(Over the last week I have been working on a piece entitled “The Center is Not Holding.” It has been a hard slog. Buffeted by outrage piled on top of offense mired in degradation and depravity each day – even each hour, it can be hard to see the big picture. The problem is that the cultural consensus has utterly collapsed. Unlike issue consensus, the cultural component is not part of any specific issue, but on how each issue can be fairly decided without resorting to force and violence. When the cultural consensus collapses, there can be no compromise: there must be a winner and a loser. Kurt Schlichter does a nice job of explaining why with his usual blunt candor. I was horrified to see the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops (TCCB) publicly condemn Texas Right to Life (TRTL) on purely political grounds – and even more horrified that TCCB seems furious that TRTL is more faithful to actual Catholic Magisterial teaching on life than TCCB is. Texas attorney Kassi Marks explains in detail here why TCCB’s position on end of life care is in direct defiance of Catholic teaching. Sadly, the only sign of reconsideration on TCCB’s part was when Bishop Michael Sis of San Angelo seemed to somewhat backtrack on EWTN last Friday and said that everyone should approach each other with mutual respect and collaboration. It would be nice if he had candidly acknowledged that it was the TCCB which instigated the divisions on this. This is a time when the spiritual authority and prestige of the Church should be carefully shepherded and guarded. St. John Neumann once encapsulated the heart of shepherding prudence by stating that if a Bishop did not HAVE to speak on a matter, he SHOULD NOT speak on it. I pray that authorities of the Church will not add to the confusion that is rising in the world, but I am aware that some of these things must come. I have been and will remain a consistent defender of the Church against illicit assaults on its legitimate authority by the imprudent ambition of the polis. But I will also be a consistent defender of the polis against any illicit assaults on its legitimate authority by imprudent clerical ambition. As I struggle with the big piece I am working on, I thought it good to re-visit this piece I published on Oct. 3, 2014. It references my interior life, but does not break any prophetic ground. We all have some rough slogging ahead.-CJ)
By Charlie Johnston
“What you desire most is most effective against you. Desire God and all shall be added to you.”
Before I ever began talking to my priests, before I was received into the Catholic Church, before I had children, before I was married I was told that a time was coming when I would not be able to see more than a step ahead of myself, a time when even that step would often be hazy, a time when I would have to completely rely upon God for every step. It was a mysterious thing to me. Like the dunce I often am, I wondered if it meant I was going to go blind. That is not what it meant (though who knows, I suppose I could still go blind). Today, I will tell you a little bit about what it means…and take you deeper into my interior understanding of these things than I ever have before. It is time you need to hear some of these things.
For a good 20 years my angel would use prophetic words to tell me innocuous things that were to come in the future. On almost every one, it would come to pass as he had prophesied, but not at all as I had expected. This served a twofold purpose (maybe more, but two things I have come to understand). First, it burnt much of the vanity right out of me. In this world, I’m a pretty smart fellow. But when dealing with the next, I’m as dumb as a box of rocks. All my smarts here are worth less there than a pocketful of Monopoly money is at the local mall here. It helped me to understand my true stature – which most surely is not heroic. Second, it – and the rest of my lifetime of ongoing experiences – have taught me to see a little from the perspective of how they see from that side of the veil. It is so profoundly different that my sight is little different than blindness – but that is what a lot of this has been about…to see a little as they see…and I needed every bit of the smarts God gave me here to rise to the level of blathering idiot there (a status I have not yet achieved, but I’m working on it).
We misunderstand almost everything, sometimes in small ways, usually in large ways. It is not just that the world is changing in large, unexpected ways: as the Storm rises to greater fury, our instincts become more useless. All of us have gotten to where we see a set of circumstances, then use our reason and logic to make a plan. All of us do that. As we separated our reason and experience from its root in God, things have gone downhill at a geometrically accelerating pace. Now people look to prophecy, even try to make a concordance of prophecy to see what will happen. Why? So they can make a plan. Your plans won’t work and are useless. Your instincts don’t apply to the Storm that is upon us. The more you plan, the deeper you will sink into the quagmire. It does not matter whether you are an active opponent of the faith or whether you spend five hours in Adoration and say 50 Rosaries a day. When you use the information you glean to formulate a plan, you trust to yourself and your own cleverness. God will let this Storm we have brought on ourselves rage until that confidence in our own capacity is burned out of everyone. That is why we all must lose hope before the rescue. Whatever we say, even if we think differently, it is ourselves we rely on – not God. That is why people restlessly seek more information on what is coming: so they can make a plan.
It is why I pray that God give me no information more than what is necessary for me to carry out the work He has laid out for me. I am subject to the same temptations as anyone else on this matter. I KNOW that the more specifics I know the more likely my silly mind is to start formulating a plan of my own devising – rather than looking to God for each step, which is the only path to safety. Here is a paradox: If you look to God first and just take the next step in front of you, He will flourish it, even if it is the wrong step. If you make the perfect plan, perfectly informed by the best, fully approved prophecies, you will fall into a pit. All of your plans will blow up in your face. Yet every step you take after acknowledging God – WITH EACH STEP – will flourish. This is a subtlety that many, probably most, deceive themselves on. If you humbly ask God to help you be what He calls you to, He will bless your efforts. If you, instead, dedicate yourself to helping God rescue the world, you will founder. God does not need you to accomplish His will; you need Him to remain in His grace. If you keep that straight, He can use you as a profitable tool. If not, you are useless to Him, however scholarly, pious, or orthodox you think yourself to be. The sooner you get that, the closer we all are to rescue.
When you are sitting on a placid lake in a canoe with a paddle, you can use the paddle to steer, to choose where you want to go. When you are in that canoe in a fast-moving, frothy, rapid river, you do not choose where to go. In fact, if you try to steer, you capsize. Rather, the paddle can only be used to react to the current and the rapids…and every bit of skill you have must be used to keep from capsizing as the river takes you where it will. We are in the rapids. We are not in control. But if we are humble and skillful, we can dramatically reduce our odds of capsizing.
You will see nation rise against nation, bishops fighting with other bishops, leaders trying to undermine the faith both from within and without. I have long known that. But what I also know is that the whole world has succumbed to a zeal for locating and diagnosing the splinter in everyone else’s eyes. If you have a baseball team in which all nine players are too busy critiquing the flaws of their teammates to bother playing their own position, the problem will not be solved by the third baseman’s ever more penetrating analysis of how the center fielder is messing up. The situation will not stabilize until each player understands his own limits – and resolves to quit worrying about his teammates, except to back them up well, and relentlessly devotes himself to playing his own position with every ounce of skill he has. This is why I am so slow to condemn anyone who purports to play for the Christian team. Even if your analysis of the center fielder’s deficiencies is spot on, it will avail you nothing if you have not devoted yourself to playing third base as you were assigned. It is painful for me to hear good people eager to detract others on matters they are only partially informed about. These people think they are cutting their targets, but they are actually cutting themselves and losing blood by the minute. God has not found those who disagree with us wanting: he has found us all wanting. We may deceive ourselves on the matter, but God is not deceived. You want to know who killed Christ? I killed Christ. Pound that into your head. Every one of us killed Christ. Internalize that and you are at the beginning of wisdom.
We understand nothing. We think God punishes us for sin. Religious folks think it is just; non-religious folks think God is a killjoy. Neither understands the nature of sin. God warns us away from sin because, by its very nature, it wounds us. He loves us and wants to protect us from harm and spiritual death. If a man atop a mountain aerie puts up a wired gate blocking access to a rickety bridge and posts warnings that the bridge is unsafe, that if you venture there you will likely fall to your serious injury or death – if you go ahead and mount the fence anyway, go charging across the bridge and fall, breaking your arm and ankle, do you think the man is punishing you for disobeying him? Of course not! He was trying to protect you from behavior he knew would wound you but you were too stupid to believe.
People think the increase in natural disasters and catastrophic events is a punishment from God. Again, we understand nothing. Has it never occurred to you that the dynamic tension of the natural forces that sustain life are normally more volatile and violent than we recognize? In normal times, God is constantly staying the brunt of these things. Now we dismiss Him from the classroom, dismiss Him from assemblies, dismiss Him from the public square – and so He obliges. That means His hand is not there to stay the rougher edges of natural events. It is not He who chooses to subject us to these things, but we who have sullenly demanded out from under His thumb – and now we dare to complain of what happens when we expose ourselves?
As you know, I have been an advocate for refuges, for people preparing to help others, to live simple solidarity, one with another. But I see religious people acting as if they think that these are going to be enclaves completely secluded from the Storm in which Jesus will be our maitre d’ and the angels and archangels will serve as our waiters and cocktail waitresses. The refuges are not places we will go to be treated like visiting satraps by the heavenly host. They are an opportunity for us to serve and live solidarity with each other as we weather the Storm. I have seen tales from visionaries who have probably seen true but can interpret nothing that further this nonsense. At one place of refuge, they told me how they had been told they will know who to let in because of a glowing Host that will appear in their foreheads and that the deer will walk right up to them and fall dead for food. I told them bluntly that while that is metaphorically true, in that they will perceive differently when they acknowledge God in all things and that it means there will be sufficient food, it is not literally true. I reminded them that God promised to deliver the Israelites to a land flowing with milk and honey – and He kept His promise. But when they got there, they still had to milk the cows and keep the bees – and if they had waited for the heavenly host to act as their stewards, they would have died in that very land flowing with milk and honey. In the refuges, you will work hard, have many trials, and will know hunger, though not starvation. Live it well and you will be startled at what joy you find in the midst of such hardship.
Some people have gotten queasy when I speak of my anticipation of being able, if I have kept faith, after the Storm, to devote myself to helping raise the money and materials for the building of the Shrine. They think we won’t need any of that, since Jesus will reign directly. No, He won’t. I am not a millenarianist who claims we are going to have an earthly Paradise. We don’t get heaven until we actually get…heaven. The world that we will have after the rescue is a fully natural world. We will have to get jobs, raise families, pay bills, organize societies and governments. God is giving us another chance to get the natural world right. He will give us the visible sign of our miraculous rescue by Our Lady to help fortify our resolve. It is VERY important that we take it to heart, because the next time there is a massive falling away like now, it will be the end. But we are getting another chance to get our hearts and heads right – and how well we keep faith will determine which of us ultimately gets heaven, but it will be a fully natural world that we go back to.
Some have complained that they cannot imagine such a thing because it has never happened that way. Really?! When God actively intervenes in human affairs, He usually acts in a way that is unprecedented in human history. When the flood came, there never had been, before or since, such a comprehensive disaster – and his fellows mocked Noah for his foolishness in preparing for such an event. When Israel left Egypt, never before had a captive people been spontaneously set free by their captors to go and found a great nation. When Christ came, Israel was used to prophets. Because, in part, Christ did not fit any of their previous categories, He was rejected by the very people He was sent to. When, after decades of existential war, France was on the very brink of permanent annihilation, it pleased God to send an unlettered teenage girl to rally the country and save the nation. God is always startling, fresh and new. It is we who constantly fail to have the wit to see what He is doing – particularly when it does not fit in with any of our previous experience of Him, which it usually doesn’t.
Shortly after I was received into the Church I read St. Therese of Lisieux’s The Autobiography of a Soul – and fell in love with her and her little way. I recognized in it the only way forward in the chaotic times ahead – and know that the way of simplicity is the way to endure this Storm. There will be so much chaos that it will make your head spin. No one can possibly keep up with it. You cannot divine the mind of God. If you seek to be a heat-seeking missile aimed at heresy, you are just as likely to hit a St. Paul in the making as you are a betrayer. In fact, God allows some errors among His servants to draw out the deeper errors of those so caught up in their own vanity that they cannot help but restlessly pick at the splinter in others eyes to avoid contemplating their own splinters candidly. Try not to be one of them. This does not mean you should not authentically proclaim the faith. You should. But again, you will be held to account for EVERYONE you could have given effective witness to but did not because you wanted to show how clever and what a shrewd aide to God you are. AND you will be held to account for EVERY case where you could have defended the faithful from an assault but did not out of false tolerance. If you can wrap your mind around those two dictums, you know it is impossible. A man cannot be that discerning. That is why the ONLY hope is to acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those right around you. Trust-Do-Love. Now you know where I got the phrase, “The Next Right Step” from as well. It is an iteration of what I was told from the beginning these times would be like. The way of simplicity is the only way to endure.
Some think I have it easy, for I have been told I will live through the Storm if I keep faith. That is not a condescension to me, but necessary for my work. I am also reliably informed that several times, in the course of it, I will desperately long for the release of death to free me from these trials, but it will not be given. Pray that when that happens I will have wit enough to pray for more strength. I am also told that parts of me will be permanently broken for this life once we come out the other end. That makes sense. I came out of my little preparatory mini-Storm with permanent neurological damage and pain. Over the course of my life, I have been forced to see mankind at times through the rancid, accusing eyes of satan. I loathe him. He is the universe’s true bastard – for He had a glorious Father, THE glorious Father, and knew it, but rejected Him that he might accuse and savage mankind. But I also have been privileged to see mankind with God’s eyes; to see the feebleness, the deep longing, and the love that often transforms the most bitter foe at a crucial moment. If you have not read it, take a look at this piece. In the late summer and early fall of 1997, just after I finally agreed to live what God had laid out for me definitively and to the best of my ability, my angel was sent to take me into the whirlwind, like Job, to see all of creation, the whole universe, the beginning and the end. Like Job, I understood very little of it…it was far too great for me. But what animated it all was God’s staggering love for us. Every event, every chance acquaintance, is ordered by God that we may turn to Him and live eternity in heaven. The piece was the best I have ever been able to manage in describing it. It was then that I fell head over heels for God’s creation here and learned never to gainsay it.
Our plans mean nothing. It is best to know as little as possible in detail, in order that we are not tempted to formulate more useless plans. The only thing that will put flesh on the bones of our plans is to relentlessly acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around us. Do that and you will be an island of peace and strength throughout the Storm.