, then it is make-believe. This heresy, Belloc notes, came before all the other ones, so it looks like we are back to where they started.

Such are the five great movements antagonistic to the Faith. To concentrate our attention upon each in turn teaches us in separate examples the character of our religion and the strange truth that men cannot escape sympathy with it or hatred of it. To concentrate on these five main attacks has this further value, that between them they seem to sum up all the directions from which the assault can be delivered against the Catholic Faith.

Next week we jump into Arianism with the help of reader Mary R. Until then, happy reading!

YIMC Book Club, “The Great Heresies,” Introduction

This week’s reading is the introductory chapter of The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc. My first impression? This guy is smart. My next impression? There is heresy everywhere! Heck, it’s behind every tree, rock, and corner.

First Belloc defines heresy as the removal of one or more aspects from a belief system. Think of a sphere of cheese, and then start taking bites out of it.  What used to be perfectly round is now not, and as such it no longer will roll smoothly. It is no longer whole, but retains some of the structure of the original. Thus,

On this account it can appeal to believers and continues to affect their lives through deflecting them from their original characters. Wherefore, it is said of heresies that “they survive by the truths they retain.”

And as a result, the functioning of society is changed when heresy rears its head. Belloc uses several great examples of this from doctrines of Christianity such as the Christian who believes all the doctrines except that of the immortality of the soul. Not believing in this, Belloc argues, would change the way humans behave. And he uses the example of Christian marriage vs. the idea that marriage is only a contract dissolvable by divorce being a concept that undermines the original idea of marriage.

Which is why I said earlier that after reading a wee bit of Belloc, heresy is seemingly everywhere. Is that your impression too? It also seems like the words and thoughts of Belloc could have been written last week, by George Weigel or someone similar. Which is another great reason to read a book like this, because the big wheel keeps going around and there is nothing new under the sun. Modern anti-Christian spirit in society is nothing new and reading this book will help us open our eyes to that reality.

But why study heresy at all? Belloc argues as follows:

What we are concerned with is the highly interesting truth that heresy originates a new life of its own and vitally affects the society it attacks. The reason that men combat heresy is not only, or principally, conservatism, a devotion to routine, a dislike of disturbance in their habits of thought; it is much more a perception that the heresy, in so far as it gains ground, will produce a way of living and a social character at issue with, irritating, and perhaps mortal to, the way of living and the social character produced by the old orthodox scheme.

This is going to be interesting, to say the least.  What were your impressions? Throw them into the comm-box so we can all chew them over. Thanks for reading and thanks to Brian Vogt for volunteering to lead the discussion for Chapter 6, The Reformation.

Next week we read Chapter Two, on the scheme of the book.

YIMC Book Club Meeting Reminder

We must begin by a definition, although definition involves a mental effort and therefore repels.

With those words, Hillaire Belloc is getting us prepared for another journey into the history of Christianity. Are you ready to voyage into the mine-filled waters of heresy? I am, because all of this stuff was completely skipped over in my experience growing up. [Read more…]

YIMC Book Club Meeting Alert!

Mark your calendars YIMC Book Club members, because it’s time for us to take up the runner-up in the poll which C.S. Lewis won last time. What, you had forgotten? No worries, I will keep you up to date. I’m talking about The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc.

Now, before you all mutiny and go whining about how it’s summer-time and school is out etc.,etc., do me a favor. Save the complaining for another time. Sheesh, it’s starting to sound like my household around here with all my children reminding me that school is over!  Adult lesson #1: School may be over, but life doesn’t go on vacation.

Besides, didn’t you see my post this morning? Reading this book will help you boost your number. So mark your calendars, head to your favorite book store, beg, borrow, (but please do not steal) a copy of Belloc’s “book on the biggies.” Real cheap-skates(I’m first in that line!) can even find it for free on-line. And don’t scramble too fast because although we will still meet on Thursdays, we don’t start until next Thursday. Looking at my wrist watch, that appears to be June 3rd.

This coming Thursday, though, I intend to follow Jack Lewis’ advice and give you a short, palate-clearing reading selection. Just like we did last time. Maybe we can actually have some decent discussions now that the Skipper (ahem, Webster) is ashore on business. Just don’t tell him I said that. Capice?!

If you will be joining us, sign up in the comment box below.  In the meantime, take a look and a listen to this so you can prepare your brains’ “reading voice” for the sound of the character known as Mr. Belloc.  Enjoy!

YouTube Preview Image

Introducing the YIMCatholic Bookshelf

Back in January, I wrote a post named Because of the Pleasure of Finding Things Out, a title I borrowed from a book written by physicist Richard Feynman. The photo you see here accompanied that post. As I wrote then, finding things out about Catholicism is a pleasure for me.

It was probably late 2007 when I discovered Google Books.  There you will find previews of books, what they call “snippet views” or “limited previews” that have a clock running on them (I guess?) and missing pages. But there is also a category called “full view.” I really liked that because I could read the whole book for free!

That and the fact that I’m frugal (cheap, broke, or stingy depending on who I’m dealing with). I hear Kindle is great and there is even an i-Phone Kindle application too.  But I have neither device, so they might as well not exist.  I also don’t have an unlimited budget for buying books either (stingy, er, frugal) whether hardbound, paperbound, or electronic.

To make a long story short, I noticed that I could “add” books to an electronic shelf over at Google Books. So I starting building it and promptly named it the YIM Catholic Bookshelf. I sent the link to Webster and in a split second, he put it in the sidebar as a “value-added” resource for those who happen to stop by our humble blog.

Here are a couple of things to share about the Bookshelf:

A) Only books available in “full view,” with every single page available for you to read, will ever rest on our shelf. So far there are over 300 volumes awaiting your perusal. And I am constantly adding to it as well (like just now during my lunch break).

B) The “library” is fully searchable. This is a handy feature that I used when I was doing the Divine Mercy Novena posts. Want to know about purgatory? Plug the word in the “search my library” box under the portrait of our patron, St. Joan of Arc, and instantly 60 books appear with a reference to “purgatory.” Within each book there may be as few as one citation or as many as 40 in any given volume. Give it a try!

C) You can search for a person, a place, or a thing in the entire library as well as individually in any single volume. Interested in converting to Catholicism? Search “Catholic converts” and thirty (count ’em, 30!) volumes will pop up. Or maybe you are interested in the Rosary (40 volumes!), Augustine, Belloc, Baring, Benson, or Chesterton—all the way to Utopia. All points in between are at your disposal as well. Come and see! Just click on the portrait of Our Lord on the sidebar and find a comfy chair.

D) For the books that are no longer protected by copyright, you can click the “view plain text” button on any volume and cut and paste passages into your posts, e-mails, love letters, etc.  Just don’t forget your footnotes! You can also send a link to the the book, page, and even an exact paragraph of any book on the shelf to anyone with an e-mail address. Send it to someone around the world at the speed of light. Just fasten your seatbelt first!

Which leaves me wondering: What if there had been Google Books when I was going to college? Sheesh! And note this: I haven’t read every book that sits on the shelf. But I intend to spend a lifetime trying. And you can join me too, because at the YIM Catholic Bookshelf, the light is always on and we never charge “over-due” fees.

Now, if I could just figure out how to put a free Starbucks in here, it would almost be heaven.

Thanks to Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

“On the day upon which the Church celebrates the feast, I had a vision of Mary’s Annunciation.”

At daily Adoration I have been reading slowly The Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the visions of German visionary and stigmatist Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824). I opened the book today (volume one of four) and found that I had reached the Annunciation, which we celebrate tomorrow. It reads:

“I saw the Blessed Virgin a short time after her marriage in the house of Nazareth. Joseph was not there. He was at that moment journeying with two beasts of burden on the road to Tiberias, whither he was going to get his tools. But Anne was in the house with her maid and two of the virgins who had been with Mary in the Temple. Everything in the house had been newly arranged by Anne. Toward evening they all prayed standing around a circular stool from which they afterward ate vegetables that had been served.”

I feel a bit kooky reading Emmerich. She starts with the Garden of Eden, for goshsakes, complete with a tree on an island in the middle of a pond, as vivid as the island green at Sawgrass (left). Emmerich’s vision of the Annunciation is just as vivid.

“Anne seemed to be very busy about the household affairs, and for a time she moved around here and there, while the Blessed Virgin ascended the steps to her room. There she put on a long, white, woolen garment, such as it was customary to wear during prayer, a girdle around her waist, and a yellowish-white veil over her head. The maid entered, lighted the branched lamp, and retired. Mary drew out a little, low table, which stood folded by the wall, and placed it in the center of the room. It had a semicircular leaf, which could be raised on a movable support so that when ready for use the little table stood on three legs. Mary spread upon it a red and then a white, transparent cover, which hung down on the side opposite the leaf. It was fringed at the end and embroidered in the center. A white cover was spread on the rounded edge.”

I love all this detail. Don’t you wonder where it came from—and how it could possibly go on for 1,800 pages? What was happening here?

“When the little table was prepared, Mary laid a small, round cushion before it and, resting both hands on the leaf, she gently sank on her knees, her back turned to her couch, the door of the chamber to her right. . . . I saw her praying for a long time with intense fervor. She prayed for Redemption, for the promised King, and that her own supplications might have some influence upon His coming. She knelt long, as if in ecstasy, her face raised to Heaven; then she drooped her head upon her breast and thus continued her prayer. And now she glanced to the right and beheld a radiant youth with flowing, yellow hair. It was the archangel Gabriel. His feet did not touch the ground. In an oblique line and surrounded by an effulgence of light and glory, he came floating down to Mary. The lamp grew dim, for the whole room was lighted up by the glory.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, Emmerich entered an Augustinian convent when she was twenty-eight. “Here she was content to be regarded as the lowest in the house.” Her sisters were disturbed and annoyed with her weak health, her ecstasies, her strange powers. In 1813 she became bedridden, and soon afterward she received the Stigmata, including the marks of thorns encircling her head. In about 1820 Klemens Brentano, a famous poet, visited her. She recognized him, saying that he was the man who would help her fulfill the word of God. She dictated the entire
Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to Brentano. He was won over by her purity, humility, and patience under indescribable sufferings.

“The angel, with hands gently raised before his breast, spoke to Mary. I saw the words like letters of glittering light issuing from his lips. Mary replied, but without looking up. Then the angel again spoke and Mary, as if in obedience to his command, raised her veil a little, glanced at him, and said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to they word!’ I saw her now in deeper ecstasy. The ceiling of the room vanished, and over the house appeared a luminous cloud with a pathway of light leading up from it to the opened heavens. Far up in the source of this light, I beheld a vision of the Most Holy Trinity. It was like a triangle of glory, and I thought that I saw therein the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

“As Mary uttered the words: ‘May it be done unto me according to thy word!’ I saw an apparition of the Holy Ghost. The countenance was human and the whole apparition environed by dazzling splendor, as if surrounded by wings. From the breast and hands, I saw issuing three streams of light. They penetrated the right side of the Blessed Virgin and united into one under her heart. At that instant Mary became perfectly transparent and luminous. It was as if opacity disappeared like darkness before that flood of light.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia tells us, “Sister Emmerich lived during one of the saddest and least glorious periods of the Church’s history, when revolution triumphed, impiety flourished, and several of the fairest provinces of its domain were overrun by infidels and cast into such ruinous condition that the Faith seemed about to be completely extinguished. Her mission in part seems to have been by her  . . .  Besides all this she saved many souls and recalled to the Christian world that the supernatural is around about it to a degree sometimes forgotten. A rumour that the body was stolen  caused her grave  to be opened six weeks after her death. The body was found fresh, without any sign of corruption. In 1892 the process of her beatification was introduced.

“While the angel and with him the streams of glory vanished, I saw down the path of light that led up to Heaven, showers of half-blown roses and tiny green leaves falling upon Mary. She, entirely absorbed in self, saw in herself the Incarnate Son of God, a tiny, human form of light with all the members, even to the little fingers perfect. It was about midnight that I saw this mystery.”

YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 9

This week we read Book IV, Chapters 9,10, and 11.

Can you hear Barry Manilow sing Looks like we made it? Are you turning cartwheels or heaving a sigh of relief? Show of hands: How many of you actually stuck it out and read the whole thing? On second thought, don’t answer that. Don’t worry about it either, because you could get away with reading just Book IV of Mere Christianity and come away with a new appreciation for the path you have chosen.

If nothing else, this last section of Jack’s book will cause you to pause and reflect on the enormity of the task that lies ahead as you walk this narrow path to salvation. In chapter 9 Jack discusses frankly the “be careful what you wish for” aspect of Christianity.

Did you think you just had a few things to work on, and then all would be well? Jack reminds us that  Our Lord says to each of us, “Be perfect.” And that means trusting in Him and enduring all manner of trials as you are undergoing the transformation to perfection. And Jack doesn’t sugar coat it for us either.  Making the change will kill you. Yes, you will become perfect and die trying. 

Tempted to throw in the towel? You can count on that temptation. Expecting consolations in this world? Don’t count on that one. Take heart, fellow sojourner—

When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along-illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation-he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him into situations where he will have to be very much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed of being before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us.

Do you think being a Christian is all about being nice? In Chapter 10 Jack does his level best to disavow you of that namby-pamby notion, too. I’m just a regular guy, but I don’t think you would classify me as a really, really nice guy. Ugh! I’m a Marine, for crying out loud! And I’m a Christian. I can’t speak to your experience, but I think many men have just turned off to Christianity because of the attempt to wedge their square selves into the round hole of nicety.

Jack comes up with some solid arguments to the contrary here. We are becoming new people when we become Christians. For cradle Catholics, you still have to go through this transformation just like us converts. Because as you see here, Jack acknowledges the brutal fact that the change isn’t necessarily a rapid one. And what of the conundrum of the not-so-nice Christian and the very nice non-Christian? Jack tackles that question with alacrity via an analogy a land-navigating Marine like me loves: that of the compass combined with free-will,

Will they, or will they not, turn to Him and thus fulfill the only purpose for which they were created? Their free will is trembling inside them like the needle of a compass. But this is a needle that can choose. It can point to its true North; but it need not. Will the needle swing round, and settle, and point to God? He can help it to do so.  He cannot force it.

Not that niceness, on the whole, isn’t to be encouraged. But as Jack explains, remember that Christ came to save the sick and the poor and those most in need of redemption.  The trick is, of course, that this means all of us! For,

God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.

And Jack explains that this is a transformative experience, not unlike turning a horse into a totally different creature with wings. And now to the final chapter, The New Men.

Chapter 12 begins with an idea that lays to rest any fear that science and reason are incompatible with Christianity. The Theory of Evolution? Heck, as Catholics you should know that as far as the Church is concerned, the theory has validity. Jack agrees, and what thinking person doesn’t? And as Jack reports, the next evolutionary step made its appearance over 2000 years ago. Not by evolution will the next step arrive, but by revolution—

It is not a change from brainy men to brainier men: it is a change that goes off in a totally different direction-a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God.

And daughters too.  It is almost impossible for me to comment on this last chapter because Jack weaves pretty much all of the concepts from the entire book into this final one. I like how Jack portrays the Christian world as one that is still in its infancy. 2000 years old? A mere blink of the eye. Much more work for us to do so stop focusing on the “end times” and start working on the transformation. Which brings us to this thought (and proof) that insure this book remains a timeless classic:

The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething. The outer world, no doubt, thinks just the opposite. It thinks we are dying of old age. But it has drought that so often before! Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without or corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, the rise of great anti-Christian revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense-and I quite realize how frightfully unfair it must seem to them-that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.

It’s hard to keep a good man down, and impossible to keep the Son of Man or His Church down. I’ll wrap this up and turn it over to you and the comment box with one last thought of Jack’s,

The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented-as an author invents characters in a novel-all the different men that you and I were intended to be.

After all, this is the message of Divine Mercy: Jesus, I Trust In You.  Lord, give me the strength to let go of the reins.

Announcement:

The YIMC Book Club will now go on hiatus. We’ll be back sometime after Easter for our next selection, Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies.