By Charlie Johnston
Among the spots I will visit next month is West Palm Beach, Florida. My coordinator there, Peggy, needs a few people to help her make arrangements and plan for my visit. If you live near West Palm Beach and can help, please contact Peggy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have been very restrained in adding to the commentary of my last piece, The Fullness of the Storm, The Springtime of the Gospel. A key paragraph in that piece is:
“Both those who sincerely want to protect the integrity of the Deposit of Faith, but express it through a hyper-vigilance and those who want to call the lost back but do so by an excessive permissiveness that deforms the foundational doctrines of the faith are giving counsel to their fears. Protecting the integrity of the Deposit of Faith and effectively calling the lost back in a time of massive disorder is not an ‘either-or’ proposition: it is a ‘both-and’ endeavor. We need the dynamic tension of both perspectives – and all of us need to be better, to make our cases with vigor yet without giving counsel to our fears, to listen to each other while assuming each other’s good will.”
It is not just that I think most serious commenters have serious points; but that I think we need it all right now, provided it is fully respectful. To give a few examples…
Daniel O’Connor is zealous for Magisterial teaching. Dan Lynch is zealous for doctrinal clarity and purity. I am zealous for Papal Authority in the formal teaching of faith and morals. We protect those things like mama bears watching over their cubs. That is understandable. If we can’t rely on the Magisterium, the foundation is shaken. If we can’t trust in doctrinal stability, we get into very murky, dangerous waters. If we can’t count on the legitimacy of papal authority in formal teaching on faith and morals, it is the promise of Christ, Himself, that is unreliable and the whole structure is threatened.
The thing about mama bears, though, is their judgment is not always sound. Yes, they protect their cubs against all threats, but they are also wont to maul people when no threat was ever intended or existed. They are driven by both their protective instinct and their fears.
Long before I started speaking with my Priests, before I was Catholic – in fact, while I was still a boy after the training got much harder, I was told that the time would come when I would be walking blind – and everyone else would be, too. At that time, confusion would reign and we would not be able to see the way, we would only be able to gingerly take the next step, trusting God absolutely to guide us. The main difference between me and everyone else in those times would be that I would be expected to take those little steps with complete confidence, to help give confidence to my friends who were walking with me.
We have entered those times. I have always said it would not just be “those guys” who would be shaken, but each of us. Whether we know it or not, every one of us relies far more on our conception of God than on God, Himself, than we think – and all of us have to be broken. We think Jesus words were clear – with the benefit of 2,000 years worth of hindsight. In His time, His words were often ambiguous and enigmatic to His listeners, including those closest to Him. Pope Francis is sometimes breathtakingly refined – and sometimes breathtakingly confusing – and sometimes inexplicable. We have a situation similar to Christ’s first listeners. We hear, but often don’t get it, so we have to choose. Now don’t get me wrong: the Pope is a man, and one entirely capable of error in ordinary things and even of skirting the line on faith and morals. What we have to choose is whether we believe that Christ really will guide and protect His Church even when we don’t understand. I believe that with every fiber of my being.
At the same time, I think it is good to go back to the Book of Job. Job’s “pious” friends were constantly defending God against Job’s complaints – but they were only engaged with their preconceptions of God. Job spoke his anguish and confusion fully – in complete honesty and without understanding what God was up to.. In the end, God told Job’s pious friends that they “…had not spoken rightly of Me as has My servant Job.” It is an amazing line in Scripture – and one worth deep and frequent contemplation.
I say we have entered terribly treacherous and dangerous waters. There are dangers and terrors on every side – and no one can see the full picture, except God. This is a time for the sort of rigorous honesty of Job. I think of us as the crew of a ship trying to get through this peril. The captain, the man who has the wheel, the navigator, and the sonar operator have dramatically different perspectives on the dangers that surround us. But this is NOT the time for cheap triumphalism. We all need each other, as a real team working to protect us all from foundering. Do I see it differently than the navigator? So be it…but I should surely not banish the navigator for that disagreement, when we need every bit of skill and wisdom each has to bring.
This is why I so emphasize taking no offense at each other; to state our case without insult to each other – and with respect to the Pope even when we firmly disagree with him. We need each other…and everyone, every single one of us, no matter how astute we think we are or how refined our understanding is, is going to see that we do not even begin to capture how big God is…that there is much we don’t understand.
We must choose. Can the Church Christ founded definitively run aground? If not, we must stay with the ship, but we must also use all the talents God gave each of us to act as a team working to get through these treacherous waters. That means we sometimes must bicker a bit with each other, while resolutely listening, as well, and never getting caught up in bitterness.
I spoke the other day about how much bigger all of this is than any of us can yet imagine. Think about that. In a very short period, the old order must pass away, a new order must visibly begin to rise, we will be visibly and miraculously rescued by Our Lady the Immaculate Conception, and the faithful will be joyfully re-united. This is so big it is beyond our ability to see how it can all be done, so we should not be surprised that things are happening that trouble and confuse us. There will be much more of that before we are all done. I go to what I call ‘First Things.’ God is always faithful and His promises are altogether true. So I press on when I understand, I press on when I don’t understand, and I thank God that there are people who see things differently than me, for they may be the instrument by which I am rescued from a danger I don’t see and don’t understand.
These are the times of Isaiah 55:10,11:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and return not thither but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall be my word that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Speak with vigor, speak with charity, let us all use our talents to the very best of our ability, not growing bitter when we are contradicted, but trusting that though there is much we don’t understand now, if we trust in the Lord and bear with each other a little longer as brothers, we shall see that His design, which we could not fathom, was altogether right and true.