“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.
Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14)
The religion of Jesus Christ is simple, sublime, and supremely demanding. The Sermon on the Mount is its rule of life, the New Law of the New Israel. Or rather, the fullness of the One Law of God. The people who seriously attempt to live by it will necessarily be few, in fact, a “little flock” as Our Lord says (Lk. 12:32). And he illustrates this by the parables of the Sower, the wheat and the tares, the wise and foolish virgins, and the great haul of fish. As in the old Israel, so in the New Israel, there will only be a remnant of the faithful.
For the majority of Christians will always make their peace with the world, with its thinking, with its mores, with its agendas, and with its idols. Baal, in his various forms, will always have more followers, more worshipers than the true God, the God of Jesus Christ. Why is this?
Because in the Incarnation, which is the prelude to the Cross, Jesus became exactly what we don’t want to be: poor, despised, outcast, and accursed ; a man of sorrows and a failure. “Ecce Home”! God in the form of a slave, as St. Paul says. (Phil. 2:7) And yet Christ is a King, the only true King, and “all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him” (Ps. 22:29). But his kingdom is spiritual, not political, and therefore largely hidden. Its subjects are poor, despised people, the people of the Beatitudes. And the true church, the church known only to God, is a hidden confederacy, a mystical commonwealth. This is the kingdom of grace, the kingdom of the Cross. Its weapons are the Word, faith, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
We can only be part of Christ’s kingdom by taking up the Cross, and becoming conformed to him by our living the Sermon on the Mount. And all those who truly live by this rule will incur the enmity of the world. Because the kingdom that Jesus establishes is the exact opposite of all other kingdoms. It is offensive to the natural man, who always seeks to fashion a God of his own desires. For the natural man wants power, success, riches, status, comfort, pleasure, and his own way in all things. In short, he wants to be his own god, subject only to his own whims and fantasies. But this is where Christ meets him, in his idols, in his lostness, in his darkness.
Here he comes, the homeless Son of God, just as man is busy constructing his latest designer religion, his latest dazzling philosophy, his latest trendy ideology, his latest scientific creed, his latest ‘progressive’ revision of the moral code, just as he’s beavering away building the city of man, here’s Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, the Man of the Cross, the Forsaken One, with his Gospel; telling us that in the real world, God’s world, it’s the humble, the meek, those who mourn, those who seek justice and righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peace-makers and the non-violent, who will be received into his kingdom.
Can you hear the deep groan go up?
Oh! Go away you wretched Christ, you tedious spoil-sport, can’t you leave us alone. We don’t want your Gospel, your truth, your holiness, your meekness and lowliness. Leave us alone, leave us to our own devices, we’ve come of age now, we don’t need all that stuff anymore. (Not that we ever wanted it in the first place).
The fact is that Our Lord doesn’t come with his Gospel in order to put the icing on the cake of man’s efforts to arrive at religious and philosophical truth, to crown his majestic attempts at living the moral life, and pursuing the noble way. No, because between the Holy Gospel of Christ and all other religions, and all other philosophies and ideologies, there is a great abyss that can only be traversed by two planks of wood, the Holy Cross. And every true disciple of the Lord would do well to understand this. The bishops, Catholic and Anglican, of the contemporary church may drivel themselves silly with talk of “Inter-faith dialogue”. But Christ’s version of such a thing is simply “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no-one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). And I would add this; that if you have any other god, or any other religion, or any ideology or philosophy except the Holy Gospel of Jesus, then you might as well worship the devil for all the good it will ultimately do you.
The Gospel arouses conflict everywhere, and this is the sign of the true church. Christians are sheep for the slaughter, holy lambs, like their Lord. Martyrdom is natural to Christianity, as God also suffers in his love for man. The Wisdom of God is hidden under opposites, glory in lowliness, riches in poverty, nobility in disgrace, joy in sorrow, hope in despair, life in death. The Sermon on the Mount is the way of peace, but also the way of suffering, therefore the way of the Cross. Non-violence, non pursuit of wealth, the practice of chastity, no contraception, no abortion, no fornication, or pornography, or eroticism, no homosexualism (as “it is an abomination to the Lord”), no euthanasia, no power-seeking, no running to the law for redress; long-suffering, ever-forgiving, and all-compassionate. A perfect programme to earn one the contempt and hostility and persecution of a world ordered to greed, status, sex, war, violence, and vengeance.
But be of good cheer Christian folk, for the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, says in her great anthem, that the Lord regards the lowliness of his servants and exalts the humble and meek, but puts down the mighty from their seat. (Lk. 1:47-55)
As an attempt to understand the world, the nature of things, God himself, and human life, philosophy is a dead end, the mere flatus of man’s imagination. “Where is the wise man? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For the world by wisdom knew not God,” says the Blessed Apostle. Only in Christ can man come to the truth, and Christ Crucified at that; not Christ the “great teacher”, or Christ “the great exemplar”, or even Christ the prophet. No, only in Christ Crucified, who is “the Power of God, and the Wisdom of God …. For God has chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.” (1 Cor. 1:20-30)
Man is just as lost in his various religions. What are Buddhism and Hinduism exept exotic philosophies mashed up with even more exotic pagan cults? What is Judaism except an inward-looking mono-ethnic creed that is pointedly anti-Christ? What is New Age religion except a hotch potch of witchcraft, shamanism, and psycho-babble? Only Islam comes close to Christianity in its devotion to the One God, in its practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, in its fixed code of ethics, its modesty and sobriety, its universal brotherhood, its beauty and grandeur, its belief in the resurrection of the dead and the day of judgement. But even this is a man-made religion, essentially based on power, material success, and war. And at the end of the day it is anti-Christ in that it denies His Divinity, and his Passion, his death on the Cross for our sins, and his resurrection as High Priest and Mediator between God and man.
Yes, Muhammad was a great man, but so was Napoleon, so was Oliver Cromwell, so what.
But if he was a great religious leader he was also a politician and a warrior. And in so far as he made a practice of raiding the caravans going out of Mecca then he was also a bandit. Also an executioner, 800 or so on a single occasion, and on another occasion, the taking of Mecca, he had a teenage girl put to death because she had sung satirical songs about him. These are not the actions of a holy man of God. And yet the aggression and militancy and blood-lust that are natural to Islam are directly traceable to its founder and his capricious Arabian deity.
The psalmist declares that “all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Ps. 95:5). Amen to that. But many thanks to Baroness Warsi for her staunch defence of Christianity as the traditional religion of this country, as well as of European civilization as a whole. It takes a Muslim woman (blessings be upon her) to do what the Catholic and Anglican bishops, and also the Queen as “Defender of the faith”, should have been doing all this time when Christianity has been under repeated attack. But there again, with the exception of the Pope, can we ever expect anything in the way of courage in defending and proclaiming the faith from bishops? With a sober historical eye the answer is probably not. Augustines, Thomas Beckets, and John Fishers are rare breeds, though Lord Carey, Cardinal O’Brien and Archbishop Smith may yet end up among them. So God bless her ladyship and let us pray for her conversion to Christ.
The Hidden Confederacy
As St. Clare wrote:
Look upon him who became contemptible for you,
And follow him,
Making yourself contemptible in this world for him.
Though more beautiful than the children of men,
Became, for your salvation, the lowest of men,
Was despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout his entire body,
And then died amid the suffering of the Cross.
Consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him.
If you suffer with him, you will reign with him.
If you weep with him, you shall rejoice with him;
If you die with him on the Cross of tribulation,
You shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendour of the saints,
And, in the Book of Life your name shall be called glorious among men.
(St. Clare’s 2nd Letter to Blessed Agnes)
In this second week of Lent, and on this feast of the martyrs Felicity and Perpetua, St. Clare reminds us of where the true God-seekers are to be found; namely, under the Cross, with the Blessed Virgin, with St. Mary Magdalene, and with St. John, gathered around the Beloved and beholding “the fair beauty of the Lord in his temple” (Ps. 26:4). Its’ the way of the Shulamite of the Song of Songs, the mystic bride/soul, ever receptive to the Beloved, the Divine Bridegroom. She is the “lily among thorns”, (Song. 2:2) as the church is a forsaken city. She is the bride of Christ, she is the Blessed Virgin, she is the Magdalene, she is the beloved disciple, and she is every soul that is wedded to Christ, who is her husband, her Lord, and her only Master. “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.” (Song. 6:3).
St. Paul, the blessed Apostle says much the same thing: “I have espoused you to one Husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2).
In St. Mark’s Gospel the call to follow Christ is directly linked to his sufferings (Mk. 8:31-38). We are to abandon everything, including our philosophies, our religions, our ideologies, our rationalisms, our nationalisms, all our idols, and cling only to Christ; for the new humanity Jesus wants is a suffering church, a mystical confederacy that follows her Lord in all things. And yet the church is the only thing in this world that will endure until the end of time, and it will finally gain victory. But in the meantime it must be content to be a religion for “women and slaves”, as the Muslims have often said. Amen. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it,” Says the Shulamite. (Song. 8:7)
“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life.”
In the Most Holy Name of Jesus.
The 'Religion of theCross' is a contradiction in itself,
for the crucified God is a contradiction in this religion.
To endure this contradicion is to take leave of one's religious traditions;
to be free of one's religious needs;
to abandon one's previous identity as known to others,
and to gain the identity of Christ in faith;
to become anonymous and unknown in one's environment and to obtain citizenship in the new creation of God.
To make the Cross a present reality in our civilization
means to put into practice the experience one has received of being liberated from fear for oneself;
no longer to adapt oneself to this society,
its idols and taboos,
its imaginary enemies and fetishes,
and in the Name of him who was once the victim of religion, society and the State,
to enter into solidarity with the victims of religion, society and State at the present day,
in the same way as he who was crucified became their brother and their liberator.
(Taken from: Jurgen Moltmann, 'The Crucified God.')