Cardinal George wanted to ask the Pope about a book written in 1907 (Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World) and how it fits into the Pope’s ministry. Pope Francis often refers to it. Last year John L. Allen Jr. interviewed Cardinal George as he stepped down from being the archbishop of Chicago. In the interview, the Cardinal mentioned reading Lord of the World in high school and its enduring presence in his mind. Here are his remarks from the interview:
“It’s interesting to me that this pope talks about that novel, “Lord of the World.” That’s one thing I want to ask him. How do you put together what you’re doing with what you say is the hermeneutical interpretation of your ministry, which is this eschatological vision that the anti-Christ is with us? Do you believe that? I would love to ask the Holy Father. What does that mean? In a sense, maybe it explains why he seems to be in a hurry. Nobody seems interested in that but I find it fascinating, because I found the book fascinating.
I read it quite by chance when I was in high school. It was written in 1907, and he has air travel, he has everything modern. It’s really eerie because it seems as if he was looking at our time, meaning right now. Does the pope believe that? Now, that’s much more interesting than my thing about my successor will die in prison. What does the pope believe about the end-times?… I hope before I die I’ll have the chance to ask him: How do you want us to understand your ministry, when you put that before us as a key?”
In the novel, an English priest, Percy Franklin, delivers a “little discourse” to the pope, John XXIV, on “what has happened, what is happening, what will happen, with a peroration as to what should happen.” Percy says that all the forces of the world were concentrating into two camps – the world and God. As to what has happened, the Humanitarian religion has spread in the spiritual sphere. “The reconciliation of the world on a basis other than that of Divine Truth” represents what is happening. The Man of this movement was Julian Felsenburgh. He was called “the Son of Man, because he was so pure-bred a cosmopolitan; the Savior of the World, because he had slain war and himself survived…even Incarnate God, because he was the perfect representative of divine man.” But what was chiefly to be feared was “Humanitarianism coming, like the kingdom of God, with power; crushing the imaginative and the romantic, assuming rather than asserting its own truth…forcing its way, almost objectively, into the inner world. Persons who had scarcely heard its name were professing its tenets; priests absorbed it, as they absorbed God in communion…and, finally, Humanitarianism would presently put on the dress of liturgy and sacrifice. When that was done, the Church’s cause, unless God intervened, would be over.” The Pope then asks the priest what is to be done. Percy hits the nail on the head. He says, “Holy Father – the mass, prayer, the rosary. These first and last. The world denies their power: it is on their power that Christians must throw all their weight. All things in Jesus Christ – in Jesus Christ, first and last. Nothing else can avail. He must do all, for we can do nothing.” Finally, Percy tells the Pope he must found a new religious order, the Order of Christ Crucified.
Mundelein Seminary prepares “Priests for the New Evangelization.” With Benson’s vision in mind we should elaborate by saying we prepare priests for martyrdom. Today in a world that does not want to hear Christian truth, witness is the only way of proclaiming the Gospel. Martyrdom literally means witness. Are we ready to partake in the witness of Christ Crucified? As a missionary, Cardinal George was ready. We must be ready for only through crucified witness will the power of the Resurrection shine through.