Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Spiritual combat

Boniface of USC pens an open letter to Pope Francis:
Evangelization thus takes on a salvific importance - it has a supernatural end, and this has always been understood by Catholics throughout the ages. The purpose of evangelization is primarily to save souls.
However, in Evangelii Gaudium, the impetus for Christian evangelization of other cultures for the purpose of eternal salvation is explained in terms of a "dialogue", and the supernatural end (eternal life in heaven with God) seems replaced by a natural one. You write, "
Interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and so it is a duty for Christian" (EG, 250). The obligation for Christians to evangelize is "peace in the world", not the salvation of souls. This seems to substitute a worldly, naturalistic cause for evangelization for the more traditional supernatural one. Indeed, the two greatest issues Catholic evangelization has to respond to are said to be inclusion of the poor and world peace. (cf. 186, 217) It seems Your Holiness is suggesting that it is purely worldly concerns that the Gospel is here to address, not the salvation of men's souls or the false religions that keep them from that salvation.
My seminary adviser once warned me that my emphasis on working for the salvation of souls in my self-evaluations was going to draw the critical eyes of several faculty members. They would, he said, wonder at my excessively cultic understanding of the priesthood and wonder about my commitment to things like social justice or dialogue. It took all of my not inconsiderable self-control to not blow up then and there. Working for the salvation of souls is what priests do. Everything else is secondary to that.

The other night we spoke to the kids about the spiritual combat. Demons exist, we told them, and it is their mission to pull as many of us down into hell as possible. There are two mistakes we can make here: the first is to disbelieve in the existence of Satan all together. This, unfortunately, is a trap into which far too many Catholics have fallen. I applaud Pope Francis for reminding us of it so frequently. The second mistake is to worry about them too much. Whether we are being tempted by the world, the flesh, or the devil, there's only one prescription: frequent prayer, sacraments, and fasting. And more cowbell.

The reason why I dislike so much of the "social justice" culture in the Church is that it's disconnected from our supernatural end. It makes Catholicism come across as just another do-gooding NGO because we create an artificial wall of separation from our spiritual lives and our charitable works. The corporal works of mercy are founded in the spirit of the Gospel because they always remind us that what we do for the least of us, we do for Christ. But how many Catholics even know what the corporal works of mercy are anymore? The priest becomes a mere social worker who can't have sex.

Demons are subtle creatures. They aren't going to scare us with direct terrorism, most of the time. They like it when we are lulled into a false sense of security and pay no attention to the spiritual warfare that takes place all around us. I don't pretend to be an effective combatant or a good Catholic, but I can't not believe in the spiritual combat. The war is already won but individuals can be lost in the skirmishes which remain from now until the end of time.

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