Part One: The Crisis Grows Closer
This is a very dangerous age we live in. The danger is existential, because the forces at work today ultimately threaten the temporal lives of us all, so boldly and arrogantly do they deny and insult God, and human nature, and the foundations of true virtue and goodness. The enemy of God and man has been at work since the very beginning, in the Garden, of course. The “Tower of Babel” (Gen. 11) was his initial drive for a global city of all mankind working together with one purpose, a “brotherhood,” a “fellowship,” but it was an impossible contradiction because it was apart from God. Indeed it was a reach of man to become “god” unto himself. That is what was then, and it has not changed. Man today is seeking and driving and working toward “a new world order” of one government, embraced by one common religion formed by all religions in mutual accord with one common belief system, all ruled by an elite ruling class headed of course by one, an elite few who know better than the masses of common men, what is good for them and what is best for all, or so they actually believe.
Servants, whether knowing or unknowing, of the enemy today have a new, cleaned-up banner to gather under: “the progressives.” There are progressives in Western governments today, and in Western Christian churches, including the Catholic Church. Progressives are found at all levels of secular government and politics, and at all levels of the Church — our Catholic Church. Progressives’ concerns are temporal, not eternal; material and natural, not spiritual and supernatural; guided not by divine revelation and the indwelling Holy Spirit, but by human reasoning, human learning, human ambitions, cultural formation and finally, the “political correctness” decided by the elite few for their godless self-benefit.
This essay is an attempt to express, as I see it, this grave problem — and to point to the only solution that is true: to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Crisis in the Secular World
Bishop Athanasius Schneider describes the general ideological problem the whole world is facing very well, in his book Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age. He is asked by his interviewer, and he answers:
Montagna: Which ideological and political powers in the current historical moment do you consider the most dangerous for Christianity?
Bp. Schneider: There is ever more evidence of the establishment of a One World Government by the United Nations and ultimately by powerful Masonic organizations, which act behind the scenes in order politically to implement the “novus ordo saeculorum,” the New World Order, the atheist One World Government. This One World Government reveals a clear ideological program which is essentially atheist, materialist, anti-Christian, and even blasphemous, with the totalitarian imposition of abortion “rights,” homosexual indoctrination, the climate change myth and the destruction of national identities through events like the “The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration,” or the annual meetings of the World Economic Forum of Davos, for instance. In its program, the latter promotes the “global order” — as they call it — of “gender equality” under the acronym of “LGBT.”
We know from recent history that interference and manipulation of language is part of the repertoire of authoritarian regimes. Such a recognizably Masonic and atheistic One World Government is in the process of realizing the final Way of the Marxist-Communist plan. Against this real danger of a neo-Marxist and Masonic One World Government, those social and political organizations which have not yet been brought into line with the uniform thinking of the neo-Marxist and Masonic World Ideology, and have therefore retained their freedom of thought and action, should ring the alarm and start to organize a coalition of legitimate resistance, comprising all people with common sense in both East and West and also in Africa and South Asia. The world urgently needs heroic and noble resistance fighters against the world dictatorship which enslaves people through the absurdity of gender ideology, the moral corruption of innocent children, and the genocide of unborn children.1
Crisis in the Religious World, Even the Catholic Church
Quoting Bishop Fulton Sheen, Bishop Schneider points to the foreseen infiltration of this very ideology into religions of the world, including even our Catholic Church. Bp. Schneider continues:2
When Christ was crucified, there remained only one faithful Apostle at His side, St. John, together with Our Lady and the other holy women. From the circumstances of Christ’s Passion, we can better understand the spiritual and even mystical sense of the suffering of Christ’s Bride, the Church. The current crisis within the Church represents the deepest form of suffering, since the Church is now persecuted, scourged, stripped, and derided not by her enemies but to a large extent by her Shepherds, by many of those who are successors of the Apostles, by many traitors in the clerical ranks who are the new Judases.
Here I cannot fail to quote the following words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, which he wrote in 1948 and which are strikingly relevant and significant for the current situation:
“[Satan] will set up a Counter-church, which will be the ape of the Church. It will have all the notes and characteristics of the Church, but in reverse and emptied of its divine content…. The False Prophet will have a religion without a cross. A religion without a world to come. A religion to destroy religions. There will be a counterfeit Church. Christ’s Church will be one, and the False Prophet will create the other. The false Church will be worldly, ecumenical, and global. It will be a loose federation of churches and religions, forming some type of global association, a world parliament of Churches. It will be emptied of all divine content; it will be the mystical body of the Antichrist. The Mystical Body on earth today will have its Judas Iscariot, and he will be the False Prophet. Satan will recruit him from our bishops.”3
We Catholics have a very special responsibility – to be, to remain, faithful! The responsibility is laid upon the souls of all the baptized, clergy and laity, to remain faithful to our Lord, and to the Holy Faith He has entrusted to us! Cardinal Robert Sarah, faithful Bishop and Cardinal in the Church, serving now in the Vatican, co-authored a book recently of the dangers we face, with co-author Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The cardinal was interviewed concerning their book, by Edward Pentin:
Pentin: Your Eminence, why did you want to write this book?
Sarah: Because the Christian priesthood is in mortal danger! It’s going through a major crisis.
The discovery of the great number of sexual abuses committed by priests, and even bishops, is an indisputable symptom of this. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had already spoken out strongly on this subject. But then his thinking was distorted and ignored. Just like today, attempts have been made to silence him. And like today, diversionary maneuvers were mounted to divert attention from his prophetic message. Yet I am convinced that he has told us the essential — what no one wants to hear. He has shown that at the root of the abuses committed by clerics, there is a deep flaw in their formation. The priest is a man set apart for the service of God and the Church. He is a consecrated person. His whole life is set apart for God. And yet they wanted to desacralize priestly life. They wanted to trivialize it, to render it profane, to secularize it. They wanted to make the priest a man like any other. Some priests were formed without putting God, prayer, the celebration of Mass, the ardent search for holiness at the center of their lives.
As Benedict XVI said, “Why has pedophilia reached such proportions? In the final analysis, the reason is the absence of God. It is only where Faith no longer determines man’s actions that such crimes are possible.”
Pentin: Precisely how poor has this formation been that you mention, and what have been the effects?
Sarah: Priests have been formed without teaching them that God is the only point of support for their lives, without making them experience that their lives only have meaning through God and for him. Deprived of God, they were left with nothing but power. Some have fallen into the diabolical logic of abuse of authority and sexual crimes. If a priest doesn’t daily experience he is only an instrument in God’s hands, if he doesn’t stand constantly before God to serve him with all his heart, then he risks becoming intoxicated with a sense of power. If a priest’s life is not a consecrated life, then he is in great danger of illusion and diversion.4
The world is in crisis and is approaching an even deeper one. The world needs, by God’s design, His supernatural and saving light in order for humanity to find truth! Thus, He created and formed His Church. His light was intended to shine in the world through His Church; the Church was sent to be His witness to the one Truth we human persons need: Christ Jesus, Son of the only God.
But the Church now, in our day, is stumbling. What are we to do?
Part Two: What Are We To Do?
So what are we to do, Catholic laity and clergy? Laity and clergy, at all levels, must first recognize that a real, grave, urgent crisis has come upon us. As citizens of a nation and as members of His Church, we must become alert and aware of the creeping intrusion of “progressivism” in our ranks. False leaders would guide us away from common sense, confusing our natural human rights, blurring the assurances of baptismal grace and the traditional teachings of our Church — our Sacred Tradition. Some would guide us away from holiness and light and toward ever-darkening ambiguity and imprecision, smearing our understanding by spreading shades of gray where simple clarity once prevailed — the clarity of Truth passed on to us from the beginning. What to do? Cardinal Sarah was asked for his solution:5
Diat: You paint a very somber picture of the state of the world and of the Church. How can we pave the way for a renewal? What program would you propose following?
Card. Sarah: I have no program. When you have a program, it is because you want to achieve a human project. The Church is not an institution that we have to achieve or fashion with our ideas. It is simply necessary to receive from God what he wants to give us. John Paul II already warned us against this tendency to develop Church programs in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte:
“It is not therefore a matter of inventing a ‘new program.’ The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a program which does not change with shifts of times and cultures, even though it takes account of time and culture for the sake of true dialogue and effective communication. This program for all times is our program for the Third Millennium.”
The way forward really is that simple. We the Church must begin anew to do what Christians have been called to do from the beginning — first become disciples, then, in time, make disciples. First of all, in the formation of priests, and deacons, and bishops, we the Church must make disciples of them. First of all, in the formation and life of the laity in our parishes, we the Church must make disciples of them all. And how can that be done with the laity, if it is not done first with the priests? We the Church must reform the formation of the clergy! It is not enough to teach them how to act out the motions, do the rituals, use the language and explain the doctrines. They must be formed and conformed within, in their interior lives, in their hearts, as men in the image of Christ the High Priest.
This sounds so obvious; how could it be overlooked? But because it is so obvious, no one has taken it seriously for a very long time. Cardinal Sarah said of the formation of priests in the recent past, “Some priests were formed without putting God, prayer, the celebration of Mass, the ardent search for holiness at the center of their lives.” And the result? “Deprived of God, they were left with nothing but power. Some have fallen into the diabolical logic of abuse of authority and sexual crimes.”
Such men as these, left “with nothing but power,” having no vibrant supernatural life within them, define the modern aberration of clericalism. Clericalists are ordained men who are not priests and pastors but professional “hired hands,” managers, CEOs of religious institutions and organizations — not shepherds of His sheep, not servants of the servants of God. They love the pomp and ceremony with themselves as the center of attention, they love the titles and deference paid to them, and the fact that theirs is the last word in any question or conversation of decision. Such men are the kind who love to rule for the sake of ruling; thus, when they are given authority to rule over a parish or a diocese or more, they are happy not to serve but to exercise power. And very sadly, they abuse the power to their own advantage, and continue to pursue their carnal ambitions, having no real, self-sacrificial care for those placed under their rule. Thus, Benedict XVI sees the roots of the modern crisis of homosexual abuse of those under their power: “Why has pedophilia reached such proportions? In the final analysis, the reason is the absence of God. It is only where Faith no longer determines man’s actions that such crimes are possible.”
Consequences of an absence of God in the hearts of some Catholic clergy are carried into all the actions and ministries of these men. Their homilies and teachings, counseling and pastoral planning, administration of the sacraments — all that they do is thin and hollow, lacking in spiritual unction and in the all-important supernatural dimension which is the very essence of all things of God. A man can learn to perform duties, but to bring God into those duties requires God’s gift of Himself to the man, and the man’s reception of God’s Presence and vital grace, habitually. Men can be trained and can learn to deal with supernatural realities merely on the natural level, but the result is shallow and barren. To be formed, to embrace and walk in authentic supernatural realities requires — demands — the supernatural virtues and gifts given by the Holy Spirit, abiding alive and active in the man.
Spiritual Formation for Formators
Spiritual formation, and an acceptable level of maturation in the Faith, and in the interior life of prayer, is urgently needed today among many of our priests, our deacons, our bishops and our pope. Only then can they be capable of leading and teaching others to authentically become disciples. Only men so grounded, mature, experienced in the spiritual life can lead parishes, dioceses and the whole Church to our common vocation to holiness. Pope St. John Paul II wrote, in anticipation of the coming millennium:
First of all, I have no hesitation in saying that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness. . . .
It is necessary therefore to rediscover the full practical significance of Chapter 5 of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, dedicated to the “universal call to holiness.” The Council Fathers laid such stress on this point, not just to embellish ecclesiology with a kind of spiritual veneer, but to make the call to holiness an intrinsic and essential aspect of their teaching on the Church. The rediscovery of the Church as “mystery,” or as a people “gathered together by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (ref. 15) was bound to bring with it a rediscovery of the Church’s “holiness,” understood in the basic sense of belonging to him who is in essence the Holy One, the “thrice Holy” (cf. Isa 6:3). To profess the Church as holy means to point to her as the Bride of Christ, for whom he gave himself precisely in order to make her holy (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This as it were objective gift of holiness is offered to all the baptized.
But the gift in turn becomes a task, which must shape the whole of Christian life: “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Th 4:3). It is a duty which concerns not only certain Christians: “All the Christian faithful, of whatever state or rank, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”6
Traditional Catholic spirituality gives us a name to characterize those we need, urgently, among our clergy and laity today who could lead and guide us all toward this common call to holiness: we need men and women illuminated in the Holy Spirit. We need Catholic leaders and teachers who are in “the Illuminative Way.” Spiritual theology describes the three stages, or ages, or “ways” of the interior life of God in the souls of believers: those in the Beginners or Purgative Way, those in the Progressing or Illuminative Way, and those in the Perfect or Unitive Way.
The religious life of the beginner in the Purgative Way is one confined to what we can do (with the ordinary graces of Baptism) to grow toward God; our prayer life includes first formula prayers and spontaneous spoken prayers, which is intended to expand into discursive meditation or mental prayer, which is intended to develop into a growing simplification of such ascetical prayers, to what is called the prayer of simplicity — the “highest form” of ascetical prayer — sometimes also called “acquired contemplation.” This first beginning Way appears to characterize the usual prayer life of many if not most Catholics, laity and clergy, excluding (I hope) those in religious orders who have progressed to infused contemplation (a higher form of prayer integral to the journey to holiness).
If the generous soul is graced by God to grow beyond ascetical prayer and into mystical prayer of the Illuminative Way, spiritual life becomes radically different – and more and more so, if and as the soul more generously cooperates with God in these new graces given him here. In the Illuminative Way, in the prayer of infused contemplation, God — not the man — is the primary and active agent. The man must become not “passive” but an active responder and cooperator. This Way is first entered in darkness and trial, the Dark Night of the Senses. But after persevering through this darkness, the dawn brings new and supernatural lights and virtues and intimacy with the Lord, and the Blessed Presence of the Holy Spirit. Here, the disciple’s walk enters into the supernatural dimension, and the supernatural realities of the Faith become illuminated in clarities impossible to fully describe to those not yet having experienced it. The final Stage, the Unitive Way, ought to be our goal! Discussion of that blessed place is beyond the scope of this essay.
Here, in the Illuminative Way, is found the present and the abiding Holy Spirit, with His gifts, and His guidance, and His supernatural light and life. This describes a needed qualification to possess, for a teacher or formator of Catholic clergy or laity who are all called to strive for holiness: persons come into the Illuminative Way of the interior life. We the Church cannot continue to settle for less, in the teachers and formators of clergy and laity. Teachers cannot give what they do not have. Such teachers cannot even understand what they do not have and many of such teachers (likely) have never even heard of these things! Carnal, natural men cannot form anyone into the supernatural reality of holiness. Such a condition in the Church, where the blind are leading the blind, can only spiral down from worse to worse, and end badly.
The Church needs to recognize the affliction of our times, and begin to take the danger seriously. If we will begin, we can progress; if we head toward the light, we can begin to see. If we listen to our Tradition, and to the saints, and to our Lord! we can begin to correct a long-traveled path to mediocrity, and return to God His due: our humble hearts, our willing souls, our humble discipleship in His Truth.
Fr. Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., wrote beautifully of the Illuminative Way, including the very relevant place that such believers, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, have in the apostolate of the Church. Where Beginners may be hard to recruit and slow to enter the rightful works and ministry of a parish, those in the Illuminative Way are seeking with zeal to work the works of the One who sent them, in His Church:
Consequently, good works, even monumental ones, become the hallmark of the illuminative way. Dom Chautard in The Soul of the Apostolate suggests that the effectiveness of the Church’s apostolate is directly related to the number of Christians who have entered the illuminative way.
Charity, creativity, zeal are no longer seen as responsibilities as they had been in the last movements of the purgative way. They are a response that brings some peace and balance to one who has begun to understand St. Francis when, in tears, he went banging on the doors of Assisi, rousing the sleeping townsfolk with his cry: “Love is not loved.”
The prayer life of those in the illuminative way is much changed. It flows like a God-given spring from the earth rather than through the valves and pumps of a human-made fountain, says St. Teresa. It has a gentle joy and release in it. God is everywhere. Christ shows Himself in the good and the beautiful and His Cross is seen in the ugly and the terrifying. The mind is filled with images; the heart greatly overflows and is set on fire. Techniques are discarded, they become “excess baggage” because He is there.
The Christian in the illuminative way lives on Scripture and is fed on the writings of the saints. Reverence and awe are growing in his inner life and the soul is now seen not so much as a shadow being but as the inner place where the Trinity abides in glory. The liturgy of the Church on earth is a vital link with the heavenly liturgy for which one longs. The moral life of the individual is epitomized by Our Lady whose prayerful life becomes the model of response. An arc of flame reaches from earth to heaven and back again. Although one suffers, at times intensely, for the Church, for the human race, for the young, the old, and the dying, the pain is at least in some way united with the Incarnate Word in the mystery of divine love.
As the illuminative way proceeds, a silence and calm envelop the individual. This is reflected mostly in prayer — “the prayer of quiet” — wherein listening brings more answers than speaking.7
A specific blessing that those in the Illuminative Way can bring to the Church, and a parish, is a fervent and true devotion to Mary, our mother in Christ. The increase and deepening of Marian devotion among these believers, is a crucial need in the Church in our time — a need which is supernaturally provided in the light of the Illuminative Way. Mary is greatly neglected, even marginalized, in many parishes today. This is a profound poverty in the heart of today’s Church, a poverty that effects every aspect of the Church: her interior life of prayer, her evangelistic outreach (where one exists), her programs and parish initiatives, her worship, everything in the parish. She is our Mother in Christ! And the family without the mother is far from God’s intention. Pope St. John Paul II in an address to the Legion of Mary on Oct. 30, 1982, said:
“Where the Mother is, there too is the Son. When one moves away from the Mother, sooner or later he ends up keeping distant from the Son as well. It is no wonder that today, in various sectors of secularised society, we note a widespread crisis of faith in God, preceded by a drop in devotion to the Virgin Mother.”8
Thus the significance of Mary’s presence in the Church — or her absence — in the hearts of Catholics and in the apostolate, is immense. I pointed this out, also, in my book, The Ordinary Path to Holiness:9
The relationship of a Christian with Jesus Christ changes radically in the illuminative stage: he comes to know the Risen Lord! There is another radical change which often occurs in this stage, in the relationship of the Christian with Mary. This is a subject worthy of much attention, but for now we can note that in the illuminative stage, Mary also is known in a new and more intimate way. From the foot of the cross the words of Jesus become piercing and personal. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19:27) The personal experience of the cross, which ushers in the illuminative stage and relationship with the Risen Christ, reveals the great dignity of Mary. Before the cross, she was the mother of Jesus, certainly worthy of respect and love. But in the illuminative stage a previously hidden glory begins to emanate from this woman. She is my mother! She is the Mother of all the Church! And I take her into my “own home.”
The world needs the Church — and the Church needs her Lord, and all that her Lord entrusted to her. We need our Mother. We need the Sacraments. We need all that He revealed, and all that has been authentically developed through the work of the Spirit. We need the spiritual theology discerned through the Spirit by the holy saints. Through His gifts, we need to live in His grace.
We cannot live with one foot in the godless secular culture, and one foot on the threshold of His Church! We cannot live in the contradiction of a Church without supernatural dimension, without mystical prayer, without the active Presence of the Holy Spirit — a mere natural organization of two-dimensional human fellowship, perhaps with social good works, using the language of things supernatural, but moved in natural ways for natural ends. No man can serve two masters, nor continue in two minds and with two hearts. Duplicity is deadly — fatal — for persons called into the supernatural truth and life of the only true God. Church, repent! While it is still day, return to your Lord! It’s not dark yet, but we are getting there. The answer to all the dangers of these days is Christ in the life and power of His Holy Spirit.
- Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Christus Vincit: Christ’s Triumph Over the Darkness of the Age (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2019), 195. Kindle Edition.
- Schneider, Christus Vincit, 306.
- Fulton J. Sheen, Communism and the Conscience of the West (Indianapolis: Bobs-Merrill, 1948), 24-25.
- Robert Cardinal Sarah, “The Priesthood Today Is in Mortal Danger,” Interview with Edward Pentin. National Catholic Register on the book From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVII and Cardinal Robert Sarah. www.ncregister.com/interview/cardinal-sarah-the-priesthood-today-is-in-mortal-danger.
- Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Day Is Now Far Spent (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2019). Kindle Edition.
- At the Beginning of the Third Millennium, John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte #30.
- Benedict J. Groeschel, Spiritual Passages (New York: Crossroad, 1988) p. 83.
- Pope John Paul II, quoted in the Legion of Mary Handbook, p. 6.
- R. Thomas Richard, The Ordinary Path to Holiness: The Treasure of Catholic Spirituality Re-Presented for Our Times, 3rd Ed. (Fidelis Publications, 2018), p. 76-77.
About R. Thomas Richard, PhD
R. Thomas Richard, PhD, together with his wife, currently offers parish presentations and adult formation opportunities. He has served as religious formation director for parishes, director of lay ministry and deacon formation at the diocesan level, and retreat director. A former teacher, engineer, Protestant minister, and missionary, he has earned graduate degrees in Catholic theology and ministry, Protestant ministry, and physics. He is the author of several books in Catholic spirituality, which are described on his website, www.renewthechurch.com.