The Center Cannot Hold

Things are escalating again.

Pieces, falling into a puzzle with a picture we cannot make out, bit by bit. I recently hinted at my own perception of an increase in activity transpiring behind the veil between this world and the next. I suspect many of you sense it, too.

Earlier this week, as I was ruminating over the odd assortment of observations I wanted to gather into this post, a line came unbidden into my mind: “the…something cannot hold. “

That’s good, I thought. But what is it? The ceiling cannot hold? The floor? I can’t remember what this is from. 

So to The Google I went, and sure enough, a search of the cannot hold yielded the poem I was looking for. Those of you who are more erudite than I and possess a better grasp of literature already know the title and the author: The Second Coming, by W. B. Yeats.

As I read the poem, I was immediately struck by its topicality:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yes, I thought. That certainly sounds more like the present moment than I expectedI will definitely use this.

Then I continued….

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Even now, placing this text here for you to read, I find a lump in my throat and a chill running down my spine. I had absolutely no recollection, when the line came to me, what the poem was about. I was merely thinking of that one phrase, magnificent in its expression of the precariousness of our situation.

But truth be told, one of the things that had me thinking along these lines in the first place is Father Robert Hugh Benson’s 1907 apocalyptic novel, Lord of the World, which I have only just recently, for at least the third time in as many years, picked up and started reading again. The first couple of times, I found it dense and dry. Perhaps the time simply wasn’t right. Pushing through the opening pages, now, I have found myself in the midst of a page-turner that is eerily reminiscent of the things we are witnessing day to day.

Certainly, the setting is different. And I wouldn’t say things are playing out in the story the way I expect them to in the real world. But there are core themes there that resonate throughout history. The book, now 110 years old, is (so far as I have read) notably prescient. (And strangely, as the cover of this edition says, Pope Francis advises you to read it! There is also a free Kindle edition here.)

It’s about the coming of the Antichrist.

Humanism: An Idolatry of Man

In the introduction to the book, in which our priest protagonist, Fr. Percy Franklin, is visiting an elderly Mr. Templeton to get some historical backstory to bring the reader up to speed, Templeton says:

I think, if you wish me to say what I think, that, humanly speaking, Catholicism will decrease rapidly now. It is perfectly true that Protestantism is dead. Men do recognise at last that a supernatural Religion involves an absolute authority, and that Private Judgment in matters of faith is nothing else than the beginning of disintegration.

Templeton continues:

On the other hand, you must remember that Humanitarianism, contrary to all persons’ expectations, is becoming an actual religion itself, though anti-supernatural. It is Pantheism; it is developing a ritual under Freemasonry; it has a creed, ‘God is Man,’ and the rest. It has therefore a real food of a sort to offer to religious cravings; it idealises, and yet it makes no demand upon the spiritual faculties. Then, they have the use of all the churches except ours, and all the Cathedrals; and they are beginning at last to encourage sentiment. Then, they may display their symbols and we may not: I think that they will be established legally in another ten years at the latest.

On Monday morning, I called up a good friend who is far more deeply immersed in the theology of the Church than I am. I asked him for a gut check on all that is currently transpiring, and he immediately gave an impassioned response.

The problem, he said to me, is that we keep trying to address all these symptoms of the disease. We see Communion for the divorced and remarried, or the attempt to abolish the death penalty, or the revisitation of Humanae Vitae, or the anthropocentric changes in the liturgy, and we go running after them, chasing them down, trying to fight them.

“The root of it all, though,” he said to me, “is the worship of man. It’s Gaudium et Spes 12 and 24. It’s Evangelii Gaudium 161. And very few people truly see that.”

Gaudium et Spes 12 reads, in part, “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown.”

Gaudium et Spes 24 reads, in part,”…love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment.”

Evangelii Gaudium 161 reads, in part, “above all the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 15:12).”

We have written about the problems with these documents here before, so I will not elaborate on them further now, save to say that they represent a dangerous kind of humanism in which man takes the center stage, replacing the proper place of God. As we all know, the “first and greatest commandment” is not “love for God and neighbor” or simply, “love one another as I have loved you,” but “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” (Mt. 22:37-38)

In a homily two years ago this month, Pope Francis said that

humanism should take its starting point from “the centrality of Jesus,” in whom we discover “the features of the authentic face of man.” His reflection took its starting point from the passage from St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” What is this attitude? the Pope asked. He suggested three specific traits: humility, disinterest, and happiness (It: beatitudine).

With regard to humility, the Pope said we should pursue the glory of God, and not our own. “The glory of God that blazes in the humility of the cave of Bethlehem or in the dishonour of the Cross of Christ always surprises us.” Disinterest is seen in the quote from Philippians, which speaks of “each one looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.” A Christian’s humanity, he said, is not narcissistic or self-centred, but always goes out to others, which leads us always to work and to fight to make the world a better place.

In our 110-year-old story about an anti-Christian future, we see the lapsed Catholic mother of the famed and rabidly anti-theistic Labour MP, Oliver Brand, reflecting upon the Masonic Hymn being rousingly sung by the Londoners all around her:

Old Mrs. Brand lifted the printed paper mechanically to her eyes, and saw the words that she knew so well:

The Lord that dwells in earth and sea.” …

She glanced down the verses, that from the Humanitarian point of view had been composed with both skill and ardour. They had a religious ring; the unintelligent Christian could sing them without a qualm; yet their sense was plain enough–the old human creed that man was all. Even Christ’s words themselves were quoted. The kingdom of God, it was said, lay within the human heart, and the greatest of all graces was Charity.

Of course, “Christian Humanism” isn’t an entirely new thing. It also isn’t strictly a Pope Francis thing. Writing at The Week, Peter Weber says:

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Francis is a secular humanist, or capital-h Humanist, by any means. Instead, let’s call him a Christian humanist, defining that as one who cares about human beings more than ecclesiastical considerations.

That might sound like secular balderdash, but it’s actually a phrase coined by Pope Benedict. “Christian humanism,” he wrote in the 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), “enkindles charity and takes its lead from truth, accepting both as a lasting gift from God. Openness to God makes us open toward our brothers and sisters and toward an understanding of life as a joyful task to be accomplished in a spirit of solidarity.” Benedict explicitly borrowed the idea from Pope Paul VI.

And yet how is “Christian Humanism” being distinguished from “capital-h Humanism”, practically speaking? How are we to believe that this isn’t just an indicator of the supremacy of the “Revolution in Tiara and Cope” promised by the Italian Freemasons of the Alta Vendita over a century ago?

When upon all the points of ecclesiastical state at once, this daily work shall have spread our ideas as light, then you will appreciate the wisdom of the counsel in which we take the initiative… That reputation will open the way for our doctrines to pass to the bosoms of the young clergy, and go even to the depths of convents. In a few years the young clergy will have, by force of events, invaded all the functions. They will govern, administer, and judge. They will form the council of the Sovereign. They will be called upon to choose the Pontiff who will reign; and that Pontiff, like the greater part of his contemporaries, will be necessarily imbued with the…humanitarian principles which we are about to put into circulation… Let the clergy march under your banner in the belief always that they march under the banner of the Apostolic Keys. You wish to cause the last vestige of tyranny and of oppression to disappear? Lay your nets like Simon Barjona. Lay them in the depths of sacristies, seminaries, and convents, rather than in the depth of the sea… You will bring yourselves as friends around the Apostolic Chair. You will have fished up a Revolution in Tiara and Cope, marching with Cross and banner – a Revolution which needs only to be spurred on a little to put the four corners of the world on fire.

And what are we to make of the nearly-universal acclaim that Freemasonry has heaped upon our present pontiff, in light of these designs? What of the Vatican’s newfound desire to have “dialogue” with Freemasonry? What of Bishop Athanasius Schneider’s warning that Freemasonry is a “tool of Satan” or that

Freemasonry is in itself intrinsically not compatible with Christian or Catholic faith, it is intrinsically not compatible, because the nature of freemasonry is anti-Christian. They deny Christ, and they deny the objective truths, they promote relativism, which is contrary to the truth, to the Gospel. So they promote the doctrinal errors of the Masonic philosophy. This is incompatible with Christian and Catholic faith.

“And yet!” the astute and well-informed reader will object, “Just this week the pope rejected ‘the appointment of a masonic Lebanese ambassador’ to the Holy See! And don’t you remember how Francis said he wanted Cardinal Burke to cleanse the Soverign Military Order of Malta of Freemasonry?”

If our interlocutor were seeking to establish the self-contradictory modes of the present pontiff, his duty would be satisfied. The fact remains that the Pope is so little concerned with rejecting actual Freemasonic ideals that he has not once — not a single time — distanced himself from all of its endorsements of his pontificate. Neither has he made haste to remove those useful to him within the Vatican power structure who have long been suspected of membership. And he speaks constantly of immanentism, of humanism, of the environment, of the marginalized, of the values that promote man in the here and now — all while he dismisses Catholic eschatology and replaces it with something of his own making.

So if Francis does, in fact, disavow (in principle) the Freemasons who find such hope in him, we should remember that even the visionary members of the Alta Vendita, with their far-reaching ideals of infiltrating the Church such that their own would elect a pope, did not think they would own the papacy itself. “The Pope, whoever he may be,” they wrote, “will never come to the secret societies. It is for the secret societies to come to the Church…”

And so they have.

However you want to slice it, humanism leads to idolatry — the worship of man. It is why we were given the Novus Ordo, with its attendant focus on the community over worship. It’s why we have abandoned an ecumenism that seeks conversion. It’s why we tell people that it’s not their fault that they can’t stop sinning, and they should go ahead and receive the sacraments anyway so they don’t feel excluded. It’s why we have people who treat the pope as though he is a divine oracle, and somehow comprises supreme magisterial power over previously-defined truth, whether laid down by his predecessors or by God Himself in divine revelation.

And as my friend said to me at the denouement of our Monday phone call, “The worship of man is really just a thinly-veiled worship of Satan.”

“Our faith in the indefectibility of the Church is soon going to be tested…”

One of the things that originally prompted this reverie, other than reading LOTW, was an unusually personal and insightful post by Fr. Z:

Last night I had a hard dream that I was part of a firefighting crew, the kind that tries to control wildfires, such as dangerously erupt especially in time of drought.  The winds fanned the flames.  I awoke entirely exhausted.

This morning during the parish’s Solemn Mass, for which I was deacon, I had a pressing and strong presentiment of foreboding. I visualized pouring it into the chalice with the water I poured to be mixed with the wine and transformed… by God.

After the Mass, the priest celebrant and I went to a breakfast place and were seated next to a table of half a dozen firefighters in their ready gear.  Their truck was outside… one of the big ones… running.  I took this as part of my ongoing experience of portentous, looming urgency, whereupon I paid for their table.  The guy next to us bought us our breakfast, thus passing it on.  Good will multiplies.

And now a reading from my SMS thing…  This came in this morning from a lay friend, a father of four.  It is part of an SMS conversation between friends, clerical and lay.  The immediate topic: those who are purposely sowing confusion and ambiguity in the Church today:

Motus in fine velocior.  Our faith in the indefectibility of the Church is soon going to be tested and good people will legitimately choose different sides.  I am neither an alarmist nor a conspiracy theory [k]ook, but these people are evil.  …  It’s going to get SO much worse before it gets better.  Brace yourselves and cling to your beads, catechism, Breviary and Mass.

Motus in fine velocior. Motion accelerates when the end is near. This is a phrase we hear more and more often these days, as the concept transitions from a motto to a mantra.

The testing of our faith in the Church’s indefectibility, however, isn’t on the near horizon. It’s already here, and doing damage. I say this not to discourage anyone, but simply to be honest: I spent a good chunk of last week fighting off the tempting thought that if heretics are going to run the Church — and more to the point, if the pope himself can flatly contradict divine revelation, asserted as such by the teaching office of the Church — and they are all going to just get away with it, I might as well start sleeping in on Sundays.

Either he can get away with it, or he can’t. Either all of it is true, or it isn’t.

We are at this very moment living through a process by which a sitting pope is attempting to falsify Christ’s promises to the Church.

The center cannot hold. 

Cogent arguments have been made about whether a heretical pope may be deposed. These have been updated and expounded upon, based on certain recent events.

The difficulty for us — for you and for me — is knowing how long this can continue without redress. The practical question we are all asking ourselves is, “What does our faith demand of us? At what point do we find ourselves saying, ‘surely, this has gone too far’?” We need something to assuage our rising sense of fear. I am reminded of those times when, as a parent, I have been unable briefly to find one of my small children. It doesn’t take long before the small voice of concern — “Oh, he must be hiding under a bed or something” — turns into the shrill note of panic when every reasonable stone has been seemingly overturned.

We once had this go on long enough with our oldest son that we called the police, because we honestly thought someone had come by and taken him from the yard. (As it turned out, the child in question was hiding because he was embarrassed because of something he had done.) Another time, with another child, we could not find him because he had crawled inside a kitchen cabinet and shut the door, only to fall fast asleep. We looked everywhere but in the cupboards, until we were at our wits’ end and discovered him out of a sheer irrational desperation to check every unlikely place.

Both times, the truth was that our children were safe the whole time. Both times, it had become easy — even reasonable — to fear the worst.

I have long posited that the only reason Christ promised that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church is because He knew full well that they would appear to do precisely that. He wanted us to remember those words at the very moment when it would seem all but certain that His promises were empty, and that all was truly lost. We are arriving at that juncture. Perhaps not for the first time in history, and certainly not for the last.

The Church may go into hiding. The Church may seem for a time to disappear. So we remember His promise. And we hold fast, whatever comes.

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