We offer no rewards except those which God Himself has promised to those that love Him, and lay down their life for Him; no promise of peace, save of that which passeth understanding; no home save that which befits pilgrims and sojourners who seek a City to come; no honor save the world’s contempt; no life, save that which is hid with Christ in God.
This is the promise of the Order of Christ Crucified, as described by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson in his dystopian classic Lord of the World. To understand the spirituality of Lord of the World, one must first come to know the deep personal faith and the journey of its author.
As a convert from the Church of England, Monsignor Benson had a circuitous route home to the Catholic Church, his own personal spirituality undergoing a radical transformation before he published Lord of the World. In his autobiographical conversion story, Confessions of a Convert, he says he chose the clerical life in the Anglican church as it was “the path of least resistance.” Considering this vocation, “Plainly there was only one religious life possible, that of a quiet country clergyman, with a beautiful garden, an exquisite choir, and a sober bachelor existence.” Benson, however, would not remain Anglican for long.
The first major seed of doubt was sewn into Benson’s mind by his international travel. Outside of England he was no longer recognized as a priest, and Anglicanism itself was barely recognized at all. At one point, visiting one of the most remote Egyptian villages on his journey, he encountered yet another catholic chapel. The Catholic faith seemed to be universal, while his beloved Church of England wasn’t. One of his final encounters on this trip was with the depths of his own loneliness. Benson was given permission to perform an Anglican service at one of these chapels, but he was not allowed to use the main altar. Adding to the deep sense of loneliness was the fact that the locals were not participating in the service, but rather spectating on the curiously different worship that Benson was undertaking.
Upon returning to his home of London, Benson was swept up with the peace that comes from returning from a long trip away from home. The familiarity was intensely comforting. Everything about his life as a “quite country clergyman” was perfect. Something was still bothering Benson. He describes it as his chosen life being “too happy to be wholesome.”
Continuing to with his vocational restlessness, Benson found his way to the Community of the Resurrection, a beautiful Anglican religious order somewhat loosely following the rule of St. Benedict. One can imagine the beauty of this place though Benson’s writing. Smokey through the many countryside homes and their chimneys, rolling hills surrounded by fog and mist. It was here that he was able to immerse himself in mysticism, scripture, and deep theological study.
His reading of theology and scripture during this time was voracious. Benson knew in his heart that he could no longer hide from the truth. With great contentment, he joined the Catholic church. There were no miracles, trumpets from heaven, or joyful elations – just the interior peace of God that surpasses all understanding. The same peace that would later be promised to the Order of Christ Crucified.
Benson would live the rest of his life writing and preaching, before passing away at the age of 42. His legacy would forever leave its mark on Catholic literature, inspiring many authors after him to take up the challenging and often thankless task of writing spiritual fiction.
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