For my birthday a couple weeks ago, my wife and kids got me a most remarkable book, entitled End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life. It is a series of “sermons” written by Father Charles Arminjon, a French Priest, assembled around 1880.
I cannot recommend this book more highly. There are numerous reasons for my recommendation, not least of which is the Truth contained within it.
I once volunteered as a Catechism Instructor – or, if you prefer a “Sunday School Teacher”. The first year went very well. They were desperate for someone to take over the 7th and 8th Grade combined class. I found out almost immediately why the previous teacher had opted out of instructing this class. Let’s just say there were several kids who really, really didn’t want to be there.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of attempting to reach some of these kids and bring them a little further in the Faith, I threw myself in the ring. And what I found was that a good stern, albeit loving and caring, instructor was what they needed. It is often the case that kids misbehave for being bored. And I can tell you that not unlike most pre-fabbed teaching materials, guides, and so on, the “script” I was given was a watered down, boring, and extremely cautious path. In this day and age, it seems the Truth needs to be couched in feel-good new agism. Because, you know, it can be hurtful and scary.
Of course, throwing caution to the wind, I was prideful enough to think I might dare to make the obligation of God-bothering an interesting one. I will not lie. The coursework was pitiful. If I was going to volunteer, dammit, the kids were going to find it interesting. Fascinating. Important.
The first year went great. Even the “difficult” kids came to find there might be something to learn from this guy who liked to “give it to them straight”. I would guess this was the case because I didn’t pull any punches. And I didn’t have them using crayons. I was treating them as young Christians. Christians only a couple years from Confirmation. That is, Christians who would be asked to commit themselves to the Faith entirely. Christians who would be offered full communion with the Bride of Christ.
How often I hear the complaint from “fallen away” Catholics (don’t get me started on why I put it in quotes) that they didn’t know precisely what they were confirming when they “signed up” for full membership in the Church. I would like to turn it on its head and suggest we, the Church Militant, were duped into bringing them into the fold… duped by their empty words of assurance that they understood what they were “signing up” for. But we cannot see into the hearts of men. We take them at their word, freely given, that they will defend the Faith and hope for Martyrdom. All of their protestations after-the-fact make me sad… but also make me angry. I pray that these so-called “recovering Catholics” (exactly how offensive is that pop term?) somehow, someway, find their way back to the arms of their Mother.
I digress. Sort of.
“What is Truth?”, Pilate is said to have asked his wife.
Before I go on, let me defuse the inevitable complaint that I am professing something I subjectively believe. Yes. I do believe. And as a Believer, it would be silly of me not to profess that which I believe. I am a Christian. As I have written before, I am well-aware of many of my many shortcomings. I am unaware of others. But I am aware that I am a hypocrite. I am aware that the bar is so necessarily high that I continually… daily… fall short of it. I am a sinner. I know it.
Typical Catholics are reticent to proclaim the Good News in the fashion that some of our other brothers and sisters in Christ might. We won’t be knocking on your doors any time soon, in the literal sense. We are always cautious about throwing pearls before swine. We evangelize in much more subtle ways. In ways that the very same brothers and sisters in Christ may mistakenly take for far too passive. But we are reminded that St. Paul had more than his share of confidence. Thankfully so. Nevertheless, do not mistaken his words for that of a man who was not humble of heart.
The first year went well, as I mentioned some paragraphs above. So I was asked to sign up for another year of instructing. Again, no one wanted the 7th and 8th grade class. So, I thought about it. I agreed to teach the class once more. Sadly, my no-holds-barred approach to passing on the faith rubbed some parent(s) the wrong way. I am given to understand that my comment to the class that it would be very unlikely for everyone in the class to ultimately find ourselves among the Elect stunned and, yes, frightened a student. Further, I am given to understand that my suggestion that not every one of our beloved relations was likely to be among the Elect also was cause for concern. The fallout was immediate. And it did bring on a small crisis of faith for me. I was not very interested in defending my approach to teaching what we believe. I was not interested in heaping scandal on top of the deep hurt I felt. I was not interested in chastising the Powers That Be about the very real dangers of withholding the Truth from these kids… some of which were quite worldly to begin with. I was not interested in defending the Faith to ministers of the Faith… or taking them to task… or forcing them into a debate about whether or not I was teaching other-than-Dogma (which I was decidedly not doing). In short, I resigned to save all parties from what would have been a bloody affair… and potentially embarrassing I might add.
I was deeply offended. As I have said. And only now, several years later, am I able to clear my head enough to receive the Eucharist with a mended-heart. I will not lie: the sting of that wound remains. But my animus toward the players involved does not. God works in mysterious ways. And it was a truly humbling experience. Truth be told, I had been praying for God to help me become smaller. And He answered my prayers.
But I will not say that I am small enough yet not to have felt a wee bit of vindication (I am still a prideful human you see), when I began reading the very first introductory pages to this book.
Father Arminjon begins with the following…
It has seemed to us that one of the saddest fruits of rationalism, the fatal error and great plague…, the pestilential source from which… disasters arise, is the absence of the sense of the supernatural and the profound neglect of the great truths of the future life. The earth is afflicted with a dreadful desolation, because the majority of men, fascinated by the fleeting pleasures, and absorbed in their worldly interests and the care of their material affairs, no longer fix their thoughts on the principal considerations of the Faith, and stubbornly refuse to recollect within themselves…
The two causes of this terrifying indifference and profound universal lethargy are, obviously, ignorance and the unrestrained love of sensual pleasures that, by darkening the interior eye of the human soul, bring all its aspirations down to the narrow level of the present life, and cut it off from the vision of the beauties and rewards to come. Now, since wise men have found at all times that contradiction are overcome with their opposites, it seemed to us that the most efficacious remedy with which to fight confidently against the inveterate evil of naturalism was a lucid, clear, and exact exposition, without diminution, of the essential truths dealing with the future life and the inevitable termination of human destinies.
Perhaps we shall be accused of expressing this or that assertion of ours too crudely and starkly, and of broaching the most serious and formidable points of Christian doctrine, without, at the same time, modifying and softening them so as to adapt them to the prejudices or apathy of certain souls, unacquainted with such grave considerations – like a physician who carefully allows only a limited amount of light to a sick friend, in order not to hurt his painful eyes by excessive glare. However, in the religious and supernatural order, the phenomena and effects wrought upon the soul are often the reverse of those that occur in the physical and material order…
There is one terrible truth in Christianity that in our times, even more than in previous centuries, arouses implacable horror in the heart of man. That truth is of the eternal pains of hell. At the mere allusion to this dogma, minds become troubled, hearts tighten up and tremble, passions become rigid and inflamed against this doctrine and the unwelcome voices that proclaim it.
Ought we, then, to be silent, leaving shrouded in oblivion an essential truth about man’s most important concern: his supreme destiny beyond the short years of his exile on earth? Yet, if hell is a reality, whatever silence we might maintain over this fundamental question would not shake its certainty. All the softening and sweetening of human language will not shorten its duration. It would be the height of folly to convince ourselves that if we turn our minds away from this fatal possibility and try hard not to believe in it, we shall manage someday to avoid its rigor.
I feel like quoting the whole book, truth be told. It is an incredible glimpse into the future base on Holy Scripture and Tradition (2000 years of the world’s leading and enlightened minds grappling with the topic – oh yeah, an some other dude named Plato). But I will spare you!
Suffice to say that if you are interested in a very authentically-Catholic take on The End Times here on earth, the Anti-Christ, the General Judgment, the Particular Judgment, Purgatory, Hell, Heaven, I have in my travels never found a treasure like this one.
One last thing! Pray for me. Pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Pray for the conversion of sinners. Fish for souls!