One of the most remarkable, heart-warming, and contemplative chapters in the entire bible is the first chapter of the book of Genesis. This, along with the following three chapters, provide humanity with the most important answers to the philosophical, moral, sociological, and psychological dilemmas that besiege our souls and leave us in a state of cowering imprisonment under the guardianship of the most ruthless of dictators, religious skepticism.
This chapter absolutely frees the soul as long as one reads and contemplates it with almost any other philosophical predisposition than that which seems dominant in our modern culture. The first sentence alone should be enough to bring all the activity, commerce, and material progress of the desperately goal-oriented masses to a complete standstill. Yet, we cannot silence the twenty-four-hour noise, rudeness, and general vulgarity of our modern society long enough, nor turn-off the electronic gadgets long enough, to hear the quiet whisper of the Spirit of God proclaim:
“In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
This is the whisper heard around the world; it is the whisper echoing through the centuries in the stories and traditions of humankind; it is the whisper leading men to fight Crusades on the one hand or to choose the freedom of Lady Poverty with St. Francis on the other. This is the whisper opening the story that saved the world. That is, it saved the world until we decided that we did not like this story, nor the demands it imposed on us, until we decided we could make a better world of our own.
This is the very terrible dilemma we face today, that the despair of the religiously starved Gilgamesh is replaced full circle by the depression of the world’s whole-sale rejection of religion through modernism and rationalism. In the time between the ancient Gilgamesh and our modern pharmacologically enhanced cultures, though, we received an answer, a point of view that truly sets matters in order, into an appropriate and authentic order where God is first and our comfort, progress, technology, and ambitions are relative and less important in relation to him. This point of view brings about integrity and wholeness as far as we can experience them here and promises an indescribably glorious kingdom elsewhere for the rest of eternity.
It is this point of view that I would like to discuss first on The March of Hope. Our point of view is the eye-glass through which we peer into the night as did king Gilgamesh; it is the foundation for our actions, words, and intellectual development. Our point of view leads us to decide whose footprints we will follow. Hope, that life giving inspiration that all of us desperately seek, begins not just with any point of view, but with an authentic point of view.
However, can one find an authentic point of view? Does such a thing exist? Who would dare claim to know it? If you did know it, would it be proper to tell others? Is it more important to affirm others in their own subjective thinking so as not to offend them in any way, or is it more important to tell others how to save themselves from spiritual imprisonment, indeed, to save their souls? The modern-day ruminating, circuitous mental prison we face is the result of the terrible dictatorship of skepticism that began as a spark in the Protestant Revolution, grew into a raging firestorm through the French Revolution, and melded into twentieth century atheistic communism.
In my first book, Journey to Christendom, I explained the authenticity of the Catholic Church as the authoritative Christian institution established in history by Jesus himself, and I discussed the impact that had on my life. Therefore, if the Catholic Church is the authoritative voice of Christ on earth, then understanding the Church’s point of view is most crucial to establishing our hope and therefore our direction in life.
Understanding the Roman Catholic world view moved me beyond The Freedom Dance and through the great doors at the castle walls of the Church. This understanding opened for me the panorama of an immeasurably large and beautiful mystical universe, one ordered in both artistic and mathematical beauty, one deeply colorful and astonishing, but one requiring our cooperation to bring it to life in our smaller, material world. We must order ourselves according to God’s law and revelation to bring this kingdom down from the heavens. More than that, we must desire it; we must hope for it. This viewpoint leads me forward on the March of Hope.
I will begin discussing the March of Hope from the point in my life’s journey where the seed of conversion planted in my soul in 1984 actually fell to the ground, died, and bore forth the fruit of life. This moment is that one described in The Freedom Dance when I stood before a large and beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary while attending a retreat in the Pocono Mountains. That moment I looked up at her, I was healed body and soul of a terrible condition. That healing was the first step in changing my world view.
The six-day retreat was silent whereby we passed our days barely speaking a word to each other. It was a most rewarding time spiritually, one that gave me the opportunity to stop, be silent, and listen to God in my heart and in the depths of my soul.
I specifically remember attending the next session the day after my intimate and deeply moving experience with the Virgin Mary whereby the retreat master brought to our attention a scripture passage that is now my personal battle cry, the motto on my imagined coat of arms. That scripture is Mathew 6:33:
“Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on God’s saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well.”
How this majestic proclamation rang through my soul! It was as if Our Lord and Our Lady wrote a personal prescription to heal my devastated heart, a heart broken into tiny pieces as the result of seeking first in my life everything other than God’s kingdom. This was the verse that imbued my heart throughout the balance of the retreat. It was my personal direction from the Virgin Mary.
“Seek first the Kingdom of God” was my new first philosophy and driving force. It became the foundation for a new world view. Just as I came to know during my conversion in 1984 that Jesus was truly present in the Eucharist, that Mary was the Mother of God and my Queen, and that St. Thérèse of Lisieux was my spiritual sister, I knew immediately at that retreat over twenty years later that my life would be put in order only by redirecting my priorities and all of my values in life toward the kingdom that Jesus Christ established.
This kingdom is not of this earth; yet, it encompasses and animates this earth. This kingdom gives life to the world because it is the kingdom established by him through whom all things were made. God created heaven and earth with order, beauty, and life. I began to sense what the opening chapters of Genesis wanted to tell us. I began to see the marvelous connection between the Holy Spirit’s opening proclamation in the first chapter of Genesis and the mysteriously similar proclamation in the opening lines of the gospel of John. The Old and New Testaments dove-tailed into one simple but powerful story. God created heaven and earth, and it was through his only son Jesus Christ that it all came into being. He created us for order, virtue, and communion with God. Through Adam and Eve’s free will, humanity sought its own way to the ruin of all. Yet, God restored us through the very Son through whom we came to be. Love itself created and redeemed us. It is to Love’s kingdom that I must surrender; only then will it heal me fully and fill me with hope. This is the path of the mighty saints who walked before us over the centuries. These are the footsteps I must follow. The pathway through the mysterious land of Catholicism opened, and I saw the enchanting kingdom far in the distance. How irrelevant did the bickering philosophers and atheistic materialism of our modern world seem at that point!
I left the retreat with the sure knowledge that the answer to life’s deepest questions, the pathway to peace and happiness, and the journey of hope to the great eternity promised by God require the rejection of the world as seen through the lenses of our modern culture. Only by orienting my life to the values, philosophies, reasoning, culture, and spirit of Christ’s kingdom would I find the restoration of my life here and the hope of life resurrected hereafter.
My world view changed. I now desired heaven.