Yesterday a woman wrote me in response to my column “Hitting the Links,” with heartfelt anguish about how devastating it would be to the wonderful Msgr. Essef if it turned out the Locutions to the World (LttW) wasn’t true. It got me to thinking that people have a bit of a garbled idea of what an imprimatur and what spiritual direction is and, for that matter, how truth is developed and discerned. In the first place, most of the content of LttW is true – and verifiably so. But if that means it must always be objectively correct, it has already failed, for its predictions on the election of Pope Francis were almost uniformly off-base.
An imprimatur does not mean that everything contained in a publication is true. It certainly does not mean it comes of supernatural origin. It merely means it is not contrary to faith and morals. It has a much more humble purpose than people want to impute to it. Good spiritual direction, while preventing error and protecting against obvious fraud, can only speak to the character of the one directed, not to the certainty of their musings. The best of priests does not have a sure means of knowing whether a locution is from God or not. That is something that can only be determined by the Church – and almost always only after those visitations are complete.
The greatest of saints are almost always fooled at times, at least for a time. A big part of their sanctity lies in that they never get vested in their own will for vanity’s sake, but hold fast to Christ and so can rarely be deceived for long. St. Padre Pio, of recent vintage, candidly spoke of the devil fooling him for a time. St. Joan of Arc was wrong in her predictions almost as often as she was right. Most of the Old Testament Prophets were off by at least a few years in most of their most immediate prophecies. We never get a pass from our need for discernment. Most of the most important insights in Church history have come through natural means. Inspired certainly, but not directly from locutions. Even when there are authentic visitations involved, God always works through the authentic personality of the person visited, so there is still a filter there.
Msgr. Essef testifies that the LttW are not contrary to faith and morals. On that, he has certainly been rigorously correct. He also attests, indirectly, to the character of the locutionist. We can’t know for sure, but given the honor and rigor of Msgr. Essef, we can be pretty confident of it. So whatever happens in the future, Msgr. Essef has already done his job thoroughly and well. If honor means he must determine infallibly whether it is of heavenly origin or not, you demand something beyond his – or any other individual’s – capacity. It is like judging a man’s worth by whether or not he can lift 20,000 pounds. No man can, so it is an irrational standard. If you demand irrational standards, you are ever doomed to disappointment.
I am working on a piece entitled, “In Thanksgiving for Heretics.” It is about the way our understanding of doctrine has actually developed over the years. It is messier than most people imagine, but all the more miraculous because despite all the mud and blood that has gone into it, while our understanding and application of doctrine has developed and been refined over the millennia, the Church has never contradicted itself on a matter of doctrine. And most of the most important insights have not come from locutions, but from homely saints working steadfastly to take the next right step in a very ordinary way.
Canada is about to ink a deal with China to conduct much of its trade directly in Chinese currency instead of the dollar. This adds Canada to a growing trend throughout the world, shifting away from the dollar and toward the yuan as the dominant currency for international trade. So far it is largely limited to trade that directly involves China. But it does establish an alternative, easily switched to if there were a sudden large-scale loss of confidence in the dollar.
I know most Americans have no idea how devastating it would be to the U.S. economy if the dollar were dropped by the rest of the world as the default currency for international trade. A big part of the reason the U.S. can artificially manipulate interest rates is because the rest of the world has a powerful incentive to prop up the dollar, for their economies are dependent on its value as well. If suddenly it was not the default currency, it could overnight become near-worthless paper. Some chuckle that China has economic problems of its own. So it does – which does not seem to be stopping it from getting itself into place to supplant America as the world’s default economy – and for others, including Canada, to sign on. I know average folks don’t quite get the implications of that or that administration officials don’t, but I am surprised the financial markets are not screaming more. A general switch away from the dollar as default currency would be more devastating than the collapse of the stock market – though that would be a consequence of it.
I have had a few people who have large tracts of land mention they would be willing to sell it off in 50-acre parcels for use as refuges. The idea kind of flummoxed me. But what the heck, there is a couple with property in New Hampshire wanting to sell. If anyone is interested, drop me an email and I will put you directly in contact with them. I will have nothing else to do with it. But if you want to be put in touch with sellers, I will do that much. After that, you’re on your own. (And for what it’s worth, I will receive no commission, or finder’s fee or any other sort of recompense.)
While contemplating the subject of China, Victor Davis Hanson of the Hudson Institute wrote a powerful requiem for NATO the other day. Davis is perhaps the most prominent public intellectual historian in the country right now. I thought it particularly timely, and that it would serve as a nice addendum here to my column last week about the fall of mammon.
I very much liked this piece about the controversy between Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke. Written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker, I don’t know that I agree with all of it, but it is a rational analysis rather than the overheated proselytizing I have mostly seen so far. It recognizes that Burke had stayed a year beyond the standard term at the Apostolic Signatura and recognizes that the Pope has elevated some notably orthodox traditional Cardinals. Whatever is going on, it does not fit an ideological purge. To turn a quote from “The Godfather” on its head, it may be personal, but it does not seem to be business.
I rather like this nun and her “Five Signs You Have Become Pope of Your Own Church.”
Thanks to occasional – and very astute – commenter TC for this old piece from the always marvelous Peter Kreeft on “How to Win the Culture War.”
A common theme of the mail I get these days is people wondering if they are doing any good, if they are even doing the right things, or whether it is hopeless and they have already failed. You’re in good company.
I want you to think of John the Baptist, who Jesus called “the greatest of the prophets and more…” John leapt in his mother’s womb at the mere presence of his fetal Lord. John recognized Jesus as Messiah from the moment Jesus came to be baptized by him. And yet, near the end of his life he sent from prison to ask Jesus, “Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Think about that. John lived a life of unbending fidelity, knew the Messiah from the very womb. Yet he, too, was a man of his time. Like all Jews, he expected a political and military Messiah. Jesus ministry was not what he expected. Think about the pathos of what John is really asking. He knows he is not long for this world. Looking back over his life, he is wondering plaintively, “Has my life had meaning, or am I just another nut?” If this moment came for the greatest of the prophets, surely it will come for us. If the man who was the greatest of the prophets had mistaken expectations, surely some of ours will be, too.
Then consider how Jesus answered him. He did not give any beguiling intellectual or theoretical proofs or arguments. Rather, He said to tell John what they had seen; that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them. It was a small number who are recorded as having been physically healed in Scriptures. But a multitude who had been blinded to any sense of dignity found new hope through Jesus, those who trudged without hope through the day walked with new confidence in their capacity for goodness and their neighbor, those whose ears had been shut off to all but the insults and calumny their superiors hurled at them heard Jesus’ message of God’s love, and those who had been spiritually dead found new life and zeal. It only took a few physical healings for a multitude to be spiritually healed. It was not what John had expected, but it was undeniably true. And so Jesus answered the question John had really asked but did not say: “Yes, your life has had profound meaning. The Kingdom has burst forth in your sight, but not as you expected.” And for good measure, Jesus said that blessed is the man who takes no offense at Him, despite, perhaps, whatever their expectations had been.
As you look at your life, you cannot measure it by the books published, the soup kitchens worked, the refuges built – though if you can do those things, they are good. Rather, you must judge it from the perspective of the hope you inspired, the peace you spread, the joy you engendered, the love you kindled – for these are the sure marks of the Kingdom and of God. All else is detail.