By Nathaniel Richards
At this very moment, you and I are in a battle waged for eternal souls. My soul. Your soul. We creatures are either for the Lord Jesus Christ and perpetual union with Him in the Divine Life of the Holy Trinity or we’re not. There is no middle ground. To believe that we’re in anything other than a battle for our souls is lie. As baptized soldiers in the Lord’s Army, as practicing Catholics, we must stand on the side of Truth Himself. Being lukewarm is not an option—for our Lord says, because thou art…neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth (Apoc. iii. 16). We must stay in the Mystical Body and wage war against the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is how, as the Apostle says, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philip. ii. 12).
Yet to always be on guard seems like a chore, does it not? Why should we have to stay awake? Yet the Lord bade His disciples to stay awake and pray as He anticipated the Hour of His Passion in Gethsemane, and bemoans the fact that they sleep instead (Mk. xiii. 34). And St. Peter tells us specifically in his epistle: Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion goeth about seeking whom he may devour (I Pt. v. 8). Therefore, we have no choice. To sleep but for a moment is to be caught in the jaws of the Enemy. We are members of the Church Militant hoping to one day join the Church Triumphant—to be complacent will not do nor is admirable, when we have so great a cloud of witnesses (Heb. xii. 1) testifying to us that there is no other way but to do battle…putting our acedia and apathy to shame.
This active choice for God is what makes a Catholic. To see this hard truth of the Faith should not cause us to despair, however. Immolation and total sacrifice of self for others and for the Lord’s cause is our purpose. For the greatest principle and difference between a saint and a sinner, between salvation and perdition is this: voluntary victimhood leads to self-sacrifice and imitating the Agape that is God. To neglect this leads to victimizing of oneself that leads to self-imposed neuroses and rationalization of sin. Losing oneself—either in the blissful Beatific Vision or the terrible fires of the damned—is the only end for man. Loss to God is eternal victory, loss to Satan is eternal defeat. As we were created for God, it is best to say like Josue, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord (Jos. xxiv. 15).
St. Thérèse Lisieux, the Little Flower, understood this principle well. For when she contemplated how there were many souls doing penance for the sins of others and their own faults that wanted to be victims for God’s justice, she wondered how she could opt to be a victim to God’s “Infinite Mercy” (Thérèse, 110). Many of us Catholics, especially those of us in the laity, will never be able to imitate the lifestyle of an anchorite or hermit, but we can follow a Little Way of our own—dying to ourselves and saying yes to God. Fasting is good; fasting from sin and selfishness is better and helps us fast better when we do attempt to fast. We must constantly let ourselves be molded by God’s Mercy—seeking His pardon, and making that pardon known in our lives to others. When we understand the Augustinian principle of our restless hearts needing to drink the Living Water of God, we realize that nothing of this world will satisfy save God alone. We can only rest in Him.
Therefore, we may not rest now. We must wage war against Satan and the hordes of hell. And do so happily. Why? As Chesterton says in Orthodoxy, “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity” (Chesterton, 182). Further, at the end of his volume Chesterton says, “There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth” (239). The Divine is buoyant, self-giving, and full of Joy Unspeakable; the Enemy is sour, self-serving, and full of Hatred. We fight for God best by being most authentically ourselves in Him—this will carry us to Heaven rather than bogging ourselves down to earth with our own egos.
St. Thérèse further elucidates this truth in her prayer to God:
It seems to me that if You found souls offering themselves to Your Love as holocausts, You would consume them speedily, rejoicing that the rays of infinite tenderness had no longer to be imprisoned in Your Heart. If Your Justice must be satisfied, although it extends only to earth, surely Your Merciful Love must long far more to fire our souls, because Thy mercy reacheth even to the Heavens (Ps. xxxv. 6). O Jesus, grant me to be Your happy victim; consume me in the fire of Divine Love, Your little holocaust (Thérèse, 110).
That’s what it comes down to, really. Becoming aflame in the Love which is the Triune God. All else that is not found like Him is burnt away like the chaff it is. Only Jesus gives us this opportunity to become part of this Eternal Fire. And we should desire to become like it if we desire to live forever in God, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. xii. 29).
To burn with love for Love or to burn from lack of Him—that’s the crux of all time, and the scope of eternity.
Nothing in this world is worth losing God. Nothing. We soldiers may become weary, but we have the Sacraments and the treasury of the Tradition of the Church and the wellspring of Sacred Scripture to refresh our souls in this temporal reality…and root them in the never-ending world to come. Every pain we experience for the Gospel will have been worth it. Inconveniences and scars will be trophies. St. Thérèse was influenced by a volume of eschatological conferences penned by a French priest, Fr. Charles Arminjon, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life that touch on this point. He says:
In this life, when we hear the conversation of superior minds that have been matured and trained by experience and deep reflection, we lose the sense of time under the spell and fascination of their words. We sit in front of the fire during the long winter evenings, with the snow falling and the wind blowing and roaring and listen expectantly and with rapt, unflagging attention to the seaman back from distant shores, or the warrior who tells us about the perils of a long siege and the thousand pictures of death he encountered amidst the dangers of war.
How much greater will be our fascination, as we sit at the great hearth of our heavenly Father, listening while our brothers tell us the story of their seductive and manifold temptations and of the assaults waged by hell over which they triumphed. We shall not tire of hearing about those victories won in the sight of God alone, more glorious than those of conquerors; those battles waged in silence against the failings of the flesh and the turmoil of one’s own thoughts. We shall admire their efforts and their heroic generosity. We shall know about the twists and turns and uncertainties whereby the grace of the Spirit of God, through a strong but gentle impulse, led them to the harbor of repose, and turned even their deviations and falls to account, in the edification of their incorruptible crown. Ah! These will be inexhaustible subjects of conversation, which will never lose their interest and charm (Arminjon, 230).
These tales we shall tell in Heaven—how we lost to God—shall be of endless delight and fascination! We shall revel in the goodness of the Lord and how we were victims to His Infinite Mercy. We, the citizens of the New Jerusalem will be at rest. As St. Julian of Norwich says, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian, 65).
It is written in Hebrews that we have not here a lasting city, but we seek that one that is to come (Heb. xiii. 14). That, I believe is the mission of this apostolate. That is the Meaning of Catholic, as it were. This world is not our home. We are journeying to Jerusalem, to Heaven. We want others to get there by leaving vice and embracing the supernatural virtues only Jesus can give to our souls to get there. We Catholics want people to go to Heaven—above all else. We want people to behold that Everlasting City where the Lamb is the Light forevermore.
So let us keep fighting. There is a goal in mind. There is a King to serve. Frodo Baggins asked Samwise Gamgee what they were fighting for—the hobbit answered that there was something in this world worth fighting for. Likewise for us in the realm of men—there is something in this world worth fighting for. A new world. A New Heaven, and a New Earth. One Lord who makes it all come into being. Let us fight for Him.
In parting, I share a final thought from Fr. Charles Arminjon and a line from Sacred Scripture.
Everything that is not Jerusalem is unfit for us. Let us ask only for the goods and the peace it contains. Let us think only of heaven, let us seek only heaven, let us store up only for heaven, and let us live only for heaven.
A few moments longer, and all that must end will be no more; a few more efforts, and we shall be at the close; a few more combats, and we shall attain the crown; a few more sacrifices, and we shall be in Jerusalem, where love is always new; where there will be no other sacrifice but praise and joy. Amen (Arminjon, 237).
And he that sat on the throne said: Behold, I make all things new (Apoc. xxi. 5).
Arminjon, Charles. The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life. Sophia Institute Press, 2008.
Chesterton, G.K., and Charles W. Colson. Orthodoxy. Moody Publishers, 2009.
Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. Paraclete Press, 2016.
Thérèse, et al. The Story of a Soul. TAN Classics, 2010.
Nathaniel Richards is a Catholic husband and father who lives in the Ozarks. He enjoys collecting Catholic books and promises that one day he will read most of them—eventually, maybe. Starting a Catholic bookstore that sells books rather than gifts is a dream of his. He converted from Oneness Pentecostalism to Anglicanism and eventually made his way to Catholicism in 2015.