By Charlie Johnston
This week is kind of a transitional one. Before the end of the week, my sister will be acting as the comments editor. I will not even get notification of comments – unless she tells me something needs my direct attention. If problems arise and health or other issues derail her at any point, I will still have a regular comments editor. That will be a permanent feature of the website going forward. I found during my stay at the cabin this last time that my time has been entirely dominated by comments and emails – and with the emails I am still a week and a half behind.
My daughter, Christie, is going to have to have brain surgery. While not a piece of cake, it is not as bad as it sounds. Apparently on my ex-wife’s side of the family, there is an occasional congenital deformity in which the bone at the base of the skull is abnormally thick. If it begins pressing on the brain, it causes seizures and other problems to develop. My grandson, Camron, had the deformity and the surgery to correct it a few years ago. As I understand it, the surgery just removes some bone, relieves pressure on the brain and, if taken care of in time, leaves no long-term effects. It has been a success with him. We would have known sooner about the condition, except my ex-wife’s biological father had abandoned the family when she was young, so medical records were largely incomplete. The same thing has manifested in my daughter now. She suffers from seizures and some other abnormalities arising from it, but it is from the same cause. They have to stabilize several things before they can operate. But when they do, barring some significant complication, all should be well and Christie should be able to go back to work and live normally. Your prayers are appreciated.
I mentioned last week that the hospital where Joseph Cronin is at is working to transition him to a long-term treatment care facility because of insurance problems that kicked in this month. Fortunately, the insurance does not force any precipitous moves. The shortest waiting period for a suitable long-term facility right now is two months – and the hospital where he is at will be able to continue to treat him as it has been until a spot opens up. If Joseph should wake up in the interim, then he would stay at the hospital where he is at until recovery is complete. So all is as well as anyone could reasonably expect it to be – and Joseph has made slow but steady – and occasionally striking – progress.
Over at Glenn Dallaire’s marvelous Mystics of the Church website, a peculiar debate has broken out the last few days in the comments on the article he did about me a few months back. There are some who argue that my experiences cannot be authentic because of my sexual impurity, which I did not really get a handle on until 11 years ago. Though I have lived celibacy and continence for 11 years, it has been a struggle at times, particularly in the early years. I saw no reason to dissemble about that. It is a legitimate consideration for anyone who looks at what I have to say. I was receiving visitations while I was sinning in that way. I don’t mind anyone dismissing me because of it, but to dismiss all who have had such problems in their background is pure, specious nonsense. If you adopt that standard, you are going to have to drop a lot of people from the canon – maybe most of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. Among New Testament saints, there are many who struggled with such tendencies. I know some have said that as soon as a saint found God, they abandoned such things. Many did – more than you know did not. St. Benedict of Nursia threw himself in some briars when he was a monk in his 40s, specifically to damp down sexual temptation. St. Francis of Assissi, who was an upper class young dandy before he found God intensely, used to roll around in the snow to damp down his temptations. For years after he heard his call from God, even as he preached in different towns, St. Augustine kept a concubine with him to fulfill his “needs,” – and evidence suggests profoundly that she was not his only outlet.
Even if I met all objective tests, observers would do well to approach my mystical encounters with caution and skepticism. Such things often, even usually, are a delusion or a fraud. But when you start applying tests that would disqualify a big chunk of existing saints, prophets and patriarchs you apply false standards.
More striking was that much of the commentary largely left me alone, but attacked my readers and commenters. The main charges were schizophrenically contradictory. On the one hand, I was criticized for not enforcing a particular point of view on my excitable readers, who are allowed to say many things I clearly don’t subscribe to. On the other, readers were described as mind-numbed robots who will do anything I tell them to. In a courtroom this is called arguing in the alternative – but a lawyer’s job is to advocate a particular position regardless of how contradictory and unrealistic his various positions are. In real life, it is evidence that you are trying to fit facts to a conclusion you have already drawn rather than come to a rational conclusion based on the facts.
My central message is deceptively simple: acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. Simple as it is, there is a real and difficult discipline in developing the habits of mind and heart to live that well and consistently. I have been deeply heartened by how seriously many readers have worked to internalize that as a reality. Let’s take a few of the criticisms and bat them away for the nonsense they are:
- I let readers comment on all sorts of things that are ancillary to my message. Yep, sure do. One of the things I have tried to do is make religious discussions deeper and more fruitful than bitter arguments over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Given the miserable history of even the wisest misinterpreting authentic prophecy, I have encouraged people to spend less time defending what they think they know from their own interpretations and more time on the much humbler business of what they can do to help others get through trials. I have published guest columns that disagree with me – without obsessively trying to prove I am right. I have cleared all but maybe 20-25 comments out of the over 14,000 I have received since starting this website – including a host of comments telling me flatly I am wrong about this or that. I have had a purpose in this: underlining that what is important is what you do when trials come, not what you know. Therefore, so long as it is fully obedient to the Magisterial teaching of the Church – or, if Protestant or Jew – a reasonable interpretation of Scripture without animus to other traditions, I am glad to give it a hearing here. Some challenges what I know, some confirms it…but here, we take counsel together with the authentic personality God gave each of us – and we grow together even as our faith takes deeper root. That is not a flaw of this website, but a feature of it.
- My readers are mind-numbed robots who will do whatever I tell them. One commenter said that if I told people to send $1,000 dollars each, people would jump to do so. To the contrary, I have earned the confidence of readers because I do NOT tell them such stupid, mendacious things. I do not tell them to go atop the highest building in town and await a flying saucer. I do not tell them to sell all they have and move to a cave. I tell them to be prudent, to meet their obligations, to acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around them. It is because they hear the echoes of the Master’s voice in what I actually do say and recognize it, rather than any compelling charisma on my part, that I have earned their respect. It is the difference between moral leadership and cheap exploitation.
- My readers think they are going to be a soup kitchen to the world while everyone else suffers. This is truly absurd. One even went so far as to suggest I maintain that the people being beheaded in the Middle East just weren’t pious enough. To the contrary, I doubt a week has gone by when I have not told people that the Storm comes for ALL, that all will suffer – and often said so quite pointedly. We don’t get an exemption for being good little boys and girls. Rather, I have told people that we should devote ourselves to being a sign of hope despite that fact. And readers have gulped, girded their loins, and decided to be a sign of hope come what may. This is just plain false witness and a slander against my many readers who have come to terms with being a sign of hope to those around them however dark it may become. I told a close friend how moved I was at the quality of people who have made common cause with me. He replied, “Charlie, your message is that we should help others with steadfast fidelity…and that if we do so, our reward is likely to be a bullet to the head on this earth. That is not a message that has much appeal for the ‘what’s in it for me crowd.’ So you should not be surprised at the commitment and compassion of those who actually embrace it.” It is the ugliest of slanders to accuse readers here who have embraced a radical selflessness of self-serving.
I marvel at the cynicism of some of those who call themselves Christian. I have come to think that the loss of virtue is not the great evil of our age, but the loss of hope that virtue is possible.
My purpose from the beginning has not been to tell you what is going to happen. It has been to raise troops who, with real fortitude, will be steadfast signs of hope helping all to endure. Everything I do is geared towards that. Many of you have answered that call. Not to march as I tell you, but to see what is around you, help those who need it, and know that God is close to you – to make decisions taking full responsibility for those decisions. I come to exhort you, to encourage you. I have no ministry and never will. I am sent as a flame to spark thousands of ministries, each trusting to God to direct them to what they must do in each moment to take the next right step where they are at, to be a sign of hope to those real souls right next to them, knowing that God is close at hand to them.
Now, many of you have taken on the habits of mind and heart to do just that. Do not be deterred from the noble purpose you have embraced, under God, because of those who have deluded themselves that the hope of virtue is not possible. The Storm does, indeed, come to all and some of you will be called to be signs of hope to some of those who now deride you. Live it.
The changes I am contemplating here have to do with doing more to support you in your determination to live as children of God, children of the light. I am contemplating how to make the website broader, encompassing more people using their authentic personality while maintaining the fundamental mission. I may end up as a Founder and contributing editor. I know I am thinking of how to manage to travel regionally for visits around the country to encourage people and give them heart.
During this Storm, I expect to have some secular responsibilities for which I may be well compensated while I do them. That is fine. But I have lived poverty since shortly before my pilgrimage began over four years ago and, on religious work, I will continue to do so. Oh, I will not fail to find sponsors for travel if it becomes necessary – and those sponsors will know that it is bus or train tickets, cheap hotels and small per diems they are paying for, whatever the caustic cynics say. I will not live other than poverty and small needs from religious work, but I will not fail to do whatever is necessary to hearten the faithful – and there will never be a charge for it, nor will individual donations be solicited or accepted at any meetings.
What I call you to do is much the same: Go Forth. Be a sign of hope to those around you. Organize your neighbors and friends into little communities that will help each other. Get outside of yourself.
Many of the critics are starting to sound like Job’s “pious” friends – people who did not do, but only judged what others did. Don’t be like them. My admonition to acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those around you will rescue many souls if the Storm sets in in its fury. It is sound counsel even if everything smoothes out. I have never seen a situation where the cohorts of a leader come in for criticism while it is blunted against the leader, himself. It angers me and heartens me…it suggests that dark forces must be so concerned at the impact all of you can make that they are prompting even some well-meaning people to discourage you. Don’t argue, don’t defend…just Go Forth and resolutely be that sign of hope.
Remember, as Romans 2:6 tells you, God “…will render to every man according to his works.” Don’t be one of those to whom the Master says, “You have not spoken rightly of me…” (Job 42:7). Go Forth.