(This piece is written at the request of Elisabeth of Sacramento and here Mother, Jeanne)
By Charlie Johnston
Years ago, as I was about to enter my own personal and intense five-year storm in preparation for these times, I was told that this would help me greatly, that having lived my sorrows, I would be filled with joy as the rest of the world entered into its sorrows. And that joy, forged in sorrow, would prevail even in the midst of hardship and inspire many to press on and endure.
I spent so many decades fearful of these times – scared both that I was wrong and crazy…or that I was right and we had a terrible purification coming. I’m glad of it, for it helps me empathize with the many who find these strange upside-down times so fearful. As it became more clear that the world was, indeed, entering into a passion of its own devising, I began to focus more on the Rescue, which I had also been told of since the beginning. The very fact that the world was entering into that period where good was treated as evil and evil as good that I found so hard to believe back when I was in my teens gave me confidence that the Rescue, and subsequent renewal, was fully true also.
A little less than a decade ago I told one of my Priests that I always knew the road to hell was paved with good intentions. I was startled, baffled really, to find it was also lined with cheering crowds egging each other on to sure perdition.
Now that we are in the thick of it as it all unfolds, I find myself absurdly joyful almost all the time. Last year when I went on the road most crowds would, at first, seem a little on edge. Some of it was leeriness with me, I am sure, but more of it had to do with a world that had inexplicably become a bizarre parody of the world they once knew. It heartened me to see so many take heart as my talks would go on, to look around the room and see that they really were not alone in believing that faith, family and freedom are the keys to a life worth living.
This year, when I was out in New England last month, I was overjoyed that the crowds were, from the start, joyful and enthusiastic. I made three public presentations and 10 private visits. Even though the world is already much scarier than it was last year, people have taken to heart the ordinary way I expound – acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. I was introduced to several groups of people who have been meeting with each other regularly, focused on how to help each other and their Parish community. In this ordinary way, they have found real joy. If the rest of the country is anything like what I found in New England, we are in very good shape, indeed, with the country seeded with people determined to do the little right in front of them and build each other up. That will stand us in good stead whatever comes.
Certainly there are the little controversies, like that which erupted this weekend. I say my piece and move on. Even those are not as bad as I was prepared for. So long as I make my case and move on, God will sort it out. The biggest source of sorrow for me in this episode was that the attack came from the National Catholic Register, the premier voice of Catholic orthodoxy in the country. They do very good work in most things they cover and it would be a great loss if it weren’t there as the voice of orthodoxy for us. Perhaps there is a lesson for them in that, even when you detest someone, you still must live authentic journalistic ethics fully. I have seen some people say they will cancel their subscription or never read it again. I hope you will rethink that. They really do very good work in most things they cover. But God will let it play out as He will.
The thing that really motivates me the most is the Rescue and how close we are to it. I often describe our current culture as akin to living in the worst part of Detroit or Chicago. No matter how noble and true you might be, every time someone you love goes out to the store, you have to worry about whether they are coming back. No matter where you turn, you are constantly faced with disorder. People around you are constantly trying to figure out how to get one over on each other, or how to bring someone weaker down. You can’t entirely escape it, and it is a sorrowful way to live.
Sometimes people get carried away into mystical fantasies about the world after the Rescue. I counter that by describing it as being kind of like Mayberry (from the old Andy Griffith show), a world where it is natural for people to care for and help each other, to put up with each other’s quirks, and to build each other up. As I often say, we don’t get heaven until we actually get…heaven. God is not changing the laws of physics or anything else, but transforming us. After a staggering intervention, everyone in the world will know that: God IS. All but the most malignantly defiant will endeavor to live as He calls us to.
People will regard lust without love with disdain. Instead of trying to prove they are right at all costs, people will seek truth – and will be glad of those gentle contradictions that bring them closer to the fullness of it. People will not just give to the poorbox or advocate raising taxes to “care for the poor,” they will live true brotherhood with all – and look for opportunities to quietly help a brother who needs it. People will assume the goodwill of those they meet and – mirabile dictu – their confidence in that goodwill will almost always prove well founded.
What thrills me most is that, in a world where hope is darkening every day, where people do the most savage things to each other in order to gain some sort of transient temporal advantage, when the best refrain from speaking out for fear of being savaged themselves, I am telling people that life really does have meaning – that this world is not our end, but a mere way station. How we comport ourselves here will determine what our end is. The pains we suffer here when we live that hope, properly understood, are merely the satisfying aches of an athlete in training for the big show.
Even better, because so many in the gathering darkness have turned back to God, to prayer, to taking little steps and being a sign of hope, the worst of the Storm is only about as long as I am used to for a full campaign cycle. I could do that standing on my head (if, that is, I were 30 years younger). And then, we will have helped usher in a world where my children will live most of their lives and my grandchildren nearly all of their lives. It is a world where people know that God IS, where they care for each other as a matter of course, where they try to cover each others foibles rather than expose each other’s nakedness. If I live faith for just a little longer, my children, my grandchildren, and their children for generations to come will call me and all who participated in preparing the way for the Rescue blessed.
I made a promise when I was yet a child that if this Storm I was shown should actually come to pass, I would go forth to speak to God’s people, to assure them that He was not abandoning them, but was in fact renewing them. I spent most of my life desperately hoping to find an escape clause, a desperation that got greater for a while as things got darker. But then I saw the oncoming Storm as evidence that the Rescue was also fully true. Now I am profoundly grateful that God never let me off the hook.
What is sweetest is the young people who hear my message and rejoice to believe that life really does have profound, transcendent meaning. I promised one, Elisabeth, of Sacramento, that I would write this article. This piece is written in honor of Elisabeth and her Mother, Jeanne, who have taken this message to heart and lived the next right step. I will never forget then 15-year-old Elizabeth sitting prone on a kitchen bench, looking up at me with joyful wonder and saying, “I have never had anyone talk to me about Jesus like you did.” It is a snapshot that is embedded in my memory. Thank you, Elisabeth and Jeanne, for being a sign of hope to me.