May 25, 2014

The temptation is for the Church to retreat from spiritual combat, but this is a false strategy


By Father George Rutler

The feast of St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) falls this Monday, on the same day that the civil calendar memorializes those who gave their lives in the service of our country. Philip was a soldier, too, albeit a soldier of Christ, wearing “the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). He lived in a decadent time when many who called themselves Christians chose to be pacifists in the spiritual combat against the world, the flesh and the Devil.

In the battle for souls, Philip’s most effective weapons were gentleness and mercy, though he was also a master of “tough love” when it was necessary to correct those inclined to be spiritual deserters. Although he was reared in Florence, Philip’s pastoral triumphs gained him the title “Apostle of Rome.” It was said of the Emperor Augustus that he found Rome brick and left it marble, and in a moral sense the same might be said of Philip. The Sacred City was not so sacred in the minds of many, and his chief weapon for reforming it was penance.

After eighteen years in Rome, Philip was ordained at the age of thirty-five. He polished rough souls every day in the confessional, where he might be found at all hours of the day and night for forty-five years. In the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, who joined the saint’s Oratory three centuries later, “He was the teacher and director of artisans, mechanics, cashiers in banks, merchants, workers in gold, artists, men of science. He was consulted by monks, canons, lawyers, physicians, courtiers; ladies of the highest rank, convicts going to execution, engaged in their turn his solicitude and prayers.” We have an audible relic of him in the oratorio, the musical form he invented as a means of catechesis. His magnetic appeal to the most stubborn and cynical types of people seems hardly less miraculous than the way he sometimes levitated during Mass, requiring that he offer the Holy Sacrifice privately because, as the Pope prudently if understatedly said, the spectacle might distract the faithful.

Refusing high clerical rank, and disdaining any sort of human honor, Philip’s power intimidated the Prince of Lies as much as any earthly prince. There is a lesson in this for our own urban culture, and certainly for us providentially located in “Hell’s Kitchen.” The temptation is for the Church to give up on spiritual combat and retreat to the suburbs. This is a false strategy since no terrain, concrete or bucolic, offers a complete escape from the Church’s field of combat. While consolidation of strength is a necessary strategy, there is no substitute for victory. If General MacArthur maintained that principle with earthly effect, so much more do the saints struggle, knowing that Christ has already won the victory, but also aware that to flee the field is to lose him forever.

Father Rutler is pastor of the Church of Saint Michael in New York City.

4 comments:

eternalvisionfarmer said...

Father Rutler: I have a question. Thank you for your time.
Is your idea of God's infinite power large enough to allow God to be able to turn the whole blessed world right side up by His peaceful means without violating anyone's freewill and is He infinitely powerful enough to create freewill such that when He gives us truly infinite graces to be like Him because we see Him as He IS in heaven (and partial knowledge ceases CCC 314), we still have freewill and could choose to sin BUT all free wills each freely chooses to do God's eternal Will, even if this means some freely choose to go to hell forever and ever and ever and ever... because that is God's Will and all are now reconciled with God by His free gift of infinite grace and mercy with absolutely no merits on the part of those going to hell whereas those going to heaven have some "merit" because they persevered in cooperating with God in an acceptable time?

Gordon said...

@eternalvisionfarmer. Your post isn't a question, so much as a statement, and is a little convoluted. Due to this it is hard to see what you are really asking. Also your grammar doesn't help frame your question well as your post is one big run on sentence. Could you break down your question into distinct questions. You focus on free will and then ask about how it works in this life and the afterlife. As well you discuss hell but while you read the catechism on free will you didn't for hell. You implicitly discuss purgatory and beatific vision as well. If you want to seek some answers for yourself though check out the catechism on the doctrines of sin especially mortal vs venial and how that separates from God. As well as purgatory and beatific vision. These are the concepts you are referencing when you discuss partial knowledge ceasing. In an attempt at a partial answer to your first statement regarding God's infinite power I would say that Jesus always said that the gate is narrow and many would attempt to enter but would not be successful. Hope some of this helps.

eternalvisionfarmer said...

Gordon, thank you for the feedback. I apologize for the way I worded the first post. Is the following any better?

Father Rutler: I have 2 questions. Thank you for your time.
1. Is your idea of God's infinite power large enough to allow God to be able to turn the whole blessed world right side up by His peaceful means without violating anyone's freewill?

2 shortened: Is God infinitely powerful enough to create freewill such that when He gives us truly infinite graces we still have freewill and could choose to sin BUT all free wills each freely choose to conform to God's eternal Will?


2. Is God infinitely powerful enough to create freewill such that when He gives us truly infinite graces to be like Him because we see Him as He IS in heaven (and partial knowledge ceases CCC 314), we still have freewill and could choose to sin BUT all free wills each freely choose to conform to God's eternal Will, even if that means some freely choose to go to hell forever and ever and ever and ever... because that is God's Will and all are now reconciled with God by His free gift of infinite grace and mercy with absolutely no merits on the part of those going to hell whereas those going to heaven have some "merit" because they persevered in cooperating with God in an acceptable time?

The end result would be that we should ask God to give everyone truly infinite graces so all would be reconciled to Him, even those in hell. We should pray at Mass for the devils and therefore be perfect as our Heavenly Father.

Israel B said...

I'm not sure if your question is sincere or sophistry... but talking about God's "power" and Free Will is mixing two separate and distinct properties. It would be tantamount to asking "what is the gestational period of motor oil? "