I can think of only two really famous twentieth-century monsignors. I’m excluding Fulton Sheen since he went on to be a bishop—and I’m too modest to put myself on the list!
The two famous monsignors were both writers and both were received into the Catholic Church from the Church of England. Both of them were the sons of Anglican archbishops, one who was even the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Monsignor Ronald Knox was a brilliant wit and a classical scholar. His one-man translation of the Bible is a beautiful book and just one literary accomplishment among many.
But it’s Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson whom I want to introduce this morning, for a particular reason.
Unlike the more scholarly Monsignor Knox, Benson was a writer of popular fiction, including some ghost and horror stories. Most of what he wrote is now forgotten—except for one book. That book, which he wrote in 1907, is not a horror story but it was the most frightening book I have ever read.
It took me weeks to read Lord of the World,* because I could only manage a few pages at a time. It’s what’s called a dystopian novel—a novel, like Huxley’s Brave New World twenty-five years later, that presents the opposite of utopia: a society of darkness and oppression.
Lord of the World could be called science fiction, but it’s also a work of prophecy and warning. Both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have said so.
I’m not writing a book review here—although Pope Francis himself apologized to reporters for giving a commercial for the book during an interview.
I’m talking about Lord of the World because it opens a window into the world of euthanasia.
As I said, the book could be called science fiction. One of the most amazing things that appears is air travel. Just four years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Benson describes airliners, which he calls volors.
Early in the book, a volor crashes in London. As you’d expect, medical experts rush to the scene. But not to save life—to end it. Ministers of Euthanasia arrive and begin to finish off the wounded and dying.
That’s not even the most chilling look at euthanasia. Oliver Brand is a senior cabinet minister in the godless Government, and when his wife has his mother is euthanized against her will, screaming for a priest, he is sad but approves.
Later, we see Oliver Brand in great panic when his wife disappears. In fact, she has checked in to a cozy euthanasia clinic where privacy laws ensure even a cabinet minister cannot find her until she has ended her life.
What’s my point here? Why speak at Mass about a novel instead of today’s Gospel? Simply this: euthanasia is not just letting other people kill themselves. That’s always been possible. It’s about harnessing the medical and legal apparatus of the state to assist in suicide, as Canada continues to descend the slippery slope.
And when I use the term “slippery slope” in this context, I’m not talking about driving conditions. I first heard of the slippery slope when I was in high school, many years ago. It was in the context of abortion. Many pro-lifers warned that abortion would lead to more and more disrespect of human life. It seemed a bit alarmist. Well, they were right.
The bulletin today follows a message I sent out this week to all of you registered for our Flocknote e-mail and text network. It reminds us that the Government of Canada is conducting an on-line pollabout euthanasia and asking all of us to respond.
Do I think your views on euthanasia really matter to the government? Not really. But I think it matters a great deal if Catholics throw up their hands and step back from the public square. Failing to respond to the on-line questionnaire makes us in a small way part of the problem, part of the moral apathy that allows the state to violate the dignity of human life, especially vulnerable human life.
What’s up for grabs is not “medical assistance in dying,” as it’s called. We have that already. The issue is moving from suicide to, let’s name it, murder. Because so-called involuntary euthanasia is just that.
The bulletin quotes famous words by Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor in Nazi Germany:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
It doesn’t take much imagination to add “the physically handicapped, the mentally challenged, and the elderly” to that.
So let’s speak out. Let’s answer the questionnaire, after reading the guide to it that the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has on its website.
I hope no-one is annoyed that I didn’t talk about this morning’s beautiful Gospel. What we did, though not in so many words, was reflect on what St. John Paul called “the Gospel of Life.”
Lord of the World is available on Amazon.ca in various editions. The Wikipedia entry contains a thorough plot summary. Since the novel is in the public domain, free e-books are available in a variety of formats. The American Catholic publisher Baronius Press sells a nice hardcover, although I think the cover (see above) is unattractive (as perhaps it's meant to be!).