I have previously briefly discussed that I was warned, before I accepted my work, that upon acceptance I would very quickly enter into a prolonged period of intense suffering. Though I was not shown details, I was fully shown how intense it would be. My visitors have always played fair with me, enough so that when they are reticent to tell me something needful, I am content to wait, knowing that I don’t even want to contemplate it until I have to bear it. I, of course, told my priests before I accepted. Shoot, what I had been shown on the intensity of it kept me from accepting for a long time. But I was told it would steel me, burn away vanity and prepare me to be strong for when the Storm came, so I would not wilt when others were counting on me.
When it came, it lasted for five years. I must withhold many details, both because it is painful to relive now and because the primary (but hardly sole) instrument of my agony was my dear daughter, who was herself victim of a prolonged satanic attack. Only a handful of people know how bad it got, but hardened veterans were shaken by the whole business. One of the fruits of it was that, in a few cases, when a public figure has had a particularly intense family disorder, some who were witness to the period have occasionally quietly referred me to the figure to help counsel them through the turmoil. Sometimes I have been able to help. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. My house burned down. Every time I imagined the worst that could happen, something worse than that happened. Every time I thought we had finally hit bottom, things would get even worse. When it was finally over, I laughed with my priests and the one friend who was witness to much of it that, though the wolf was at my door for five years, snarling and howling, in the end neither of us prevailed. We both just collapsed from sheer exhaustion. That friend often joked that for five years, God threw everything but the kitchen sink at me and when none of it kept me down, finally decided to wring my stinking neck and see how I reacted to that (a reference to my spinal surgery, the onset of which completely disabled me for one spring and summer).
I do not speak of this to impress you with how much I have suffered. Rather, it is because of the deluge of contacts I am getting from people telling me what massive turmoil their families, friends and colleagues are in these days – and how it makes no sense to them. It feels like they are under siege all the time. Many of you are among them. I want to tell you that you should not be surprised, nor let yourself be terribly disturbed by these things. Satan is in a frenzy and he will create as much despair as possible, hoping to snare a few stray souls by the ferocity of the attack, to rob them of hope. When things got unbearable, when I could scarcely breathe, I would sometimes find myself begging the Lord to give me some relief. Then I would catch myself and apologize, asking instead that He give me every bit I could stand – and the strength to bear it; then give me a little more, trusting that He would give me a little more strength in the bargain. At the heart of it, I was grimly determined to endure it all and more, begging that He do all that was necessary to steel me for the Storm so that I would not faint when it counted, or when people were counting on me. Just before my surgery, when I was getting cardiac clearance, the cardiologist asked me when exactly it was that I had had my heart attack. I told him I never had one. He replied that I surely had a few years before and showed me the dead tissue on the monitor that confirmed it. I did not know you could have a heart attack and not know it – but he assured me you can and I did; that most commonly it is connected to some extreme prolonged stress. He said I had a nearly athletic heart, so I probably just felt sick for a few days, maybe stayed in bed and then trundled on.
At one point, I was so devastated that for almost two months I would work a mundane job, come home and be nearly catatonic or inconsolable in my grief. It was as close to cracking as I have ever come in my life – and it scared the daylights out of my son, who was instrumental in motivating me to carry on. After that, for a while, whenever I was gloomy he would get panicky that it was the onset of the darkness again. I told him and was able to convince him that that was gone for good, but that sometimes, we would each have a bad day because of all the stress. Boy, did he ever understand that. We worked hard to help carry others crosses and behave so as not to impose our crosses on them. Charlie was so successful at it, so cheerful and charismatic with his circle of friends, that they were always shocked when they stumbled upon evidence of the real sorrows we bore. But it is going to take a toll sometimes and you have to withdraw and gather yourself when it all closes in, as it sometimes will. So Charlie and I developed a code word. It was to be used very sparingly, but if one of us was having a really nasty day because of the stress backing up and being uncharacteristically mean or gloomy, we would just invoke the code and the other would back off and leave the sufferer be for a day. It worked well for us. Under extreme prolonged stress, you have to give each other room to be a total jerk for a day every once in a while: it drains the bile and poison out so you don’t become a jerk all the time.
So I tell you, give thanks for the struggles and attacks you are undergoing. When they wound you enough, withdraw for a while. If you were physically injured, you would rest so that you could heal and be fit for the next battle. Do the same in these struggles. Give thanks because they steel you for the times to come. I tell people that we have entered the beginning of the greatest crisis in the history of Western Civilization and their imagination fails them. About the best anyone seems able to imagine is that we are in for some intense, but scattered disorders, kind of like World War II. It is much worse than that and you will need your strength, your unshakeable faith, and the steadiest of resolve. How do you think God will engender that sort of steeliness that is nonetheless tender and charitable in you? By allowing these intense attacks. It will build your trust in Him. Few things build trust like being in serial prolonged hopeless situations and receiving the cool relief of His grace when He delivers you. Someone once thinking me to be a bit of a pollyanna asked me what if I was wrong about everything – and there was no relief from the trial I was then undergoing. I responded immediately that I would die not knowing I had been wrong – and have lived well and fruitfully in the interim – and if that was all there was, it was enough for me.
Despair is one of satan’s more subtle appeals to man’s vanity – and it is a failure of trust. Through allowing these attacks, God is teaching you to endure. He who endures to the end will be saved. God is raising you up to be a saint in these times. Don’t let the seduction of despair keep you from taking the next right step and being a sign of hope to those around you. Give thanks that God has such confidence in you that He thinks it worthwhile to refine you through sorrow and agony, that you may become an unshakeable sign of hope when chaos holds sway over all. If you do, you will discover to your astonishment that within the most agonizing of times lie some of the most joyful consoling memories. Most of my agony was lived in Belleville, Illinois. It was with much trepidation that I visited there after a prolonged absence. To my surprise, I was overjoyed. It was in the midst of sorrows that I was the trumpet player for the women’s choir at the Catholic Cathedral there. I coached high school boys in summer baseball almost the entire time I was there and what a joy it was. It was there, forged in fire, that my son, without ever ceasing to be my little boy, became my best friend and a man I profoundly admire and rely on. We feeble men rarely recognize the hour of our visitation until it is long passed. So endure and your hour will become a sweet memory rather than a bitter regret.
I end with one of the most profound teachings on trust in the Bible. Do not be deceived by appearances or let chaos beguile you into thinking God has abandoned man. As it is written in Isaiah 55:9-11:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return not thither but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
“so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Thus says the Lord and the Lord speaks true. It may not accomplish what you purpose, but it will accomplish what He purposes – and He purposes good for your eternal soul.