A Blog by Rolf Wagner – Feb. 1, 2019
One of Nietzsche’s most famous quotes speaks of staring into a deep dark void of nothingness and then experiencing it peering back at you. He remained cryptic as to its meaning, but the complete quote, of which most are unaware, is revealing. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” As devoted faithful Catholics who have joined St. Joseph’s Battalion, we would be wise to heed this warning. Given that our mission is to fight the corruption within our own beloved Church, there are some occupational hazards that accompany this calling. Excessive preoccupation with the “sins of the fathers”, wrapping our own personal egos around the mission, can lead us down a slippery slope of first experiencing delicious self-righteousness, which will inevitably be followed by discouragement and finally despair as we don’t see progress in this war progressing as quickly as we would like. This battle is not going to be over anytime soon, and it is one that I believe will be fought, in one way or another, until the end of the ages.
So how do we proceed? Indeed, we are commanded to “Be angry.” In Ephesians 4:26,27 this command is coupled with some helpful qualifiers “Be angry, and do not sin; let not the sun set upon your wrath, neither give room for the devil.” Anger is a God-given emotion. It is a powerful motivator toward quick action, but it is often dangerously coupled to impulsivity. Don’t ask me how I know. Therefore, as we hear about the disgusting injustices foisted upon the faithful, by leaders who know and preach better, let’s be angry, let’s be moved to action, but with great deliberation avoid the temptation towards impulsive out bursts. We are an army, not an angry mob with torches, clubs and pitchforks. Indeed, another passage in Scripture (James 1:19,20) reads, “Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for man’s wrath does not work God’s righteousness.” Indeed, another passage (Heb 10:30,31) reads, “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay;’ and again ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This is precisely why our actions will always be non-violent. It is not our place to exact judgement. He will. In His time. The guarantee is as good as His word. In the meantime, we pray for healing and compassion for the victims, and that the perpetrators not only repent publically, but that every one of them is brought to civil justice. And yes, we pray for the mercy of God for those priests, religious and bishops who do repent. God help those who don’t.
As soldiers in this fight, we must learn to discipline our hearts, our minds and our actions. So how do we bridle this powerful emotion? A hint comes from the King of this battalion. In Mark 3, on a particular Sabbath day, Jesus encounters a man in the synagogue with a withered hand. The Pharisees were watching, hoping to catch Him breaking the Jewish law by working on the day of rest. He didn’t disappoint. He asked the man to come forward, “And after looking at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” Note that great sadness was coupled with his anger. Likewise, when we hear and report on the Church’s abuses, our anger should rightly flash, but with immediacy we need God’s grace to transform that justified anger into deep sadness and grief, for the victims, for the predators, those who hid them . . . and ultimately to protect ourselves.
You see, we are amazing beings created in God’s image, who are also made to reflect His glory. In a sense, we are covered in a highly reflective surface. Indeed, even Christ himself is described by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews (1: 3), “And He (Jesus) is the radiance of His (God’s) glory and the exact representation of His nature . . .“ The word that is translated “radiance” is “ἀπαὺγασμα, apaugasma,” in the original Greek language of the New Testament. It literally means “off-flash, a back-flash, a shining forth from an original source.” Not only was Jesus God, He reflected God!
Which brings me back to Nietszche. We were not created to reflect darkness, we were made to reflect the Son. The more time we spend next to the abyss, next to the black hole of darkness . . . the deeper we get sucked into the vortex of hopelessness. The angrier and sadder we become, until we become useless in the fight. Precisely our enemy’s objective. The universe knows no greater gravitional field than that produced by a blackhole. If one is far enough away it is possible to orbit the black hole without getting sucked in, but once close enough the pull into the gravitational funnel gets ever greater until one passes the event horizon, where time stops, and everything, including light, has no chance of ever getting out again. Sounds like a good description of hell to me. Let’s not do that to ourselves. Let’s not obsess about the monsters.
Instead, in this fight, let’s keep our eyes on the Prize Himself. Let’s contemplate His amazing brilliance and glory. Let’s contemplate the greatness of His Kingdom. Meditate upon, and internalize the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful and Glorious mysteries of our Salvation. The rosary is a great tool Catholics use to help in this exercise. If you have trouble saying the prayers and at the same time meditating upon the mysteries like I do, find a quiet space and spend a few minutes each day, reflecting on the mysteries themselves. Spend time in private worship, at home, in your car . . . in front of the blessed Sacrament. Read and meditate upon the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. Immerse yourself in the Mass, whether Novus Ordo or Traditional, and enter into the Church’s prayer in the company of your fellow saints. Let’s be a reflection of our King. Let our armor shine with brilliance reflecting the Shekinah glory of His presence, and may we find joy in the battle!
Rolf Wagner is Chief Prefect of the Congregation of Pew Heating at his local parish. He holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from The University of Texas at Austin. Rolf and his wife Barbara have one son and have been married for 39 years. He enjoys sailing and scuba diving in his free time, of which there is precious little.