Men with Antlers

•September 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

“Not since the arrival of Christianity have pagans flourished as they do now.”
– from the BBC Report “Record number of pagans celebrate winter solstice in UK”

In the video clip linked above from the BBC, you will learn of the rise of paganism in modern-day Britain. You will see a train of men, women and children being led to an outdoor site of worship by a young man beating a drum and wearing a costume with antlers protruding from his head.

There was a time when leaders within the Catholic Church took seriously their mandate from Christ to “teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you…” The Venerable Bede tells us of such men and how, in their time, they accomplished their mission to convert the pagans of Britain:

As soon as they entered the dwelling place assigned them, they began to imitate the course of life practiced in the primitive church : applying themselves to frequent prayer, watching, and fasting; preaching the word of life to as many as they could; despising all worldly things, as not belonging to them; receiving only their necessary food from those they taught; living in all respects conformably to what they prescribed to others, and being always disposed to suffer any adversity, and even to die for that truth which they preached. In short, several believed and were baptized, admiring the simplicity of their innocent life and the sweetness of their heavenly doctrine.

There was on the east side of the city a church dedicated to St. Martin, built whilst the Romans were still in the island, wherein the queen, who, as has been said before, was a Christian, used to pray. In this they first began to meet, to sing, to pray, to say mass, to preach and to baptize, till the king, being converted to the faith, allowed them to preach openly and to build or repair churches in all places.

When he among the rest, induced by the unspotted life of these holy men and their delightful promises, which, by many miracles, they proved to be most certain, believed and was baptized, greater numbers began daily to flock together to hear the word and, forsaking their heathen rites,to associate themselves, by believing, to the unity of the Church of Christ.

Such was the method of St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Gregory the Great’s ambassador to England, and his companions: “frequent prayer, watching, and fasting; preaching the word of life to as many as they could; despising all worldly things, as not belonging to them; receiving only their necessary food from those they taught; living in all respects conformably to what they prescribed to others, and being always disposed to suffer any adversity, and even to die for that truth which they preached.”

Would it be an exaggeration to say that such qualities are in short-supply today among our priests and bishops, or for that matter, among all of us who profess faith in Christ and so ought to be leading others to Him as befits our particular station in life? Do we not appear, spiritually-speaking, as ridiculous as the poor soul pictured above, in comparison to such a man as St. Augustine of Canterbury? With such poor witnesses as we, who can blame those who look elsewhere for their spiritual bread?

Here is St. Gregory rejoicing over the fruit that an example of sanctity bore among the pagans of Britain in his time:

Who, dear brother, is capable of describing the great joy of believers when they have learned what the grace of Almighty God and your own cooperation achieved among the Angles? They abandoned the errors of darkness and were bathed with the light of holy faith. With full awareness they trampled on the idols which they had previously adored with savage fear. They are now committed to Almighty God. The guidelines given them for their preaching restrain them from falling into evil ways. In their minds they are submissive to the divine precepts and consequently feel uplifted. They bow down to the ground in prayer lest their minds cling too closely to earthly things. Whose achievement is this? It is the achievement of him who said: My Father is at work until now and I am at work as well.

God chose illiterate preachers and sent them into the world in order to show the world that conversion is brought about not by men’s wisdom but rather by his own power. So in like manner God worked through weak instruments and wrought great things among the Angles. Dear brother, in this heavenly gift there is something which should inspire us with great fear and great joy.

To whom would St. Gregory write such a bissfully devout letter today? Would he not rather write a lamentation for the apparent absence of such “illiterate preachers” and “weak instruments” for His use, such as St. Augustine of Canterbury? Would he not write a sorrowful note for the resurgence of paganism, and so of the ways of perdition, with no sign of abatement, in his beloved England?

Would he not also, though, take decisive action to root out those within the Church who do the most harm to it and its mission? St. Gregory wrote: “Hence also it is written through the prophet, A snare for the downfall of my people are evil priests Hosea 5:1; 9:8. Hence again the Lord through the prophet says of the priests, They are made to be for a stumbling-block of iniquity to the house of Israel. For certainly no one does more harm in the Church than one who has the name and rank of sanctity, while he acts perversely.” (Pastoral Rule – Book I, Chapter 2)

The abuse scandal – both the abuses themselves and the inadequate and dishonorable handling of them – that has rocked Britain and other nations has done immense harm both to the lives of many victims and to the hope of bringing more souls closer to Christ through His Church. May St. Gregory the Great’s example and writings guide the Church today, and may he and St. Augustine of Canterbury intercede for us now.

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Prayer for the Feast of Saint Augustine of Canterbury
O God, Who by the preaching and miracles of blessed Augustine, Thy Confessor and Bishop, didst vouchsafe to shed upon the English people the light of the true faith; grant that, through his intercession, the hearts of those that have gone astray may return to the unity of Thy truth, and that we may be of one mind in doing Thy will. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one world without end. Amen.

(from the Collect for the Feast of St. Augustine of Canterbury)

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Prayer to Saint Gregory, Pope and Confessor
O invincible defender of Holy Church’s freedom, Saint Gregory of great renown, by that firmness thou didst show in maintaining the Church’s rights against all her enemies, stretch forth from heaven thy mighty arm, we beseech thee, to comfort her and defend her in the fearful battle she must ever wage with the powers of darkness. Do thou, in an especial manner, give strength in this dread conflict to the venerable Pontiff who has fallen heir not only to thy throne, but likewise to the fearlessness of thy mighty heart; obtain for him the joy of beholding his holy endeavors crowned by the triumph of the Church and the return of the lost sheep into the right path. Grant, finally, that all may understand how vain it is to strive against that faith which has always conquered and is destined always to conquer: “this is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith.” This is the prayer that we raise to thee with one accord; and we are confident, that, after thou has heard our prayers on earth, thou wilt one day call us to stand with thee in heaven, before the eternal High Priest, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth world without end. Amen.

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