By Charlie Johnston
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you.” – I Peter 4:12
I have always dreaded the interregnum between noon on Good Friday until the Vigil. There is a grey emptiness to it that hangs like a shroud over the hours. I didn’t like it even when I was a Protestant. Catholics emphasize that quality in a way that makes it into a deep ache, the shrouding of the Crucifix, the empty Holy Water fonts, the bareness of the altar. We are in mourning.
I have said many times that no one will be left untouched by the Storm, that each of us will have much to bear, will know sorrow, will know strife. Now I hear from people constantly who are suffering agonizing torments in their own families, amongst their friends and at work. I hear from some who thought they would be safe havens telling me of terrible upheaval within their ranks and among their fellows. We are all in need of purification. God purifies His own to prepare them to help others who do not know to reach out to Him.
I have told you that you are called to be signs of hope to those who have long past given up on hope – and to do this in a time of great trial, the greatest that has yet come upon the world. In a sense, you are called to be God’s special forces in these times. Can special forces be effective without training? Of course not. You must endure a touch of what multitudes must soon endure, that you may be strengthened to get outside yourself and focus on gathering God’s children back to safety.
When I was a young man, there was a period when our family was undergoing much stress and strain. For two of my young siblings, Steve and Kim, it was a very scary time. They were old enough to know things were not quite right and that there was constant tension all around, but too young to understand what it was or what to do about it. After she was an adult my sister told me that sometimes, she would lay fearfully awake at night, waiting for me to get home from work. Whenever I got home, I always went upstairs to look in on the kids. She said I would start telling her goofy stories and singing silly songs, laughing and joking with them. Then she would get to laughing with me and all would be okay and she could go to sleep. It struck a chord in me. I remembered during that time and how often I saw such fear and confusion in their eyes – and how I would pretend not to notice it and just do exactly what she had remembered. I could not have beguiled her from her fear with clever arguments and such. But I could be visibly joyful and jaunty. I could show how I loved them. And that was enough, in fact, far more effective than the cleverest argument.
I call on each of you, when trials come, when turmoil surrounds you and people you care for, trust! Do it with joy. Trust and joy, like faith, are acts of your will. You have no idea how many people you can inspire to new hope simply by living trials with steady trust and joy. Think, for a moment, of the centurion who was near the foot of the Cross and proclaimed, “Surely this was the Son of God.” We do not know that this centurion knew much about how Jesus lived. If he did, it was not enough to convince him of Christ’s divinity. It was seeing how Jesus died that convinced the centurion that Jesus was the Son of God. When trials come upon you it is an opportunity to give living witness to the hope you claim, not just a struggle or a setback. Live the witness of grace under fire because you trust in God and you will inspire multitudes, even some of your tormentors. Never waste the graces to be found in a storm.
People often want a shortcut, some easy, certain assurance that will grant them complete trust. There is none. If you want trust, you must trust. When you are suffering the greatest trials, that is when you have the opportunity for the most trust – and to build it into something rock solid. Trust when you have no reason to trust, when all seems lost and hopeless, and then trust becomes like a rod of iron you can count on.
Trust and faith are not about finding the right assurance, but are always an act of the will. We must each choose. If we have the fortitude to choose faith and trust, it becomes stronger in us over time. If we are never forced to choose under dire, fearful circumstances, it will never become strong in us. So if people choose a shortcut, they can only obtain the illusion of trust, an illusion that would burst under real trial. We need an army of faithful whose determination is to live trust until death, regardless of circumstances or appearances. That cannot happen if people vest their trust in anything outside themselves except God, His Saints and His angels.
When you look past the thin veil of the monstrous disorders that disfigure our culture, the central question of our time is whether life has any meaning at all. The progressive humanists who have achieved cultural dominance conclude it does not. Yet even they long for immortality. Having boxed themselves into believing life has no meaning, they greedily grasp for the dollar store knock-off of immortality; supreme power over their inferiors. They conclude, with Dostoevsky, that if God does not exist, all is permitted. Their pursuit of the transient meaning of raw power bursts the restraints of their narcissistic self-absorption. Untrammeled temporal ambition, clericalism, deceit, treachery, relentless attacks on anything that suggests the transcendant might be real are unleashed to preserve and advance their position and power. But the harvest of materialistic humanism is ever despair.
This, too, is a threat to the power of the atheist progressives. So they seek to distract those they would make their subjects by indulging their appetites with sensations. But each new sensation soon becomes mundane – and the central question bobs back to the surface: does life have any meaning at all? To continue to distract, new sensations must get progressively more bizarre and dysfunctional. Eventually a whole culture is dancing the masque of the red death, with all expecting nothing but death when the clock tolls midnight. The manic, hysterical quality of the dance is fueled by the quiet desperation that drives it; the closer people come to midnight, the more frantically they indulge disorder in hopes of casting a masque over their hopelessness. Behind the frenzied orgy of disorder one can sense the keening wail of a desperate question: is this all there is?
For the progressive elite to preserve their dollar store version of immortality – power – the answer must ever be yes – and all threats must be ruthlessly strangled. They do not fear traditionalists or conservatives, those toadies who are content with getting the best seats at the cultural surrender ceremonies. They do not fear scientists, who have shown an eager willingness to trade objectivity and method for long-term grants. They do not fear the religiosity of those who reduce the Gospels to pabulum to justify treating “the poor” as children of a lesser god – to whom they must minister…and command. They do not fear anyone who treats life as an exercise in self-actualization, for they understand that and know they can co-opt and recruit such toxic narcissism to their cause. They fear God and those who treat Him as the Reality He is rather than just a pleasant fairy tale, the opiate of the masses. They fear those who proclaim that life does have meaning, that that meaning is to be found in faith, family, freedom and fraternity. For if life has transcendant meaning, the foundation of their dominance is less than sand.
If life has transcendant meaning, the darkness of despair must recede from the light of that transcendance. The enemies of the light will ever shriek and attack that meaning, offering sensation in place of truth, appetite in place of love. We are called to be witnesses to the light, unshakeable in proclaiming that we were made to live with God in eternity; not to climb over the backs of our fellows for transient advantage, but to live in joyful communion with him, seeking his good as he seeks ours; to love our families more than ourselves; to act as creators in the image of God, not as mere consumers, and the right to enjoy and share the fruit of our labors. We are called to do that not in any over-arching, grandiose way – that is the way of the petty schemers. Rather, we are called to share the light as we do at the Vigil Mass of Easter, simply lighting the candle of the person next to us until the whole House is filled with light.
We are at the edge of a great battle between darkness and light. When things go well, give thanks to God and rejoice. When facing trials, give thanks to God and rejoice. When disaster looms, give thanks to God and rejoice, trusting that He will not let you to be put to shame so long as you hold fast to Him. We are the light of the world, called to carry the light of the Master to all ends of the earth, called to assure people with confident certainty that God made us, He loves us, and He calls us to love each other as true brothers and sisters – to participate in His love. Life DOES have meaning and it is this.
We have many trials yet to come. Yet today, the Lord of Life has come forth from the tomb. Let us come forth with Him, that it may be said for generations to come that the people in darkness have, indeed, seen a great light, and the light Is Christ, and it was carried forth by intentional disciples who endured until the light filled the whole world.
He is risen. Allelujah!