Toward Holy Week

If Jesus Christ had come to save anything less than our immortal souls, His Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection would be absurd. “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” No one who has read seriously the works of St. Alphonsus Liguori, or listened to sermons and conferences given in the authentic Redemptorist tradition, can deny that these two verses and all the words of our Lord which point to the perilousness of salvation should be on the minds of all Catholics daily, even hourly. God, in His infinite love, holds that every human soul is a precious treasure, and yet we do not. We are flippant in the face of sin and the contempt we show God by breaking His commandments, from the least to the greatest, with a smile. There is scarcely a nation left on earth that does not legally protect every sin which cries to Heaven for vengeance. Had God not covenanted with Noah, He might have flooded the earth several times over already. Here, however, we remain, with gadgets, diet plans, fashion accessories, and enough craft beer to make alcoholics of us all. It’s difficult to imagine how any of this would be possible if the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, established through the Apostles, and promised perpetuity until the Second Coming had not lost its way sometime during the course of the last century. May she find her way back soon.

One mustn’t mention this too loudly of course, nor speak of sin, punishment, and eventual damnation as anything other than remote possibilities that no longer require our unwavering attention. How utterly insane St. Alphonsus and his followers must appear to good Christians of the present, what with their mortifications, intense preaching, and, above all, constant fear of incurring divine retribution for their sins. Imagine, if you will, stepping foot into church to find St. Gerard Majella licking the ground before the foot of the altar where his knees had been planted during long hours of prayer. Shouldn’t we all have a good laugh at his foolishness? Nobody admits aloud that they might smile at or tease another man who, consumed with anguish, weeps bitterly like St. Peter for abandoning Christ to enjoy passing comforts and worldly distractions. Morbid is the man by today’s lights who incessantly pleads with God not to damn his soul to hell. St. Alphonsus did it, and so too did others who now join in with choruses of angels singing, Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.

That’s not for us, at least not anymore. With “heaven” already available on earth, what could possibly come next? Maybe it could get better, but it certainly won’t get worse. No, that is not sound doctrine; it is just the common belief. And because it is believed so widely and strongly, who will disabuse the faithful of their error? Some, regrettably, maintain that it is better to leave them in error in a flagrant move to keep them inculpable for their crimes. That is the way of things. Just don’t point it out. It’s easy to point out, but don’t do it. If you do it, you are risking souls. If you do it, you are sowing discord. And worst of all, if you should mention these dark facts in the open, even in passing, you are showing yourself to be nothing more than a self-absorbed, pharisaical hypocrite. Do you not err? Do you not sin? Do you think you are among the elect? Easy, is it not, to decry the times and ruin the joyless joy of others? Come back when you are what passes for a saint today, that is, when you are so holy and pure that you have learned to say nothing to anyone about anything important at all.

Feel the shame—the deep, burning shame of taking salvation seriously. If the priests and bishops of the Church are not invoking the saints of old in their homilies, nor preaching on the horror that awaits those who remain obstinate in mortal sin, then there is nothing for you to say. All that is left for you to do is to embrace the “Second Pentecost” and skip merrily through the flowering fields in this, the “New Springtime.” Those who wish to be saved can have their salvation so long as they make sure to leave everyone else out of it. Do not judge, and by that the worldly ecclesiastics mean say nothing of sin; speak not a word of truth against error; and above all quit fretting about the details. Let the accidental church and its surprising deity move you here or take you there, and always far away from counting beads, praying out of books, or sorrowing for your sins.

In the Christian East there is a practice made vain at times by the manner in which it is performed outside of its proper liturgical context: to ask, at the start of Lent, forgiveness from those one has offended. Here now, at the close of this penitential season and the beginning of the holiest days of the liturgical year, I ask forgiveness from you my readers for not only the ways in which I may have offended you with posts and comments that lacked Christian charity, but for the many sins I have brought into the world by thought, word, and deed. Let me be clear that I am the one who jokes about sanctity, relaxes on chastity, and demonstrates no humility. Things are bad because I have helped make them so and whatever good has come of my efforts, whether through writing or, more importantly, in my daily affairs as a struggling Catholic, husband, and father, is not from me alone but Christ in me. Pray for me this week and I shall do the same for you with the hope that once this great boredom before the eschaton passes away, we shall all enjoy Christ’s Kingdom forever.