Over the last few days there have been some intense and edgy discussions in the comments here. I am deeply pleased and honored that here, people spoke candidly and honestly about controversial, emotion-laden subjects, often disagreeing deeply with each other, while still assuming each other’s good will. This is how we reason together. I thank you for that.
I am doubly pleased because a few years ago I said that if we were to be prepared properly, people must stop speaking in abstract platitudes and start thinking seriously about issues that they would soon face, rather than merely imagine. The greatest experts on how to handle children are those who are childless. their confident expertise and certainty on the subject lasts until they actually have…children. At which point, they usually find themselves humbly asking people they recently condescendingly criticized for advice. Reality intrudes on our pious certainties – and when it does, we grow in both humility and wisdom. People don’t have solid answers yet…but the first step in finding solid answers is to think seriously about the problem. People here are doing that now. God bless you.
I am going to take another day or two to calibrate my article on Islam and the challenge before us as well as I can. In the meantime, I am puzzled why the issue of refugees is treated with such limited dualism. Taking them – and Jihadist plants – into the western world or letting them die are not the only options. In previous crises, the U.S. and the west have worked with other Middle Eastern countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt to set up and administer large-scale refugee camps. I do not know why that is not being discussed. Perhaps it is because the United States has so badly damaged its credibility in the world and among its own people. On Friday, just a few hours before the Paris attacks, it was leaked that the U.S. State Department was NOT going to include Christians as genocidal victims of ISIS who could seek asylum. Wow! Let’s admit the terror culture, but not the people who are being beheaded, burned alive, and crucified. Seriously!? This administration is uniquely feckless, incompetent and malicious in the annals of U.S. history. Thankfully, Paris is the beginning of its downfall.
For now, I am going to repeat an article from a year and a half ago. It is about playing our position well.
By Charlie Johnston
I have maintained radio silence for about a week now. Sorry for not responding to those who have emailed or messaged. It has been an intense period. In three primary areas, I have been taking instruction for preparation. I know many are frustrated, wondering why things seem to turn so slowly in the widening gyre. Give thanks, for it is a mercy, however frustrating. It is the God of Mercy who extends time so that you may have every bit of preparation you need to stand as the greatest crisis in history unfolds upon the world. Training is hard, often boring. You itch for action. But mastery of the training is often the difference between life and death – and, in this case, your soul.
Two of the areas involved I will speak of only to those who have need. The third is for all. I spoke recently of the piece concerning family I am working on. The premise is that family is not just a value of faith but, in fact, the blueprint given us by God on how to participate in His Trinitarian life. Family as authentic worship and practice is terribly undervalued even by very pious Christians, though unknowingly. I continue to work on it. But I do not wish – and God does not intend – that I should correct that error by promulgating a new error of undervaluing other more traditional forms of practice and worship.
In faith, we need those who live pious practices, those who devote themselves to traditional prayer with great intensity for much of the day. We need our hierarchy, for it is the means Christ left us to govern His Church on earth. We need our theologians and thinkers who push the envelope, for though the fulness of revelation was completed in Christ, our feeble minds grasp only bits and pieces of it at a time. We need prophets to help us read the signs of the times and to help us apply the revelation of Christ to the specific times we are passing through.
All of these things are good in themselves, but satan is constantly at work trying to pervert things. The devil uses even our piety to foment pride in us, robbing it of its very efficacy.
Bishops, priests, pastors and rabbis are critical to guiding us through our faith. They are appointed by God to care for and protect His people. They must both guard their own prestige while living as servants. Why guard their prestige? In times of crisis, you are not interested in how folksy or charming the captain is. What is most important is confidence that he is competent to steer you safely through the storm; that his orders are worth following even when you don’t understand them and that his praise is genuinely meaningful when he gives it. These are the tools a good captain must use to carry his people to safety. He cannot do it if he has squandered his prestige. But it must always be about the people he serves. If his captaincy is just an exercise in self-actualization, he both squanders his prestige and evokes bitter resentment. So he must be a servant who has earned his prestige and continues to earn it with the decisions he makes and the care he gives. We all know pastors who are completely self-absorbed, smugly satisfied with their own righteous superiority. Christ will say He never knew them. But we should pray for them and with them, that they find the joy of real self-sacrificial service. They will be held to a heavy account, May they be worthy. For any pastors who read this, know this: when you sit in judgment, Christ will not first seek the testimony of your fellow pastors, nor even the recipients of your charitable works. He will first examine those underlings you worked with every day. If you treated them like things, like mere means to accomplish your ends and did not recognize the fulness of the dignity God bestowed on them, the Lord will not even bother with the testimony of your colleagues or the recipients of your charity.
Then there are theologians, those who devote themselves to deep study and contemplation of Scripture and the Word. How my life has been enriched by the works of such as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. John Paul the Great and C.S. Lewis, just to name a few. The work of a theologian is to approach the Master’s throne a little closer, then make the glass through which we see the Lord a little less dark, so we see the Lord more as He is. When a theologian does that, he is a gift from God to the world. But many theologians instead use their cleverness to try to capture Christ in a cage of their own vain musings. They deceive themselves that they have the Gospels mastered, forgetting that no one masters the Master. A theologian who congratulates himself on his own erudition will find that, on judgment day, the Master will say He never knew them.
There are prophets, those who hear the voice of God and sometimes behold His countenance. How well I know the temptations for a prophet. Many begin well and end terribly. A few begin badly and end well. Narrow is the path on which one can begin well and end well, too. You must speak that which the Lord commands and say nothing on that which He commands you to silence – and NEVER blame the Lord for your own vain musings. One would think it would be safest to be silent altogether – but it did not end well for the man who buried his talent in the ground, hoping to avoid responsibility for what he was given. When the Lord commands you to speak, you must speak, however much you would rather be left alone. I often hear people say that the Lord has told them thus and such…and what the Lord tells them always matches perfectly with what they want. I give thanks that next to none of them actually is called to prophecy, for what a terrible accounting they would have to give. The Lord rarely has you speak directly in His name on anything that is comfortable for you. Yet it sits like a rock in your stomach until you have obeyed. If people start paying attention, you still must be restrained. You are not a columnist or entertainer who must constantly come up with new material. Try to prophesy on command and you will soon find yourself apostate. Sometimes, the temptation is overwhelming to give comfort to one you love who suffers – but you must not offer false comfort that the Lord has not spoken. If you offer natural comfort and the one you comfort knows you are a prophet, you must be clear that it is from you, not the Lord. God is perfect; you are fallible. God writes straight with crooked lines. If you endure, you may be a profound source of hope to many. But if you follow your own counsel the Lord will hold you to a terrible accounting for the damage you do to His people. He will tell you He never knew you at the judgment.
Then there are the contemplatives, both those in religious life and those in private life who devote themselves to traditional prayer for most of their day. They are rich food for the faithful, drawing down incredible grace on many. How much richer my life is because of the “Little Way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, whose brief life lived in obscurity as a cloistered Carmelite, did not visibly shower the earth until after she had passed on to the next life. Many of us know people who cheerfully live prayer constantly, pausing only to offer help or consolation to one in need. Most will pass on to the next life in perfect obscurity. Oh, but they will be rock stars in heaven! And the Just Judge will make sure you know what they did. But the contemplatives are rich food for the faithful only if they genuinely offer up their prayers with real love and humility. If it is just an effort to prove to God or others their own holiness, it is a caustic substance, driving others away from the faith and eating up their own souls.
This, then, is the heart of the matter. All devotions, all genuinely pious practices are good, when offered with complete humility and love. But if even your authentic calling is used as a perch from which to judge others, it is a vanity and you already have your reward. Should the builder look askance at the farmer because the farmer doesn’t build anything? Should the farmer hold the builder in contempt because he does not feed anyone? God has a place for you in the family of man. If you use your properly ordered place to try to establish dominance over your fellows, or from which to view them with contempt, you have a hot surprise coming at the judgment. But if you use your place to serve and to love and to build up your fellows, then you are the Lord’s good servant – and He will write straight with the crooked line you are.