Having recently blogged about the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, I note an American blogger, Little Catholic Bubble, is reading his “Seven Last Words and the Seven Virtues” as a Lenten exercise. Reading one of the excerpts pulled me up short. The book was published as long ago as 1933 but it could be describing with uncanny accuracy the situation today. Sheen wrote, “We are at the end of a tradition and a civilization which believed we could preserve Christianity without Christ, religion without a creed, meditation without sacrifice, family life without moral responsibility, sex without purity and economics without ethics. We have completed our experiment of living without God…”
How prescient he was, though I am surprised that even in 1933, when Christian traditions and values in society and in family life still seemed to be stable and intact, he could see the writing on the wall. I think even Sheen would have been staggered at the speed at which his prophesy has been realised: changes in the definition and meaning of marriage; routine and widespread abortion; increasing pressure to legalise euthanasia – these are only some of the more obvious features of modern life taken for granted in the western world.
I have been sent a copy of the Meditations for Lent of Bishop Jaques-Benigne Bossuet. Reading him puts Sheen’s grim warnings into a divine perspective. Famous in 17th century France for his preaching and writings, Bossuet is about as far removed from modern “spirituality” writing as you can get. He is solely occupied with the state of the soul and its progress in the Christian life. This makes him a classic, like Thomas a Kempis, but it probably doesn’t put him high on the lists of popular books today, even for Lent (though I see that Jeff Mirus of Catholic Culture.org, who is also reading his Meditations, endorses him).
Just to give you a flavour of him: for Friday in week 4 of Lent his chapter (they are all very short) is entitled “Up to Jerusalem”. Bossuet tells us, “…in his suffering and in our obligation to follow him and to carry our cross after him is our salvation.” He goes on: “Consider how prone we are to self-deception, how we play deaf when we are told something that would injure our passions or sensibilities, and how, no matter how plainly we are spoken to, we stop our ears, pretending not o hear…” Bossuet concludes this chapter with the warning: “Understand, Christian, how hard it is to go up to the Cross with Jesus and how great is our need for his grace.”
I sometimes think we inside the Church can get so worked up about “issues” – the informal “style” adopted by Pope Francis, whether one form of the liturgy is “better” than another and so on – that we lose sight of the one thing needful, pointed out by Bishop Bossuet. As I write this, the words of Bishop Egan of Portsmouth, who I blogged about last week, echo in my ears: “We will, being Christian, have to suffer and have to go to the Cross… because you have to witness to the truth.”
A brave Catholic blogger, Caroline Farrow of Catholic Voices, also discovered this when she spoke up from the floor in a recent BBC Question Time debate. The Catholic Herald this week relates her experience with the headline, “Blogger “spat at” after debating same-sex marriage on television.” Having watched a Youtube clip of this event, the hostility directed at Caroline is palpable.
Christians who put their head above the parapet and stand up for what they believe will increasingly discover to their cost what it is like to live in the kind of world that Fulton Sheen foretold so prophetically.