The world of podcasts is incredibly overpopulated. Every imaginable category and sub-category exists, and within each there is such a huge forest that finding that one right tree seems almost impossible.
I don’t remember exactly how or when I stumbled upon The Thomistic Institute podcast, but it was an act of divine providence. The breadth of speakers and subjects is massive, and my only real complaint is that they publish several lectures each week, and so not getting backlogged is a bit of a problem, but that’s what summers are for.
Recently, I listened to a lecture entitled “An Appraisal of Karl Rahner's Theology of Death” by Fr. John Corbett, O.P., a Dominican friar at St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati. The topic for this talk didn’t at first arouse any interest, but knowing the quality of these lectures I took a chance and was richly rewarded.
To be honest, I don’t remember much about what Rahner had to say about death or what Fr. Corbett’s appraisal of it was. What will stay with me, though, is a brilliant and truly insightful digression that came near the end of the talk where Fr. Corbett was discussing the role of angelic beings, particularly demonic angelic beings, and specifically Satan, in the events that brought about human death.
From the time of the fall of Satan - a fall precipitated by his non serviam, “I will not serve” - there has been a battle for creation, and human souls as central in that creation, between God and His faithful angels and Satan and his fallen angels. Each side has its own sense of what would constitute a rightly ordered world. God has His ideas about what kind of world is good, and Satan has his ideas, ideas that are the polar opposite of those of the Creator.
God’s ways are supernatural, “full of grace” - to use the phrase with which Gabriel greeted Mary at the Annunciation; whereas the ways of Satan, bereft of any grace or divine influence, are purely natural. Thus, both God and Satan desire the “perfection” of the world, but their ideas of “perfection” contradict each other. Here Fr. Corbett makes a brilliant point when he notes that any attempt at perfection that is devoid of God’s grace - meaning that it is done in an autonomous fashion and therefore radically secular - cannot but become demonic.
He uses as an example that of Robespierre’s “I call you all to virtue!” exhortation in front of the French National Assembly during the French Revolution. This call to “virtue” led to the Reign of Terror, and not by chance. A purely natural vision of “virtue” or call to a non-transcendent ideal like “liberty” will always end in bloodshed. Even a cursory examination of history reveals incredible atrocities performed in the name of some great political - i.e., non-transcendent - vision of paradise on earth.
We live today in a world that is the heir to the vision of people like Robespierre, a world of secular ideologies that believe that they hold the answer to the question of what is wrong with the world. The problem is, that what is wrong with the world today is what has always been wrong with the world: sin, and its most deadly iteration - pride.
Adherents of such ideologies seem unwilling to admit that these non-religious attempts at healing the world always leads to a very dark place. It is as if they had never heard that the sure sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In this, as in all things, Jesus is not only the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but He is also Sanity personified. Only when we link our virtues to Him - on a global or a personal level - can we expect to be doing not only the holy thing, but the sane thing as well.