Circular Letter: Lent 2020
In our world today, where powerful forces of culture, science, political coercion and lies attack ever more insidiously basic human principles and rights—marriage, the family, the right to life, respect for the handicapped and elderly, religious freedom, freedom of conscience—we are tempted to give up, to throw in the towel in despair. What can our small efforts do? We feel like David confronting Goliath. Even worse, when the referees are cheating, what chance does the opposition stand in the game? This sense of discouragement and frustration, and the temptation to despair, however, is just that, a temptation.
As Christians, we are not like others “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Christian hope is not founded on political success, social structures, or modern science, but on faith in God, who holds all things in His wise and loving hands. In order to be more firmly anchored in hope, therefore, we want to meditate on the exercise of this great Christian virtue. For this hope allows us to be at peace, serene and secure, in every situation, circumstance or historical development.
From the beginning of time, but especially in “modern times”, Christian hope has been weakened and replaced by certain “false hopes”, where man has placed his trust and confidence in worldly wisdom, in the scientific or political realm. The era of “modern times” had its first notable protagonist in Francis Bacon, who argued that the laws of nature should be only observed so as to harness them to serve the needs of man. Man would thus be empowered to achieve the “triumph of art over nature”. Accordingly, man’s dominion over nature that was lost in Paradise through sin could now be regained—not by the redemption in Christ, but—by the advancement of practical science, discoveries, inventions, etc. Pope Benedict XVI comments,
Now, this “redemption”, the restoration of the lost “Paradise” is no longer expected from faith, but from the newly discovered link between science and praxis. It is not that faith is simply denied; rather it is displaced onto another level—that of purely private and other-worldly affairs—and at the same time it becomes somehow irrelevant for the world. This programmatic vision has determined the trajectory of modern times and it also shapes the present-day crisis of faith which is essentially a crisis of Christian hope. …For Bacon, it is clear that the recent spate of discoveries and inventions is just the beginning; through the interplay of science and praxis, totally new discoveries will follow, a totally new world will emerge, the kingdom of man. (Spe salvi, 17).
The great “gods” of this new “kingdom of man” are now reason and liberty; these are the gods of human “progress”. Through reason, it was thought, man can achieve freedom from all dependency on God or the Church. Through the comforts of modern inventions and convenience, man gradually began to “forget” God. We see this distinctly in our own day, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote already in 1988:
How can one not notice the ever-growing existence of religious indifference and atheism in its more varied forms, particularly in its perhaps most widespread form of secularism? Adversely affected by the impressive triumphs of continuing scientific and technological development and above all, fascinated by a very old and yet new temptation, namely, that of wishing to become like God (cf. Gen 3:5) through the use of a liberty without bounds, individuals cut the religious roots that are in their hearts; they forget God, or simply ¬retain Him without meaning in their lives, or outrightly reject Him, and begin to adore various “idols” of the contemporary world. (Christifidelis Laici, 4)
The indifference and independence from God and the authority of His Church developed into rebellion in the political reality of the bloody French Revolution. Though mankind at large eventually saw the evils of the revolution, nevertheless, there was still the urge to find the perfect political “solution” to all the evils of man independent from God and Christendom. Reason and freedom were still the “gods” of mankind in the religion of “progress”.
Karl Marx developed his own ideal of the kingdom of man with his Communist manifesto, which spurred the far-reaching Russian revolution. Yet though he gave guidelines for the overthrow of the Czar and the ruling class, and indicated the socialization of the means of production, he gave no further instruction concerning how society was to be run, other than that in the (never-ending) beginning, it would be a dictatorship. Marx simply assumed when the former rule was overthrown, man and society would work it out. The problem with Marx, according to Pope Benedict, was
he forgot that man always remains man. …He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favorable economic environment. (Spe salvi, 21)
The problem with both the scientific and political “progress” in the secular world is that technical progress is detached from a corresponding moral progress, the capacity to discern what is truly good and good for man. When reason and freedom are detached from God and faith, they turn self-destructive. Eventually, the only principle that remains is “might makes right”. Reason and freedom, though two of our greatest gifts from God, are only useful if they contribute to and teach us the way we are to live, so that guided by faith and rooted in the truth, they also teach us to discern between good and evil, to see that “this is the right path, walk in it”. The good of society can therefore never be guaranteed by political or economic structures alone. These can be helpful, but only where man truly seeks to be good, seeks God and His will. “Man’s freedom is always new and he must always make his decisions anew. These decisions can never simply be made for us in advance by others if that were the case, we would no longer be free” (Spe salvi, 24).
Thus it is clear that a utopia can never be established in this world; for despite the best possible structures, ultimately, man always remains free, also for evil. Christian hope, on the other hand, takes into account man’s actual condition: his fallen nature which tends to selfishness and the pursuit only of his own advancement. Man’s redemption does not consist in prosperity, comfort, pleasure or freedom to do whatever I want. Rather, “Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for Him who for their sake died” (2 Cor 5:15). It is only through the graces of the Cross of Christ that man himself can be changed, from within, and transformed into a better person in the image of Christ. This is the true redemption of man.
The basis of Christian hope
Despite all seeming “progress” in the eyes of the secular mindset, despite all the promises of the world, it is never enough for the human heart, especially when faced with the great question of the “meaning of life”. Pope St. John Paul II writes, “Human longing and the need for religion are not able to be totally ¬extinguished. When persons in conscience have the courage to face the more serious questions of human existence—particularly questions related to the purpose of life, to suffering and to dying—they are unable to avoid making their own the words of truth ¬uttered by Saint Augustine: ‘You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You’ (Conf. X)” (Christifidelis Laici, 4). What the human heart longs for more than anything else is goodness, which only be achieved in and through love. Human love, however, is too unstable to be the anchor for our entire life. It can be terminated by death, separation, betrayal or any number of vitiating causes. Therefore, only the love of God, whose love never ends, can ultimately satisfy the longing of our heart.
The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has “redeemed” us. Through Him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote “first cause” of the world, because His only-begotten Son has become man and of Him everyone can say: “I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
In this sense it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Eph 2:12). Man’s great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God—God who has loved us and who continues to love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30). (Spe salvi, 26-27).
When we have this hope in God who loves us, that He forgives, heals and leads us, that He holds our life in the palm of His hand, only then can we trust that all will be well, despite all the vicissitudes and even tragic disappointments of life. God loves us; He is our rock, the anchor of our life. In Him and in Him alone can we have unfailing hope. It is for this hope that the martyrs were willing to die. St. Paul writes, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”. If we truly hope in God and His love, we will be willing to renounce many things, and even life itself, for His sake.
Dr. Conrad Baars, the famous Catholic psychologist who co-developed the psychology of affirmation, remembers a conversation with a French priest after World War II who with him survived the Nazi concentration camp, Buchenwald. When first imprisoned, the priest had at first rebelled against God asking, “Why? Why me?”, but with time he came to understand the futility of worldly securities and the great value of accepting suffering from the hand of God. He had developed a truly Christian hope. The priest said,
When life was sweet and carefree, I had valued money, for example, because I thought it could buy me happiness; it could not, however, buy me freedom [of soul]. The best of foods and wines and all the delicacies that please the tongue had also once seemed important, yet bread and water sufficed to keep body and soul together. I valued a carefree life, reaping the fruits of my education; however, the miseries of prison life had taught me the real meaning of life. I had not valued God and His commands, but now in prison I realized I could not live without Him—that life without God has no meaning. Buchenwald was a hard and bitter experience, but it was an advantage to those who knew how to profit from it. (Baars, Doctor of the Heart)
What the priest had discovered was that life with all its pleasures and comforts, but without a close communion with God, was empty. God and His love alone gave true meaning and purpose to his life. He had found love, the infinite, all-encompassing love of God. Despite all the historical, political and personal situations in life which disappoint, we can continue to hope because we know by faith, God is still in charge, that He loves us and works all things for the good of those who love and seek Him (cf. Rom 8:28).
It is important to know that I can always continue to hope, even if in my own life, or the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for. Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere. (Benedict XVI, Spe salvi, 35)
Living in Christ for others
Christian hope based on this unwavering love of God may seem individualistic, even selfish. Christ died for me, Christ loves me. But in reality, through this hope in Him, Jesus draws us into a relationship with Himself which transforms and opens us for others.
Being in communion with Jesus Christ draws us into His “being for all”; it makes it our own way of being. He commits us to live for others, but only through communion with Him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole…. “Christ died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died” (cf. 2 Cor 5:15). Christ died for all. To live for Him means allowing oneself to be drawn into His being for others. (Spe salvi, 28)
Living for others for the love of God presupposes Christian hope. We must be free from all our own attachments and self-seeking, free from our hope for worldly advantage and position and power. Only in this way will we participate in the generosity of God and take up our responsibility for others. Will this make us unhappy, slaves of others? Quite the opposite! Only in losing self will we find ourselves (cf. Guadium et Spes, 24), our true dignity and fulfillment as human persons. As St. Francis of Assisi taught, it is more blessed to give than to receive, only in this will we find true joy! For by giving of ourselves, we are loving. And this is the great joy of life, to love (even in suffering) and to be loved—by man, but more importantly, by God!
Growing in hope with the help of the Angels
In order to grow in and strengthen Christian hope within us, this selfless hope of the Spirit which includes “being for others” for God’s sake, we want to allow the holy Angels to lead us along the paths of purification, prayer, interior transformation and service until we are ready to engage, like them, in “Guardian Angel service” for those around us. Lent is a good time to begin or renew our commitment to be more faithful to the prompting of the Angels, to be more open, more attentive, more generous in the following of Christ, both in doing and in suffering, so that Jesus may transform us into Himself in the service of the Church. Those who have already gone through formation in Opus Angelorum already know where and the ways by which the Angels lead us: the Cross. If we are to live in close union with the Angels, to be assimilated to them, we need to learn to wield this great ¬spiritual weapon in the battle against the powers of darkness, so that we may bring help to the erring and fallen ones and guide those who are searching for God.
Walking with the Lord and with His Cross
Because Christian hope involves renouncing the hopes of this world and our natural inclinations, it necessarily involves the Cross. In order to set our hopes on God and the world-to-come, however, we need to be unwaveringly confident in God’s great love for us. This needs to be the driving force of our lives and our every moment. This faith and trust in God’s love must be for us not only a reality we await, but a living presence, a fervent, living contact with Our Lord and God throughout the day, remembering also Our Lady and our Angel at our side. St. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17). Walking in the presence of God is the foundation for holiness, not the goal. St. Therese of Avila writes that with effort, we can attain this habit within six to twelve months (cf. Way of Perfection, ch. 29). Mother Gabriele writes,
Wherever we go, an adoring Sanctus, a Gloria, a Credo can mark the ground where we stand and walk as God’s property. There the demon will be repressed and less sin committed, fewer disasters triggered. How much can be offered in adoration to God in daily life: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Communion with Him, duty and joy, sacrifice and the Cross. (Readings I, Fall 1962)
During Lent, we can especially concentrate on keeping Our Lord company in His Passion and suffering, looking to Jesus upon the Crucifix with deep, personal sentiments of love and gratitude. If we love the Lord dearly and from the heart, we will naturally speak with Him throughout the day, turning to Him in every ¬situation with love and trusting surrender. Praying the Rosary while driving, or making short, mental Stations of the Cross, even daily, will imprint the image of Christ’s suffering on our hearts. We will draw from this much strength and peace of soul in our trials, and slowly become more and more detached from our own worldly “hopes”.
When we are silent to our own plans, troubles and needs, to any antipathy, prejudice, human respect or suggestions of the evil one (e.g., ‘there is not enough time’, ‘there are no means’ ‘it ¬anyways won’t help’), the holy Angel will open our eyes for the needs of others, for service and active charity. The Angel will also help us to discern our intentions, admonishing us if we are being selfish or self-seeking, and encouraging us to follow the path of generous, humble, serving love.
Although our efforts seem small in the face of the great needs of the Church and the world, God Himself is with us, ¬having sent His Son to redeem us. Moreover, even if we are small and weak, God’s Angel are strong and powerful allies in the great battle for the salvation of souls. “Are they not all ministering ¬spirits sent to serve those who are to gain salvation?” (Heb 1:14). Those who accept the help of the Angels, accept the help of God Himself (cf. Ex 23:21-22). We do not rely on our merits, but on God’s promises, His free gift of love “to the end” and the help of His powerful ones, the Angels. Let us not despise our own insignificance, therefore, for every decision, every act we make is important. Pope Benedict writes,
…It will always be true that our behavior is not ¬indifferent before God and therefore is not indifferent for the unfolding of history. We can open ourselves and the world, and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good. This is what the Saints did, those who, as “God’s fellow workers”, contributed to the world’s salvation (cf. 1 Cor 3:9; 1 Thes 3:2). We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. …This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad. (Spe salvi, 35)
Hope in light of our own Cross
Even more important than our good acts before God, our acceptance and offering of the Cross out of love will bear even more fruit for the good of the Church and souls. Only Christian faith and hope, the certitude that God’s love uses even suffering for our good (cf. Rom 8:28), can support us in the face of the Cross. Only faith sustained by hope can see meaning and profit in the Cross when it is borne with love and submission. The Saints regarded the Cross as more valuable than gold, for it brought great spiritual growth for themselves, and many graces for the Church and souls. Resisting God’s will or rebelling against it does not bring us peace, but rather frustration and even bitterness. Only when we accept the Cross, saying ‘yes’ to God and His will out of love, can He bless and purify us through it, transforming us into the image of His Son and incorporating it into the economy of salvation.
We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid ¬suffering by withdrawing from anything that might ¬involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be ¬almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (Spe salvi, 37)
The Angel leads and sustains us on our personal way of the Cross. He sees more clearly God’s love and will for us, and helps us by his light to understand and accept it, or to kneel in adoration before the sometimes incomprehensible will of God and ¬pronounce our “Yes, Lord! Out of love for You!” The Angel wants to teach us even to love the Cross, for in accepting the Cross in love and in union with Christ’s suffering, our hearts expand and are filled with divine love. Mother Gabriele writes,
The nearer we come to the Cross as our great love, as our surest support, so much more power will the Angel have over us. The nearer we come to the Angel, so much more determinedly does he lead us to the Cross. The Cross is our guide to heaven. (Readings Fall 1962)
Whether we are bearing a great Cross or just the minor hardships of everyday life, we want to take up the time honored and proven practice of “offering it up” out of love for God. This will give meaning and purpose to the minor irritations, pains or illness, and fill our day with acts of love, transforming all that is hard and negative into love, and into grace for our families, for the Holy Father, for priests, and for the Church.
Hope in the unending Love of God
In the battle for the Kingdom of God, it is ultimately a battle of love against hate, the Love of God against the hate of the ¬demonic forces. We therefore want to align ourselves to Love, for we know and hope unwaveringly in the final outcome, where Love will reign victorious and lead us home as victors.
The world can no longer be saved by any exterior deeds, it can only be saved by love. For this is the only weapon that we have, and not the others. We must use this love as a weapon in two ways: • Actively in radiating the love of GOD, so that the world may see how much power is within it to ¬discern and decide, to heal and rebuild; • passively in the suffering of expiation for the ¬salvation of the world, in bearing the Cross out of love, in the silent sacrifice out of love.
Great exterior deeds can be outdone by the adversary with even more sensational deeds. Exterior success can be surpassed by the adversary with even more sweeping success. But no adversary can outdo or surpass the love of GOD, if this lives and acts within us. And we find this love of GOD in the heart of our greatest ally, Mary, who said in Fatima: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph!” (Mother Gabriele, ibid.)
Sister Maria Basilea SrOA
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