By Charlie Johnston
I am a realist. Partly because of this, miracles have always struck me as a matter of course. If God IS, of course He is not bound by the normal laws He has instituted to govern the universe. If He is not, it is perfectly natural that there are things we do not understand. The whole course of our lives, if lived seriously, is a progression from lesser to greater understanding – and the ultimate understanding that there are some things that may ever remain a mystery to us.
It is baffling to me that so many moderns, confronting a phenomenon they do not understand, stubbornly insist it cannot exist at all. Weirdly, they consider this a sign of their intelligence! If that type of intelligence governed the world, we would never have gotten past club and cave. In college, my astronomy professor was J. Allen Hynek, head of the US Air Force Project Bluebook, which examined the striking phenomenon of UFO’s. He would never discuss Project Bluebook in class, but frequently did public talks on it open to all students. He would ridicule those who insisted that because they believed there was no intelligent life on other planets, there could be no such things as UFOs. He said UFOs were a well-attested, but mysterious phenomenon, so the proper scientific approach was to examine the phenomenon without preconceptions. It had nothing to do with aliens – except that aliens were one possible explanation for them. In one of the most delicious phrases I have ever heard, Dr. Hynek contemptuously said that those who could not separate a particular phenomenon from their preconceptions were not scientifically minded at all, but were in the grips of a debilitating “temporal provincialism.” The modern world is filled with people who think they are smart but are just suffering from temporal provincialism.
On the other hand, I am equally taken aback by those who seem to depend on miracles to sustain their faith. A seeming miracle has three possible sources that I am aware of: a) it can come from God, b) it could be one of the devil’s imitative parlor tricks or, c) it could be a natural phenomenon we don’t yet understand. A miracle can be a useful goad to get someone to re-examine their own impoverished belief systems or to contemplate more seriously the claims of God. It can only be an introduction, a doorway, to faith, though – not a foundation. In the Gospels, every time Jesus performed a miracle, it was to illustrate a larger truth of faith. Go back and check it for yourself. He did NOT cure all the sick, He did NOT feed all the hungry. He used His miracles as a sort of visual aid to help direct us to the foundational truths that, if embraced, WOULD feed all the hungry and direct all to eternal life. Authentic miracles are gold, but it is the altar of authentic faith which sanctifies the gold rather than the gold sanctifying the altar.
Some get so enthused at the idea of miracles they get obsessed by imputing miraculous qualities to perfectly mundane events. This debases the very point of miracles – and leaves the real thing in disrepute as dodgy superstition. In modern times, the phenomenon at Fatima, Lourdes…the tilma of St. Juan Diego…more than a few Eucharistic miracles…and the healing described in the coming movie, “Breakthrough,” are clearly miraculous. There is a great wealth of real miracles. Imputing miraculous qualities to perfectly normal events, though – or creating soothing urban legends that fall apart under examination, just makes it easier for skeptics to dismiss all reports of miracles as hokum.
The devil, then, makes use of two powerful weapons that men give him as a pure gift: the refusal to examine anything not immediately understandable, a form of pride that the ignorant count as intelligence; and a credulous enthusiasm to impute miraculous qualities to perfectly ordinary things – that saps credibility from the real thing.
Faith and Reason
It is not because of miracles that I believe, nor do I accept miracles simply because I believe. After the Resurrection, Jesus showed Doubting Thomas His wounds. Because he saw, Thomas believed. Jesus told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29). Given that I have had visitations since my earliest memories, I can’t count myself among those who Jesus calls blessed in this passage. On two important occasions, I have shown my willingness to forego such things entirely in favor of having the Church. I believe because Christianity, seriously examined, offers the only consistently coherent and stable explanation of life and the universe. Science, you say? Which science? That of today, that of 50 years ago, or that of 500 years ago? Science is a shifting desert: what was accepted as true a few years ago is revealed as false today, and what is true today will be revealed as false a few years from now. The scientific method is a stable, powerful tool for discerning truth, but the conclusions of science at any given point in history are transient, subject to further examination. There is no such thing as “settled” science. In Christianity, specifically in Catholicism, we are called to seek truth through the twin tools of faith and reason. Most of the greatest historical defenders of reason have been men of faith. This is because we are to seek God with our whole heart, mind, and soul.
Often, the people who are most faithfully devoted to God are the last to receive the benefit of miracles. St. Bernadette Soubirous, who uncovered the miraculous spring at Lourdes, died of tuberculosis, borne of her childhood cholera. She reportedly told her superiors that the healing from the miracle she uncovered was “not for her.” What, then, is the purpose of miracles if it is not to confirm the faith of the most faithful? None of us can know the mind of God, but we can observe the circumstances and learn from them. Though there may be more, I think there are three main purposes that prompt God to perform and reveal a miracle:
- To assure us of His tender love.
- To bolster the faith of the timid and uncertain.
- To manifest Himself boldly to an unbelieving age.
Times of Tribulation
The greatest profusion of miracles seems to come at the times of greatest crisis – of apostasy and disbelief in salvation history. Contrary to popular belief, most of the Old Testament prophets were NOT miracle workers. Only four routinely performed miracles.
The first was Moses. He was sent to free the captive Jewish people from their Egyptian masters. God performed miracles through Moses to demonstrate to Pharaoh that He IS God and is all powerful – and to force the issue of releasing the captives. Once the journey out from Egypt began, the Jews proved incredibly recalcitrant and faithless despite the prodigy of miracles they had seen and benefitted from. Again, God performed a multitude of miracles through Moses to hold this ill-tempered, ungrateful people together through their 40-year journey. (It is largely their continual appetite for apostasy and grumbling that persuaded me that miracles are not sufficient to sustain faith. Faith is an act of the will, an entire turning towards the living God. Miracles happen whether one has faith or not. Faith just makes them easier to accept. To the faithless, they are a rebuke.)
It fell to Joshua to lead the Israelites in occupying the land which was promised. The process of inheriting the land involved, again, a multitude of miracles. While the people delighted in these, there was a clear, cautionary warning inherent to them. God was giving them victory, but in ways calculated to remind them that it was by His power, not theirs, that they were favored. It was a goad to fidelity, a goad that was often and quickly unheeded.
Perhaps the most prodigious miracle workers were Elijah and his successor, Elisha, who dominate the two books of Kings. The united Davidic Kingdom reached its Zenith early on in Kings, with Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. After that, corruption and rot set in quickly. (Prosperity and peace seem ever to be a much greater challenge to faith and fidelity than hardship and trial). The kingdom, rent by internecine strife, soon split in two, between the larger northern nation of Israel and the smaller southern kingdom of Judah. The northern king almost immediately set up idolatrous shrines – including a reappearance of golden calves. The northern kings were overwhelmingly idolatrous, tyrannical and wicked. While the Temple was in the southern kingdom, Judah, it was not long before it, too, tolerated idolatrous shrines and chased after strange gods. Both the political systems (the kings) and the religious authorities (the priests) had become deeply corrupted. The pillars which faithful people wanted to count on had crumbled. It was in this setting that God sent two major prophets, first Elijah and then his successor, Elisha, to comfort and give hope to His people. Both were prodigals of miracles, that the Jews might be reminded who the true God IS. Elijah was a prophet of judgment, while Elisha was more a prophet of mercy. Even so, their efforts were not enough to preserve the kingdoms – Israel was ultimately decimated by foreigners and Judah taken into the exile of the Babylonian captivity. It was enough, however, to preserve a remnant faithful, even in exile, so that the godly Jewish people did not perish from the earth.
Signs of the Times
Now, in an echo of the books of Kings, all the political, social and religious pillars upon which we have relied are in deep crisis, if not complete collapse. In the American political system, a large anti-God faction presses for the end of civil rights and equal justice under law, determined that it shall rule or ruin. Actually, this ethos is entrenched throughout the world, largely under the guise of globalism. The rule of law in the west is in tatters. In England, a Christian street-preacher can be arrested…and Christians can be arrested for objecting to Muslim street-preachers. The beautiful land of Australia, which I have long dreamed of visiting, is off my wish list now. Giving rein to a toxic anti-Catholicism, it convicted Cdl. George Pell when the evidence showed not only that Pell did not do what he was accused of, but could not possibly have done it. I know few American judges so corrupt they would not have ended this trial when the evidence showed the accusations were a literal impossibility. But law is just another crude cudgel of power in much of the world now. It has no more to do with justice than Soviet show trials did.
Socially, we are given to absurd enthusiasms that have never been heard of in history. Gender can now be anything you want it to be, completely divorced from genetics and reality. Of course, the cudgel of law is now being mounted to any who insist on staying connected to reality. “Social (In)justice Warriors” style their preferences as “rights” while denouncing actual civil rights as bigotry or some ‘ism that must be stamped out. Religious leaders often try to appease the mob rather than proclaim Christ. It was right of Christian leaders to denounce a recent slaughter of Muslims in New Zealand…but I would have been heartened if those same leaders had even bothered to notice the double number of Christians who had been systematically slaughtered by Muslims in Nigeria the same week.
A host of Bishops busy themselves explaining why Jesus and the Apostles didn’t mean what they actually said. A cabal of homosexual clerics has infiltrated the highest levels of the Church – both abusing the faithful and protecting themselves from any consequences for such abuse – while simultaneously attacking Scripture and Magisterial teaching as stuff for chumps. At the Vatican, it is the faithful chumps who are purged and the faithless predators who are promoted. Few who are not morally compromised and theologically suspect are promoted in a Vatican that increasingly resembles an ongoing criminal enterprise.
Yes, we are in a reprise of the books of Kings. Does it portend an advent of a new age of miracles? Personally, I think it does. God has been hinting at His new advent with signs in the skies and in the lands, with convulsions and boomings…but a hard-hearted people determined to chase after their own pleasures has been blind and deaf to these signs. I think it is prelude to an extended and large-scale manifestation of His power, that God IS. Should this be the case, it will hearten many of the faithful, it will give pause to many who have lost heart – and many who have wallowed in decadence, thinking there would be no accounting. But it will enrage some, including more than a few who wear clerical robes. Some men just will not accept any power greater than themselves – and will react in violent rage to proof of it. So, the time of trial is upon us. It will wax and wane, sometimes giving false hope that all is well and at others, false fear that all is lost. But it will burn until it has burned itself out, like the French Revolution, the Third Reich, and the Rwandan Genocide. Depraved disorder cannot help but ultimately consume itself. The fundamental question, as it always is, is when Jesus looks to earth, will He find faith here?
A True Remnant
I hate using the word, “remnant,” for it is so often abused in self-congratulatory vanity. A true remnant does not look at all those other poor sinners with prim disapproval – or glee at their destruction. A true remnant recognizes its own sinfulness, its own reliance on God, and the implacable Divine command that it minister to all even as it defends the faithful against depredations. Like its Father in heaven, it yearns for the reclamation of souls, rather than their destruction. With that said, God responds quickest to a remnant which keeps actual faith with Him, a people who keep His commandments – and trust His word without perverting it. (I speak not of genuine disagreements here; we literally have clerics and theologians now who argue that the command to sexual fidelity in marriage actually means that if it’s consensual, it’s okay. Never thought I’d live to see the day when some high Church authorities would adopt the occultist Aleister Crowley’s dictum to “Do what you will” as doctrinal truth). We are called then, like Joshua, to resolve that we will serve the Lord, whatever the world – and trendy, worldly clerics – choose. To be a remnant for Christ; to be Gideon’s 300 (Judges Chapters 6-8); to be Christ’s yeast in the dough of the world (Matthew 13:33).
These Things Must Come
I take it as a given now that war will come, both to America and to the world. I deeply appreciate the work Donald Trump has done to give us time to gird our loins, but he is like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Unfortunately, we have a lot of holes in this dike, with more bursting forth each day. Many malevolently ambitious types are busy poking more holes, while most officials who aren’t actually malevolent just want to keep from getting wet – so this little Dutch boy is getting little help. The dike is going to burst and we will be flooded – until God intervenes.
Christians are under siege throughout the world, whether in the hard martyrdom of execution in the Middle East and Africa or the soft martyrdom of bankruptcy, silencing and imprisonment in the West. The late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said, back in 2013, that he “…would die in his bed, his successor would die in jail and that man’s successor would be executed in the public square—after which the martyr’s successor would, as the Church had done so often in the past, help pick up the fragments of a broken civilization and start again.”
Given these assumptions, my mind turns to practical matters – how to endure with fidelity until the Lord’s appointed time?
I ponder the Old Testament Book of Tobit. While most people know the story well enough, few note that Tobit and Tobias lived in the Northern kingdom of Israel, which was completely apostate and corrupt almost from the start. Except for rare trips to the Temple in Jerusalem in neighboring Judea, they had no faithful priests or licit places of worship in the northern kingdom. And yet, God sent the Archangel Raphael to aid and guide them. What is made clear in Tobit is that even when surrounded by corruption –
even when you physically have no place you can go to worship licitly – you can remain close to God by doing the corporal acts of mercy (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, burying the dead, ministering to the prisoner, the widow, the orphan) and living traditional piety (prayer, fasting and almsgiving). And God will abide with you. People worry about what they would do if they can’t receive communion. Tobit directs you to the answer – corporal acts of mercy and traditional piety. God does not abandon you because others oppress and harass Christians. It is not what goes into a man that defiles him in God’s eyes, but what comes out. Ensure, then, that what comes out; truth, honor, courage, devotion to the sacred, are your lodestones.
There is no question that God keeps faith with those who keep faith with Him, even when the corruption of society, government, and the clergy is almost universal. Fortunately for us, the corruption of the clergy is nowhere near the extent it was in the northern kingdom of the divided Davidic kingdom. But when the ordinary faithful are beset by aggressive persecutors and the top levels of society, government, and religion have become rife with corruption, they are badly shaken. They need support and encouragement to keep faith AND to live their evangelical call. As Cardinal George said, they need some help “pick(ing) up the fragments of a broken civilization and start(ing) again.”
A Clan of Christian Soldiers
This has dominated my thought since late last year. A people under siege by cultural barbarians need encouragement and mutual support systems, especially when their top leaders have abandoned and betrayed them. Keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of Priests and mid-level Bishops have not betrayed the faithful or Christ – though many, even of these, are cowed by the growing snarls and howling of the mob. They, too, must be cared for in our mutual support systems that they become true pillars of that system of caring for the faithful.
I have been thinking of establishing clans – or tribes – around the country and, perhaps, the world, for people of faith to encourage, uphold and defend each other in the midst of tribulation. While I usually think in terms of regions (which is how I organized states politically), that will not do here. It is senseless to spend as much time trying to organize inhospitable areas as it is growing enthusiastic ones. When boundaries are regional, it focuses on geography rather than fidelity and courage. I am looking for a coalition of the willing. Even when I was politically establishing regional coordinators, I spent my time where I found eager enthusiasts, reasoning that their enthusiasm was more likely to spill over and ignite a neighboring region than wasting efforts trying to push the unwilling into action. If you work from clans, they can grow organically depending on their effectiveness.
There are a number of areas that such clans must be concerned with. Among these are shelter, food, security, child care, education and communication – all of which I have begun work on. Do not think I am speaking of some impotent refuge or withdrawal movement. Rather, I speak of a network. We are to be yeast in the dough of society, not refugees in the catacombs. Every clan should have some provision for sheltering Priests, Preachers and Religious. Two decades ago, it was unthinkable that pastors could be fined or jailed for preaching the ancient faith, yet today it is happening in almost every western country save the United States. And in the States, laymen are routinely fined and prosecuted for simply living their Christian or Jewish faith with fidelity. If the anti-God leftist mob gains pre-eminence for a time (and it is almost certain they will press violently for it), it is entirely likely that faithful religious leaders are likely to face the sort of purges that have, at times, become raging infernos in France, Spain, Mexico, Russia, China and other countries – but this time throughout the world at the same time. We need to uphold faithful clerics as they uphold us. If a clan has a central location where people can gather in times of crisis, that is good. But they can’t go just to hunker down: they must always be focused on how to go forth and evangelize the world.
The Apostolate of the Laity
What is clear is that, this time, the world will not be renewed by great heroes and elite knights. It will be renewed by ordinary people, working together in mutual faith with God and with each other. Renewal of the Church will not come through top officials. St. Paul VI said, in 1972, that the smoke of satan had entered the Church. I wonder if he knew then that, just over four decades later, the Vatican, itself, would be blazing merrily away. This is the moment for the ordinary man.
My plans for this year are fluid. If the world does not blow up in the interim, I plan to hit the road in late May. I will go, giving presentations wherever I am asked – starting first in the north and eastern parts of the country and then, after a sabbatical in late summer and early fall, going off to the southern and western parts of the country. This time the presentations will focus on how to create a network of mutual aid in trying times and how to keep vibrant faith in faithless times. Even more, it will be about how to convey the joy of that faith to a weary, bleeding world. Keep in mind that many who are eagerly pulling down the pillars that hold up a stable, peaceful world think themselves idealists – with no idea that they are summoning chaos, violence and darkness. Oh, how they will suffer! But for many, it will be a blessed suffering, for it will be the gate back to the joy and peace that vibrant faith brings. Many of them will see the fruit that their depredations bear – and will, first in agony, then in despair, and finally in chastened humility, look once more for truth rather than just for power and pre-eminence. Some will not: some men just want to watch the world burn.
These plans could change in a heartbeat. I always keep my hiking gear close at hand. If I hike it will not be to escape, but to confront the aggressors and hearten the faithful. I don’t know how God intends this should all unfold. What I do know is that this is not the end. God is calling each of us to choose – and when we choose Him to be fruitful and multiply, to bring many back with us to present as an acceptable offering to Him. He calls us not just to talk about courage and fidelity, but to live it fully in uncertain times, trusting that He will give us what we need IF we keep faith with Him, trust in Him, and act as His hands and feet to call His prodigal children back to Him. That means we must serve with all our hearts, all our mind, and all our soul – to be faithful unto death (which for the truly faithful is just our birth to heaven).
My pilgrimage taught me many things. Each day, I did not know where I would sleep that night. Many days, I did not know what I would eat – or whether I would have anything to eat at all. I never knew when I would be able to be in a Church to worship (except when I approached a sizable town) or what church it would be. If Christ was authentically proclaimed, that was sufficient for me under those circumstances. I spent over a year going forth into the unknown each day. Along the way, my little, simple journey touched thousands of people and gave them new heart – and in doing so, gave me new heart. What a glorious time it was! Now we are all on the outskirts of the unknown – and the world will not be at peace again until we have chosen to make our pilgrim journey through this dark valley. God is sufficient to us. If we walk with charity, fidelity, firmness and resolve, we will look back and realize that never were we closer to God in each minute than when we walked with confidence into the unknown in trying times – by His side. There is cause for fear, no doubt. Walk with fidelity, though, and you will be stunned to find a sublime joy deeper than any you have ever known in the very midst of trial. The King calls us to be His fishers of men even as we keep faith with each other.
Peace and justice are established by making prudent choices – in policy and in faith. I will write more on some simple truths about issues that have become viciously snarled and tangled through the vanity and hubris of worldly temporal and spiritual leaders. Even now, I have begun work to build these networks and help them establish independent action, in communion with each other when and where possible. Remember, as I have constantly said, that all faithful Christians and Jews are equal partners in the work before us – and all people of good faith are to be treated as true neighbors. For those of us who are Catholic, we are working to recollect the hierarchy to what they are called. In the midst of massive hierarchical corruption, I echo what Jesus said about the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:2,3, “…practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do, for they preach, but do not practice.” And in this, I note that what the Church authentically tells us is contained in Scripture and the Magisterium, not the vain and mindless ramblings and revolt of faithless leaders. If any should preach to you seeking to correct the “errors” of Christ and His Apostles, “let him be accursed” to you. (Galatians 1:8).
St. Patrick and the Snakes
St. Patrick entered the pagan land of Ireland to universal hostility. Amazingly, there are no well-attested miracles attributed to him, save the banishment of the snakes. Even the pious legends about him make for thin gruel when it comes to miracles. Yet in the midst
of this universal hostility, he founded some 300 Churches and baptized over 120,000 people. Until its recent reversion to pagan sensibility, Ireland had been the most reliably Catholic country in the world for over 1,500 years.
Whether God opens a new age of miracles or whether your fidelity unto death is, itself, the miracle, it is through the laity and the mid-level clergy that the world and the faith will be renewed, an era of peace will settle over the world, and the Immaculate Heart will triumph.
That is what the apostolate of the laity is. Though your leaders abandon faith, though those you should be able to count on abandon you, though the world attacks and despises you for your goodness and charity, keep faith and live the prayer of doing. When you do this, you are not alone. The people of the kingdom and the people of heaven will rise together and God will re-establish His kingdom among us.
Convert what snakes you can and banish the rest. Be the miracle.