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Once again the media made a point to emphasize the "frail pope" in every story on his trip to Nigeria. Once in a while they mentioned that the temperature was in the high nineties with humidity to match. Again, we hammer home the point that we know of no 77-years old who keeps the kind of non-stop schedule John Paul maintains constantly. But the liberals within the media want to continue to subliminally give the impression that this "feeble, old man" should be replaced. Folks, he'll be replaced when God determines it's time to call his beloved and loyal pope-son home, and not until then! Please tell us of any other global leader in present time, or for that matter, over the course of this entire century and before that who had so much impact in a topsy-turvy world where morals have gone askew and the only sane voice emanating anywhere originates in Rome. He initiated the decline of communism, he has brought despots to their knees in submission to his stern plea for justice, he has not been timid in dealing with presidents, premiers, kings, queens, diplomats and celebrities in asserting what is right. And he has done so in such a gentle, but loving manner that it rarely offends anyone outright, but sure gets them to do some serious soul-searching, even though some have their minds already made up - have already made their pact with the devil. If anyone can bring peace to Kosovo, to Iraq, to Africa, to Cuba; if anyone can establish diplomatic relations with Red China, can make inroads with the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches, can carry the flame of truth to the third world countries and stand against the promoters of the culture of death and not blink - it is John Paul the Great! Pope Leo I received that title, as did Pope Saint Gregory the Great and a few others have had that label added after their name such as the Greek conquerer Alexander and the man who opened Rome to the Catholic Church Constantine the Great. Few in the last several centuries can claim such a lofty title or deserve it. Such men as Abraham Lincoln, Pope Leo XIII, Pope Saint Pius X, and Winston Churchill could be considered, but all would pale in comparison to the quiet accomplishments of this modern-day saint who we all know is in the twilight of a holy and dedicated life to His Lord and Master and that Master's special Holy Mother to whom John Paul has dedicated his entire papacy to. We pray that he can outlast his critics, that God will keep him with us for a few more years, years that will test our very fiber both in the Church and in the world.
Our Lady has foretold visionaries and messengers from Rue de Bac on that these times we are presently in will be the culmination of all she foretold in preparation for the Second Pentecost, the New Advent, the Era of Peace, the glorious Reign of the Sacred Heart. But before this renewal can happen, there must be a purification both throughout the earth and within man's heart and soul. This purification - a form of chastisement - is upon us and will grow steadily more severe as we near the millennium. But we have Our Lady's messages to Father Don Stefano Gobbi in which she confirmed that her Immaculate Heart, which she promised at Fatima would be victorious, would be just that before the end of this millennium. Folks, that's less than two years!!! And besides the Blessed Mother, who else is preparing us for this? None other than that "frail, weak old man" who should go down as one of the greatest heroes in modern history. But he's not looking for the plaudits or for the recognition from the world, for like the Jewish Carpenter he follows, his "kingdom" - his domain is not of this earth. He is the spiritual leader of our Church and in the last few decades he has been the spiritual leader of the world. But, like that Man Who was hailed on Sunday and hung on a cross on Friday, he knows the persecution ahead and willingly accepts the cup...not for himself, but for those who he loves and cares so deeply for - all God's children! Heed him, help him, pray for him.
Meanwhile, when word reached Frederick of the Pope's actions, he was furious and retaliated by reoccupying the papal states and meddling heavily in ecclesial affairs, intimidating many bishops. Before he could do any further damage, Frederick died on December 13, 1250 and the Hohenstaufen throne passed to his second son Conrad IV who was in the same mold as his infamous father. Innocent continued to preach a Crusade as did St. Louis, but their foes were different. While Innocent was obsessed with bringing Frederick down, the holy French king saw the real enemy as the Moslems and pushed for that cause. Because of Louis' influence, Innocent was not able to muster the necessary muscle to push Frederick or Conrad out. Though he tried, the weak candidates he endorsed were too divided to create any progress. Innocent raised the further ire of Conrad when the former began shopping the the throne of Sicily around Europe in hopes of weakening the latter and gaining a strong ally to the south. But, those who might have coveted such a crown, hesitated to come forward for they greatly feared retaliation by Conrad for the new German king had ransacked Italy out of revenge for the Popes' treatment of his father. Yet, in a surprising twist, Conrad bequeathed his own son to Innocent's care when he died on May 21, 1254. With Conrad's death, Frederick's illegitimate son Manfred took control. In deference to his half brother Conrad who had given his only son for the Pope to care for, he did not go after the Pope. This strange and short alliance caused him to proclaim Innocent as overlord of Sicily. But Innocent didn't waste a moment in annexing it into the papal states and this was not Manfred's intent. The new king rebelled by routing the papal troops at Foggia. It seemed to be the last straw for shortly after word of this devasting defeat reached Innocent in residence in Naples and suffering greatly with pluerisy, the crotchety pontiff died on December 7, 1254.
The Church, due to the constant bickering and ego between Frederick/Conrad and Gregory/Innocent was greatly weakened. Though Innocent is still hailed as the "warrior who slayed the Hohenstaufen dragon," and for his contributions to Church Law and contributions to scholastics throughout Europe, he will unfortunately go down in papal annals as one who abused his privileges of the papacy and alienated many Christian leaders and nations throughout the continent. Rather than bringing people together, he had divided them. Save for Saint Louis, who had little time or patience for the method of this pontiff, but was loyal because of the office Innocent held and what it meant, many turned away from the Pope and active participation in the Church. It would make it that much more difficult for future generations of evangelists and missionaries who had to replant the seeds, re-educate the people and assure them of the Church's true intention to serve them, rather than being served as untouchable royalty.
Next installment: Pope Alexander IV - Trying to pick up the pieces and reestablish trust
To review all past installments of this on-going series, go to Archives beginning with the inaugural A CALL TO PEACE internet issue in January 1996. volume 7, no. 1.
I am seized with terror and I donít understand why. It paralyses me and though I want to run, I find I am rooted to this spot where two small alley-like streets join. Far in the distance there can be heard a rumble. It grows. I turn in that direction and realize it is the ever-growing crowd near the Temple area which has heard of Jesusí arrest. There is even a faint reddish glow visible - the bonfires and torches.
But here, this lower street, is one of poverty and the residents are not about. Yet one must be because I hear the running steps, the pause, the footsteps along the rough street.
And from around the corner comes a figure, mantle flying out behind him; he runs haphazardly, constantly looking over his shoulder, trying to keep moving but hesitation as if he can hear his pursuers.
As he comes into the street where I stand pressed against a wall of thick stone, he pauses with his back to me. He pants. His hair is damp with perspiration, his clothing muddied and ripped where he has apparently fallen during his flight. He cocks his head. What is it he hears? The rumble of the distant crows? Does he know of Jesusí arrest?
He turns and now I see his face. The face of the betrayer - Judas Iscariot. I want to melt into the wall, so wild does he look. His eyes roll.
Saliva drips from his mouth like a mad, rabid dog. He presses his hands, which are dirty, scraped and bleeding in places and, shaking his head back and forth, moans in a hoarse, beastly cry: "No! Stop. The words burn me."
And then I am able to hear what he is hearing. Not from anyone standing beside him, but the very last vestiges of conscience and soul in their death agony.
NEXT INSTALLMENT: Part Two of Lesson 9: THE ISCARIOT IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE BETRAYAL
Godís part works in several ways. He wants us, first of all, to know that faith comes from Him as a gift (Acts 3:16; I Corinthians 12:9), and that He is the builder of our faith (Hebrews 12:2; John 17:19). Realizing that He both gives and develops our faith opens us to growth. Jesus pleads (John 14:1), "Believe in God, believe in me." This starts the growth process.
The second step in Godís operation of cultivating faith is to teach us through experience. Our faith is fed when we see God intervene dramatically in our own or othersí lives. Before I became involved in the charismatic renewal, I had some level of faith. But after witnessing a crescendo of extraordinary healings and other events, and after hearing countless amazing testimonies, my level of faith has grown. It has been fertilized by what Iíve seen happening in the lives of these people. It is now easier to believe not just that God could do it but that He would do it, not just that He can do it but that He will do it. I didnít have that kind of faith ten years ago, or even three years ago, as much as I have it now. I have come to expect God to work miracles and the hope of my own faith increasing (II Corinthians 10:15). When I open my mail and read almost daily of someone being healed, or a marriage that was near divorce now featuring a couple madly in love, I come to expect such divine interventions. It is no longer a rare thing. Through these experiences, my faith is built.
We come to have more faith in the person of Jesus as we read and meditate on the miracles of Jesus. Contemporaneously, as we see the power of God operating intimately (even though subtly) in our life, and then focus on Jesus as the cause of that, we come to grow in our faith in Him. From an event-oriented observation we arrive at a person-oriented faith. In the words of Jesus (John 14:11): "At least believe in me because of the works I perform."
A third way in which the Lord works at building our faith is directly. God directly imparts the charismatic gift of faith to us, particularly after receiving the Baptism in the Spirit. Or, He may impart astonishing faith during times of deep contemplative prayer, when He seems to speak to us in a very clear way. Paul implies this in Colossians 1:9: "Ask God to make you wise about spiritual things. Thus, you will come to know God better and better."
The more we come to know the Lord directly, and experience His reality (Ephesians 3:19), the more we will exercise our faith. God will start to work minor miracles in our life "rewarding our faith with His power" (II Thessalonians 1:11). Dozens of times a day we begin to notice happy and exciting, yet extraordinary "coincidences," and these start occurring with increasing frequency. They are Godís whisperings of love for us, spawned by our growth in faith. For instance, a tax rebate arrives in the mail when you need it most, or a much desired item is found at a super bargain price. Such "little things" become commonplace and almost staggering in their consistent occurrence. This builds our person-oriented faith in the Lord because it is as if God were saying, "See? I am taking care of you because I love you!"
In summary, the three main ways God develops our faith are by responding to our God-centered trust, by granting us experiences of extraordinary or miraculous things happening in our life, and finally by directly and sovereignty imparting His faith to us (often manifested by extraordinary "coincidences"). In these three ways, God reaches us to stimulate our growth in faith. So much for Godís part in the process.
Next Installment: Vertical Growth:Our Cooperation
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