March 9, 2003
Dear Friends and Benefactors,
The beginning of Lent is always a time to reflect on great truths of God, of life and death, but when war seems imminent as it does now in the Middle East, then there is particular reason to remember that God is in command of events, and that He directs them, strange though that may sometimes seem, for nothing other than for the eternal salvation of the immortal soul of each one of us.
War does seem imminent. The United States (and Great Britain) have over the last several months transported to the Middle East such a mass of troops and weapons that it is hard to imagine them being pulled out again with no action: And since each day hotter at this time of year makes desert warfare more difficult, then an attack soon is all the more likely.
Now it is usual for those who start a war to think they know what they are doing when they start it, but none of them can tell for certain how it will end. That is determined by God. A classic case was World War I, into which the nations of Europe gaily launched, each thinking it would conquer with ease in a matter of weeks. In fact the attack turned into a four-year slug-fest, attended by all the horrors of modern trench warfare, which nobody but God had foreseen. But anybody with a grain of faith can see how these horrors were a just punishment of the godlessness of those nations, so gifted by God and so misusing their gifts. In brief, especially with war, "Man proposes while God disposes".
For even by the severity of His punishment of those European nations, God was still loving them. Proverbs III, 11 - "My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by him. For whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth; and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth". Having quoted which verse, St. Paul adds (Hebrews XII, 7, 8) that a nation - or person - not chastised by God is not loved by Him! - "Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with His sons; for what son is there whom the father doth not correct? But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards and not sons. Thus God even chastises out of love.
This is especially clear if one compares the chastisements of this life with the eternal pains of the next. Who with a grain of faith does not cry out with St. Augustine, "O Lord, chastise me how You like on earth, so long as You do not have to chastise me in Hell"? In World War I, the heroic priests in the trenches (on both sides) certainly absolved and sent to Heaven hundreds of thousands of young men of whom God knew that they would have lost their souls in an enervating peace such -as we have "enjoyed" since 1945, especially since the 1960's. And in World War II, when a privileged soul able to converse with Our Lord (Sister Consolata Betrone) complained to him of all the young men being killed in the flower of their youth, Our Lord reminded her that by dying young for their country, many more of them were saving their souls for eternity than would otherwise have been the case.
At which point an objector may ask, then why is God not chastising us all the time with uninterrupted horrors? To which objection common sense immediately replies that if God dealt out to men nothing but chastisements, few of us would have enough faith to understand what He was doing and still believe in His goodness, so that, again, few would save their souls. Therefore good things in our life, like peace, God gives us, and evil things in our life, like war, He allows, both minutely calibrated for each of us with a view to our eternal salvation.
For He wishes each one of us to save our souls (I Tim. II, 4), but He will not take away our free-will, because, so to speak, He does not want to fill His Heaven with robots. But just as to move a donkey it takes sometimes the carrot and sometimes the stick, so to move a human being with free-will it takes sometimes prosperity to encourage him and sometimes hardship to chasten him. God being goodness itself, He would much rather draw us to Him by his gifts, which is why each of us every day receives from Him a series of blessings, but with our tendency to enjoy the gifts while forgetting the Giver, all too many of these escape our attention, so that we need hardship to bring us back to Him.
Before dying, Moses gave this same warning to Israelites, of how earthly prosperity can make us forget God. In Deuteronomy VIII, 7-10, Moses lists a few of the material benefits that God will bestow upon the Israelites in the Promised Land (recalling the benefits bestowed upon the inhabitants of "America the Beautiful"!). Then Moses warns: - "Take heed, and beware lest at any time thou forget the Lord thy God, and neglect His commandments and judgments and ceremonies, which I command thee this day: lest after thou hast eaten and art filled, thou hast built goodly houses, and dwelt in them, and shalt have herds of oxen and flocks of sheep, and plenty of gold and of silver, and of all things, thy heart be lifted up, and thou remember not the Lord thy God, Who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage... lest thou shouldst say in thy heart: My own might and the strength of my own hand have achieved all these things for me" (Deut. VIII, 11-17).
Moses concludes: "But remember the Lord thy God, that He hath given thee strength... But if thou forget the Lord thy God, and follow strange gods" (such as idolized democracy or technology!), "and serve and adore them: behold now I foretell thee that thou shalt utterly perish. As the nations, which the Lord destroyed at thy entrance" (of Israel into the Holy Land), "so shall you also perish, if you be disobedient to the voice of the Lord your God" (Deut. VIII, 18-20).
It follows that as prosperity can be a punishment if it leads away from God, so hardship can be a blessing if it leads back to God. "In suffering is learning", chanted Aeschylus in ancient Greece. Americans today call it the "school of hard knocks". Therefore God can punish or bless by hardship, just as He can bless or punish by prosperity. Therefore what are truly prosperity and hardship can only be judged in the light of God, which is more or less hidden from us human beings, especially by our sins.
However, that God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good, is certain. So, since He knows all that could or will happen to us down to the minutest detail, then we know that He can see the prosperity or hardship best able to bring us to Heaven or stop us falling too deeply into Hell. And since He has all power over every creature (for instance, over the weather on a battlefield), then we know that He can organize the comfort or hardship best suited to the welfare of our souls while still leaving them free. And since He is infinitely good, then we know that He will do so, in accordance with His divine Wisdom so far above our own. Therefore we can and must trust God. In particular we must place our trust in the Sacred Heart, human carrier of the Divine Love.
So we may safely leave in God's hands how events will turn in the Middle East, while we pray fervently for the salvation of souls, God's own desire, whichever way He may dispose events. If no attack takes place, it will certainly look like a mercy of God, but then we must pray for souls not to be internetted by the devil in the on-going materialistic peace. And if an attack does take place and our own armed forces conquer with ease, again it will look like a mercy of God, but it could be a curse, so we would have to pray for our nations not to make an arrogant or unjust use of their victory.
On the other hand if the attack brought great hardship and even defeat upon our military, it might not truly be the curse that it would look like, so we should pray that our nations would humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, who would have directed our sufferings. And finally, even if the attack on Iraq were to let loose World War III - also possible - we could and should trust still that it was the goodness of God chastising the entire world, and we should pray more than ever for the salvation of the greatest possible number of souls, all over the world.
For whoever appear to be our main enemies on earth (they are certainly not those represented as such by the vile media), the real enemies of mankind are the enemies of our eternal salvation, namely "principalities and powers, rulers of the world of this darkness, spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph. VI, 12), meaning the fallen angels or devils who do all that God allows them to do to bring our souls down to Hell with them.
That is why with this letter we are enclosing for readers in the USA, besides the usual Retreats flyer and a card to encourage Lenten benefactors, also the card of a prayer revealed to a Catholic soul in the 19th century, a prayer specially designed to appeal to the Mother of God for help in our fight against the devils let loose in modern times: - Noble Queen of the Heavens, obtain from your Divine Son mercy for us in our overwhelming distress!
With continuing thanks for your generosity that sustains the Seminary, and with all blessings for a holy season of Lent,
Sincerely yours in Christ,