The Holy Spirit guides the ultimate outcome of all papal conclaves.
Many of us exulted with inexpressible joy at the speedy conclusion of the Conclave of 2005.
The Conclave of 1903 was likewise an occasion to glorify the Provident Hand of God.
The “Sage of Baltimore,” H.L. Mencken, anticipated that Conclave in this way:
…We had another Methodist in the office, a reporter named Stockbridge, but he was so pleasant a fellow that no one held it against him…When, in July 1903, Pope Leo XIII died, and the cardinals began hustling to Rome to elect his successor, an office wag put the following notice on the city-room bulletin-board:
The Right Rev. Jason Stockbridge, D.D.,
Bishop of Sodom and Gomorrah in partibus infidelium
Subject to Democratic primaries
The good Lord, however, chose differently. Pope St. Pius X was elected.
Pope St. Pius X defined and refuted the heresy of which H. L. Mencken was certainly guilty, the heresy of Modernism. The Pope explained the problem in his encyclical Pascendi.
Not long ago, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Pascendi. It seemed like a good occasion to contrast the truth of the Holy Faith with the dictatorship of relativism. I gave the following homily:
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
All of us have our individual crosses to bear. But there is one which we all have to carry. Christians at the dawn of the 21st century have to bear the cross of persevering in faith during an unbelieving age.
The Modern Age of Unbelief began well over a century ago. In fact, today [N.B.: September 8, 2007] is the 100th anniversary of the day when Pope St. Pius X officially named the problem. What we are up against is called Modernism.
To understand the deceptions of Modernism, first we should briefly review the basic facts of reality–the truths which make life understandable, livable, and beautiful.
God created everything. He created us to be His children, to give Him glory, and to be happy with Him forever. Originally, there was to be no suffering and no death, and getting to heaven was not difficult, because God provided everything in the Garden of Eden.
Our First Parents, though, fell into pride and doubted the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God. They betrayed His friendship and thereby lost His blessing. All of us are descended from these original sinners, so when we are born, we are estranged from God, ignorant of the truth, and inclined to evil.
But God let this happen solely because He had a plan to bring good out of it. His plan was to reveal His glory in a way that the human mind could never have conceived. God Himself became man, the Eternal Son of the Almighty Father became the son of the Virgin Mary, and He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice of love which reconciles mankind to God.
This coming of the Son of God into the world was the turning point of all history. Now we live in the age of the Church, during which the grace of the Holy Spirit is given to fallen man through the sacraments, so that we can be healed and restored to God’s friendship. As members of Christ’s mystical body, we become God’s children again, and we live lives of truthfulness and love, hoping for the day of glory when all evil will finally be overcome.
We do not know exactly when this day will come, but we know that it will. On that day, everyone who has ever lived will see Jesus Christ is all His divine glory, and the damned will curse Him in hell, and the saints will rejoice with indescribable happiness.
All of these are facts which God Himself has taught us. God intends for everyone to be aware of all this, because knowing it, and living in accord with it, is the only reliable way to true peace and happiness.
The fact that not everyone is aware of all this, or that some people refuse to acknowledge it, does not make it any less true. We practice our religion, we obey God’s commandments, in order to harmonize our lives with what God has revealed about Himself.
The heresy of Modernism, however, teaches otherwise. The fundamental thesis of Modernism is: Religion is based on human emotion or sentiment. The Modernist teaches that the prophets had an emotional experience of “the Unknown;” Christ did, too, and His was the most intense; and the Apostles had an emotional experience of Christ. The Sacred Scriptures, according to the Modernist, are reliable testimonies only of the religious emotions of their human authors. They are not an infallible narrative of the work of God from the dawn of history to now.
The Modernist denies that we can know the truth about God; he is agnostic. Different people have different emotional experiences of “the Unknown,” and so there are many religions, and no one can really say which is right.
Now, of course it would be wonderful if we could dismiss the foolish sophistry of Modernism as a regrettable sidebar of history. Unfortunately, though, Modernism has become the official state religion of most of the Western world. This triumph of Modernism has given rise to the “dictatorship of relativism,” under which we live.
The dictatorship declares to us: Your religion is simply your opinion. It will be tolerated only insofar as you keep it private. What we will not tolerate is your saying that “the Unknown” has definitively made Himself known–by founding the Catholic Church for the salvation of the human race.
Of course, this is precisely what He has done. God founded the Catholic Church for the salvation of the entire human race. There have been times when, and places where, one could openly acknowledge this, and rejoice in it, without fear of giving offense to the powers that be. Maybe it would be easier for us today, if God had not done things the way He has done them, putting all His eggs in one basket, so to speak, with His Son Jesus Christ and His Church—But this is what He has done, and we cannot change the work of God, and we would of course be fools to try.
So, instead of complaining, let us resolve to pick up this cross of faith and carry it during the Age of Modernism. Let us rejoice, in fact, that the Lord has counted us worthy to be His witnesses under the dictatorship of relativism. There is no greater day to be alive than the day on which we can consecrate ourselves by bearing witness to Christ and spreading His Gospel.