Feb 1, 2021

‘Immortal Combat,’ Triumph of the Secret Son: One Priest’s Insight into 2020 (Part 3)

Fr. Longenecker managed to give me a whole new perspective on the Gospel texts by explaining the frequently-told narrative of the secret son conquering evil by his hiddenness, his humility, and, ultimately, his self-sacrifice. Recall the many stories where the “secret son” triumphs in this way: Luke Skywalker, Clark Kent, Frodo Baggins, Peter Parker, . . .even Neo of The Matrix and Dorothy of Oz and Kansas. 

Of course, the comparisons with Jesus are limited since He is the Divine Son disguised as the son of man. Fr. Longecker explains that we so often get Jesus wrong because we look at what He did (and end up fashioning Him to look a lot like us with all our good intentions), rather than who He is. And as Fr. L says, if you really want to know who someone is, the question to ask is, “what would they die for?”

Jesus died to take away the Sin of the World described in the earlier chapters of Fr. Longenecker’s book (and in my previous posts). As John the Baptist says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The Sin of the World being our (misuse of) power, the resultant pride and prejudice, and Resentment, Rivalry, and Revenge. Fr. L says, “He was the One who was to come. The Suffering Servant. The scapegoat. The Passover Lamb. . . He was Isaac’s substituted ram. He came into this world to be the wounded warrior. . . .He came secretly and silently, and kept the secret silence of His mission right up until the final week of His life.”

Think of all the times in the Gospels when Jesus would heal the sick, cast out demons, and even undergo the Transfiguration, and would ask the witnesses not to tell anyone. He spoke often of His “hour” not yet come. Until reading this book, I was always mystified that He’d speak of this to His mother before performing His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana. What “hour” was He referring to if it wasn’t His public ministry and accompanying miracles? Why so secret about who He is (Is)? Well, as it turns out, when you’re fighting ultimate evil -- sin and death -- you’d best do it undercover until you’re ready for the Big Reveal. In Jesus’ case, it would occur in His Passion and Resurrection. But, He had to die in order to triumph over Death. It’s what He lived for. It’s who He Is.

Given who He Is, what should our imitation of Christ look like? Nothing like Antifa and BLM, that’s for sure! Think of the many great saints in their hidden labors: the hermits hiding in the desert or mountainside caves devoting their lives to prayer; the priests consumed with provision of the sacraments to poor sinners, and the nuns serving the materially poor and sick; the laborers in the field laying down their lives for the Kingdom -- “the harvest is great and the laborers are few.” Even Old Testament saints who became famous in salvation history started out in secret. Moses was hidden in the rushes of the Nile as an infant and, even though he became a Prince of Egypt, he ended up a shepherd whose real mission began with an encounter with the Burning Bush. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, was sold into slavery by his brothers and was presumed dead until his family discovered he’d found favor with pharaoh (and more importantly, God) and was providentially positioned to save them from famine. 

The examples are too numerous to cite (and God’s greatest creation deserves a post of her own), but for us the message is clear:

“To engage in the battle, we will not trumpet our plans or complain about the evil in the world or the Church. We will not organize activists, publish papers, or plan a great campaign. To start, we will roll up our sleeves and do what we can with what we have, where we are. [Saint Theresa of Calcutta’s “do what’s in front of you."]

We will go incognito. We will be princes of the kingdom disguised as paupers -- God’s secret agents in the world. This is how we will fit into His battle plan.”

What does it mean to “walk in the Way of the Lamb?” In the faith in which the “central image” is of the “crucified man?” “Because the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus demolishes the Sin of the World from the inside out, the Church keeps the image of that profound and astounding victory as her central focus.” Living according to the Law of Self-giving means “giving our lives as a secret and small sacrifice.” When we live in, with, and through Christ, we can be assured that every authentic prayer and good work is part of His triumph over evil.

To engage effectively in Immortal Combat, our daily prayer should be, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, Living Lamb of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Here I am, standing before You. Just as I am, without one plea, O Lamb of God, I come.” 

And why is this effective? Because “faith” is ultimately more than trying hard to convince oneself of something incredible, or assenting intellectually to certain doctrines, or trusting in God’s protection and provision, although it’s those things, too. But, it is through repentance -- admitting our brokenness and need for redemption -- that power, pride, prejudice, Resentment, Rivalry, and Revenge are destroyed. It’s what Christ did on the Cross by becoming the Sin of the World in our place. We imitate Him by laying down our lives in repentance and love. 

Fr. L describes the ten Swords of the Spirit a Christian is given for the fight in this Immortal Combat, which I will briefly review:

  1. Sacraments: the seven Sacraments are “outward signs instituted by Christ for imparting grace.” Christ came to establish a Church and the ordained ministers of that Church have as their vocation the duty and the privilege of sacrificial service to the faithful. In the case of marriage, sacrificial service is to our spouses and families. This is how we participate in the Cross and resurrection of Christ.

  2. Sacred Scripture: Fr. L encourages us to read the Bible daily and memorize Scripture, “for the words of Sacred Scripture are powerful weapons in the spiritual battle." “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free. "

  3. Small: Be small and hidden, for only those like little children will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Be small as a mustard seed, because smallness makes us authentically who we are. And by becoming who God made us to be, we become powerful.

  4. Secret: Fr. L says the real action takes place in secret, even though the Church has a very visible, public presence. “This secret life is the true life of the Christian warrior. It is there, in secret, that we draw closer to the Lord Jesus. It is in contemplation and the mystery of the Mass that we come to identify with the Crucified and so become living conduits of Christ’s victory in the world.” This is a winning strategy because Satan doesn’t “do” secret. He can’t fathom humility.

  5. Sacrifice: Satan is also baffled by the Law of Self Sacrifice. “When we live out the Faith in a practical, sacrificial way we are living out the victory of the Cross, and each action of self-sacrifice, no matter how small is one more stroke of the sword of sacrifice in the everlasting battle."

  6. Simplicity: Fr. L says simplicity is a form of honesty. “Simplicity of speech allows no lies.” And, “simplicity of life is the art of loving all things according to their worth.” "The saint is not an extraordinary person, but an ordinary person who has become all that God created them to be.”

  7. Steadfast: “Nothing great was ever accomplished quickly.” “What is required of us is patience, hard work, and the ability to never give up. Ever.” “Being steadfast in the midst of hardship, disappointment, and failure is the mark of a saint. This is the sign of what the Church calls ‘heroic virtue.’” 

  8. Silence: The faculty of speech is given for expressing truth and reason. When no one is listening (for instance, in discourse with a committed leftist), the answer is silence. Silence is also the means of contemplative prayer and “abiding in the truth of Jesus Christ who went to the Cross mute as a lamb to the slaughter.”.

  9. Supernatural: Immortal Combat is supernatural by nature -- a fight with principalities and powers of the world. We need to keep this in mind. We should remember, therefore, that “we can do nothing by our own strength,” but only through grace."

  10. Suffering: One of my favorite stories of Pope Saint John Paul the Great was when he was working his way down a reception line of young priests, one of whom had a broken ankle in a cast. He asked the Holy Father to pray for him in his suffering, upon which JPII thunked him on the head and said, “Don’t waste your suffering.” Fr. L says, “it is in suffering that we are most fully unified with the Crucified.” It is only through Jesus that we find meaning in our suffering -- for the redemption of the whole world.

The central division between the secular humanist Left and the religious Right is this: the Left is full of self-righteousness (they are as gods, deciding right and wrong and imposing their "moral" authority on us) and is therefore undeterred in the exercise of raw power over others. The activism we saw in the streets in the summer of 2020 and the unapologetic hypocrisy of the Democrats now in power is because they're so very convinced they're right and it's up to them to fix the world -- to immanentize the eschaton. The religious Right believes the world is only improved when we fix ourselves first -- when we submit to a Higher Moral Authority. These two worldviews are utterly incompatible, and the Left is currently exercising all manner of power over us, which leftists simply are incapable of recognizing as persecution of innocents.

The good news is Truth and Charity win out in the end. The Light has come into the world, and darkness shall not overcome it. Keep the faith.

UPDATE: Adding this 8.5 minute video of Jordan Peterson and Dennis Prager in which they agree with me about the right/left difference.