For the past two years I have been confiding to close friends my own growing sense that something is happening. I have spoken with others who have admitted the same suspicion. The way I have tried to describe it in the past is like the rumblings felt just before a volcano explodes.
Just look at ISIS. Who could ever conceive of atrocities like those we are seeing executed in the name of religion? What we are facing is, first and foremost, a form of spiritual warfare. In a time where violence seems rampant, it is true that we must be ready to physically engage the malefactors. But if we deny the spiritual nature of this surge of evil we are facing, we will have no hope of victory.
When confronted with this, the immediate reaction of most people is, “What can we do to stop it?” Yes! That is the exact question we need to be asking. Summoning us to courage, St. Augustine challenges us to do battle: “Hope has two beautiful daughters: their names are anger and courage. Anger that things are the way they are. Courage to make them the way they ought to be.”
But to begin to answer the question of what we can do, we must first properly assess where we are. What are our capabilities? How is our strength? What is the state of our conditioning? Without this kind of brutal honesty, we are likely to flounder rather than fight.
Jesus warned, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Luke 21:34-35).
I believe that underlying it all is a deeper evil, a more ancient and intractable error which gives rise to all the rest. Many have pointed to what is called “Modernism” as the heresy of our times. Modernism, while it takes many forms, is basically a break or rejection of our past in favor of all things new. And, while it seems Modernism is on the rise, I believe that it, too, is a symptom of this more fundamental threat.
What am I referring to? Something that impacts the very nature of human existence and the opportunity for our salvation. Lacking an official name, I call this, “Stealth Arianism.” Students of history know that the Arian heresy – the worst crisis in the Church before our present age – was rooted in the belief that Jesus Christ was merely a created being, not equal to God the Father. Stealth Arianism follows the same fatal error, but with a twist: while the Arians of the fourth century openly denied Christ’s divinity, today‘s Arians will profess Jesus as God, and yet through their actions deny it. In other words, they don’t even know they are Arians.
You see, once we diminish the identity of Christ as the Son of God, we are left to view Him as simply a historical figure that was a nice guy, a respectable teacher and a good example for how we are to live. Religion is then reduced to a nice organization that does nice things for people as we seek a kind of psychotherapy for self-actualization. And this is not only not what He came to give us, but it’s something He made sure to leave no room for.
How do we recognize this pervasive Stealth Arianism? There is a story of two friends – a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister. They stood in the doorway of the priest’s church, staring at the tabernacle in the sanctuary at the other end. The Protestant minister said to his priest friend, “You don’t believe that is God in that tabernacle.” The priest was startled, and said, “What do you mean? Of course I do.” The Protestant minister said, “Listen, if I believed that was God, I would, right here and now, fall prostrate on my face and crawl toward that tabernacle, with tears of joy running down my face … you don’t believe that is God.”
Over the past 50 years, the Stealth Arians have done everything within their power to remove from our lived experience of Catholicism anything that would point to the divinity of Christ, and the supernatural quality of our faith. Much has been stripped from our churches – sacred art, sacred architecture, sacred music, and the sacred elements of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – and we are left in the barren desert of the banal.
Moreover, the Stealth Arians have deliberately chosen to keep their teachings muddled, ambiguous and elusive in an effort to increase “pastoral sensitivity” as the highest of all values, which keeps people feeling good about themselves just the way they are – though never challenged to strive for sainthood! But whether confused and uncertain, the faithful are left prone to be conformed to the world.
In the second reading this Sunday, St. John says, “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). Not many today openly deny the divinity of Christ by their words, but far too many deny His divinity by their actions.
In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus says, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5). When we deny His divinity – and our actions can point to that – we are cut off from that supernatural power to bear the fruit of becoming great disciples, great husbands and wives, great parents, and great citizens. Without that divine life – state of grace – we are left to become base and savage … merely homosapiens … just another species, satisfying our base desires. THAT is why our world is the way it is today!
Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Athanasius; a bishop who stood with a very small remnant against the pervasive Arian heresy of his day. “Stealth Arianism” is rampant in our times. Are you prepared to be a St. Athanaius today? The time is now for us to accept the challenge set before us and, with the joy of God’s grace radiating from our hearts, bring His love to a world that truly needs to find this Divine connection again.
(This was my homily on Sunday, 5-3-15)