In Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World, which will I most heartily recommend without reservation to all who come into these presents, the protagonist, Fr Percy, suggests to the Pope a new religious order:
A new Order, Holiness—no habit or badge—subject to your Holiness only—freer than Jesuits, poorer than Franciscans, more mortified than Carthusians: men and women alike—the three vows with the intention of martyrdom; the Pantheon for their Church; each bishop responsible for their sustenance; a lieutenant in each country…. (Holiness, it is the thought of a fool.) … And Christ Crucified for their patron.
At a crucial point in the book, the Pope agrees and makes a public proclamation which follows below. But I think we’ve come to a point where such a thing might be needed. I don’t think these are like the Navy Seals as some do – for the Pope (in the book) ends up making the boundaries of the Order coterminous with the boundaries of the Church. This is simply what being a Christian means.
It’s important for another reason, however, and I will offer more on this later, but in this day and age there are those who claiming to be Christians who preach two other religions greatly at variance with the Gospel we’ve been given, by which to bring the world to God’s Kingdom.
On the one hand, of course, are those who teach the World doesn’t need saving. God’s big and loving and fuzzy enough that it doesn’t really matter what you do. God will welcome you as you are and won’t bother about anything you do – you don’t even have to believe in him, or in anything really. And since you’re here, it’s good enough for me. Yay! Let’s sing Kumbaya! It might be said that these folks won’t die for Christ, but we will never know for their Christ won’t ask for it. He’s quite happy leaving everyone where they are, sleeping or not, dancing or not, sexing or not, serving the poor, or not. A different way of saying “the World doesn’t need saving” is “the World is already saved, let’s just fix it.” Their love of the world keeps them from preaching the Gospel.
On the other hand is a far more subtle – and thus far more dangerous heresy: this one says the world can’t be saved. This one would have the Gospel hidden away in order to save the Gospel. This one says, in effect, that God’s promises to save the Church from the Gates of Hell itself are not valid. It can also be said that these folks won’t die for Christ, but they will deny that. It is not because their Christ won’t ask for it: they just want to run as far away from danger as possible so that they might have some semblance of normalcy. This last being the one thing Christ never promised us. Their fear of the world keeps them from preaching the Gospel.
SO, then, having tipped my hand, perhaps, a little too much, here is the Papal speech from Lord of the World. Benson’s Pope speaks out loud in a dialect that some may not recognise, but it’s the way the Pope sounds in my heart, even when he’s saying something oddly silly on an airplane.
While the army of Christ is one, it consists of many divisions, each of which has its proper function and object. In times past God has raised up companies of His servants to do this or that particular work—the sons of St. Francis to preach poverty, those of St. Bernard to labour in prayer with all holy women dedicating themselves to this purpose, the Society of Jesus for the education of youth and the conversion of the heathen—together with all the other Religious Orders whose names are known throughout the world. Each such company was raised up at a particular season of need, and each has corresponded nobly with the divine vocation. It has also been the especial glory of each, for the furtherance of its intention, while pursuing its end, to cut off from itself all such activities (good in themselves) which would hinder that work for which God had called it into being—following in this matter the words of our Redeemer, Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit. At this present season, then, it appears to Our Humility that all such Orders (which once more We commend and bless) are not perfectly suited by the very conditions of their respective Rules to perform the great work which the time requires. Our warfare lies not with ignorance in particular, whether of the heathens to whom the Gospel has not yet come, or of those whose fathers have rejected it, nor with the deceitful riches of this world, nor with science falsely so-called, nor indeed with any one of those strongholds of infidelity against whom We have laboured in the past. Rather it appears as if at last the time was come of which the apostle spoke when he said that that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that Man of Sin be revealed, the Son of Perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God.
It is not with this or that force that we are concerned, but rather with the unveiled immensity of that power whose time was foretold, and whose destruction is prepared.
The voice paused again, and Percy gripped the rail before him to stay the trembling of his hands. There was no rustle now, nothing but a silence that tingled and shook. The Pope drew a long breath, turned his head slowly to right and left, and went on more deliberately than ever.
It seems good, then, to Our Humility, that the Vicar of Christ should himself invite God’s children to this new warfare; and it is Our intention to enroll under the title of the Order of Christ Crucified the names of all who offer themselves to this supreme service. In doing this We are aware of the novelty of Our action, and the disregard of all such precautions as have been necessary in the past. We take counsel in this matter with none save Him Who we believe has inspired it.
First, then, let Us say, that although obedient service will be required from all who shall be admitted to this Order, Our primary intention in instituting it lies in God’s regard rather than in man’s, in appealing to Him Who asks our generosity rather than to those who deny it, and dedicating once more by a formal and deliberate act our souls and bodies to the heavenly Will and service of Him Who alone can rightly claim such offering, and will accept our poverty.
Briefly, we dictate only the following conditions:
None shall be capable of entering the Order except such as shall be above the age of seventeen years.
No badge, habit, nor insignia shall be attached to it.
The Three Evangelical Counsels shall be the foundation of the Rule, to which we add a fourth intention, namely, that of a desire to receive the crown of martyrdom and a purpose of embracing it.
The bishop of every diocese, if he himself shall enter the Order, shall be the superior within the limits of his own jurisdiction, and alone shall be exempt from the literal observance of the Vow of Poverty so long as he retains his see. Such bishops as do not feel the vocation to the Order shall retain their sees under the usual conditions, but shall have no Religious claim on the members of the Order.
Further, We announce Our intention of Ourself entering the Order as its supreme prelate, and of making Our profession within the course of a few days.
Further, We declare that in Our Own pontificate none shall be elevated to the Sacred College save those who have made their profession in the Order; and We shall dedicate shortly the Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul as the central church of the Order, in which church We shall raise to the altars without any delay those happy souls who shall lay down their lives in the pursuance of their vocation.
Of that vocation it is unnecessary to speak beyond indicating that it may be pursued under any conditions laid down by the Superiors. As regards the novitiate, its conditions and requirements, we shall shortly issue the necessary directions. Each diocesan superior (for it is Our hope that none will hold back) shall have all such rights as usually appertain to Religious Superiors, and shall be empowered to employ his subjects in any work that, in his opinion, shall subserve the glory of God and the salvation of souls. It is Our Own intention to employ in Our service none except those who shall make their profession.”
He raised his eyes once more, seemingly without emotion, then he continued:
So far, then, We have determined. On other matters We shall take counsel immediately; but it is Our wish that these words shall be communicated to all the world, that there may be no delay in making known what it is that Christ through His Vicar asks of all who profess the Divine Name. We offer no rewards except those which God Himself has promised to those that love Him, and lay down their life for Him; no promise of peace, save of that which passeth understanding; no home save that which befits pilgrims and sojourners who seek a City to come; no honour save the world’s contempt; no life, save that which is hid with Christ in God.
There it is, just basic Christian living – no matter what one’s state is in life, we are all called to the Three Evangelical Counsels, to (1) Poverty, (2) Chastity (which is not the same as celibacy), and (3) Obedience, and we are all called to Martyrdom.