Lil Nas X’s Gift to the Church: Theological Clarity

by Anthony Costello

Recently I wrote an article about Cardi B.’s smash hit, WAP, a song that, as I argued, stands in line with a long history of existentialist thought about the nature of the human person and our desire for liberation. That song and its performer, along with their philosophical and literary predecessors, articulate what could be called a “theologia diaboli” or theology of the devil. Now, somewhat more explicitly, another cultural poet has presented us with a very similar kind of anti-theology. Lil Nas X’s “Montero” is for most Christians an example of a culture going down in flames, corrupted to the point of no return. In many ways, they are right. It is that.

However, in spite of the graphic nature of the song and its accompanying visuals (which really are quite powerful, and quite repulsive), Lil Nas has done the Church a great favor. He has, with profound theological clarity, given us a stark vision of the real battle that exists between Heaven and Hell, between God and Satan; a battle with man caught in the middle and that is being fundamentally fought over the estate of his soul. Of course, while Nas’ video and his new “Satan Shoes” can be quickly dismissed by people of various religious commitments, for those who are dedicated to influencing the culture for Christ, phenomena like these should not be passed over too lightly, or with mere visceral outrage. Like Cardi, Nas too has his literary and philosophical forefathers, most of whom have been read and taught for centuries, their work today often going under the title “Classics.”

Rousseau, The Romantics and The Poets of Today

In an excellent new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, theologian Carl Trueman gives a brief history of the shift from a classical Christian view of man as born in depravity, i.e. the Augustinian view,1 see Augustine’s Confessions, where he articulates the doctrine of original sin and the need for God’s grace in the most memorable of ways, “Man is one of your creatures, Lord, and his instinct is to praise you. He bears about him the mark of death, the sign of his own sin, to remind him that you thwart the proud. But still, since he is a part of your creation, he wishes to praise you. The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no rest until they rest in you.” (Confessions, Book I.1) to a view of man born in innocence only to be corrupted by society. This view was enunciated most profoundly, to the Church’s chagrin, by the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau. Rousseau’s own autobiography, Confessions, parodied Augustine’s 1,300 year-old conversion story, coming to the very different conclusion about man’s natural state. For Augustine, the thieving of pears as a young man could be attributed to his own desire to do evil and his taking pleasure in the criminal act. For Rousseau, alternatively, the act of stealing some vegetables was because he was “cajoled” into it by an outside pressure, a socializing force. Apart from society pressing on his will, he [Rousseau] never would have thought to do wrong or commit a social ill. It was not in him to do evil, nor in anyone else. As such, the whole understanding of the origin of bad behavior and the nature of moral culpability was turned on its head with Rousseau and his anthropological turn toward man being “born free, but everywhere in chains.”2 Trueman outlines this drastic change in Western thought in Chapter 3 of the book, “The Other Genevan: Jean-Jaques Rousseau and the Foundations of Modern Selfhood”

However, Rousseau’s new philosophy of natural man and innate goodness3 Not that it was genuinely “new” since there are no truly new ideas in the course of human events. needed a transmitter to the broader culture. Not many today, let alone in the 18th century, had access to books or lectures on philosophy, the new science of rationalism, and this new characterization of human nature. It was in the domain of the elite where such ideas were peddled, and, therefore, some other medium was needed to educate the people. As such, it came down to the artists of the day, the poets, to transmit this new expressivism to the public at large. For if man was truly born free, and if his most intimate thoughts and desires, those parts still “unsocialized,” were his “true self,” then to express that true inner self would mean liberation from the world’s chains. The artists who acted as the translators of this view came to be called the “Romantics” and their weapons were their poetic words, and their mission was to liberate man from social norms. Men like Wordsworth, Shelley, and Blake in the English speaking world, and Schiller and Goethe on the continent, gave voice through verse to the longings of the true and authentic “inner man.”

This poetry was not “mere entertainment”4 Trueman, Rise and Triumph, 132 therefore, but the means “to connect human beings to that which truly makes them human.”5 Trueman, 132. The realm of emotions was the source of knowledge for the Romantics, and verse was their instrument of expression. While the great thinkers utilized poetry to make commentary on everything from government to nature to industry, one major, if not primary, socializing institution to attack through lyric was that of religion. In particular, the sexual ethics of old Testament Judaism and its only somewhat milder successor, Christianity, was in the cross-hairs for the Romantics’ quill and inkwell. In Shelley’s classic Queen Mab, chastity as a virtue comes under direct assault:

Unchecked by dull and selfish chastity,
that virtue of the cheaply virtuous,
Who pride themselves in senselessness and frost.

Queen Mab, Canto 9.84-86

Chastity, which could translate either into celibacy6 i.e. life-long singleness, along the lines of those who take religious orders or life-long, monogamous heterosexual marriage between adults7 The term “adult” would not mean the same today as it did in the 18th century, but religious condemnation against marriages between people of age and children would have been present in Shelley’s day just like today. was, according to poets like Shelley and also Blake, “dull” and even “selfish.” It was a cheap virtue, at best. And those who strove for it were senseless and cold. This, at that time, iconoclastic attitude toward sexual norms was not only a scathing critique of the actions of a medieval saint like Francis of Assisi, but of his entire countenance and being. A ascetic like Francis simply could not have been a kind and loving person, let alone cheerful! Now, according to the poets, the saints of old were not just boring, but in their pursuit of purity they were selfish, inhumane, and heartless.

Three factors then have lead us to where we are today as we contemplate Lil Nas’ own form of lyricism: First, is the dramatic break from the view of man as an innately sinful creature, who, in virtue of that sin nature, builds corrupted societies, toward the validation and celebration of the inner self over and against the oppression of corrupted society. Second, is the use of the poetic arts as the mechanism of transmission to express the inner self, a self that is equivalent to one’s deepest feelings. Finally, there is the focus on the “oppression” of traditional religion, in particular the Judeo-Christian tradition, of the natural sexual drives and longings of man. Once we have this historical framework in place, a movement of thought and action that goes back almost 400 years, we can now see that the idea Lil Nas has presented through his song and video is really nothing new. In fact, it is by and large the same message as that of the Romantics, now just technologically supercharged to enhance the experience and reach an even greater number of “the masses.” The Romantics of today are the pop stars and entertainers, the music and movie makers, who utilize the media for both influence and, perhaps unlike their literary predecessors, for profit.

As such, Lil Nas may very appropriately be seen as the Shelley or Blake of today, if not in style, at least in substance. Minimally he is no different than D.H. Lawrence or a young Oscar Wilde, not to mention the likes of a Marquis de Sade, each of whom stirred the same controversy in their times as Nas in his. Still, Lil’ Nas has done us the favor of placing his particular ode to the inner man in an explicitly biblical framework and with explicitly biblical imagery; an artistic choice that at least makes it easy for people to “get” what is going on. That is, assuming they know some basic theology.

The Theology of the Devil: The Endless Struggle for Power and Dominion

Nas’ video, which I will not link to here, revels of course in the sexual tripe of the day, namely, the expression of LGBTQ+ identity, a movement that sources all of its political will in the same Rousseauen instinct. Unfortunately, but understandably, most people will get stuck on two points of contention in the video: the further blurring of gender distinctions and the various acts of oral and anal coitus. Both of which are clearly antithetical to the Divine Nature, the created order, and the biblical commands. However, these themselves are not representative of the deeper evil, which is the originating sin itself, the sin of pride. Sex and sensuality are but the means to something far more coveted than mere physical stimulation, and Montero (that is Nas X’s real name) shows this in the final image of the video, where after subjecting himself to Satan as his sex slave, he reverses the order of temptation and, in doing so, breaks the Devil’s neck with his bare hands. He then removes the crown of evil from the once dominant power, so he now can have dominion over others. It is truly a visual articulation of Milton’s “It is better to reign in hell, than to serve in heaven.”

In his classic treatise on spiritual warfare, C.S. Lewis describes this very “axiom” of hell:

“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses. Even an inanimate object is what it is by excluding all other objects from the space it occupies; if it expands, it does so by thrusting other objects aside or by absorbing them. A self does the same. With beasts the absorption takes the form of eating; for us, it means the sucking of will and freedom out of a weaker self into a stronger. ‘To be’ means ‘to be in competition’.”

C. S. Lewis. “The Screwtape Letters.”

And this is the deeper reality of hell that many who are tempted by its message of sexual “liberation” simply miss.8In reality, we all miss it to some degree or at some stage in our lives, for few if any have avoided such temptation completely. Allured by the basic, sensate pleasures of physical gratification, they, we, fail to see that the purpose of Christian sexual morality, of Christian marriage, is to prevent us from falling into an endless and infernal competition with “the other.” A competition that has only one rule: dominate or be dominated. Here, it is sheer manipulation and power that decides who is master and who is slave; exploitation is the ideal in Hades, as all being is but an instrument, a tool, for one’s own ends. Nothing, not even one’s self, has intrinsic value, or inherent worth. This was the hope of the earlier poets, the Romantics of the past, but it was a false hope and a grave error. The classicists were deceived to think that human nature was inherently “other focused” and that it could, apart from divine Grace, make room for another Self. Nas’ view of man in “Montero” is still Augustinian in this regard, and, as such, Lil Nas X is far more correct about man than was Wordsworth, Shelley or Schiller.

Montero Lamar Hill is a 21-year old, self-identified gay man and artist. And, he is a relatively honest one at that.9 Hill is angry at how he was brought up, perhaps understandably as one recent tweet reveals: “I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the (expletive) y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay,” he [Hill] wrote on Twitter. “So i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.” He has not cheated like the earlier Romantics, who never would have shown a scene of unsocialized man murdering Satan. For Blake there was not a violent overthrow of Hell by man, nor an attaining of Heaven apart from divine Grace, but instead a marriage of Heaven and Hell in the end.10A notion C.S. Lewis brilliantly dismantled in The Great Divorce. Hill’s video, conversely, makes one thing very clear, whether he knows it or not, that behind all of the sensuality, the blurring of gender, and the gross acts of bodily abuse; behind all of these there is a more fundamental dynamic at play, namely, the unrestrained lust for power. Power over others, power over creation. Unfortunately for Hill, and for all of us who continue down this route, the ever increasing appetite for sexual pleasure is always met with the ever decreasing gratification of the sexual act itself. It cannot do the work. Once that pleasure is no more, then there is only violence: physical, emotional and spiritual violence.

The only part of the video that will not be true is that Satan will never be dethroned in hell. He is too powerful for man, and, as such, unrepentant man will forever be in his service as slave.

Living In A Culture Gone Mad: Four Ways The Church Can Respond To The Coming Crisis

by Anthony Costello

In a recent book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, theologian Carl Trueman poses an initial question: why does a statement like ‘I am a woman trapped in a man’s body’ make sense to us today, where just a generation or two ago it would have been absolutely unintelligible?1Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 19. To try to answer this, he invokes the 20th century sociologist, Philip Rieff, for the sake of explaining to the Church why we find ourselves in such an upside down world. Trueman utilizes Rieff’s taxonomy of cultures to do this explanatory work. For Rieff, society could be categorized into three different “worlds:” first, second and third worlds,2 These designations shouldn’t be confused with how modern economists classify countries according to economic and technological development, although economics and technology might play a causal role in which category a particular culture finds itself. a classification which becomes useful in understanding our current culture. First world societies, according to Rieff, are cultures that define their morality, and subsequently their laws and customs, by appealing to something beyond society itself— to a sacred or transcendent reality. First worlds are “pagan,” however, in that they are largely rooted in primitive religious beliefs that leave mankind open to the whims of fate, fortune, and the furies. Nevertheless, that a sacred reality or sacred history acts as the foundation for societal structures, practices, and codices is undeniable in these cultures.

Second worlds are those that also ground their societal structures, practices and moral norms in the transcendent, but where the transcendent or sacred is expressed through an organized faith or theological system that is open to various forms of rational thought and scientific modes of thinking. Christendom of the ancient orthodox East or the Latin West, or Medieval Islam would be good examples of second world cultures. Both first and second worlds are relatively stable in their cultural forms due to the common sense belief that all things ultimately are sourced in a sacred, transcendent power or Person and, therefore, cannot be so easily altered or amended.

Third Worlds, on the other hand, are drastically different from the first two, in that they no longer accept a reality, a world or world maker, that lies beyond society itself. Society, as Frankfurt School philosopher Max Horkheimer argued years ago, is the sole determining factor of “the world and subjectivity in all its forms.”3 see James Bohman, “Critical Theory” in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. for third world cultures. Or, as Trueman says, “Third worlds, by way of stark contrast to the first and second worlds, do not root their cultures, their social orders, their moral imperatives in anything sacred. They do have to justify themselves, but they cannot do so on the basis of something sacred or transcendent. Instead, they have to do so on the basis of themselves.”4 Trueman, 76, emphasis added In short, third worlds are categorically different from first and second worlds, whose own intramural differences pale in comparison. This is why the challenge to Christians living in a third world society like that of the United States or Canada today is much greater than that of early Christians living in pagan Rome or medieval Christians living in 11th century Islamic caliphates.5 The challenge may not be physically greater, but the chasm between people mentally is much vaster, making the communication of the Gospel that much more difficult. The framework for viewing reality is categorically other between first and second worlds and third worlds.

Before considering how Christians might respond to the challenge of living in this kind of “third world” culture, it is important to note three implications of Rieff’s theory. First, all three kinds of culture: first, second, and third world, can and do exist at the same time within the boundaries of one society.6 Trueman, 80. Second, because pagan, theological, and purely secular cultures exist in the same society at the same time, these societies (e.g. the United States, Canada, England and Western Europe) often feel like cultural battlegrounds, “This is the reason why society now often feels like a cultural battle zone: it consists of groups of people who simply think about the moral structure of the world in utterly incompatible ways.”7Trueman, 80.. Pagan-like cultures (animists, spiritualists, new-agers etc.), religious cultures (Roman Catholicism, Evangelicalism, Orthodox Judaism), and purely secular cultures all live and move and have their being together. Regardless of the vast metaphysical, epistemic, and moral chasm that divides their adherents, members of each world find themselves lounging in the same coffee shops, enjoying the same entertainment, and buying from the same online vendors.

Finally, third world cultures, unlike their historical predecessors and contemporaries, are inherently unstable. Because third world cultures must determine their own identity, their own structures of authority, and their own moral norms apart from anything other than themselves, they become societies that are driven primarily, if not exclusively, by the emotional moods of the day and the sheer willfulness to reshape culture according to those moods. Even the natural sciences, logic, and the law find themselves subject to the passions, drives, and creative forces of third world society and its moods and fashions. Indeed, nothing could be more distinct from a Christian view of reality than that of a third world society.8 Except maybe abstract objects and concrete objects With this said, how can Christians appropriately respond to living in a society that is increasingly a third world one? How can we fight on this battleground of perpetual “self-creation” and “self-determination?,” where the majority of those in the culture no longer are willing or able to refer to a transcendent source or cause of morality or even reality?

Four Responses to Living in A Third World Culture

  1. Reconquest

One prima facie option is to reconquer the culture for Christ, or at least for Christian morality, regardless of what people actually believe about Christianity. While there is a biblical way to attempt to retake lost cultural territory, this response can lead to new forms of a spiritual danger that both Roman Catholicism and historic Protestantism have traditionally warned against, namely Messianism.9 see Catechism of the Catholic Church, here. The idea here being that we can reclaim “the land” for Christ via the same means as we lost it to the culture, primarily through politics, and if not there, then through either physical force or some other ignoble and coercive means. This idea of “fighting fire with fire” acts as a fleshy, in the Pauline sense, replacement to the transforming love of Christ. While integration of the Christian vision can be done peaceably through positioning ourselves in places of institutional influence, e.g. in academics, entertainment, and government, it must be said that these attempts often have the reverse effect, i.e. converting the Christian influencer rather than the Christian converting the secular space. This inability to impact culture is one reason why the “reconquest” impulse emerges even among true believers, if not especially among them. Moreover, if the cultural battle has already been lost, which many believe to be the case, then the temptation to take by force, under the banner of some corrupted view of Nationalism,10 Nationalism itself gets a bad rap these days, and I believe there is a good, biblical case to be made for Nationalism increases greatly. As such, this option must be rejected, and that in virtue of Christ himself who came not to overthrow governments and systems, although he could have done so and one day will, but who came to change people’s hearts through love and self-sacrifice.

  1. Capitulation

While readers may say that capitulation is never an option, the reality is capitulation is already the preferred route of many in the Evangelical (and Roman Catholic) church today. The capitulation response seeks not to infect the culture with Christ, but to adapt Christ to the cultural norms and social moods of the day. Defenders of cultural capitulation may argue that this is the means to sow a seed in culture, i.e. through the very affirmation of it, and that by integrating the Church into the culture this is how Christ’s love is shown. However, the damage done to the truth of the Gospel in the meantime is unacceptable and, as alluded to above, whether this is actually an effective form of evangelism is highly suspect. While it can be difficult to know when one is actually capitulating, as Martin Scorcese’s film version of the book Silence brings to light, nevertheless capitulation does not seem to have much going for it, especially in this era of “soft tyranny.”

As philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argued in his 1968 book Marxism and Christianity,11 At the time he wrote this book, MacIntyre was himself an atheist and a socialist. He eventually went on to convert to Roman Catholicism in the 1980’s. this kind of cultural Christianity ultimately does little for the cause of Christ:

For if Christianity, in even the semi-secular society of the present,[i.e. in 1968] is to be able to present itself as having a relevant content and function, it is forced to present itself as having a secular content and function. Hence the many attempts to demythologize Christianity, to separate relevant kernel from irrelevant husk. The tragedy of these attempts is that what is disentangled as the essential human meaning of Christianity is so platitudinous, and it is platitudinous precisely because what is presented is a way of life in accordance with the liberal values and illiberal realities of the established order. That function of religion which consisted in providing a radical criticism of the secular present is lost by those contemporary demythologizers whose goal is to assimilate Christianity to the secular present.

In other words, liberal or progressive Christianity waters down the Gospel message to the point of impotence in offering any kind of critique or any resistance to whatever the culture it resides in has already determined as the way forward. Capitulators have no “prophetic voice” and, as such, capitulation should be seen as a non-option, regardless of how many Christian “leaders” embrace it as a legitimate approach.

  1. Strategic Retreat

In the late 5th century, as the Roman Empire was crumbling and the Italian peninsula being ravaged by constant, barbaric conquest from the North and the East, Benedict of Nursia retreated strategically to the high hills of Southern Italy, to what became known as Monte Cassino. There he established the first monastery in Latin Christendom and formulate the “Rule,” a way of life which established the ecclesial and social vocation of religious orders. Recently, philosophers like Alasdair MacIntyre and popular writers like Rod Dreher have suggested that pursuing a contemporary “Benedict Option” may be needed for the Church.

For example, after analyzing the current state of morality in his magnum opus, After Virtue, MacIntyre suggests there are two basic options for modern man in the West, a return to the classical philosophy and virtue ethics of Aristotle, or an embrace of Nietzsche’s “will to power.” Obviously MacIntyre, like many others, does not want Nietzsche. Unfortunately, the culture around us seems to be trending in a Nietzschean direction, where again the sole determining factor of what we do, what we believe, and what we think is right or wrong is the sheer “will of the people,” a will unattached and unmoored from anything transcendent or sacred. For MacIntyre then, Aristotle is the clear alternative. However, he wonders at the end of the book whether this return is feasible. He presents a haunting third option that he mentions only briefly, at the tail end of the book. Having acknowledged that our current cultural climate, our “third world” in Rieffian terms, is eerily parallel to the dark ages of the late 5th and 6th centuries, he says,

If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.

“St. Benedict” is in fact the very last word of MacIntyre’s book.

Dreher, following MacIntyre has penned a book simply called The Benedict Option, which also suggests the strategic retreat response. While this approach has many pluses, and can certainly been seen as compatible with both the Bible and the history of the church, it does have its deficiencies. First, it raises the question of evangelism to the culture from which the church now seems to be retreating. Second, in light of today’s ubiquity of technology and media, and our incredible sense of interconnectedness, it is unclear as to how we actually perform this strategic retreat. Finally, if we cannot really retreat, we might run into the problem of trying to form semi-isolated communities that themselves become toxic in their own way. It was one thing for Benedict to “head for the hills” of Southern Italy in the 6th century, but how does the average Christian “head for the hills” in 21st century Southern California? The retreat itself seems almost impossible.12 Here I admit that I have not yet read Dreher’s book, only MacIntyre’s. As such, I imagine I might be straw manning Dreher’s view. Please read the book itself, or go to his website for more. In some sense, from the website, it looks like Dreher is not really advocating for something as drastic as to what was Benedict’s actual response to the encroaching “dark ages.”

  1. The Daniel Plan

A final response could be called “The Daniel Plan.”13 Pastor Steven J. Weibley of the Carlisle Congregational Church in Massachusetts gave me this term in a recent Zoom meeting. While this is not a fashionable call to fast on fruits and vegetables so one can have more energy and lose weight; it nevertheless should likely entail some kind of fasting; a fasting for spiritual leanness however, not the leanness of our waistline. The Daniel plan draws from the story of Daniel as he lives out a faithful and prophetic life amidst the pagan nation of Babylon, the nation that is equated with all the iniquity of the world in the book of Revelation. The nation which is seen as a “whore” rife with sexual and sensual sin, perhaps not unlike our current sex-crazed culture. John Lennox has written a significant book about living like Daniel in the middle of modern Babylon, aptly titled “Against the Flow.” The Daniel plan is preferable to the rest in that it does not seek to overthrow Babylon through coercion or by “playing on the enemies battlefield,” nor does it capitulate on the main issues that the culture would want the church to capitulate on (e.g. abortion, same-sex marriage, transgenderism). Finally it does not hide itself from a world that is perishing and in desperate need of a witness to the light and life of Christ.

The only downside of the Daniel plan, if it could be called a “downside,” is that it will cost people their lives. Like Daniel and his comrades, there will be very real furnaces and lion’s dens into which men and women will be thrown. Prisons will begin to fill their cells with Daniels and Danielas,14 This is already happening, as was the case in Canada recently. who through simply saying “no” to the cultural program will find themselves ostracized and attacked by their nations, their communities, and potentially their own churches and families. However, this response was the response of those in 1940’s Germany who we so admire today. This was the response of men like Maximilian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Franz Jägerstätter, as well as women like Edith Stein and Sophie Scholl, who in Christ received the power to resist the evil in which they found themselves. Unfortunately today we see many church leaders already capitulating to that same evil out of the mere possibility of losing their audience, their tenure, or another book deal. If pastors, professors, and priests cannot even bear the thought of losing a few friends on social media, or getting a few cold stares on campus, then the likelihood we will see many Daniels is not high. But, the history of the Church, or even any great nation, has never been reliant on sheer numbers. It has relied only on the few “chosen,” who have hearkened the divine call in spite of persecution by the profane. As Tertullian put it, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

Conclusion

Of these four possible Christian responses to the unstable and neurotic culture in which the Church in the West resides, the first two are clearly non-starters. They are not really Christian options, even if some “Christians” will pursue them as such. The “strategic retreat” response has its merits: stronger local communities, greater depth of discipleship, avoidance of ‘the worst’ of culture, etc. However this “Benedict Option” also has its deficits: first, how does the command to disciple the nations and preach the good news to the lost go forward, and second, how do we even perform the actual retreat from a culture that is so interconnected through technology and media? Finally, there is the Daniel plan, which like the strategic retreat option is biblically compatible, and seems to have the advantage of not forsaking the task of evangelism or having to find means to escape culture. That said, for the Daniels and Danielas who are in the Church, this will likely spell some kind of very real earthly demise. When Franz Jäggerstätter, the Austrian farmer, persistently refused to sign the Hitler oath, not only was he beheaded, but his wife was widowed, his three daughters left fatherless, and his elderly mother left to die after her son. Their lives after Franz’ death did not improve, they also suffered. Nevertheless, it is sacrifices like these that are the heart of God’s Church and that ultimately unite us to the very suffering of the Cross and the person of Christ.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.