Lord of the World

June 13, 2013

I recently reread Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson’s prophetic novel Lord of the World, written in 1906. Tell me if this sounds familiar.

*****MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***** The following synopsis gives away most of the principal story line, up to but not including, the last sentence.

Benson’s novel takes place around the mid-late 20th century. The future technology Benson describes is similarly prophetic or wildly off-the-mark as the futuristic fiction of H.G. Welles or Jules Verne.  Millions live in crowded cities under artificial light. Air travel via mechanical “volors” capable of traveling 150 mph is commonplace. Military weapons are predictably far more powerful than anything existing in Benson’s time, with military use of air travel to deliver powerful explosives capable of destroying modern cities a reality. Advances in technology provide greater conveniences and benefits to the citizenry, but also greater disasters when technology fails.

None of this is remarkable in itself. Where Benson’s novel surpasses other similar efforts is in its depiction of the spirit of the age, the cultural and spiritual zeitgeist of a world that has not just lost its faith, but is growing in hostility towards the faith even as the latter diminishes in power and influence. In Lord of the World, a progressive secular humanitarianism has produced a relatively modernized but sterile existence. Euthanasia is the norm for dealing with illnesses and diseases in old age. If anything, Benson’s vision of what Pope John Paul II described as a culture of death falls short of the grisly reality of abortion on demand, partial birth abortion and infanticide. His imagination could foresee the rise of a greater villain than even Hitler, but not everyday monsters like Kermit Gosnell and Planned Parenthood.

Consistent with Benson’s ecclesiology, what little remains of the faith in the novel is decidedly Catholic. (Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and his conversion a few years after his father’s death stunned the Anglican community.) The Protestant churches and even Islam have become increasingly irrelevant as they incorporate more and more of the humanist spirit of the age.

Into this post-Christian milieu, from out of nowhere appears a charismatic young political figure who captures the public imagination. His background is a mystery, rising from obscurity to sudden fame and rapidly expanding political power on the basis of his spellbinding oratory, although in fact his speeches consist mostly of banal platitudes.

His name is Julian Felsenburgh and he is the anti-Christ.

“But who is Felsenburgh?” put in a young priest…
“He’s a mystery,” said another priest, Father Blackmore…
“I met an American senator,” put in Percy, “three days ago, who told me that even there they know nothing of him, except his extraordinary eloquence. He only appeared last year, and seems to have carried everything before him by quite unusual methods…”

Felsenburgh soon forms a de facto one world government with himself at the head. (Benson’s novel depicts a world  divided into three separate camps, federalisms of former sovereign States resembling the European Union, comprised of Europe, Asia and America, all of which ask Felsenburgh to rule over them. One ‘king’ to rule them all, one ‘king’ to find them, one ‘king’ to bring them all and in the darkness bind/blind them. 

The charismatic Felsenburgh preaches a message of universal tolerance, whose logic inevitably leads to persecution of the “ancient superstition.” As Felsenburgh’s power grows, he assumes several familiar titles for himself: Lord (and Savior) of the World, Messiah, Son of Man, even Incarnate God… because Man created God in his image and Felsenburgh was both the archetype and supreme example of Man-made-God!

In no less than nine places—Damascus, Irkutsk, Constantinople, Calcutta, Benares, Nanking, among them—he was hailed as Messiah by a Mohammedan mob. Finally, in America, where this extraordinary figure has arisen, all speak well of him. He has been guilty of none of those crimes—there is not one that convicts him of sin—those crimes of the Yellow Press, of corruption, of commerical or political bullying which have so stained the past of all those old politicians who made the sister continent what she has become. Mr. Felsenburgh has not even formed a party. He, and not his underlings, have conquered.

Eventually, all traditional religious worship is abolished, to be replaced by obligatory services to worship Man, which Felsenburgh represents in perfect glory. A a Catholic plot to blow up a cathedral where the first compulsory new service is to be held is uncovered. The event establishes a pretext for Felsenburgh’s brutal and vicious persecutions to begin in earnest. In retaliation, Felsenburgh leads a fleet of 200 military volors to destroy Rome, killing the Pope and all the Cardinals, who were present in the holy city to attend a council to decide what should be the Church’s response to the threat of Felsenburgh. One of the new Cardinals, the former Father Percy Franklin who we meet early on, a young man with white hair who bears a striking resemblance to Felsenburgh, escapes the destruction, having left in haste for England in a futile attempt to stop the bomb plot.

At the end, all that remains of the church founded by Christ is a ragtag band of twelve in hiding somewhere in a desert near Nazareth where the faith originated. One of the twelve betrays the remant church’s location to Felsenburgh. And Felsenburgh leads his forces—the largest, most powerful military force ever assembled—to destroy them.

…He was coming now, swifter than ever, the hier of temporal ages and the Exile of eternity, the final piteous Prince of rebels, the creature against God, blinder than the sun which paled and the earth that shook; and as He came, passing even then through the last material stage to the thinness of a spirit-fabric, the floating circle swirled behind Him, tossing like phantom birds in the wake of a phantom ship… He was coming, and the earth, rent once again in its allegiance, shrank and reeled in the agony of divided homage.

He was coming—and already the shadow swept off the plain and vanished, and the pale netted wings were rising to the cheek; and the great bell clanged, and the long sweet chord rang out—not more than whispers heard across the pealing storm of everlasting praise…

Against Felsenburgh and his Hellish hosts racing to obliterate the remnant of Christ’s Church, the last pontiff and his tatterdemalion followers celebrate Mass for the last time.

I must admit I didn’t quite get the ending the first time I read it. The words of the Mass, juxtaposed against the final assault of Felsenburgh’s vast army—Word versus Flesh—are quoted in Latin, of which I know just a few phrases. Re-reading the novel again after many years, I thought of several different ways Msgr. Benson could have chosen to end the book, none of which approach the beauty and glory of his simple and fitting last line.

There’s much more to Lord of the World than the parts I’ve spoiled. And at only 206 pages and much better IMO than Stephen King’s The Stand, it’s well worth checking out.


Robert Schindler, Sr., Resquiat in Pace

September 8, 2009

Fr. Thomas Euteneuer: The Passing of a Real Hero:

Today the pro-life movement mourns the loss of Mr. Robert Schindler, Sr., the father of Terri Schindler-Schiavo, whose fight for life captured the heart of the pro-life community in 2005. Mr. Schindler is being buried in Philadelphia today without the fanfare or accolades that are due a real champion who fought one of the most insidious evils of modern society – the legalized murder of the innocent. His funeral will not be televised on all the cable news networks, no cardinals will attend it, and the President of the United States will not deliver the eulogy – thank God. Mr. Schindler, however, is promised a better send-off than that. God Himself will him speak to him words spoken to all the suffering righteous: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

It is hard not to notice the contrast between the funerals of Senator Edward Kennedy and Bob Schindler. The secular, brash and privileged “Lion of the Senate” had everything that the world had to offer, including comprehensive political protection from his Waterloo; the Chappaquiddick incident in 1969. He walked away from that one scot-free, and the country ever after that conveniently pretended it didn’t happen because no one would want to tarnish the image of a famous political family. Americans find it just too messy to honestly address casual killing. Ted Kennedy went on to continue his murderous rampage in his political career through his contemptible advocacy of legalized killing through abortion and the farcical defense of Roe by vetoing potential Supreme Court judges who might have rectified that terrible injustice in our country. Among the many sins he will have to account for before the Throne of Grace, his criminally buffoonish and cowardly causing of Mary Jo Kopechne’s death and its subsequent cover-up were perhaps the least. Ted Kennedy had a lot of innocent blood on his hands as he went to his judgment, as do all people who advocate or stand aside in silence at the destruction of the innocents.

Bob Schindler, in contrast, was not endowed with the privileges of wealth and social status, nor the political machine that could protect his back side in times of trouble. His family was ravaged by aggressive euthanasia activist lawyers who decided that his daughter was just not worthy of life because she was brain-damaged. He had to fight the son-in-law from hell who, despite a father’s unconditional offer to care for his own daughter, rammed the euthanasia agenda home viciously, even triumphantly. Bob had to endure the agony of three separate court-ordered starvations of his daughter, the third of which took her life in a brutal act of gloating evil that many compared to the Passion of Christ. Bob was the faithful father standing at the foot of the Cross and his vigils took place without the companionship of any cardinal or bishop there to rally the saints in defense of his daughter. His greatest sorrow was indeed that the very leadership of his Church, like the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane, should have abandoned his family in their hour of need. Indeed, his local bishop somehow found more pressing needs in Asia and was AWOL in defense of Terri the week she was murdered. But despite the failings of the men who are given earthly powers to guide the Church, God never abandons his children. Bob was always in the company of the very best, sent from Heaven, and it is our firm belief that the angels are welcoming him home today as he meets the glory of God and at long last, is reunited with the daughter he loves so much.

Read the entire article here.

What a contrast between the lives and deaths of this humble witness for Life and the Cowardly Lion of the Senate.

Words of Wisdom

May 13, 2009

At the 201st commencement exercises of Mt. St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., the second-oldest American Catholic university, noted Catholic author George Weigel delivered the commencement address I wish I’d heard when I graduated college.

George Weigel is the author of Witness to Hope, the authorized biography of Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, from whom he learned much wisdom. In this address, Weigel shares some of John Paul’s profound insights on living life as vocation, on the real meaning of freedom, and on how our precious God-given freedoms depend on our character and virtue:

Some of you will do great things as the world measures greatness. Some of you will do great things as the Church measures greatness, joining the ranks of the great figures who have walked here on Mary’s mountain: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton; Bishop John Dubois; Archbishop John Hughes; Bishop James Edward Walsh of the Class of 1910, a living martyr for ten years in a Chinese Communist prison. Who knows, perhaps one of you will even top Jim Phelan’s remarkable record as a basketball coach. But each of you can do great things in the one, essential way that Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, did great things. You can do the greatest thing of which human beings are capable: You can conform yourself to the will of God for your life.

. . . Many of you will enter the world of work after this graduation; others of you will continue your studies. No matter what you will be doing tomorrow, or next week, or next September, there is a lesson for you in the life of John Paul II: Don’t think of your life simply as a “career.” Think of your life as a vocation.

God has something unique in mind for each of you. There is something singular that each of you brings to the making of history. Think of your lives in those terms, and you’ll never fall prey to that most deadening of temptations: the temptation of boredom.

That is the kind of life — a life of high adventure in the greatest of adventures, the making of your soul — for which Mt. St. Mary’s has prepared you. For that is the entire purpose of Catholic higher education, rightly understood: Catholic higher education exists to form vocationally serious men and women in whom faith and reason support a transforming conviction — the conviction that every human life is, by definition, extraordinary. That is the conviction on which this university was founded. That is the conviction on which this university can and must build its future.

. . . [I]n the final analysis, our freedom depends on the content of our character as a people. That is how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. asked that his children be judged. That is how we should all wish to be judged. For character counts, both for the happiness of each of our lives and for the future of America.

Only a people of character will be able to understand that, as Lord Acton taught, freedom is not a matter of doing what we like, but of having the right to do what we Ought.

. . . Defending freedom today also requires that we be a people of virtue.

And what does virtue require of us?

Virtue requires us to acknowledge, and to defend, the first principle of justice, according to which innocent human life has an inalienable dignity and value that must be recognized by law. Never flag, never fail, never weary in defense of the right to life. Never give up on the great civil-rights issues of our time — the life issues.

. . . Virtue requires us to defend and promote the cause of freedom, rather than retreating into a bunker of hemispheric isolation and an iPod world of self-absorption.

Virtue requires us to live as John Paul II challenged the young people of the world to live: by never, ever settling for anything less than the spiritual and moral greatness of which, with God’s grace, you are capable. Never, ever settle for less than that.

The virtues that are the foundation of this American experiment in ordered liberty are known from both faith and reason. In spending these past years on Mary’s mountain, you have been immersed in both — in both faith and reason. As you walk off the mountain today, take both faith and reason with you. Nurture them in your mind, heart, and soul. Living your lives vocationally — living your lives as the gift to others that your own life is to you — you can give America a new birth of freedom.

And the confessors, the martyrs, and all the other saints who once walked here, on Mary’s mountain in the Catoctins, will be cheering you on, all the way.

Read the entire address here.

Those who share my love and admiration for John Paul II will also appreciate this quintessential anecdote from Weigel’s address:

It has been one of the privileges of my life to have spent more than two and a half decades chronicling the achievements, and explicating the thought, of a great man: the Servant of God Pope John Paul II. He was, certainly, a great man. Part of his greatness lay in the fact that he had a very firm grip on his own fallibility. In September 1997, the Italian Bishops Conference hosted a national Eucharistic Congress in Bologna. John Paul II was helicoptered up there on a Sunday night to give the closing address. A staffer at the bishops conference had gotten the bright idea that Bob Dylan would be a good set-up act for the pope. So, perhaps a half-hour before the Holy Father appeared, Dylan came out on stage before hundreds of thousands of Italians, floppy hat, guitar, harmonica, and so forth, and did a few songs, ending with his signature composition, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The Pope came out and, demonstrating his remarkable capacity to seize an opportunity, discarded his prepared text and immediately began talking about the Holy Spirit “blowin’ in the wind” of the modern world, and about Jesus Christ as the one road that all of us must walk down, for “Christ, who said ‘I am the way’ . . . is the road of truth, the way of life.” It was a remarkable performance. Three days later, I was at lunch in the papal apartment, and before I could even get seated after grace, John Paul II fixed me with that look across the table and said, “Who eeze Bob DEE-lahn?”

“Who eeze Bob DEE-lahn?” Priceless.

A Teachable Moment

April 4, 2009

During her recent trip to Mexico, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited the basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and asked who painted it? The rector of the basilica Msgr. Diego Monroy immediately replied: God!

The image of Our Lady first appeared on the tilma or cloak made of coarse fabric belonging to a 16th century Indian peasant, St. Juan Diego. The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in 1531 and instructed him to have the local bishop build a church on the spot where she appeared.

Needless to say, Bishop Zumárraga and the Church authorities didn’t believe the illiterate peasant Juan Diego’s preposterous claims that he met the Virgin Mary and that she wanted a church built on the spot where she appeared. They asked Juan to bring them a sign. Juan Diego returned to the place where he encountered Our Lady, who showed him a spot with white roses impossibly growing in full bloom in the middle of winter. St. Juan Diego carefully gathered up the roses in his tilma to show the Bishop. When he opened the tilma, the skeptical Bishop and Spanish clerics and soldiers dropped to their knees in astonishment and reverence, not upon seeing the roses, but the miraculous image on the tilma. They had their sign.

According to one report, 16 million were converted and baptized over the next four years. Our Lady of Guadalupe completed the work that Cortez and the Church began, and the conversions continue to this day.

According to recent studies, the tilma itself and the luminescent image are both inexplicable by natural means. Made of coarse ayate fibers, these garments typically deteriorate after 20 years, yet St. Juan Diegos tilma is none the worse for wear 480 years later, despite several attempts to destroy it, including a bombing which destroyed much of the church, but left the tilma unscathed.

The image on the tilma is also inexplicable. Richard Kuhn, a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, and other scientists have confirmed that the image contains no natural, animal or mineral colorings. Synthetic colors did not exist in 1531. In any event, there are no traces of paint or evidence that the fabric was treated in any way. The image itself is iridescent, changing colors slightly according to the viewing angle, an effect that not even contemporary artists can achieve. The image was not created by human hands.

Most remarkable are the images of Our Lady’s eyes:

Digital technology is giving new leads in understanding a phenomenon that continues to puzzle science: the mysterious eyes of the image of Virgin of Guadalupe.

The image, imprinted on the tilma of a 16th-century peasant, led millions of indigenous Indians in Mexico to convert to the Catholic faith. Last week in Rome, results of research into the famed image were discussed by engineer José Aste Tonsmann of the Mexican Center of Guadalupan Studies during a conference at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum.

For over 20 years, this graduate of environmental systems engineering of Cornell University has studied the image of the Virgin left on the rough maguey fiber fabric of Juan Diego´s tilma. What intrigued Tonsmann the most were the eyes of the Virgin.

Though the dimensions are microscopic, the iris and the pupils of the image´s eyes have imprinted on them a highly detailed picture of at least 13 people, Tonsmann said. The same people are present in both the left and right eyes, in different proportions, as would happen when human eyes reflect the objects before them.

Tonsmann says he believes the reflection transmitted by the eyes of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the scene on Dec. 9, 1531, during which Juan Diego showed his tilma, with the image, to Bishop Juan de Zumárraga and others present in the room.

Dr. Tonsmann, who has a PhD from Cornell University, used computers and high resolution photography to study the face on the tilma in close detail. After filtering and processing the digitized images of the eyes to eliminate “noise” and enhance them, here is the magnified image of the family:
Our Lady of Guadalupe's Eyes








Note what appears to be the figure of a woman carrying a baby on her back in a manner typical of the 16th Century.

When Dr. Tonsmann first published his findings, Protestant skeptics likened the images on the tilma to people claiming to see Jesus or Mary in peanuts, moldy bread and such. They apparently do not realize that the Catholic Church carefull investigates miraculous claims and debunks most of them. The Church does so precisely in order to debunk fraudulent claims and other occurences that can be explained by natural means.

A skeptical mind will never be convinced by signs any more than the Pharisees who asked Jesus for signs immediately after he fed 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. It is certainly easier to lump all inexplicable phenomena into the same category and dismiss them with the broad brush of contempt and ridicule. But the incredible luminescent painting on Juan Diego’s tilma cannot be replicated with the broad brush and primitive pigments available in 1531 or today.

We are not limited to choosing between blind acceptance of every claim, no matter how farfetched on the one hand, and dogmatic rejection of every claim, no matter how persuasive on the other.

Sherlock Holmes said “When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” The credulous and the skeptical both theorize before they examine the data. Thus, as Holmes warned, they twist facts to fit their preconceived notions, instead of their notions to fit the facts.

When I hear accounts of bleeding or crying statues, my initial reaction is one of skepticism because they are easily faked, but one should be mindful of the Great Detective’s admonition. People are often credulous and believe all sorts of silly things. One of the silly things some people believe is that all claims of miracles can be explained away.

For me, the truly astonishing part of this story is that Almighty God in the 16th century apparently used this artifact, which should not exist 480 years later, as a sign not only for skeptical 16th Century clerics, but for unbelieving 21st Century scientists as well.

Ut Unum Sint!

January 29, 2009

Incredible good news from The Record, a weekly publication of the Western Australian Catholic Church:

History may be in the making. It appears Rome is on the brink of welcoming close to half a million members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into membership of the Roman Catholic Church, writes Anthony Barich. Such a move would be the most historic development in Anglican-Catholic relations in the last 500 years. But it may also be a prelude to a much greater influx of Anglicans waiting on the sidelines, pushed too far by the controversy surrounding the consecration of practising homosexual bishops, women clergy and a host of other issues.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to recommend the Traditional Anglican Communion be accorded a personal prelature akin to Opus Dei, if talks between the TAC and the Vatican aimed at unity succeed, it is understood.

Full article here.

To paraphrase Churchill, this development does not mark the end of the English Reformation and the Elizabethan Settlement. It is not the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning. Indeed, it is not hyperbole on the Record’s part to say that, God willing, this development “will be the biggest development in Catholic-Anglican relations since the English Reformation under King Henry VIII.”

The Record further reports that an announcement is expected sometime after Easter this year, and that Pope Benedict XVI, who has taken a personal interest in this cause, is determined to achieve this joyous and long-sought reunion in this, the year of St. Paul, the Church’s greatest missionary.

In his quiet humble manner, Pope Benedict XVI has paved the way for 400,000 faithful orthodox and long-suffering Anglicans to be reunited with “all [their] own ancestors, all [their] ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter,” in St. Edmund Campion’s immortal words. Once this is a fait accompli, we can expect the floodgates will open and thousands more demoralized Anglicans will likely follow their brothers and sisters on the journey home.

The Record article also mentions that the TAC’s Primate, Adelaide-based Archbishop John Hepworth has informed the Holy See that he would like to bring all the TAC’s bishops to Rome for the beatification of Cardinal Henry Newman. Newman’s beatification has not been announced, but seems likely to many and would be especially fitting on this glorious occasion, as this is Cardinal Newman’s victory as well as ours.

It is also the victory and vindication of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement and of the great 20th Century Anglican converts, Msgrs. Ronald Knox and Robert Benson, who rejoice with us this day. It recalls the suffering and sacrifice of St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, and St. John Fisher, Cardinal of England, who were among the first beheaded for the faith, and of all the English martyrs, battered and beaten en route to the gallows at Tyburn.

“The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored.”

Thus boasted Edmund Campion in his famous Brag on his clandestine mission to the persecuted Catholics of England, hunted and harried and hounded for his efforts until his forseeable capture at Lyford Grange near Wantage in Berkshireon on 17 July, 1581.

Indeed today’s glad tidings represent Edmund’s Campion’s victory as well, a victory dearly bought with blood spilled at Tyburn, a few drops of which fell on the cloak of one Henry Walpole, who promptly took up Campion’s cause and cross, and crossed the channel to be ordained, and returned to his country where he too was martyred for the Faith.

Thus St. Peter’s barque, which once nearly sank in the Lake of Gennesaret after a huge catch of fish, will soon overflow with a much greater catch of souls, but her nets remain strong because God who is Love preserves her, and Love never fails.

Hat tip to my friend Steve Lawrence who forwarded this story from The American Catholic