Monday, September 22, 2014

The Arm of Flesh vs. the Body of Christ

Sennacherib and the Assyrian army besiege Jerusalem, 701 BC.

The are times when the darkness rises like a flood, threatening to engulf us all.  Bad bishops and bad lay Catholics and the badness in our hearts are all quite real and undeniable, at least if we wish to jettison the Unreality we cling to and face the situation squarely.

But as situations go, the one in 701 BC was also rather bleak.  King Sennacherib and his Assyrian armies stood before Jerusalem, ready to attack it.  The people, terrified, looked to Hezekiah, the King of the Jews, to encourage them.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him. With him is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles.” (2 Chron. 32:7-8

Most of us arm ourselves with the flesh, not with the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-18).  And the works of the flesh are these ...

Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Before us we see this played out.  The horde at the gates are armed with these weapons only, even if some of them are dressed in bishops' mitres, even if some of them pray daily devotions and pride themselves in their righteousness.  And some of the Assyrians look an awful lot like us in our more selfish moments.

For as dark as the invading darkness seems, its weapons are not of the Spirit.  Narcissistic bishops, craven and cowardly cardinals, neurotic and fearful devout lay folk - all of them - all of us - conspire against the New Jerusalem as Sennacherib conspired against the old one.  But there is nothing to pit against light but darkness: and darkness cannot do what light does: dispel the gloom.

And so, when things seem very dark and dreary and when the wolf is at the door - worse than that, when the men are at the gates, whose hearts are hungering for slaughter and for spoil, when those people or things other than God that we have put our trust in (such as priests, bishops, fellow Christian friends, our own talents, resources or efforts) - when those we have banked on have all betrayed us, when the City of God seems about to fall (traitors within cooperating with barbarians without) remember - the enemy's only weapons are the sins we cherish (the pitiful works of the flesh), his only strategy is life without light, his only hope is to sling his miserable lies against the Truth.

Fr. Angelo Mary Geiger, who (along with his order) been besieged in a number of ways over the past few months and years, rises to a level of poetic insight into the simple worldly fear that is at the heart of the civil war within the Church and within our souls.  He speaks of "conspiracy theory", but substitute almost any phrase for "conspiracy theory" and you can explain the dynamics of panic and despair.  You may replace his phrase "Conspiracy theory" below with "addiction" or "heterodoxy" or "judgmentalism" or "arrogance" or "narcissism", etc., and it would ring just as true ...

Conspiracy theory is willfulness bubbling up from wanton fear.
There is only one solution to conspiracy theory, just as there is one, and only one, solution to scruples: breaking the will, not satisfying the intellect.  In the Church that means supernatural obedience.
Fear of the Church is a horrible thing.  There are plenty of things to be afraid of.  But this is why we have hope in Christ through His visible Church.  That is why Christ said He who hears you hears me.  Man is not in charge.  Christ is in charge.  Either one believes in the providence of God or one does not.  There is no place in conspiracy theory for the providence of God.
I am not saying that everything is great in the Church.  It is not.  But if one thinks that the providence of God is somehow related to how great things are, he is making the same mistake common among so many in the Old Covenant, namely, that God is present only when it seems that way.

Stare out at the armies of Assyria besieging Jerusalem and ask yourself, "Is God present?"  It certainly doesn't seem that way.  But put aside the "willfulness" that bubbles up from "wanton fear" and trust in God's Providence - which is (contrary to what we expect) not related to "how great things are".

For that which besieges us is armed only with arms of flesh and with the works of the flesh.  But we are the Body of Christ, which includes the Arm (and the army) of God.

Fr. Angelo quotes from Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse.  I will counter with another quotation from that great poem, and I send it out to you, my readers, especially to those of you who feel overwhelmed and desperate in the face of some sort of rising darkness in your life.  We cannot peer through the darkness, but that's what Faith is all about.  For God is present and Christ is in charge - even in our darkest hours, and even in His Church, which we sinners keep besieging.

Chesterton puts these words into the mouth of the Mother of God ...

"The men of the East may spell the stars,
          And times and triumphs mark,
          But the men signed of the cross of Christ
          Go gaily in the dark.

          "The men of the East may search the scrolls
          For sure fates and fame,
          But the men that drink the blood of God
          Go singing to their shame."

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