The Bishop Speaks

On the feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis (September 17), we are reminded by the prayers of the Sacrifice of the Mass of our present condition in the world. We are reminded not only of that time when St. Francis, our holy Founder, walked the narrow streets of Assisi, but of our own times when we witness the same destructive spirit so familiar to St. Francis extending all over the world.

The Collect for his feast reads: "O Lord Jesus Christ, when the world was growing cold, in order that our hearts might burn anew with the fire of Your love, You renewed in the flesh of the most blessed Francis, our Father, the sacred marks of Your Passion; mercifully grant that, by his merits and prayers, we may ever carry our cross, and bring forth fruits worthy of penance. You who are God, living and reigning."

This prayer is suitable for every Catholic because every Catholic is called, by virtue of Baptism, to labor daily for that supernatural perfection of which this Sacrament is the beginning.

Jesus has sent out this invitation to everyone. He says: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." Jesus invites every man to follow Him. But, what is the condition for following Jesus? How opposed to the error of `unconditional love' so widely spread among unsuspecting faithful, both clergy and laity.

Even the metaphysical laws of grammar dictate that Christ's invitation is conditional. Discipleship is conditioned by the readiness of the individual to `deny himself and take up his cross and to follow' Jesus Christ.

The paradox in following Jesus Christ lies in this: Although self-denial at first seems to be a kind of self-destruction, and therefore something opposed to nature itself, it is nevertheless the opposite. For, it is in denying oneself that room is made for the love of Christ to enter in. Those who limit their goals to this world cannot perceive any value in denying oneself. This is understandable because they have never willingly denied themselves anything. These are they who are ever busy `saving their lives.' Their tragedy is that in so doing, they achieve the opposite of all their efforts: They lose their lives.

Even while deluding themselves into thinking that they are `saving' their lives, their labors and efforts end in death. This death is not the first death which we have inherited from Adam and Eve. No. This is the `second death' _ the death of the supernatural life of grace given to us through Baptism.

It is this life of supernatural grace which we must protect and nourish. For, if we fail in this, we lose it. This is why our Lord continues by saying: "and he that shall lose his life for My sake shall find it." One `loses his life' for Christ by following Him as did St. Francis. One `loses' his life by accepting the wisdom of God which appears as foolishness to men. One `loses' one's life when one accepts the invitation of Jesus Christ to leave all things for His sake.

Self-denial is the mystical path to complete self-fulfillment. This is the paradox which the majority of people cannot accept. Jesus said of Himself: "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me" (John 14, 6 -7).

Jesus is the Way. Therefore, those who would follow this Way must necessarily realize in themselves these words of Jesus: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." (Matt. 16, 24).

And just how does one take up one's cross daily to follow Jesus? The answer to this question is to be found in the words spoken by Him during the agony in the garden. Jesus prayed: "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; yet not as I will, but as thou willest." (Matt. 26, 39).

St. Paul, writing to the Philippians, states: "Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to, but emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto men. And appearing in the form of a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross." (Phil. 2, 5-8).

Obedience is the sign of a true supernatural life. True obedience imitates that of Jesus Christ and, consequently, excludes the false and hypocritical obedience of those who willingly remain associated with heretics who are enemies of Jesus Christ. Such obedience is not of God but of an evil spirit, whether from within or from without.

Genuine supernatural obedience is to be found in every saint in heaven and in every servant of God still walking this earth. There is not a single saint who did not practice supernatural obedience in imitation of Jesus Christ.

And among the saints, it was St. Francis who first received the sacred wounds of our Lord as a visible sign of his acceptable obedience in following Jesus Christ.

In St. Francis we find realized the words of Holy Scripture, especially these words of St. Paul: "Do nothing out of contentiousness or out of vainglory, but in humility let each one regard the others as his superiors, each one looking not to his own interests but to those of others." (Ibid. 2, 3-4).

These two virtues _ humility and obedience - are as inseparable one from the other as suffering and death which are likewise inseparable one from the other.

As St. Paul points out, humility inspires that spirit of true supernatural obedience which prompts the individual to consider all others as his superiors and prompts him to consider the interests of others rather than his own. This is the guiding light of the true shepherd solicitous for the welfare of his flock.

It is in considering and understanding the essential place of suffering and death in the mystery of our redemption and salvation that humility and obedience become understandable and joyously positive in their contents.

If one were to characterize the vast majority of all those who consider themselves `Christian,' one would be forced to conclude that the greatest number of `Christians' of whatever faction are rapidly earning for themselves the terrible and swift condemnation from Him whom they deceitfully say they are serving.

For, an objective view of all that passes for `Christianity' is a struggle between two extremes of the same infidelity to Jesus Christ.

The `liberal heretics' are no more heretical than the `conservative heretics' who style themselves `traditionalist.' Smug in his betrayal of Jesus Christ, the liberal fails to see that he has a twin brother in the traditionalist-conservative. The only difference being an emphasis on certain external manifestations of the one, fundamental and essential unifying principle of both extremes of denial of Jesus Christ: Pride and disobedience.

This is the `unifying' principle of all heretics among themselves despite the secondary visible claims each make. Like the demons of hell who hate each other with an unending passion, and like these same demons, heretics are always prepared to unite against their one mutual enemy: Truth and right order in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Just as Hell is united in its efforts to war against Heaven, so also are all heretics united against the one visible witness to the true Church.

Guided by the grace of the Holy Ghost, St. Francis understood what it meant to `follow Jesus Christ.' He also understood as a necessary conclusion of the place suffering and death have in the life of a joyful follower of Jesus Christ.

This divine wisdom that enlightened St. Francis also guided him in choosing the Way which leads to Truth and Life.

Unlike those who have begun their `following of Christ' with self-deception, St. Francis and his followers have wisely chosen the way of genuine faith which is only darkness for those in error, but light to those who hold fast to it.

St. Francis and his faithful followers in the three Orders he founded are what the world needs today in order to return to that Christian stability which once before became a fertile field of sanctity.

We cannot compare saints among themselves because, as Pope Pius XI said: "The Holy Ghost has called each one of them for some specific purpose." Nevertheless, this Pope continues: " Nevertheless, it would be difficult to encounter another in whom our Lord Jesus Christ's image and evangelical form of life could be expressed with such similarity and clarity as in St. Francis. As he himself referred to himself as the herald of the great King, so also it would be correct that he be called the `second Christ,' since it appeared to the people of his day that Christ, so to speak, again became alive." (Rite expiatis, no. 4 _ 5).

St. Francis put on Christ after the manner so fervently exhorted by St. Paul and to which every Christian is urged to be conformed: "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought of its lusts." (Rom.11, 14). "and put on the new man, which has been created according to God in justice and holiness of truth." (Ephesians 4, 24). Likewise he writes: "Do not lie to one another. Strip off the old man with his deeds." (Col. 4, 9).

All these exhortations of St. Paul were put into practice and lived by St. Francis. Truly, the saint of Assisi had reached that degree of Christian living of which St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the deep knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect manhood, to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ." (Eph. 4, 13). Because of this, he reflected the Savior in every detail.

The particularity of St. Francis was in the way he reflected Christ. Every Christian is called to be an image of Christ, bearing His image and realizing His mission in the world. We are all called to be `other Christs' _ Christ-bearers, Christophers. Yet, we are not called to do this in the exact, identical way. In a general way, all human existence is a reflection of God because man was created in the image and likeness of God. In like manner, the Christian existence is to be an image, a picture, of Christ.

The Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ expanding in time and space. Consequently, every member of this Mystical Body partakes in this spreading of the Mystical Body.

Every member of the Church makes Christ present in the world.

Jesus lives in the world through the members of His Mystical Body, the Roman Catholic Church. He is present in history; through them He draws every earthly reality to Himself and in this way spreads and continues His mission.

The Christian is a `little Christ.' Christ does this within the limits of each person's abilities.

The essence of the Christian life is to make Jesus present to the world.

Although Jesus is already present in a special manner through the act of transubstantiation, body, soul and divinity, He is not, nevertheless, present in such a way as to influence all of society.

Without a doubt, no one man can express the fullness of the God-Man, Jesus. Only the Church taken as a whole is able to do this. Individual members express one or the other aspect of Christ's fullness of being.

And whatever aspect of Jesus Christ the Christian expresses is a gift of the Holy Ghost and is given by this same Holy Ghost to differing individual souls.

Unlike the false spirituality promoted by the so-called `Charismatic' error, the Holy Ghost gives these gifts at will.

All the different gifts are given for the purpose of manifesting Christ as the `true light' of the world. They all arise from an intimate union of the individual soul with Jesus Christ. The Christian has no other source for his existence than Christ. The Christian is only alive to the extent that Christ is alive in him. The presence of Christ in our being is the foundation of the Christian life, its sole justification, its worth and its honor.

Considering the various gifts which the Holy Ghost gives to fervent souls, we can inquire as to the gift that St. Francis received. What is the visible characteristic of Francis' gift? Pope Pius XI stated that the image of Christ shined in Francis to an amazing degree. Every historian agrees with this assessment. What, then, was that image?

St. Francis was not the Church. Therefore, like any other saintly person, he was unable to make visible to the world the total Christ.

St. Francis placed the source of true and perfect joy in man's ability to suffer. Here we encounter that great paradox: suffering is the door to true and perfect joy. Obviously this is not very appetizing to the world. Nevertheless, it is true. The only thing that man can rejoice over as being his, is the ability to accept suffering. Everything else is not his, but comes to him from God.

Like so many people of all times and all places, we generally have a decidedly false idea of what perfect joy is.

Even before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Chinese moralist, Confucius, faced the same problem of values that the world still faces after the coming of Jesus Christ. When Confucius was instructing his disciples as to true values, he asked them: "Do you think it is a good thing if all the people in the village loved you?" Each disciple answered that it would truly be a good thing if all the people in the village loved them.

After each gave his answer, the Master made his observation: "It would be better if the good people loved you and the evil ones hated you." The reason for this is that it is an illusion to think that everyone will love us. Often, we are loved for the wrong thing or for the wrong reason. In the same way, we are often hated without reason. Such is the fickleness of human nature.

St. Francis instructed Brother Leo as to perfect joy. Much like St. Paul's enumeration of the many desirable things that people do even to an heroic degree, yet, if they do not have that mysterious quality called `charity,' all their works are for nothing.

The occasion, according to the Fioretti, was when Francis and Brother Leo were walking from Perugia to St. Mary of the Angels. It was bitterly cold and they felt it keenly. Apparently, Brother Leo was walking rather briskly because he was ahead of Francis. Francis called out to him: "Brother Leo, even if the Friars Minor in every country give a great example of holiness and integrity and good edification, nevertheless write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

This must have given Brother Leo food for thought. But, then, Francis called out again: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor gives sight to the blind, heals the paralyzed, drives out devils, gives hearing back to the deaf, makes the lame walk, and restores speech to the dumb, and what is still more, brings back to life a man who has been dead four days, write that perfect joy is not in that."

By this time Brother Leo must have been getting worried and curious. Then, Francis spoke to him again: " Brother Leo, if a Friar Minor knew all languages and all sciences and Scripture, if he also knew how to prophesy and to reveal not only the future but also the secrets of the consciences and minds of others, write down and note carefully that perfect joy is not in that."

It didn't end there. For, a little further on, Francis called to Brother Leo saying: "Brother Leo, Little Lamb of God, even if a Friar Minor could speak with the voice of an angel, and knew the courses of the stars and the powers of herbs, and knew all about the treasures in the earth, and if he knew the qualities of birds and fishes, animals, humans, roots, trees, rocks, and waters, write down and note carefully that true joy is not in that."

A little further, Francis shouts out: "Brother Leo, even if a Friar Minor could preach so well that he should convert all infidels to the faith of Christ, write that perfect joy is not that."

They had gone a distance of about two miles. During all this time, Francis was saying these things to Brother Leo. Finally, the good Brother, having heard of all the things that perfect joy was not, must have been very curious to know what perfect joy was. So, he said to Francis: "Father, I beg of you in God's name to tell me where perfect joy is."

Indeed, even most of us would be wondering by this time where perfect joy was to be found. For many even still, after the place where perfect joy is to be found is revealed, few are they who will believe and seek it out.

Francis answered: "When we come to St. Mary of the Angels, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the Place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: `Who are you?' And we say: `We are two of your brothers.' And he contradicts us, saying: `You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away!'

And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls _ then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!"

And if we continue to knock, and the porter comes out in anger, and drives us away with curses and hard blows like bothersome scoundrels, saying: -`Get away from here, you dirty thieves _ go to the hospital! Who do you think you are? You certainly won't eat or sleep here!' - and if we bear it patiently and take the insults with joy and love in our hearts, oh, Brother Leo, write that that is perfect joy!"

And if later, suffering intensely from hunger and the painful cold with night falling, we still knock and call, and crying loudly beg them to open for us and let us come in for the love of God, and he grows still more angry and says: `Those fellows are bold and shameless ruffians. I'll give them what they deserve!' And he comes out with a knotty club, and grasping us by the cowl throws us onto the ground, rolling us in the mud and snow, and beats us with that club so much that he covers our bodies with wounds _ if we endure all those evils and insults and blows with joy and patience, reflecting that we must accept and bear the sufferings of the Blessed Christ patiently for love of Him, oh, Brother Leo, write: that is perfect joy."

And now hear the conclusion, Brother Leo. Above all graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ gives to His friends is that of conquering oneself and willingly enduring sufferings, insults, humiliations, and hardships for the love of Christ. For we cannot glory in all those other marvelous gifts of God, as they are not ours but God'', as the Apostle says: `What have you that you have not received?'"

"But we can glory in the cross of tribulations and afflictions because that is ours, and so the Apostle says: `I will not glory save in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ!"

And so it is that St. Francis gloried only in the Cross of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, transforming the words of St. Paul: "But as for me, God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world." (Gal. 6, 14).

With these words, St. Francis made the cross the center and sign of his life. The cross gives meaning to life. It is not only the sign of our redemption, but more so it is a sign that salvation is only through suffering.

This is the underlying mystery of human existence which Modernism and Protestantism have always sought to eliminate from the mind of man.

False mysticism has ever plagued the Church because of the ever-present external influence from devils, on the one hand, and the eagerness of weak souls for contact with the spiritual world by dangerous means.

The Naturalism inherent in all forms of false religions, regardless of how `mainstream' they may be is a constant source of collision with true religion. False religions can only distort reality; they cannot comprehend it in its supernatural dimension.

Because charity had grown cold in the time of St. Francis, God raised him up to renew the true meaning of the Gospel. He was the `Herald of the Great King' in the purest and fullest sense of the term.

Today as yesterday, St. Francis stands before the whole world in his faithful Brothers as a sign to a wandering world. Just as Jesus Christ originally told His disciples that ".he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and Scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again." (Matt. 16, 21), the Friars Minors' mission to the world is to teach it the great mystery of salvation through suffering and death. It is St. Francis and his Order that are called to this high office. It is to the Friars Minor that Our Lord has given the mission to bring back to the world the genuine supernatural charity that no longer exists even among those who were once dedicated to the service of God.

Whoever has been signed with the Sign of the Cross by the Holy Ghost, that person makes manifest to the world not Jesus the Teacher, not Jesus the Deliverer from sickness, not Jesus the miracle Worker of Cana and Galilee, not Jesus Who multiplied the loaves on the shores of Lake Tiberias, not the Jesus Who chased out the money-changers from the temple, nor the Jesus Who arose triumphantly on the third day. No, he who is signed with the Cross by the Holy Ghost shows to the world the Christ of Gethsemani and Golgotha.

St. Francis of Assisi is the mirror of the suffering Christ. The vocation of St. Francis was to weep over the Passion and Death of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Flowing from this great mystery are all the other intermediary consequences: his love for poverty; his refusal to call anyplace `home'; his deferential respect for all authority. All this and more was prompted by his love for the suffering Christ. He desired to be robbed, persecuted and naked, like Christ. He desired to feel in his frail body what it was like to be betrayed into the hands of the high priests. This is the reason why everything that suggested the suffering Christ awakened in him an ecstatic experience.

And before all else, there stood in the center of his contemplation the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And this, because the Holy Mass was the making-present of the sacrifice of Calvary. His great respect for the clergy was based on the fact that he saw nothing corporeal of the most high Son of God except His most holy Body and Blood which they receive and administer to others. And these most holy mysteries he wished to honor, venerate and keep in precious places.

To assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was for St. Francis a great joy, for he felt he was standing beneath the Cross of Calvary and witnessing with the eyes of his soul the greatest drama in the world. He was most happy when the Pope granted the Friars to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in their little huts or in the caves where they lived and on journeys.

The making present of Christ's passion and death was to guide them wherever they went, because the Franciscan Order was founded to visibly express His Passion.

This truth and reality was all the more made clear when Francis received the wounds of Jesus Christ in his body on Mount Alverna in the year 1224. The saint arose early that morning, it still being dark, on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14). He was on his knees in prayer and contemplation of the passion of our Lord and His boundless love. Suddenly, he saw a six-winged Seraph, having the form of a crucified man. An extraordinary light filled the place. Shepherds in the nearby fields were filled with fear and the people arose thinking the sun was rising although it was still night.

Francis received the wounds of our Lord and thus came to be known as the `second Christ.' The physical and earthly form of Christ's activity was by way of suffering persecution from His earliest youth. It followed the path of suffering and culminated in His rejection as the Redeemer. Finally, His life on this earth ended with His passion and death. While His earthly condition was one of suffering, His heavenly condition is one of triumph.

The Church Militant _ the Church of history _ is never a triumphant Church. She is always struggling and suffering.

Today, when the entire Catholic world has become a vast mission land; when private life as well as community life have fallen back into paganism; more, when the Christians of the world have become apostates, that is, they have become worse than the original pagans _ today the faith of the Middle Ages seems to us a very naïve trust in the Church's victory.

Despite all the fanfare of a `New Pentecost' which misguided ecclesiastics pretend exists, the Church _ the true Church as opposed to the apostate Church _ knows that the only path to eternal glory and triumph is through suffering and death.

And this leads us to the consideration of those two virtues that are born of suffering and death: Humility and obedience.

This is where the true Christian (Catholic) is distinguished from all those who shout `Lord, Lord' but who will be surprised on the Day of Judgement to hear our Lord say to them: "Depart from me, you workers of iniquity!" (Matt. 7, 23).

Every honest man would certainly want to know who exactly are these `workers of iniquity.' At least, one would be inclined to think that. How many honest men are there, if so many protect the knaves and scoundrels who pose as messengers of Christ, but are not?

In St. Francis of Assisi, we find the virtue of humility incarnated in a way rarely seen. Again, as always, we go to the source of such things and we find them in Jesus Christ. Jesus taught us the inseparable unity of humility and obedience by giving His Apostles a visible lesson.

On the night that He was betrayed, Jesus set aside His outer garments, took a towel, poured some water into a basin and began to wash the feet of His Apostles. After finishing this strange action, He addressed them: "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If, therefore, I the Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also ought to wash the feet of one another. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so also you should do." (John 13, 12-15).

Jesus gave us an example. An example is a pedagogical instruction. But our Lord did not intend this to be nothing more than a lesson. He intended it to be a very profound means of transformation. A transformation from a state of deceptive pride to that of illuminated truth. What has actually taken place on that historical evening when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples? Christ-God redeemed man from the pride of sin by humbling Himself before him.

The Man-God, Jesus, destroyed every excuse for sin by this act of humility. Man would not humble himself before another man, so God came and humbled Himself before men.

Holy Scripture tells us that pride is the beginning of all sin (Eccliasticus 10, 15).

Truly! The first sin of the creature showed itself in its pride. Lucifer wished to make his throne above the stars and to be like the Highest, refusing to obey Him. The prophet Isaias says of Lucifer: "I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the Most High." (Isaias 14, 14). This was the beginning of all sin. This was the sin of the pure spirits.

The first people also wanted to be like the Most High, breaking the Lord's commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree. They, too, refused to bow to the will of the Creator. This was the first sin of man.

The history of mankind is replete with this same sin of pride.

Every sin is prompted by affirming oneself, trying to raise man above other men and even above God. To be `higher than others' is the lure of every sin.

Therefore, in order to destroy sin at its very root, it is necessary to oppose pride with humility. It is necessary for man not only to lower himself before God, but also to lower himself to other men as the bearers of God's image.

The example given by our Lord at the Last Supper expressed this fundamental necessity. Because man would not bow before his Creator, the Creator bowed before man and thus destroyed every pretext for pride.

Until the washing of feet, everyone could hold himself higher than another on whatever grounds. After the washing of the feet, such haughtiness lost its meaning because it lost any objective foundation it may have had previously. When God lowered Himself to man, upon what could man possibly place his superiority over others?

It was to continue this teaching of Jesus Christ that St. Francis looked upon himself and all his friars as `lesser Brothers' - fratres minores. For this same reason, the Friars were to give the world an example of humility by the very manner of their lives.

St. Francis became a `second Christ' only because he, too, like his Master "humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross." (Phil. 2, 8).

Supernatural obedience is only possible if a man is supernaturally humble. The mere outward appearance of obedience generally hides a very profound pride which does not take long to show itself.

St. Francis was so imbued with the wisdom inherent in true obedience that even when he traveled he would take another Friar with him to whom he showed obedience in all things.

Once, when the Friars asked him to teach them what true obedience was, he answered them:

"Take a dead body and place it anywhere you please. You will see it offers no resistance against being moved, it complains not against its position, it will not cry out if you let it go. If you seat it on a throne it will not look up or down, and to clothe it with purple but makes it more pale. Thus is the truly obedient man. He reasons not why he is sent; he minds not where he is placed, nor insists upon being sent elsewhere. If he be promoted to office, he still remains humble; the more he is honored, the more he counts himself unworthy."

The Friar is to obey in all things "which are not against their souls and our rule." Clearly then, the Friar who `obeys' even to the point of denying the faith is not being virtuously obedient. On the contrary, such a Friar becomes viciously disobedient to God. The same is true concerning the observance of the Rule. It is a false obedience to obey any authority in the Order that would have a Friar disobey the Rule which even those in authority have bound themselves by solemn vows to obey. Such obedience is an outrageous insult to true obedience. It is the greatest manifestation of self-love because it plays the Pharisee to the highest degree: proclaiming vice as if it were virtue!

As in the case of many well-meaning people, it happens that some things appear to be more important than obedience. Such, for example, is the act of praying. Already in the time of St. Francis this question came up.

It happened that a Friar came to Friar Giles and said with a touch of indignation: "Father, I was just now in my cell at prayer, and my guardian bids me go begging; now it seems to me that it is better to pray than to beg." Friar Giles, who had inherited the true spirit of Francis, made answer: `Brother, believe me, thou knowest not yet what prayer is, for the most true and perfect thing is to do the will of thy superior."

On another occasion, Friar Giles said: He who places his head beneath the yoke of obedience, and afterward, that he may follow the path of perfection, withdraws his head from beneath the yoke of obedience _ this is a sign of great hidden pride. A truly obedient Religious is like a soldier, well-armed, seated upon a good horse, who passes safely among the enemy and no one can harm him. But the Religious who obeys murmuringly is like an unarmed soldier seated upon a poor and stubborn horse, who, passing among the enemy, falls and is at once taken by the foe, chained, wounded, imprisoned, and then put to death.

It seems to me, that if one were in such great grace that he might speak with the angels, if he were called by a man to whom he had promised obedience, he ought to leave off his colloquy with the angels and obey the man, because while he is subject in this world, he is bound to obey the man to whom he is subject for the love of the Creator."

Nowhere in the Gospel does it ever say that only Franciscans must have this kind of obedience. On the contrary, the obedience of the Franciscan is the mirror of Christ's own obedience, and therefore, is the obedience that every Catholic of whatever rank or position ought to have.

Our Lord Himself made obedience the foundation of the Church when He asked Peter: "Simon, son of John, dost thou love me more than these do?" (John 21, 15). Peter answered Him: "Yes, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee."(Ibid.). Whereupon our Lord gave Peter the command: "Feed my lambs."(Ibid.).

Because Peter and all his successors were to manifest a greater love for our Lord, they are placed above all the other Apostles and given the gift of infallibility. This does not mean that in reality the other Apostles loved our Lord less, it only means that having chosen Peter to be the leader of the other Apostles he had to be ready to suffer and die rather than betray Him and His mission.

Every true Pope must be ready to say with Peter: "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." And consequently, every true and legitimate Pope can only feed the lambs of the Lord with true doctrine. Intruders and imposters are the ones who hypocritically show themselves as the usurpers of the Chair of Peter. The usurpers pretend to love the Lord, and do not `feed the sheep' nor do they `feed the lambs' as a truly obedient servant of the Lord would do.

In an insightful story about the Antichrist, the Russian philosopher Soloviev reserves the identification of the Antichrist not to a successor of St. Peter, but to a successor of St. John. That is, not so much to the visible authority alone, but to the visible and mystical authority of one possessing the spirit and power of St. John, the beloved disciple. It was St. John, the virgin Apostle whose love for Christ surpassed even that of Peter. Nevertheless, although St. John was gifted with greater love, he never departed from an humble deference to Peter.

Soloviev's characters, however, fail to convey the entire truth because Soloviev himself confused reality with his own subjective misconception of the fullness of truth. As a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, he did not have the supernatural grace to see with that clarity which only one enjoying the fullness of faith and grace could have. In his attempt to erroneously unite the two largest denominations outside the Church, the Orthodox Church and the Protestant Churches, Soloviev sought to attribute certain Catholic qualities to heretics.

Unwittingly, however, Soloviev has given us a quasi-prophesy of what is now taking place. Namely, it is not Peter who has stood firm in the faith, but John. It may be said that the Church is returning to its origins. This does not mean that the Church is returning to its beginnings in the sense of time and space. Only heretics proclaim that they have `returned to primitive Christianity.' Only heretics whose need to deny whatever doctrine presents an obstacle to their self-love and self-will pretend to `return to the purity of primitive Christianity.'

If you will recall, this was the same cry of the Modernist heretics when they began, with the blessing of John XIII and Paul VI to demolish the Church. What was their goal? Avowedly, they were going to strip the Church of all the accretions of time and bring Her back to Her pristine infancy. By bringing the Church back in time, before the many Councils declaring authentically what was and what was not Christian doctrine, even the compendium of two heresiarch imposters, John Paul II, has allowed the continuous and accelerated ruin of the Roman Catholic Church.

But we should not fear. All this was already foretold by St. John in the Apocalypse. The Church has lost the greatest part of Her former members. She has lost that original brilliance of divine virtue and brightness. She is in eclipse.

And what could be more humiliating for the Body of Christ than to have usurping the chair of the Head an apostle of the Antichrist? What could be more agonizing for loyal Catholics than to witness the endless divisions within Her bosom _ all clamoring and shouting Her name: CATHOLIC! yet, failing in those elementary virtues of humility and obedience that make Her one and universal?

Peter is the Rock! Peter is the Rock upon which the entire Mystical Body of Christ is built, together with the Apostles. However, without the Holy Ghost, Peter would remain a mass of meaningless rock. No, there is more to being the Rock than merely a symbol. The solidity of the rock is the symbol of the Church's authority and infallibility. It is the principle whereby all truth is measured and known. All those who deny this either in theory or in practice are enemies of the Church.

What does this mean? It means that pretending that the Church had been in error down through the ages and has only come to the fullness of truth with the Second Vatican Council (as the Modernist heretics brazenly proclaim!) is a denial of the Church's stability and infallibility.

The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in LaSalette, France in 1846 and declared that Rome would lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist. Those who would deny either the words of the Blessed Virgin or the fact that her words have proven true in our day are bound to deny all of Catholic doctrine and tradition.

For obvious reasons, it will not be a Pope who will declare himself to be in union with the visible agents of Antichrist, namely Jews and Freemasons. This dubious honor of declaring a "pope" an impostor will necessarily befall that one man in whom resides not only apostolic authority, but also that gift of discernment of spirits as possessed by St. John.

It is that person in history who will warn the true faithful of Jesus Christ: "Children, it's the Antichrist!"

St. John is the symbol of that man who will have the gift of discernment of which St. Paul spoke (1 Cor.12,10). In his first letter, the apostle John had written: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone forth into the world." (1 John 4, 1). To test the spirits is an on-going process in the Church because, as St. John says, many false prophets have gone out into the world. They show "great signs and wonders", they offer to show us Christ in the desert, Christ in the house. Our Lord has also warned us not to believe these lying `prophets' (See Matt. 24, 26-7). The ability to discern spirits is one of the fundamental gifts of the Holy Ghost in order to maintain and spread throughout the world the life of the Church.

St. John is the Eagle who perceives from the heights of mystical contemplation the entire world _ much as the eagle soaring higher than any other bird perceives the widest blend of reality.

It is St. John who perceived God as LOVE.

It is St. John who perceived the Son of God as the WORD.

It is also St. John who perceived Christ's greatest enemy: the WORLD.

It is fitting, therefore, that the person to unmask the Antichrist would be one in the spirit and power of St. John. It was St. John who was the first to know who it was that would betray our Lord at the Last Supper. Peter gave a sign to John to ask our Lord, who it was that would betray Him. It was John who unmasked the traitor. And all through the history of the Church, it is the spirit of John that unmasks Christ's traitors. Even the Apocalypse of St. John is nothing more than the unmasking of all those forces and personages bent on destroying the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

St. John is more than just a person. His person represents that essential part of the Church constituting Her life and principle of activity, namely, the principle of discerning spirits. Doctrine is one thing, but it is the implementation of doctrine that is vital to the Church. This discernment goes even before the authority of Peter because the principle of authority only works successfully when the power to discern ideas has done its work.

All that has been said (and much more can be said!) is built on the supernatural principles of humility and obedience. This humility and obedience, in turn is built upon that great mystery of suffering and death. Humility is truth; obedience is love. To learn humility is to suffer; and to be obedient to God is to die to oneself.

And here we proceed to unmask the enemies of Jesus Christ and our souls in all those who pretend to be sent by Christ to preach His humility and obedience, but who are strangers to both! They are not sent by Jesus Christ because they have not been sent by the visible authority in the Church. They come in their own name and therefore, are the false prophets of which we have been warned.

Because their names and numbers are legion, it would be an endless task to enumerate them. How can we know the false prophets from the true? For those priests (when they are valid priests) and laymen who wish to teach you doctrine, ask of them: "Who is the Bishop empowered by the Holy Ghost to send you on your mission?"

To those who claim they are `bishops' of the Roman Catholic Church, enquire of them: "How were you consecrated? That you were consecrated, may be true, but were you truly called by the Holy Ghost or did you arrange to have yourself consecrated?"

God the Holy Ghost cannot stop perverse wills from abusing the Sacraments. God does not interfere in the matter and form of a Sacrament even when its use is an abuse. But, God does withhold His grace!

For this reason, it is not enough to publicize names and alleged-lines of consecration to be a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. For, close examination will show that almost every one of those bishops who makes some kind of claim to be consecrated in the line of Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc has no relation to him.

Although there is a cloud concerning the validity of the Lefebvre bishops, there appears to be a cloak of silence protecting them. On the other hand, there is a peculiarly unbalanced negativism regarding those consecrated by Archbishop Ngo. This is particularly true because, with the exception of those who have somehow stolen their consecration, others have been consecrated according to right order Although some consecrations performed by subsequent bishops may be sacramentally valid, they are not necessarily Catholic. Heretics and schismatics can administer Sacraments. But these Sacraments produce no grace outside the true Church.

This is the reason why all those who sincerely wish to be and live a genuine Catholic life are warned, exhorted and urged to disassociate themselves from those bishops or priests or laymen who are not in union with a bishop who himself is in union with the teaching authority of the Church.

A Bishop who claims no authority to teach, sanctify and govern the faithful is a false bishop. A priest who claims that he `cannot place himself behind any bishop' is a false priest. And a laymen who would teach others and is not submissive to the visible authority of the bishop is likewise a false prophet.

It is clear to every true Catholic that despite all the vituperations and claims and counter-claims, that all will become evident at the moment of death. Yet, who can afford to wait until then? We must live as believing Catholics and bring forth good works in the bosom of the true Church. Our best recourse is to embrace the spirit of St. Francis who has taught us how to believe in true humility and obedience.

As St.Augustine said: "We are only deceived by others when we first deceive ourselves." God will not permit the humble heart to be deceived in such great matters as one's eternal salvation.

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