During an airplane news conference on his way back from the Philippines, Pope Frances referenced a 1907 book entitled “Lord of the World” and advised all of those in attendance to read it. From the day he became pope, a lot of observers have stated that Pope Francis was a man on a mission and destined to fulfill end times bible prophecy in a big way.  Evidentially, he would seem to agree with this assessment. The truth is that you can learn a great deal about a person by looking at his or her bookshelves. The book the Pope wants everyone to read is centered around two main people – the Antichrist and the Catholic pope. This novel has been called prophetic by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. On February 8, 1992, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger criticized U. S. President George H. W. Bush’s recent speech calling for “a New World Order” in a speech of his own at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. In his discourse, the future Pope explained that Monsignor Benson’s novel described “a similar unified civilization and its power to destroy the spirit. The anti-Christ is represented as the great carrier of peace in a similar new world order.”   Cardinal Ratzinger proceeded to quote from Pope Benedict XV’s 1920 encyclical Bonum sane: “The coming of a world state is longed for, by all the worst and most distorted elements. This state, based on the principles of absolute equality of men and a community of possessions, would banish all national loyalties. In it no acknowledgement would be made of the authority of a father over his children, or of God over human society. If these ideas are put into practice, there will inevitably follow a reign of unheard-of terror.” 
It’s not the first time Pope Francis has mentioned the 1907 novel by Robert Hugh Benson, but his recommendation appears to be due to the daunting warning that is contained in the novel’s plot line. Francis first praised the novel back in November 2013, in the context of a homily in which he denounced what he called “adolescent progressivism.” He returned to “Lord of the World” in the recent airplane news conference, saying, “I advise you to read it” because it explains what he meant by a reference to “ideological colonization” during a session with 20,000 Filipino families in Manila. He says that it depicts what he refers to as “ideological colonization” and in a sermon in 2013 described it as depicting “the spirit of the world which leads to apostasy almost as if it were a prophecy.”     His fondness for the novel seems to track with his belief that humanity is making some definitive choices today, from the economy to the environment, and that if we get those choices wrong, the consequences may be far worse than we realize.  The novel is probably Benson’s best known book. Some find the novel prescient, others a little ‘out there.’ For analytical purposes, the important thing is its keen sense that the world is reaching a turning point and there’s not much time left to set things right.  In his 2005 book “Literary Giants, Literary Catholics” British writer and former director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College, Joseph Pearce described the book as a “..novel-nightmare” that “…is coming true before our very eyes.”  The novelist Evelyn Waugh, another Catholic convert, whose own dystopian short story, “Love among the Ruins”, published in 1952, deserves to be better known, thought very highly of Benson’s talents, writing “he was a magnetic preacher, an excellent story-teller, a ready writer; he had enthusiasm and unremitting energy, a rich imagination…but he knew that there was only one relationship of absolute value, that of the soul to God.”  It is unclear whether Pope Francis believes that the apocalypse is nigh, but he clearly views the book as a warning to people of faith about the consequences of the choices that humanity makes. 
According to his biographer, Fr. Cyril Martindale, Mgr. Benson’s depiction of the future was in many ways an inversion of the science fiction novels of H.G. Wells. In particular, Benson was sickened by Wells’ belief that Atheism, Marxism, World Government, and Eugenics would lead to an earthly utopia. Due to his depiction of a Wellsian future as a global police state, Benson’s novel has been called one of the first modern works of dystopian fiction. Lord of the World” portrays a dystopian vision of the future and culminates in the final battle between humanism and Catholicism, which eventually leads to Armageddon. As a convert (he was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury) from middle class Anglicanism, with all its characteristic tolerance, respectability and capacity to balance conflicting beliefs, Benson had come to see that the Catholic Church which he had joined was the only moral and spiritual authority on earth capable of serious combat with evil.  The author depicts a Marxist world in which people have no history or hope so they often turn to euthanasia, which is mandatory for the ill, disabled, and dying. Further there is a single global government that uses Esperanto for a common language. Westminster Cathedral is the only church in London that is still used for religious purposes, with the others having become Masonic lodges. Protestantism is virtually dead, Oxford University has been abolished, and the Royal Houses of Europe have been deposed and replaced with Marxist-Masonic one party states. Then comes a charismatic senator from Vermont named Julian Felsenburgh promises world peace if world’s citizens follow him obediently. The senator appears as a lone and dramatic figure promising world peace in return for blind obedience. No one quite knows who he is or where he comes from, but his voice mesmerizes. Under his leadership, war is abolished. Felsenburgh becomes the President of Europe, then of the world, by popular acclaim. Everyone is fascinated with him, yet still no one knows much about him. People are both riveted and frightened by the way he demands attention. Most follow without question. He is made president of Europe, and then the world, due to his charisma and promises of utopia, but little remains known about him, even after his rise to power. Belief in God is replaced by the religion of Humanity modeled on that of Auguste Comte. When “Reason” is worshipped violence and murder soon follow. Consequently, all those who oppose this doctrine are soon subjected to torture and summary execution. As it becomes clear that the Felsenburgh is, in fact, the “anti-Christ,” the Pope gathers with the Cardinals in Rome in an effort to avoid the coming apocalypse. Meantime, some English Catholics, against orders, plot to blow up the Abbey where the politicians meet. Percy Franklin, now a cardinal, along with another German cardinal, are sent to England to try to prevent this plot, which they are warned about. But word gets out. In retaliation, President Felsenburgh orders the destruction of Rome, which is carried out, killing Pope John and all the cardinals but the three who are elsewhere. These three quickly elect the Cardinal Franklin as Pope Sylvester III. Soon after, the old cardinal in Jerusalem dies and the German cardinal is hanged. The last pope goes to the Holy Land to the location of the apocalyptic final battle foretold by the New Testament. In a final act, Felsenburgh and all the world leaders fly in formation to destroy the remaining signs of faith on earth. In response, Pope Sylvester and the remaining Catholics are attending Mass followed by Eucharistic Adoration. As they sing the Tantum Ergo, the attack strikes. The last words of the novel are: “Then this world passed, and the glory of it.”
Given the Pope’s repeated references to “Lord of the World,” we may speculate that his apparent rush to get things rolling may not be related only to a hunch that at 78 he’s got limited time, or his knowledge that he was elected on a reform mandate.  Shortly before his retirement last November, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said in a Crux interview that he’d like to ask Francis about his “eschatological vision that the anti-Christ is with us,” and whether that explains the pope’s intense pace.   Those in the secular media who diligently follow the movements and pronouncements of Pope Francis observed that he quite often refers to the devil.  Pope Francis has fully grasped why Benson chose to use all his gifts as a writer to show his readers what lay beneath the surface of their seemingly peaceable and genteel Edwardian lives: the mortal battle, as long as human life on earth exists, between good and evil, God and Satan.  As a matter of facts, Pope Francis affirms that Satan is alive and active in the world today, but he sees the work of the devil in the systems of the world which are opposed to Christ and his church.  For example: The Vatican summary of his weekday homily Nov. 28 quotes him as saying: “The devil pushes us to be unfaithful to the Lord. Sometimes he pushes hard.” Francis went on to add that this is more than just individual temptation. Scripture, he pointed out, “speaks to us about a universal temptation, about a universal trial, about the time when … the whole of the Lord’s creation will be faced with this choice between God and evil, God and the prince of the world.”  In short, this pope is a believer in the end times who’s convinced they aren’t merely coming but are, in a sense, already being played out before our eyes.  That time, he made clear, is now. The Pope’s regular reference to Bensons’ novel reveals that Pope Francis’ mindset is one of Christ and his church set up in opposition to the the intricate ways of the world. He sees the spirit of antiChrist always at war with Christ and his Church. It is this larger scenario which Jesus confronts immediately when he sets out to battle Satan in the wilderness. The world belongs to Satan and Jesus Christ has come to reclaim it.  In this perspective, which is shared by Pope Francis, right from the beginning the stage is set for this cosmic battle, and the baptized are commissioned to join in the army of light against the forces of darkness.  Francis evidently thinks at least some end-times events are already taking place. But that’s not new. “With God’s coming into history,” he said, “we are already in the last times” — and could be for a long while to come.  Regarding this peculiar period of time — the era preceding the Second Coming of Christ, the last judgment and the end of the world — several themes stand out in the Pope’s thinking. One is that this will be a time when the Church and Christians are persecuted.  In his Nov. 28 homily, he spoke of the present as a period of “general apostasy.” Mighty forces anxious to keep God from being worshipped seek to convince Christians to take a “reasonable and peaceful road” by obeying “worldly powers” bent on reducing religion to “a private matter,” he said. Satan’s grip on the world is insinuated into every nook and corner. His ways of greed, violence and ambition and his lies of self righteousness and blame are woven like a dark shadow through every aspect of human society from individual lives through institutional structures and international politics, finance and the whole military-industrial complex.  Describing the ensuing persecution of the Church as “a calamity,” the pope said: “It will appear to be the triumph of the prince of this world, the defeat of God. It will seem as though he has taken over the world [and become] master of the world.” As for the persecuted Christians, he added, they are “a prophetic sign of what will happen to everyone.”  Pretty clearly, Francis thinks the devil is back today. From Pope Francis’s visionary perspective, a world in which unborn babies are routinely killed, where euthanasia increasingly seems the best solution to a sick, sad or aging population and where “ideological colonisation” has altered the fundamental meaning of marriage, can start to bear an eerie resemblance to the appalling anti-civilisation of Lord of the World.  Considering the state of the world — and also in some ways the state of the Church — many people would agree.  The problem is, many American Catholics are blind to the battle and blind to the ways in which the enemy has infiltrated and dominated our culture and that’s what Francis calls “ideological colonization.” It was in this context that Francis — in a reference that caught the attention of people who understood it — spoke of “Lord of the World,” calling it “almost … a prophecy.”  What sets Benson’s dystopia apart from the two more famous works in the same genre later in the 20th century, Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World is its spiritual character. Where Orwell showed man’s inhumanity to man that followed from slavish adherence to a Marxist-type ideology, and Huxley presented the shallowness of a merely technological paradise, Benson’s is a deeply spiritual vision: when God has been banished from the world, Satan will inevitably be enthroned. Persecution and death will follow those who cling to the old faith; finally will come the last battle.