Since I first began describing the Storm to my priests when I finally broke silence 20 years ago I have described it as a global civil war. It is why it is such a horror: because there is no place of safety and it will pit brother against brother across the globe.
This spirit of division and rebellion infects the highest levels of the Church and all Christians – both Catholic and non-Catholic. Bishops will be pitted against Bishops, pastors against pastors and denominations against denominations. Some work with great fortitude to bring the faith to the world, constantly trying to calibrate the message so that more will hear and listen – and that more may be gained. Even when they err, these are doing the work of the Lord to the best of their ability.
Satan has two camps of saboteurs in our churches. The first are those who try to conform the faith to the world rather than the world to the faith. That camp has badly infected the Mainline Protestant denominations and the Progressive Movement within the Catholic Church. While it has done damage to the world, that damage is eclipsed by the devastation it has wrought on the institutions it has infected. It believes itself to be more inclusive, more relevant to modern times. In fact, those infected with it have been dying on the vine. In the Mainline Protestant churches, which were once the bulwark of faith in the United States, attendance has not just declined over the last 50 years, it has collapsed – to the point that some venerable old denominations are on the verge of extinction. Among Catholics, it is no accident that in those dioceses led by a Progressive Bishop, vocations to the priesthood and new converts being received at Easter are sparse and tepid.
The only places in the United States where growth within Christian communities is strong are among Evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Catholics. Whatever differences they have, whatever mistakes they make, both believe that God is actually God – and that what He says is decisive. This should be no surprise: a hallmark of satanic activity, no matter how innocuous it seems, is its sterile barrenness. Those who busy themselves trying to conform the faith to the world have been eaten away by a sort of cancer of the spirit that ravages their institutions even as it saps their faith. But it has had an effect outside the doors of its dwindling institutions. First it gives aid and comfort to the cultural forces that seek to marginalize and ultimately destroy Christianity in the name of statist supremacy. It plays the role of ‘useful idiot,’ those people the old Communists used who were not actually Communists, to unwittingly advance their cause. Many of these current ‘useful idiots’ were surprised when various states banned their social service arms from helping to facilitate adoption because they would not place a child with a homosexual pair. They were also surprised when the health care law sought to force them to provide both birth control and abortions for their employees, despite their objections of conscience. They thought that by using their religiosity to provide cover for progressive politicians, they made themselves exempt from the assaults normally directed against serious Christians. If they read more history in more depth they would know that when a secular power becomes malignantly ambitious, the first thing it targets once it feels it has sufficiently consolidated its force is the very useful idiots that helped it consolidate its force in the first place. Every time.
It also has played a role in the rise of New Age and Pagan Mysticism. People always search for transcendent meaning. When they stumble upon a faith that is as barren and sterile as the Christian entities I have described, they reasonably infer that all faiths bearing the Name are similar. Is it any wonder that, finding it empty, they go in search after strange gods? There will be an accounting.
As destructive of fruitfulness as this using of the forms of faith to empty it of its content has been, it has been merely the plowing up of fields that could one day bear fruit again; clearing the ground for the main assault. Rational, observant people are well aware of the results of this bulldozing of the fundamentals of the faith. But their bitter experience has led many to a hyper-vigilance against it, a paranoia that sees signs of apostasy in every outreach, every appeal to sinners and all those wounded and ravaged by a culture gone mad, with no standards save low standards, as an effort to dilute the faith. This is an effort by satan to salt the fields. Rather than just rip up what is there, it seeks to prevent anything from ever growing there again. Followed to its logical conclusion, this paranoia would destroy Christianity by attrition, for it seeks a purity that would transmogrify even the smallest error into outright apostasy. It is forever in retreat: casting leaders and those who do not toe the line into outer darkness. It seeks apostates to banish rather than sinners to convert. If all we have are those who would conform the faith to the world and those who retreat in horror from the battle, we are, indeed, doomed to ultimate extinction. We cannot allow the abuses of a real apostasy to merely create the equal and opposite abuse of a paranoid, crippling Stalinist purge.
So what is a faithful Christian to do?
First, recognize that we are not in control. Jesus Christ, the Lord God of Hosts, is in command. Victory is not dependent on us. It lies entirely in His hands – and He cannot be defeated. He is ever victorious. The only question is whether we will comport ourselves to His commands. Satan knows he will not and cannot prevail against Christ. That is not his objective. Rather, satan’s objective is to separate as many from Christ as he possibly can – to maximize the number who will be lost to eternity with him. Though he has an overarching strategy, satan does not have a simple array of formulaic tactics, like a general in a war. He assaults every single person at their weakest point, ever flattering their vanity, shaking their confidence, enflaming their anger – all for the same end: to get them to let loose of Christ. If they are weak-minded enough, he prefers that they give him homage, depending on spirits and gods (which are actually demons) as a source of power. In this category are those taken with the New Age, which is a polyglot mix of paganism, pantheism and barren mysticism that centers on the self. But it is sufficient to his purpose that people be persuaded to depend on themselves, to believe they are sufficient to themselves. This, in fact, is the most productive manner of seducing genuinely faithful and religious people – to convince them that Christ is dependent on their might and skill for His defense. It is how he convinces people to put greater esteem in an apparition than in obedience to the Church; or that their penetrating intellect has mastered theology and the secrets of the universe and, thus they are the central figure in a great epic saga which reduces Christ to a supporting role; or to forswear any pretense at obedience to join with a self-appointed heresy patrol…a sort of Cheka of the Spirit. Any of these will do for satan’s purposes.
How then, do we hold resolutely to Christ, turning neither to the right out of fear or false tolerance nor to the left out of anger or malice? How do we walk in a plain path?
First, we must cloak ourselves with humility, understanding that we are not the titans and need the protection of Our Lord and the maternal guidance of Our Lady every step of the way. Then, I think three things are key to keeping us focused – and the trick is to balance all of them at all times, for overemphasizing one at the expense of the others loosens our grasp of Him who saves.
Obedience: Christ set up a structure to govern the Church He formed. He was emphatic about our duty to His apostles, telling them, “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” – Luke 10:16. The Lord made it clear that we are not to be a loose coalition of free agents, deciding for ourselves. That said, the teaching we are obliged to obey is the Magisterial teaching on faith and morals. It is not that we are to follow every whim of every Bishop, or even the non-Magisterial teaching of the Pope. But we must accept the Magisterial teaching of the Church and recognize that only the Pope and Bishops are authorized to form that teaching. Neither individual sinners nor even great saints can supplant the teaching authority that Christ, Himself founded and vested in the successors of His original Apostles. Meanwhile, to live their fidelity to Him who sent them, the Bishops are to apply themselves to matters of faith and morals and be exceedingly sparse in their commentary on what is the proper sphere of the laity, which is the administration of everyday life and politics. Ideally, except in extraordinary circumstances, Bishops would confine their social commentary to when an intrinsic evil is involved or to the ultimate effects of various political systems in securing the freedom of conscience and action that a free people, under God, are entitled to. So the duty of obedience goes both up and down. One of satan’s more productive gambits is to get people to play at being Bishops and Bishops to play at being politicians. Those who do either have let go of Christ. To disobey the Magisterial authority of the Church is not to doubt the capacity of the men charged with forming it, but to doubt the promise of Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church. But to doubt – or even to dispute with – a Bishop who has set himself against the Magisterium or taken to himself temporal authority that is irrelevant to his calling, is not disobedience. In some cases, it may be necessary to live proper obedience.
Fidelity – We are to live and convey the fundamentals of the faith truthfully and with courage. This is terribly hard if we have a Bishop who does not emphasize those fundamentals or a priest who no longer believes them. I was received into the Church in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1991. I fell in love with the Catholic Church, especially in studying intently her rich deposit of faith in the writings of the Doctors of the Church and the documents of the councils. It was tough, though, for Chicago was no model of fidelity to the deposit of faith. I listened to three priests give homilies overtly stating there was no real resurrection – just a resurrection in the hearts of the disciples. One of those priests helpfully explained that Jesus’ body was probably eaten by wild dogs. I heard quite a few priests who did not teach it overtly, but spoke (wink, wink) about the “resurrection event” rather than the resurrection. I heard priests publicly abuse Marian devotees from their pulpits as superstitious ninnies. I listened to a nun explain to a group at a seminar arranged by the Archdiocese that she really wasn’t sure about all the “God stuff,” but entering religious life was a great way to get into social work. I did not sit quietly through all this. I had a method of evangelizing my fellow faithful and, privately, many of the priests I encountered. In fact, I once wrote a furious letter to then Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, complaining of abuses and archly telling him that I had fled many anti-Catholic bigots in my old faith tradition only to find new, more malicious anti-Catholic bigots in my new home – and that most were running purportedly Catholic institutions. To his credit, the Cardinal looked past my intemperate fury and invited me to make an appointment with his secretary to have lunch with him. Alas, just over a week later he was first diagnosed with the pancreatic cancer that would eventually kill him, and the lunch never came off. Other than at St. Mary of the Angels Parish, I never heard the Real Presence preached or a pro-life homily until after Cardinal George took over – but they were pretty scarce then, too. For all of you laboring in dioceses or parishes that have effectively abandoned the faith, I understand. I have been there. But there is a way to push on without venturing into disobedience,,,and I will elaborate on that in my next full post.
Love – Christianity is an evangelical faith in a completely radical sense. We are to proclaim the Good News with our words, but even more emphatically by our actions – to feed the Master’s lambs. We are not just to love those who agree with us and are converted, but even those who actively oppose us. To give people heart through the little, mundane loving actions of everyday life is a specifically Christian command. This does not mean we should be doormats. Far from it. We may take a useful cue from St. Joan of Arc. She tearfully pleaded with English soldiers before a battle began for about an hour to surrender or withdraw. She would have been perfectly happy for them to withdraw from the French positions they held; she bore them no animus. Usually during that hour she would be recipient of the most vulgar and obscene taunts. Once she was satisfied she could not persuade them to live in peace, the battle commenced and the girl who had been tearfully pleading a few moments earlier was all hammer and tongs. She loved her enemies…would have been perfectly content for them to withdraw to their own territory and live in peace. But she was not going to enable their aggression or suffer it to enslave her French compatriots. Our love is not for the faint of heart. It demands patience, genuine tolerance, and charity to all regardless of whether they agree or support us. But it does not insist on accepting oppression – in fact, demands that our love for our brothers lead us to their defense when assaulted, without initiating an assault on another just because he rejects our faith. It is demanding, particularly that we do the little things for others, things with no overt relation to faith, such as feed them, bind up their wounds, give them a heartening word regardless of how they view us. And they will know we are Christians by our love.
Now a great shaking has begun, one that engulfs the whole world. It is the great Storm I first told my priests about 20 years ago. I told them from the beginning that we will not prevail in the battle that is before us. Matters will get worse and worse (though we will have one brief moment when we think we have prevailed), until all have lost temporal hope and think the end is at hand. It is at this moment that we will be rescued. It is our Christian faith that looks beyond this world and sees, however darkly, into the next that is our sustenance. Our aim, then, is to endure to the end. My aim, specifically, is to give people heart to endure to the end. If satan can get people to emphasize one of the three duties I mention above to the exclusion of the others, he has successfully pried our hands from the safety of Christ. So how to keep steady when the world is aflame with strife, when even the hierarchy of the Church is set against itself, when perhaps your own shepherd is busying himself with things that avail nothing – and perhaps even jeopardize the faith?
Understand that reflexive cynicism and reflexive credulity are not opposites, but flip sides of the same coin of ignorance. Reflexive credulity discerns nothing but takes everything at face value. It takes no responsibility, but leaves every decision to others. It is an excuse to not apply your mind to your faith, but simply entrust it to others. But the Lord says you shall love your God with all you mind, heart and soul. There is no escape from the responsibility each of us bear. Even so, among the reflexively credulous are some perfectly innocent souls who may be saved by that innocence – though it is a dangerous path for anyone who can do more and does not. Reflexive cynicism, however, has no saving grace whatsoever. It avoids having to think by simply seeing the bad in everything. It is a lazy man’s way of playing at sophistication. It is an acid that eats away at the soul, for it does not just deny the good, but the very possibility of good. If there is a blindness to reflexive credulity, reflexive cynicism sees the world through satan’s eyes, ever accusing mankind.
That means that no matter how the world or the earth is shaken, you must judge things for what they are. Over the last week I have written vigorously in defense of the orthodoxy of Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan, even as I have welcomed considered but often hard comments from others who take a dim view of some of their recent acts. When looking at what an official has done, you must take it in context of what their history has been. If that history has been faithful and orthodox, you ought to be mighty slow in condemning them even if you are quick to criticize a particular decision.
Yesterday I got early word of the appointment of Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich as the new Archbishop of Chicago. I immediately began some research – and was disheartened to find one of his first acts as Bishop of Spokane was to forbid priests from participating in prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. I read a very flattering article from several years ago in the Inlander, Spokane’s urban alternative weekly newspaper (you know the type, particularly if you live in a city – invariably hostile to the faith with a hard left political position on everything). It was flattering to him because it credited him with a penchant to suppress traditional Catholics while cozying up to and empowering those who are hostile to the faith. I was going to put up the link to the archived article but, mysteriously, today it has been removed from the paper’s archives. It could be that Archbishop Cupich is going to be a real champion of the faith. History is not destiny (though it is the thoughtful oddsmaker’s best friend). But the same history that leads me to defend those I have defended this week makes me awfully glad I do not live in the Archdiocese of Chicago any more.
The bottom line is that satan has been unleashed for some time and is doing everything he can to fray and sunder the fabric that holds both the Church and society together before rescue comes. Now we are caught in the great winnowing fan. Remember that no one has any power over us except that which God allows. Each of us will be held accountable for how well we live the little work assigned to us. If your priest or your shepherd is faithful to the Magisterium, support them even when they stumble. If they are not, live your faith according to the Magisterium and endure the affliction. They cannot forbid you – and even if they got that far, you have the right of appeal. If you accuse falsely, you will be held to account. If you don’t live your work faithfully out of fear, you will be held to account. If you occupy yourself finding splinters to point out in others eyes while ignoring the beam in your own, you will be held to account.
Perhaps you see why I so relentlessly repeat the sure way of simplicity: acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. Trust-Do-Love. It is hard to be pulled astray if you confine yourself to that. You neither play at things too big for you nor get paralyzed by the fearful shaking that surrounds you. Let your work be of the type that helps repair the tattered bonds of faith and fellowship rather than adds to the fraying. If you do that, when the Son of Man comes, He will find faith on earth.