Books That Rocked My World: Benson's “Lord of the World”
The world of books is as deep as it is wonderous. It's amazing how books written centuries ago can still start a spark in our modern minds. C.S. Lewis once said, "It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between." We recently asked our writing team to consider what book, not published in the last century, has most impacted their life? Today, Ricky Jones discusses Robert Hugh Benson's apocalyptic masterpiece Lord of the World.
When I first came into the Church nine years ago, I was neck deep in my studies of theology and Church teaching, my reading consisting mostly of the Catechism, the Bible, and Church Documents. Not to discount the value of each of these, but there is just something about a good story that takes the teaching to whole ‘nother level.
Jesus knew that. The proof is in the fact that the majority of His teaching is done through parables. What made these parables so powerful is that they were relatable to the people, they met people where they were, and continue to do so for us today. When many of the people Jesus crossed paths with during His preaching were fisherman and farmers, it makes perfect sense that His parables take place in the experiences and environment they were so familiar with. That’s why the parables really hit home.
Yet, for some reason we think that our study of theology has to be dry, academic, and downright boring. Not so. During the first few years after my conversion I hadn’t read any fiction at all, probably since as far back as high school! And that would remain the case until I came across Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World.
Benson was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury and became an anglican priest himself. After the death of his father he traveled the world and began to study his way into the Catholic Church where was eventually ordained a priest.
Three Solutions to the World’s Problems
In Benson’s classic novel Lord of the World, he tells the chillingly prophetic story of the future which some might say we are living now. The majority of the world has given up on Christianity and God in general, regarding it as a myth or superstition and holding up man as God. When the protagonist—Fr. Percy Franklin, a Catholic priest who predicts that the persecution of Christians is near—is asked by the Pope how to resolve this problem he suggests “the Mass, prayer, and the rosary” stating that “the world denies their power: it is on their power that Christians must throw all their weight.” This is true. All baptized Christians are tasked with this priestly role of prayer.However, the Pope challenges him that prayer alone is not enough and that in addition to the priestly role, Christians have also to live the prophetic and kingly roles which also are given in baptism. The priest agrees and responds:
“For prophecy, then, let us preach charity; for royalty, let us reign on crosses. We must love and suffer…” — 'Fr. Percy Franklin’ in Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
So there are three roles that all Christians must take up: priest, prophet, and king. Living these three roles is actually a challenge for most of us. But it is what is necessary to make change happen and it is what the Gospel is all about. It’s what Jesus and the Saints did. Look at the lives of Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Thérèse of Lisieux. They prayed, they loved, they sacrificed, and they suffered. That’s what you and I must do.
Although this sounds simple, it’s actually pretty rare. This won’t happen quickly. This is going to take a lot of work, a lot of prayer, a lot of action on the part of those already active, practicing Catholics. The challenge that you and I face is rekindling the faith of our lapsed Catholic brothers and sisters, reeducating them in the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church. What is the right way to go about this?
#1: Be a Priest
You have got to get serious about God. Your prayer life, or lack thereof, has a significant impact on your lived example of the faith. Essentially, you can’t do it without God. It is He that does the work, you just make yourself available to Him and His grace. In living your priestly role you pray for your friends, your family, your community, the Church, and the world. You must also offer sacrifice, not of “bulls and rams” but of yourself. The smallest of sacrifices can have the greatest impact on those around you.
“Verily in prayer and sacrifice lies all my strength, they are my invincible arms; experience has taught me that they touch hearts far more easily than words.” — St. Thérèse of Lisiuex
At this stage of my faith journey I was content in my bubble, not having to worry about anything but me and Jesus. This book taught me the truth that in my baptism I too am a priest, called to offer prayer and sacrifices not just for myself, but for those around me—my family, my community, the Church, and the world. It is uncomfortable. It requires me to take an active role in the salvation of the world. It was a call to arms.
#2: Be a Prophet
I am a firm believer that the best way to evangelize—to share the faith with others—is to show by example. You have to be a living reflection of the love of God in this world. That’s what the saints did and that’s what we must do. We can sit and talk about it all day, but if we don’t put it into practice, if we don’t make it happen, then it never will.
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” — Matthew 5:14-16
Although I was very much a believer in the need for evangelization, I hadn’t really done much to bring people to Jesus, or more importantly, to bring Jesus to the people in my life. In my reading of this book my eyes began to be opened to not only the suggestion, but the desperate need that so many people have for Jesus without being willing to admit it. Like the Catholics in the book, I too had resigned myself to the idea that my faith is a private matter and not something that should pushed on others. But seeing the results of their lack of witness to the world, I felt a call to wear my faith on my sleeve and become the true witness that God was calling me to be.
#3: Be a King
This is the one that confuses most people and that’s because, unfortunately, the examples of kings in the history of the world are not very good ones. The kings you read about in the history books were for the most part bad people who hoarded their riches and left their people in utter poverty. On the contrary, Jesus is the prime example of a king, one who serves His people, giving His life for them. As a king you “reign on crosses” because you are willing to suffer for the benefit of others, giving of your time, your talents, and your treasure. It’s a challenge, but you can do it with the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit.
I think instinctively of Aragorn from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. A true king who puts his life on the line, leading the troops in battle on the front line, not afraid to risk losing his own life in order to save the lives of his people. I had always thought of kingship as a glorious thing, but in reality to be a king is to suffer for those you lead. As a husband and father, I lay down my life, "I am poured out as a libation” (Phil 2:17) Christ, the true King of Kings, doesn’t look very glorious in the eyes of the world, wearing not a crown of gold, silver, and precious stones, but rather the crown of thorns.
"Our world will return to God — but not by way of words and programs, no matter how eloquent or well conceived. Our world will return to God only by way of witnesses — by way of men and women who testify by the example of their lives that Jesus Christ is real and that his Gospel is the path to true happiness. Jesus is calling us to be those witnesses, my brothers and sisters.” — The Most Rev. José H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles
Robert Hugh Benson’s classic work of historical fiction Lord of the World is available for free on Kindle and through Project Gutenberg. However, if you prefer a good old fashioned book you can hold in your hands you can purchase it on Amazon.
Not only is it an entertaining read, but it speaks the truth regarding the current state of the world and the duty of the Church. It is a story of what happens to the world when people lose faith in God. Hint: not good. It is powerful and prophetic, influential and inspiring. Even Pope Francis and Pope Benedict have encouraged us to read this book. For those who think that our faith should be something we keep to ourselves, this book will prove why our faith, though personal, cannot be privatized and kept in the dark. It also brings to life the Beatitude: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” (Mt 5:11-12) A truth that every generation seems to forget and is forced relearn.