May is the month devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I’m doing a post each Monday in May about the Blessed Virgin. Last week I began to share something Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote in his 1948 book, Communism and the Conscience of the West. It’s just as relevant today as it was then. In fact, it’s downright prophetic. Here, then is part two of a two-part series on Our Lady of Fatima and the errors of Russia. I’m re-posting the link to the video of Archbishop Sheen wherein he talks about some of the same things he wrote about in the book. (You can read part one here.)
Video – Our Lady of Fatima – Ven Bishop Fulton J. Sheen
All material in the section below and between the separators is quoted from the book, Communism and the Conscience of the West, by Fulton J. Sheen. I’m quoting from an out-of-print edition from my personal collection.
It may be worth inquiring, however, why Almighty God in His providential dealings with the Universe should see fit in this day to give us a revelation of His Blessed Mother in order to bring us back to prayer and penance.
Since the world has lost Christ, it may be that through Mary it will recover Him.
One reason immediately comes to mind. Since the world has lost Christ, it may be that through Mary it will recover Him. When Our Blessed Lord was lost at the age of 12, it was the Blessed Mother who found Him. Now that He has been lost again, it may be through Mary that the world will recover Christ their Saviour. Another reason is that Divine Providence has committed to a woman the power of overcoming evil. In that first dread day when evil was introduced into the world, God spoke to the serpent in the Garden of Eden and said: “I shall put enmity between thee and the woman; between thy seed and her seed, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” (Gen. 3:15) In other words, evil shall have a progeny and a seed. Goodness too shall have a progeny and a seed. It will be through the power of the woman that evil will be overcome. We live now in an evil hour, for though goodness has its day, evil does have its hour. Our Blessed Lord said that much the night that Judas came into the garden: “This is your hour, the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53) All evil can do in that hour is to put out the lights of the world; but it can do that. If then we live in an evil hour how shall we overcome the spirit of Satan except by the power of that Woman to whom Almighty God has given the mandate to crush the head of the serpent?
No longer does one hear the lie that the Catholic Church adores Mary, or puts her on the same level with God, or that she takes the place of God. Rather are men beginning to recognize the truth of the Christian tradition that as it was through Eve that sin came into the world, so it will be through the new Eve, Mary, that Redemption from sin comes into the world. Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, writing a commentary on the words of Our Lord to John at the foot of the Cross, Behold Thy Mother, says:* “Is moral purpose written into the nature of things? Was the universe designed for madmen? Does doom await the dictators who strut the stage for a little hour, refusing to repeat the lines of the Eternal Playwright, disregarding the instructions of the Divine Director? Is there to be a final curtain, and are they to hear, ‘Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting’? In a word is there something in what Jesus sought to reveal, this something that is revealed in the life of a true mother? Is this something which we have defined as the realization of self in the complete gift of self for others, is this something the law that must rule?. . . Does peace await fundamental revision of contemporary concepts of sovereignty? Is the right to hold property to be related to the use the owner makes of that property? These are perplexing issues but they must be faced if we are to have permanent peace. They cannot be faced unless they be faced in the proper spirit. And there was with Him at the foot of the Cross His Mother.’ . . . Man needs a new unifying enterprise, large enough to unite all men. Class, race and nation are concepts too small. Is it to be found in the Christian doctrine of the solidarity of the human family, in the ideal of brotherhood? And what of the spirit that must underlie it? And there was with Him at the foot of the Cross His Mother.’ . . . The spirit that she had revealed in serving her son was none other than the spirit which He saw must be revealed if He would be the Saviour of all. And she went with Him. She carried a broken heart to Calvary, but revealed in that broken heart as He revealed in His broken body the spirit that must yet rule mankind. It takes a great act of faith to believe, as one believed long since, that Jesus Christ will become the Ruler of the kings of the earth. Before He rules men must behold the spirit incarnate in Him, revealed in large measure in the hearts of mothers everywhere. It is the spirit that must rule mankind. When men know that and practice it, when they realize the true significance of a mother standing at the foot of the cross, then He will become the Ruler of the kings of the earth.
“The self is realized in the complete gift of self for others, and all men become free in the spirit and practice of that law.
“‘And there was with Him at the foot of the Cross His mother.’”
The revelation of Fatima is a reminder that we live in a moral universe, that evil is self-defeating, that good is self-preserving; that the basic troubles of the world are not in politics or economics but in our hearts and our souls, and that spiritual regeneration is the condition of social amelioration.
The revelation of Fatima is a reminder that we live in a moral universe, that evil is self-defeating, that good is self-preserving; that the basic troubles of the world are not in politics or economics but in our hearts and our souls, and that spiritual regeneration is the condition of social amelioration. Soviet Russia is not the sole danger to the Western world; rather is it the de-spiritualization of the Western world to which Russia gave political form and social substance. World War II came according to Our Lady of Fatima because there was no amendment in the hearts and souls of men. The danger of World War III is precisely in this point, not just in the Communist International. The Western world is scandalized at the Soviet system, but this is basically because it sees its own individual atheism socialized and put into practice on almost a cosmic scale. The great issue at stake is not individualism or collectivism, because neither of these is of primary importance; it is not between free enterprise and socialism in the economic order, for neither of these matters tremendously; rather the struggle is for the human soul. This is another way of saying that the crisis centers around freedom in the spiritual sense of the word. War will not settle the world atmosphere, but will result only in the atomization of man, a fact of which the atomic bomb is only a symbol. Since evil is not wholly external a war will not eliminate it. Any world war is really an objedification of evil in the lives of men. A microcosmic war is the reflection of microcosmic war inside of individual hearts. Because the Christian knows this better than anyone else, the responsibility for the world’s condition is to a greater extent his. The world is the way it is because each of us is the way we are. It is the special responsibility of the Christian to discern in two world wars in 21 years the judgment of God on the way we live. As long as the Christian thinks that there are only two directions he can take, “Right” or “Left,” not only will he make no contribution to the world, but he will make the world worse by failing to recognize that additional to the horizontal plane of life, there is also the vertical which leads to God and where there are the two more important directions of “inward” and “upward.” Not by finding scapegoats, whether they be political parties or communism, will we escape the responsibility of bearing, as Christ did in Gethsemane, the burden of the world’s guilt. The revelation of Fatima was a most poignant reminder to Christians that the so-called problem of Russia is the problem of Christians: that by prayer, penance and reparation, and not by war, abuse and attack will Russia join the society of freedom-loving nations.
There is no “iron curtain” for this vision of the world because prayers do not go through an iron curtain but over it, as radioactive particles released in the atmosphere are carried over mountains and continents. The conversion of Russia is the condition of world peace, but Russia’s conversion is conditioned upon our own reconversion. It may very well be that the very hatred which Russia shows to Christianity today proves she is closer to it than is the “broad-minded” man of the Western world who never says his prayers. Russia has to think about Christ to hate Him, but the indifferent man does not think about Him at all.
There are only three possible attitudes which we can take toward life and history. First, that of fatuous optimism, which believes that life moves necessarily toward a prosperous goal, thanks to education, science and the laws of evolution. Secondly, the pessimism of totalitarianism, which believes that human nature is intrinsically wicked, and that the dictatorial power of the state is necessary to control the anarchic impulses of individuals, who are not to be trusted. Freedom in this scheme of things is to be taken away from persons and placed in the collectivity. This view of life has proved equally unsatisfactory inasmuch as it puts the hope in the distant future without any guarantee that it will ever be achieved. Thirdly, there is Christianity which comes to optimism through pessimism; to a resurrection through a passion, and to a crown of glory through a crown of thorns; to the glory of Easter Sunday through the ignominy of a Good Friday. It proclaims that unless the seed fall to the ground it remaineth alone, but if it dieth to itself, it springeth forth unto new life. This optimism of Christianity comes to pass not by a power that comes either from ourselves or from nature, but by and through the power of God; not through the taming of errant impulses by a state, nor by the shedding of another’s blood, but by the law of sacrifice in which love is revealed.
To those who are momentarily disheartened by the persecution of the Church, it must be remembered that the Church is less a continuing thing than a life that dies and arises again.
To those who are momentarily disheartened by the persecution of the Church, it must be remembered that the Church is less a continuing thing than a life that dies and arises again. The Risen Lord said to the Magdalen: “Do not touch Me.” (John 20:17) “Do not detain Me within the tomb, or think that I must always be as I was before my Resurrection.” The Magdalen had forgotten that He was now in the garden and not in the grave, a living Source of Life, and not a dead body to be covered with spices. We too are apt to think that the Church is supposed to be the same in every age, forgetful that its God is One Who knew His way out of the grave. A charge that has often been alleged against the Church is that it does not suit the modern world. This is absolutely true. The Church has never suited the times in which it lived, for if it suited the times it would perish with them, and not survive them. There is something always the same about the Church, and yet something very different. What is the same is that “Jeus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” What is different is the fact that the Church is always converting every new age, not as an old religion, but as a new religion. The trees that are now budding in this springtime season are the same trees that were so firmly rooted in the ground last year, and there is something new about them, for if they did not die they would not be living again. The Church is not a survival. It has returned again and again in the Western world of rapid changes in order to reconvert the world. Time and time again, the old stone has been rejected by the builders, but within a century it was brought back from the rubbish heap and became the head of the corner of the temple of peace.
Here is the great difference between the Church and the secular civilizations: the Church has the power of self-renewal, civilizations have not.
Here is the great difference between the Church and the secular civilizations: the Church has the power of self-renewal, civilizations have not. They become exhausted and perish but they never renew themselves. When a civilization such as Babylon, Sparta and Athens fulfills its appointed vocation and exhausts itself, it passes away from the face of the earth forever. There is not a single record of a civilization that ever perished which rose again. But with the Church it is different; it has the power of coming out of the grave, of apparently being defeated by an age, and then becoming suddenly victorious, “for the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
The Church has often been “killed,” once with the Arian heresy, then with the Albigensian heresy, then with Voltaire, Darwin, and now with the three forms of totalitarianism, red, brown and black, but somehow or other, as each succeeding age tolled the bell for its execution, it was the Church that finally buried the age. At this particular moment, there are those who feel that because we live in days of persecution, and because the Church has gone down into the catacombs once again in Europe, they must shed pious and reverential tears over its sepulcher, never realizing that if they would look through their tears as the Magdalen did, they would see the Son of God walking once more victorious upon the hills of the morning. One would think that the world after 1900 years of experience would give up bringing the spices for its interment. It was supposed to have been killed during the first ten persecutions; it was supposed to have withered under the light of the age of reason; it was supposed to have been swallowed up by the earth in the age of revolution; it was supposed to have been antiquated by the advance of science and evolution; and it is now supposed to be buried in the days of our contemporary anti- religious revolutions. But the fact is that it is just being sepulchered in the bowels of the earth where it is digging catacombs and whence one day it will emerge to reconquer the earth. If at this moment we are going into the catacombs, it is only as Christ went into the grave. The world might just as well expect to see Him there permanently interred, as they might look for the freezing of a star, for “heaven and earth shall pass away, but My Word shall not pass away.”
Francis Thompson at the beginning of the century described the coming persecution of the Church as Lilium Regis, and then its ultimate victory.
O Lily of the King! low lies thy silver wing, And long has been the hour of thine unqueening; And thy scent of Paradise on the night-wind spills its sighs, Nor any take the secrets of its meaning. O Lily of the King! I speak a heavy thing, 0 patience, most sorrowful of daughters! Lo, the hour is at hand for the troubling of the land, And red shall be the breaking of the waters. Sit fast upon thy stalk, when the blast shall with thee talk, With the mercies of the King for thine awning; And the just understand that thine hour is at hand, Thine hour at hand with power in the dawning. When the nations lie in blood, and their kings a broken brood, Look up, O most sorrowful of daughters! Lift up thy head and hark what sounds are in the dark, For His feet are coming to thee on the waters! O Lily of the King! I shall not see, that sing, shall not see the hour of thy queening! But my Song shall see, and wake like a flower that dawn-winds shake, And sigh with joy the odours of its meaning. O Lily of the King, remember then the thing That this dead mouth sang ; and thy daughters, As they dance before His way, sing there on the Day What I sang when the Night was on the waters!
Catastrophe is the condition of greatness. The Church is like a lamb that is shorn of its wool every springtime, but it lives on. The particular season in which we live then is the time of the shearing of Christ’s lamb, when perhaps even the shepherds shall have only iron staffs. It is always the business of the Church to utilize defeat.
Toynbee tells us that there have been three philosophies concerning the relationship between Christianity and civilization. The first is that Christianity is the enemy of civilization. This view was developed in early Roman days by Marcus Aurelius, by Julian the Apostate, in the last century by Gibbon and in this century by Marx and his followers. The second view is that of historical liberalism, which believes that Christianity is the handmaid of civilization, a kind of transitional thing which bridges the gap between one civilization and another. Religion has a useful and subordinate talent of bringing a new secular civilization to birth after the death of its predecessor. The Church is, therefore, a kind of morale builder, an ambulance, a steppingstone for a new order, a midwife to a more progressive civilization. The third and correct view is that civilizations prosper and decay to facilitate the development of Christ’s kingdom in this world. It is the breakdown of secular civilizations that constitutes the steppingstones to something higher. What Aeschylus of old affirmed, that it is through suffering that learning comes, was reaffirmed at Emmaus, that through trial and catastrophe glory comes. It may be that, as Toynbee said, “all the sufferings of civilizations are the stations of the Cross on the way to the Crucifixion, and religion is a chariot. It looks as if the wheels on which it mounts toward heaven may be the periodic downfalls of the civilizations of earth.”
Civilizations are cyclic, they are recurrent, they go through the same phenomena of birth and death and never come to life again. Religion, however, is a continuous upward linear movement, rising to new heights after the decay of each particular civilization. As a Christian civilization grew out of the decay of the Greco-Roman world, so a new Christian order will grow out of the decay of historical liberalism and communism. What we are witnessing in our day is not the decline of the Church, but rather the death of a civilization that has been egocentric and has been trying to make selfishness a success, and to balance opposing forces by tolerance understood as indifference to truth, or by having recourse to external organizations to compensate for the loss of personal vitality and virtue. Out of this tyranny when men walk in processions and think that they are original, out of its death in which the Church suffers, there will emerge a rebirth of faith in which a new generation will learn that the Church is not in the world to improve human nature, but to redeem it; not to make men better but to save them. What we are witnessing then is the death of an era of civilization, but not the death of Him Who is the Lord of the Universe.
As each civilization dies it persecutes, and in the midst of that persecution the Christ says to us as He did to the disciples of Emmaus: “Ought not the Son of Man to suffer in order to enter into His glory?” In the heart of apparent failure God’s power is most clearly revealed. When the world’s predicament is most desperate a new factor breaks in from the outside which completely changes the situation. When chaos and fear and the powers of darkness seem invincible, the purpose of God moves on as He makes His appearance at those moments of history when things are darkest. As there was a divine invasion in Bethlehem, so too there is now a divine invasion after Calvary. As the Jews of old were saved from bondage at the Red Sea by the hand of the Lord dividing the waters for them, and causing the same waters to swallow up their pursuers, so too now when men huddle together in fear, the power of God becomes mani- fest. The kingdom of God does not grow out of history, but manifests itself through history. The resurrection was the finding of meaning in history, for if the Crucifixión were the end, then the power behind Our Lord was not committed to the vindication of innocence.
The worst thing that can happen to the Church is to be tolerated.
In the midst of our fear today, when for our protection we have barricaded every door against the enemy, Christ appears in our midst and reminds us to be at peace. The worst thing that can happen to the Church is to be tolerated. Because the Church today is living in fear and is persecuted, it is psychologically placed in a more favorable position for preserving its true nature than ever before. If Christ were a worldly success, then He could only be imitated in worldliness. If He were a failure and never rose from the dead, then we would be vindictive and we who are His followers would hate the Jews and the Romans and the Greeks. If He were only a man, He would be forgotten as all men are. If He wrote a book, we would all be professors, but if He came into this world to bring us victory through defeat, then who shall ever be without hope? Though we in this generation have seen two world wars in 21 years, though the first war was fought to make the world safe for a democracy without God, and the second war was fought to make an imperialism without God, and the third war threatens us in which democracy without God may quarrel with imperialism without God, we shall still believe in the possibility that, though the doors are closed against Divinity, and though we shrink in fear, there will be another Divine Invasion of that extrahistorical power in this dark hour. We who have faith in the glory and certitude of His resurrection know that we have already won— only the news has not yet leaked out!
As Americans we cannot be unmindful of the relation of this country to the Woman to whom God gave the power of crushing the head of the serpent. The Council of Baltimore on December 8, 1846, consecrated the United States to the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Mother. It was only 8 years later that the Church defined Her Immaculate Conception. It was on December 8, 1941, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, that the United States went to war with Japan. It was on May 13, 1945, Mother’s Day, the day on which the entire Church celebrated Sodality Day of Our Lady, that the United States Government proclaimed a National Thanksgiving for V-E Day. It was on August 15, 1945, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, that victory came to us in the war with Japan. It was the nineteenth of August, 1945, that the United States Government declared official V-J Day and this happened to be the anniversary of one of the appearances of Our Lady at Fatima. On September 1, 1945, the first Saturday of the month which Our Lady of Fatima asked should be consecrated to Her, General MacArthur accepted the surrender of Japan aboard the Missouri. It was on September 8, 1945, the Birthday of Our Lady, that the first American flag flew over Tokyo, and as it was unfurled General MacArthur said: “Let it wave in its full glory as a symbol of victory for the right.”
“Our destiny is universality acquired not by the sword, but by the strength of brotherhood, and by our desire to see the restoration of concord among all men.”
Under the inspiration and suggestions of the Lady of Fatima, may it be America’s destiny to see the great spiritual solidarity that exists between the 97 percent of the Russian people who are not members of the Communist Party and the idealism, love of peace, generosity and friendliness of the American people. Over the grave of Dostoevski, Pushkin preached a eulogy that expressed the high destiny of the Russian people. “Our destiny is universality acquired not by the sword, but by the strength of brotherhood, and by our desire to see the restoration of concord among all men.” This has always been the American ideal. When a minority would now disrupt those peaceful relations between the Russian and the American people, it is now the sweet burden not only of America, but of the conscience of the West, to restore our relations to God, to the Mother of Christ “up whose body as a tower of ivory, He climbed to kiss upon her lips a mystic rose.”
Thou art more kind to our dreams, Our Mother, Than the wise that wove us the dreams for shade. God is more good to the gods that mocked Him Than men are good to the gods they made.... What is the home of the heart set free, And where is the nesting of liberty, And where from the world shall the world take shelter And man be master, and not with Thee? Wisdom is set in her throne of thunder, The Mirror of Justice blinds the day— Where are the towers that are not of the City, Trophies and trumpetings, where are they? Where over the maze of the world returning The bye-ways bend to the King's highway.
That’s it for this two-part series. Thank you for visiting and reading. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, and may the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
*From G. B. Oxnam, Behold Thy Mother. Copyrighted 1944 by The Macmillan Company. By permission of The Macmillan Company, publishers.
**G. K. Chesterton, Queen of Seven Swords (London: Sheed and Ward, 1926), p. 23.
Images: Communism and the Conscience of the West, by Fulton J. Sheen, cover of my personal copy, own photo. Our Lady of Fatima, on the web on so many places that I can’t tell where its origin may be.
Part 1, Part 2