By Charlie Johnston
I confess to Almighty God,
And to you, my brothers and sisters,
That I have greatly sinned,
In my thoughts and in my words,
In what I have done,
And in what I have failed to do…
(Public Penitential Act)
I am often publicly impatient with Catholics who promote the idea that angels will lead all the faithful to refuges, safe havens to weather the full fury of the Storm. While that may be figuratively true, it is not literally true. It is just a Catholic version of the Protestant doctrine of the Rapture that has sprung up over the last 200 years. (The idea of Rapture was first proposed by John Darby of the Brethren Movement in 1830). Both ideas posit that God is going to mystically take the good folks to a place of complete safety while all the rest on earth suffer through a terrible chastisement. Everybody who posits such things assumes that they are included in the cohort of good little boys and girls who are going to be taken to safety – and sometimes are at pains to hide an unseemly glee at the idea of all the rest of those poor slobs out there getting smacked down.
I am also unsettled when people speak of being part of “The Remnant,” once again all the good little boys and girls who have kept faith – and again with the unwarranted triumphal assumption that the speaker IS part of that anointed tribe, not like those dirty, unwashed heathens who so abound out there.
This troubles me for two major reasons. First, many otherwise decent people are liable to go into despair that they are not among the chosen when no angel comes to lead them to safety or that they are left behind with the rest of us when the final crash comes. Second, few who hold to such things are likely to consider that they have misread God’s call to action in troubled times for a promise of immunity – when it does not happen as they expect. We are each called to be refuge to our neighbors and to leave the old worldliness behind, so that we can act as God’s hands and feet during crisis.
Second, it presumes some facts that are very much not in evidence to quietly support a smug complacency. We are taught, Magisterially, that we cannot know with certainty that we are in a state of grace. How then can we be so certain that we are the elect, the remnant? Is it just because we have not violated the laws? If so, we are unprofitable servants, indeed. As Christians, we are called to go forth, not just to sit tight. I doubt that many people here have actively participated in the ongoing assault on faith and culture that is rapidly reaching its climax. But as the Penitential Act I quoted above so pointedly says, we are not just responsible for sin in what we have done, but in what we have failed to do. Could we really have reached this pass had there not been a massive failure in what we, as Christians, are called to?
A few examples of what we have failed to do…
Several decades ago, a black mayor of a majority black city in my area had a breakfast meeting with me. To my astonishment, he told me he was considering switching to the Republican Party. I told him we would be glad to have him – except that he would never get elected in his city again – so what had brought this on? He told me he was sick of Democrats treating him and his city as if they were all thugs and bums. He said the only legislation they would help with is things decriminalizing drugs, easing off on the punishment of crime, and expanding welfare: that that was all they thought “black legislation” consisted of. He added that when he wanted something to help the law-abiding majority in his town to strengthen their families, to help them with work or with real infrastructure improvements, he always had to go to the Republicans anyway. We talked for a while. He was deeply offended – and more than a bit bitter at the casual unconscious slur he consistently got from Democratic legislators. I told him we would continue to be his allies, but he and I both knew if he made the switch it would end his career. I suggested he stay where he was, we would continue to lead on the serious legislation his city needed – and ask that if we had a close one where he could quietly help, he do so. That worked for us all. But I never forgot that conversation – and I never forgot the vehemence with which he spat the line, “We are not all thugs and bums and I am sick of the Democrats treating us as if we are.”
The anti-God progressive left has succeeded where the Ku Klux Klan failed. It has atomized the black family, particularly in inner cities. In many of our cities there are hellholes of dysfunction and despair – and almost every city where this exists, the government has been led by anti-God progressives for at least two generations. While the dysfunction plays out on largely racial lines in America, that is not the root cause. In England, you have the same type of hellholes, mainly populated with impoverished whites. The result is the same. When you treat people like helpless animals, completely dependent on your largesse, many start to behave in animalistic faction. Both our government – and too many elements in our Churches – treat the poor with paternalistic disdain and preening self-regard. It is a form of animal husbandry, not brotherhood. The anti-God progressives have created a permanently dependent underclass in order to harvest their votes and use them as enforcers in mob actions to enhance the power of the progressives. This is racist to its core. The Black Lives Matter movement has led to increasing murder rates – and most of the newly murdered are black, killed by other blacks. Most of the businesses and homes destroyed in rioting are owned by blacks. So why does the progressive left not care about that? For the same reason they don’t care about the huge rate of black-on-black crime: because it is just black folks being killed and does not advance the narrative they prefer to seize more power. It is hideously racist. Yet we Christians and conservatives are busy defending ourselves against the charge of racism from the most successfully racist enterprise in American history: the progressive left – instead of holding them to account for their bigotry.
So where were we when the progressives were making pockets of inner cities into hellholes? Most of us considered it not our affair. The progressives, in true Animal Farm fashion, replaced the old white exploiters with new, black exploiters. Then they screamed, “Racist,” if anyone seriously tried to stop exploitation. What did most of us do? Figured it was none of our business and retreated to the safety of ignoring it rather than submit ourselves to the calumny and vitriol we would be hit with if we tried to defend our brothers. Where were we when the progressives made many city school districts into support systems for progressive activists, students be damned? Just in the last week, the NAACP, which once advocated for black people, issued a call for restricting Charter Schools, which have been one of the few ways out of the ghetto for many minorities. In Chicago, the City averted a teachers strike by cutting back on Charter Schools. Both hideously racist propositions, designed to enhance the stranglehold of progressive activists at the expense of children’s needs and best interests. We sat by and let neighborhoods and schools be destroyed in the name of empowering progressive activists – and did it so people wouldn’t talk ugly about us. And we think we are the faithful remnant? We are moral cowards and sinners, glad to opine against the dead carcass of institutional racism that largely expired by the 80’s, but unwilling to challenge the new, more virulent racism visited by the progressive left.
Let’s go back to first things. Man is made in God’s own image – all of us. As such, we hold a share in His divine dignity. If this is true (and the Bible says it is) we participate in a subordinate way in His fundamental nature. His fundamental nature is, through the procession of love between the Three Person of the Trinity, to create. He is the Creator. And since we are made in His image, we share most fully in His dignity when we love and act as subordinate creators. But that is what modern “philanthropists” will not hear of. They reserve to themselves the dignity of dispensing largesse and acting as creators, treating those they “help” as children of lesser gods, who must never be given the dignity or joy of creating anything by the work of their own hands. Though it plays out on largely racial lines because of the ghettoes of despair we allowed to be created, it is the classic master-subject relationship that has always been at the heart of tyrannical aspirations.
I love St. John Paul’s frequent discussion of the concept of solidarity. It is the foundation of my belief in the concept of the Family of God. We are not to treat each other as greater and lesser, but as fellow workers in the Lord’s vineyard, as brothers and sisters. We are not called to simply dispense largesse to the poor and congratulate ourselves on our nobility. We are to accompany our brothers so that all may find the joy and dignity of acting as creators. We are not merely called to be philanthropists, but to help all to become philanthropists. What kind of brother would you be if you let your brother’s neighborhood be destroyed by dysfunction without fighting for him? What kind of brother would you be if you allowed activists to take over your family’s schools for their benefit instead of the children’s? Yet that is what we have done. We deride affirmative action – and usually rightly so – but what did we do to see that our brothers were not robbed of their right to an education? Not robbed of their right to real opportunity based on building their character through family and faith? We did not want any trouble. Now we have reaped a bitter harvest because of what we failed to do. And we dare to think God should take us to a place of safety while everyone else gets it? We should be crying mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa instead of patting ourselves on the back for our fidelity.
Then there is the matter of abortion. Over 60 million killed in America since 1973. Thanks be to God, many have worked to stop it – and people of several faiths have come to respect each other’s faith for their mutual efforts. But we have certainly been ineffective against this ongoing holocaust. Thankfully, many clerics have found a newfound boldness in speaking and acting out against the Culture of Death St. John Paul spoke of. But how many times, particularly in the 70’s and 80’s, but even today, have you heard clerics say that poverty or unemployment is equally as bad as abortion? None of those clerics have solved poverty or unemployment with their pious pronouncements – and have often enabled those who made it worse – but they have given effective cover to the aggressors in this Culture of Death. And because of their assistance, we are now dealing with active euthanasia and the destruction of the health care system. How often have we, Catholics and Evangelicals, justified our vote for someone who was fundamentally an aggressor in the Culture of Death on the basis that some ancillary issue was equally important?
When I was a teenager, there was an old man, Mr. Valentin, who lived in a house in back of us. He was a wonderful old man, full of lively stories and always with some cookies or cake to offer. I liked to visit with him. He was a German expatriate who had come to America after the war. Once we were talking about the war and what it was like to live in Germany then. He said, in passing, that he did not agree with how Hitler treated the Jews, but that he had been very good for the German economy – and that he thought Hitler was largely given a bad rap. I was stunned and horrified. I was polite, but I never visited him again, though I was pleasant when I saw him in passing. It has always been a part of my pondering how otherwise decent people can tolerate great evil when it is the norm in their cultural milieu. It troubles me a lot that, since then, I have seen us become a nation full of Mr. Valentins.
Then there are the Churches. I hate the sterile, bloodless bureaucratic model that our whole culture has adopted in just about everything. I particularly loathe it in our Churches. Once, in private conversation with a Bishop, he surprised me when he mournfully said that when a Priest dies, he is quickly forgotten. I asked why he thought that. He said they have no families – and a Priest’s flock just moves on to the next to fill their needs. It struck a deep chord in me.
I met a former Anglican Priest in Billings, Montana. A common theme I have is how poorly we treat Priests, and how terribly isolating it must be for them. We treat Priests like any other service person, consulting them when a problem arises, lining up to receive the Sacraments from them, but almost never acknowledging their humanity or treating them with the easy affection we would a friend or family member. This Priest has five children at home – and agreed it was a terrible problem. He said his family regularly has picnics and family events to which he invites Priests in the area, so they can participate in an active family life, to share in affection and joy as well as benediction – and it helps a lot.
We should always treat our Priests and Pastors with the respect due to them as spiritual fathers. But we should also treat them with the affection and intimacy we would a beloved Uncle. Yet most of us treat them like an appliance repairman: fix my problem and move on. And we think we are the faithful remnant?
Yet many Priests and Pastors have bought into the bureaucratic model, as well. Too often they see parishioners as cogs in the Sacramental assembly line. I see Dioceses where they talk of being open to life, but the tuition for a high school student at a Catholic School is $12,000. How is a normal family that is open to life supposed to cope with that? Are our deeds matching our words? When they don’t, our actions give the lie to our pious words.
We are called to be the Family of God. We have failed miserably. We are not the faithful remnant. If God was going to take the good little boys and girls to safety during this Storm, I don’t know anyone who would qualify. Oh, I don’t mix with many people who have actively assaulted our culture…but I don’t know many who have effectively defended it or acted as if they really mean to treat all their brothers and sisters as the Family of God.
The good news is that, while there is no blameless faithful remnant, God is giving us the chance to audition for the role in this Storm. You be the refuge. You do it by being a participant in the Rescue that has already begun, unseen by the world. You do it by recognizing all the things you have failed to do – then set your jaw like flint and resolve to acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you. There will be no passive spectators taken to safety because of how good they have been, only active participants who choose to become a place of safety to all they encounter.
If you do this, if you acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you, you will become a participant in the Rescue and truly earn a place among the faithful remnant. If we all do this, the Son of Man will find faith on earth when He comes again. But we should be thankful it is not now, for the best of us are not nearly as good as we think we are.
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.