Matt C. Abbott
November 29, 2012
Two books by Father Joseph Esper
By Matt C. Abbott

The following are the introductions to two books authored by the Rev. Joseph M. Esper, a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, and published by Queenship Publishing Company. The first is titled Defiance! The Antichrists of History and their Doomed War Against the Church. The second is titled With Mary to Jesus: Our Surest Path to Heaven. Thanks to Father Esper for allowing me to reprint these excerpts. Click here to order a copy of Defiance!. Click here to order a copy of With Mary to Jesus.



Defiance!

'. . . the Lord knows how to rescue the devout from the trial and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.' (2 Pt. 2:9)

In an article on the topic of the antichrist published about 125 years ago, a Redemptorist priest named Michael Muller recounted the story of a train in the Old West traveling at a high rate of speed one night. The passengers and crew suddenly heard the sound of something being struck on the track, and though no one aboard was injured, the train was stopped to investigate. It was discovered that a large owl had attacked the headlight at the front the train, trying to extinguish it, and a great bull had simultaneously charged at the train, trying to derail it. As the two dead animals were tossed aside, one of the passengers remarked, "I admire your courage, but condemn your judgment."

Commenting on this unusual event, Fr. Muller wrote,
    This train may be likened to the holy Catholic Church, speeding on her Heaven-sent mission, to lead men to Heaven by the light of her holy doctrine. The foolish owl, the enemy of light and the friend of darkness, represents Lucifer, who, as the Foe of God, and of the light of God's holy religion, has always been endeavoring to extinguish the light of the true religion. The bull represents the kings and emperors, the heretics and members of secret societies, whom Lucifer uses to stop, if possible, the progress of the Catholic Church, the bearer of the light of faith. Although it is hard, in a certain sense, not to marvel at the courage of Lucifer's agents, yet we cannot but condemn their judgment, their folly and wickedness, in opposing the work of God, and bringing down upon themselves the everlasting curse of the Almighty.
Centuries earlier, St. Hildegard of Bingen had noted that "The devil performs his craftiness through the work of people," and the 2000 year history of the Church amply illustrates this point. Satan usually doesn't show himself directly (except, perhaps, to those deluded souls willing to worship and serve him), but instead prefers to operate behind the scenes, manipulating weak, sinful, and ambitious men and women in order to further his diabolical plans. Part of the reason he does this is his desire to ape God: just as the Holy Spirit normally works in quiet ways (cf. Jn. 3:8) noticeable only to those who see with the eyes of faith, so the devil likes to set his traps and pull his strings without anyone being aware of it, craftily ensnaring his unsuspecting victims and leading them to spiritual destruction.

Perhaps the major reason for Lucifer's secrecy, however, is simply that the Lord doesn't allow him to force us to choose evil. The devil must respect our free will — and, naturally, his temptations are most effective when we have no inkling of their true origin. God, of course, to avoid overwhelming our freedom, rarely shows Himself to us in a direct manner; He instead works through other people and through the grace-filled events of life as an expression of His loving providence. Satan, on the other hand, as the "father of lies" (8:44), follows a policy of "plausible deniability" in order to deceive the unwary and prevent his victims from repenting of their sins and accepting the divine gift of forgiveness and redemption.

The devil has always made use of willing, and usually (though not always) unsuspecting, agents in his efforts to destroy the Church, tempting and enticing them with promises of earthly power and glory. Moreover, as the great Russian author Feodor Dostoevsky noted, "Whoever has experienced the power, the unrestrained ability to humiliate another human being . . . automatically loses power over his own sensations. Tyranny is a habit, it has its own organic life, it develops finally into a disease."

If Jesus is indeed the "Alpha and the Omega" (Rev. 22:13) and the Lord of history, why is the devil given such great freedom to assault spiritually unaware and defenseless persons in general, and the Church in particular? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, "God, despite His omnipotence and supreme goodness, allows evils He could prevent to exist in the world, if removing them would cause greater good to be lost or greater evil to ensue." That is, the Lord is using Satan's attempts at destroying the Church to bring about her even more glorious triumph. In the words of St. Paul, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God" (Rm. 8:28), and as the popular expression reminds us, "God writes straight with crooked lines."

If evil seems to gain the upper hand at any given time in history, a greater divine purpose is being served — often in the form of a warning to humanity. According to author Michael H. Brown,
    When a society sinned or when the Church needed cleansing God, in His wisdom, gave that society a glimpse of hell. He did this by allowing exposure to the demon. It was a simple truism: sin brought the devil. When a person was living out of tune with the Commandments that person was especially exposed to both attack and deception — the false glamour, the self-importance, the shining elements.
Some 150 years ago, the English convert (and eventual cardinal of the Church) Ven. John Henry Newman recognized a clear link between sin and the rise of Satan's specially chosen servants. As explained by the Jesuit scholar Fr. Vincent P. Miceli,
    In every case of a forerunner of the Antichrist, Newman demonstrates how the apostasy of the people from the true God prepared the coming of these heralds and types of the Antichrist and led to the wholesale slaughter of a religious society. First the people of God in large numbers discarded their sacred religion and then the enemy was allowed to come in. The great apostasy is always the harbinger of the shadows and substance of the Antichrist. The Jews first abandoned God, then came Antiochus; Christians fell away into Arianism, then arose Julian the Apostate and the persecution; the heresies of Nestorianism and Eutychianism destroyed the faith of millions, then came Muhammad. The agnosticism and atheism of the Enlightenment paved the way for the Reign of Terror under Robespierre and the Jacobins.
Jesus had warned that wickedness rushes to fill a spiritual vacuum (cf. Mt. 12:43-35), and in the words of the English poet William Blake, "Man must and will have religion: if he has not the religion of Jesus, he will have the religion of Satan and will erect a synagogue of Satan."

The struggle between good and evil will reach its culmination just before the Lord's Second Coming, but it's been waged with ever-growing intensity throughout history — and we ourselves are unavoidably caught up in it. At the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla (who would become Pope John Paul II two years later) stated,
    We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think the wide circle of American society, or the wide circle of the Christian community, realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel, between Christ and the Antichrist. This confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is therefore within God's plans and must be a trial which the Church must take up and face courageously.
Lucifer, the original rebel against God (cf. Is. 14:12-15; Rev. 12:7-9), has been unrelenting in his efforts to destroy the Church, and in every era of history has raised up opponents, with varying degrees of arrogance, ruthlessness, or subtlety, to resist and undermine the one True Faith. Jesus warned His disciples to expect to be hated by this world (Jn. 15:18-19) — a hatred motivating entire societies and institutions, in addition to specific individuals.

Furthermore, as Michael H. Brown writes, the great beast of Rev. 12 symbolizes the spirit of antichrist, and possibly the Antichrist himself. The spirit of antichrist rears its ugly head in every generation, especially at the end of most epochs. When it infuses a person, when it takes someone over, that person, if powerful enough, becomes a forerunner of the Antichrist, an antichrist in miniature.

The more God's Commandments are ignored or [flouted], the more His truth and grace are rejected, and the more His Church is despised and opposed, the greater the power of sin becomes in the world — and thus, a yet stronger role and influence for the servants of Satan. Jesus observed that the children of this world often show great initiative in seeking their own advancement (Lk. 16:8), and indeed, the devil has never lacked for servants eager to do his bidding.

This book is an attempt to identify the more prominent historical precursors of the Antichrist, and then draw some general conclusions about the character of the person Scripture calls the "one doomed to perdition" (2 Th. 2:3). Many of the figures to be presented here were (or are) important in a military or political sense, but others have also exercised great influence in the fields of philosophy, psychology, science, economics, entertainment, the occult, and even religion.

There are stories of ruthless persecution of the Church, and of subtle — and thus, all the more dangerous — challenges to the Faith. The Antichrist's precursors have been motivated by pride, greed, and lust, and also by sincere but misguided religious beliefs. Many of Satan's servants had no idea of whom they were actually serving, but some knowingly and willingly embraced him as their master, only to die in delusion or despair after inevitably being betrayed by him. Some of the characters in this tragic historical drama vehemently rejected the God of Judeo-Christian tradition, while a few more-or-less honestly believed they were working in His Name. The majority of the Church's opponents to be described herein died alienated from God, but several of them sincerely repented at the end — giving us every reason to hope for their salvation.

Only Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, is worthy to open the scroll containing God's final judgment on human history (Rev. 5:6,9), and it isn't given to us to know in advance when this judgment will occur (cf. Mt. 24:36). However, it is possible for us to find reassurance in regard to our own times by reminding ourselves of the historical storms already weathered by the Church. As early as the late 1st century, St. John could write that "many antichrists have appeared" (1 Jn. 2:18), and even a cursory review of Church history makes his words seem timely for every generation of Christians. Satan continues to sow weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt. 13:38-39), and some of these "weeds" are truly dangerous — but no matter how great their temporary success may be in bringing about a certain degree of hell on earth, their rebellion against Almighty God is ultimately and irrevocably doomed. The Father has made all things subject to Jesus (Eph. 1:22), and as the Bride of Christ (cf. Eph. 5:31-32), the Church will share in His coming victory, with each faithful Christian invited to celebrate the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).

Christ has not abandoned His people. He assures us not only that He has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33), but also that the gates of hell will never prevail against His Church (Mt. 16:18), and that the Holy Spirit will be with us always (Jn. 14:16), guiding us to all truth (Jn. 16:13) and righteousness. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to obey St. Paul's exhortation to "rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, [and] persevere in prayer" (Rm. 12:12) — and, after living in this spirit, we will take our place among those who, at the end of time, joyfully acclaim the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 20:16).



With Mary to Jesus

Every August 15, devout Catholics in some small Italian villages celebrate the Feast of Our Lady's Assumption into Heaven with two simultaneous processions, each starting at opposite ends of the town. One procession carries a statue of Mary toward the town square; this represents Our Lady rising up to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. The other procession also travels to the square, carrying a statue of Jesus; this symbolizes Him going forth to welcome His Mother into His Kingdom. When the processions arrive at the town square and meet under an arch of branches and flowers, the statues are made to bow to each other three times; this stands for Mary's worship of her Son, and Christ's exaltation of His Mother. Then the villagers form one procession, carrying the two statues side by side into church for the Liturgy of the Assumption of Our Lady.

Whether in the traditionally Catholic nations of Europe, the vibrant mission lands of Africa, those American states where the Church has a strong presence, or anywhere else in the world, we Catholics are rightly known for the honor we give to Mary, the Mother of God. Indeed, it's hard to be considered a good Catholic without having a deep love for the Blessed Virgin.

In addition to the religious influence exercised on society through the Marian devotion of many of the world's one billion Catholics, Our Lady has made her own mark on popular culture. For instance, in Great Britain the common descriptive term "bloody," used in everyday conversations, is actually a contraction of the expression "By the Lady," referring to Mary. Here in the United States, a "Hail Mary" pass in a football game is a desperate attempt to score a touchdown when a team is a long way from the end zone with time expiring (the implication being that the quarterback has to throw the ball as far as he can, while praying for a miraculous catch by one of his teammates). A promising cancer drug developed in Hungary was named "Avemar" by its creator (a contraction of Ave Maria, or Hail Mary) in thanksgiving for Our Lady's timely assistance in obtaining the funding needed for continued research.

Mary is the subject of many religious icons, paintings, and works of music, such as Michelangelo's Pieta and Schubert's Ave Maria; she is also the center of much popular devotion and theological speculation, and numerous saints have sung her praises. For example, Ven. John Henry Newman wrote, "In her, the destinies of the world were to be reversed, and the serpent's head bruised. In her was the greatest honor ever put upon any individual of our fallen race. God was taking upon Him her flesh, and humbling Himself to be her offspring — such is the deep mystery!"

The mystic St. Gertrude the Great stated, "I saw the heart of the Virgin Mother so bathed by rivers of grace flowing out from the Blessed Trinity that I understood the privilege Mary has of being the most powerful after God the Father, the wisest after God the Son, and the most benign after God the Holy Spirit." The great Mother of God is also His humblest servant; according to St. John Vianney, "She regarded herself as the least of all creatures."

Mary is worthy of the highest possible praise — but Catholicism has always insisted that in honoring her, a proper balance must be maintained. Our primary focus in worship and prayer is never Mary herself, but her Son Jesus. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ" (n. 487). Jesus and Mary are forever linked together, and those who try to separate them are in danger of losing their faith entirely. As one Catholic historian notes, the more one questions the Church's teaching on Our Lady, the more likely it is he'll end up questioning or doubting what the Church teaches and proclaims about Jesus Himself.

For this reason, this book attempts to offer a reasonably thorough, yet easily-understandable, presentation and explanation of our Catholic understanding of, and devotion to, the Blessed Virgin Mary. St. John Bosco had a famous vision or dream in which the Bark of Peter, the Church, was in grave danger of being capsized by a fierce storm at sea. The Holy Father saw two great pillars rising up from the sea, and was given to understand that by anchoring the Church between them, all would be well. The taller of the two pillars was surmounted by a large Eucharistic Host, and labeled Salus Credentium ("Salvation of the Faithful"). On top of the second, smaller, pillar was a statue of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and was labeled Auxilium Christianorum ("Help of Christians").

This vision seems to point to our own day: an era marked by religious division and confusion, moral uncertainty, and the loss of faith on the part of millions of nominal Catholics — with ongoing and ever-growing threats from an increasingly secularized, hostile, and, indeed, anti-religious world. Catholics and other Christians need, perhaps more than ever before, not only a personal commitment to holiness, but also a commitment to heroism — and a deepened devotion to Mary is an indispensable element in living out this type of faith. Not only is Our Lady the only human who, with the help of God's grace, completely prevailed over Satan by never consenting to sin in the slightest degree (a heroic struggle we can only begin to imagine); she, as the perfect intercessor, is also our most powerful helper and example in our efforts to remain faithful followers of Jesus, Who is the only source of salvation.

The Virgin Mary was truly heroic in her generous love, her humble obedience, and her spirit of complete self-sacrifice. Rather than being a "plastic saint," she was, and is, a living person — one who loves us more than we can imagine, and one who in turn deserves our highest possible love and respect. Coming to know Mary in a profoundly personal way, and coming to love her as our Mother, is indeed a simple and reliable way of learning to know and love Jesus, and thus a certain path leading to eternal life.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He has been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR and WLS-TV in Chicago, and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.

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