By Charlie Johnston
I was grateful that so many of you offered your prayers up on my behalf yesterday and today. It is nice to have such a community sending up prayers. I went to Daily Mass this morning, did a little work, and then took a long nap. All will be well.
I was a bit taken aback at how many urged me to go to the doctor, both in comments and email, even after I explained why I do not. I am not entirely dogmatic about this. Last year I got an infection and my brother-in-law had some antibiotics he hadn’t used. I cheerfully took advantage of them to knock the infection out. If I were laying on the floor convulsing, I probably would not fight with anyone taking me to the doctor. If I were with one of my doctor friends (unlikely – they are all in the Chicago area) and he said, “Hey Charlie, you look funny, let me take a look at that,” I wouldn’t argue with him. I treat it all passively, kind of like sitting by a stream, watching what comes along and taking what seems useful, but not searching for any particular thing.
I want to re-iterate that if you feel something bad and health care is easily available to you, you SHOULD take advantage of it. You should not spurn God’s ordinary means in a petulant demand for His extraordinary ones. My radical dependence on Him for these things during the fullness of the Storm is a matter of discipline for me, not for all. Your mission is not my mission, and my mission is not your mission. In some ways, I have been sent before you, to help you keep heart during the Storm. When I went on my pilgrimage, it was not to encourage everyone to go walking and sleeping in the woods. That was for me. But, if the time comes when you are dislocated and you have to live that way for a while, it will be a sign of hope to you that I did it before you and did just fine. While medicine is easily available to you, you should take advantage of it. But if it should fail, that I had to depend on God’s grace before you will help you to avoid panic and endure should you have to.
What sort of sign of hope would I be if, at a sign of significant inconvenience, I said never mind? In part, what I do in these things when it is not necessary for all is to give you hope and real trust should it become necessary for you to do the same. But you should not adopt these things unless you must. When the Storm is over I will humbly and gratefully take advantage of all the normal means God has offered us. I only defer now because I am a soldier in His service and under His direct care for the duration of a very particular mission. You should not be surprised that I try to live it all consistently. Whether I am crazy or not, I mean it and I try to live it well.
Like many, I was startled when I saw that Pope Francis is going to write an encyclical on the matter of climate change. A Papal Encyclical directing governments how to handle specific emissions would have all the authority of an American Presidential directive on changing Canon Law: None. It would be an embarrassing over-reach that would make the Church look silly. Catholic doctrine acknowledges that matters of faith and morals are the prudential responsibility of the Church while political and policy decisions are the prudential responsibility of the laity, provided intrinsically illicit means are not used.
I had been amused at the agitation Pope Francis’ first message to the faithful, Evangelii Gaudium, caused. Many thought it revealed a socialist economic mindset. Fortunately, I had read it before I commented on it. The Pope did reveal a certain deficiency in his grasp of economics: some of the things he personally favored would have led economies away from, rather than towards, the ends he seeks. Not a problem. A Pope is not called to be an economist – just to articulate the ends economics should lead to for a just society. We had been a bit spoiled by the economic sophistication of both of Francis’ two predecessors. What was critical was whether Francis acknowledged the proper prudential duty and authority of each calling, clergy and laity. He did. He noted in the encyclical that it was not his duty as Pope to tell how we should get to a just situation, only what the end result should look like – and it was for those charged with that responsibility to devise effective means to accomplish just ends. He did not fall prey to that ancient temptation for Bishops to play at being lay policy-makers, politicians.
Pope Francis, though, is incredibly canny and subtle. When I was working politics, it was the habit of the media, when confronted with a dramatically rising new conservative or traditional voice, to try to play them by finding things in what they said that could be interpreted as progressive – then praise those things extravagantly. The gambit is designed to try to seduce such politicians into actually adopting progressive nostrums and abandoning intellectual rigor. Sadly, it often works. The media has done the same thing with Pope Francis since his election. I do not know, but am beginning to think, he is brilliantly clever. I do not think he just resists the siren call, but in a form of public relations judo, draws the schemers in and turns their efforts against them.
Many were atwitter at the seeming potential apostasy of the first session of the Synod on the Family last year. Francis let them dream…let them cast him as a crusading closet progressive. The media exuded such effulgent praise of his judgment, his compassion, his subtlety on the issue, that they would have looked like the silly ideologues they are had they suddenly condemned him if they did not like the final product. He led them right down the primrose path and then, in his closing remarks, made one of the most profoundly compelling statements of compassionate orthodoxy I have ever heard. It was brilliantly conceived and brilliantly played.
If I were a progressive, I would be a lot more cautious before following Pope Francis down this primrose path. They are again praising him for secretly being one of them, an enthusiast for junk science that empowers the state over the individual. They praise his brilliance, his perception and his judgment in enthusiastic anticipation of him adding the weight of his authority to their errors. He doesn’t correct them now. But what if, when all is said and done, he writes an encyclical on stewardship, firmly noting that man was not made for nature, but nature for man…that man is called to care for it carefully, but that it must not become a tool to use against man and his aspirations or his duty to care for himself and his family? What is the media going to do…suddenly condemn him because he did not come to the same conclusion they did after having fulsomely praised him and anointed him as a true judge? They probably will, but they will look like fools in the process.
I get the feeling that the only safe course in dealing with Pope Francis is to stick with what is true, what there is evidence to support, and to absolutely avoid trying to tailor your sentiments to match what you think his preferences are going to be. So I am going to resist the temptation to comment on his intention. I will not critique what he says on the matter until he actually says something of substance on the matter. There was a marvelous piece on this subject here.
A lot of people have been feeling despair in the last month. World news is bad enough, but people seem to be having great trials within their families and circle of friends, with keeping to what they believe their duty is, and with worry over what is around the corner. The world seems to have very dark plans for any who are serious about their Christian faith.
But no one had plans any darker than those who took Jesus up to be crucified. Astonished at His silence, Pilate asked Him if He did not know that the power to decide His fate lay in Pilate’s hands. Our Lord responded that Pilate had
absolutely no power that was not given to him from above…and so, in fact had no power over Him at all save that which would advance the Kingdom of God. Heh heh, that response scared the bejabbers out of the cynical Pilate, who, from that point on twisted himself in knots trying to escape responsibility for the persecution of this Man/God.
I have fallen prey to some of the despair at what surrounds us, as well. It is dark and getting darker by the minute. Who wants to mount up and follow the Way of the Cross? Who looks forward to being scourged? There will be some bad days, there will be some worse days…yet within them all there is grace and joy to be found. Some days I will live my duty well. Some days I will fall far short. But the world has no power whatsoever over those who trust in God, save that which advances the cause of His Kingdom. Thus, I have come to conclude that, though it may sometimes envelop me, despair is for chumps.