By Charlie Johnston
Mine is an ordinary way: Acknowledge God, Take the Next Right Step, and Be a Sign of Hope to those around you. It is not a way developed casually through some focus group. It is the result of a process of boiling down what is critical and yet accessible to all over the course of a lifetime of serious work, including no little amount of trial and error. On occasion, someone will delight me by observing that this little credo is a nicely concise summary of the Gospels. That is by intent.
I have written frequently that vanity is one of the most potent tools the satan uses against us. We are constantly tempted to think we are masters rather than servants. It is one of the oldest tricks in the satan’s game plan. “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). The triumphal temptation, to imagine oneself as master of all one surveys, ever lurks, seeking to lead us to spiritual destruction. “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)
We each have gifts given by God. Those gifts are given by Him to be used in His service, to love Him and to call our fellows to Him. We are not author of those gifts. He gives them as He will to whom He will – for His purposes, not for those who are the recipients, so it is a foolish vanity to take lordly pride in a gift you were given as if you were author of the gift. We are responsible for working to discern what God intends with the gifts He gives us, then honing and maintaining them to use for His purposes. It is an offense to use one of those gifts to try to dominate those around us – or to pretend to a gift we are not given for the same purpose – and an offense that, most of all, imperils our own soul.
I have encouraged people to adopt much more humility in approaching prophecy. There is much to be gleaned from authentic prophecy, but there are two serious problems borne by our limitations. The first is the matter of discernment between authentic and false prophecy. Then there is the matter of proper interpretation of authentic prophecy – a matter which even authentic prophets stumble over. When Abraham was sent to a far country and promised his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the sky, he did not expect to reach his late 90’s still bereft of a legitimate heir. When Moses led the people out of captivity from Egypt, neither he nor the Jews expected the deliverance to lead them to be trapped on the shore of a great sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them. Nor did they expect that, once they had been delivered from that crisis, to wander for 40 years in the desert.
All the theologians expected that the Messiah would be a great king and warrior, rich and powerful. After all, that is what prophecy led them to expect. None expected a poor boy to be born in an animal crib. None expected the kingdom to be established through the execution of the Messiah – and then His rising from the dead.
St. Joan of Arc confided to one of her visitors in prison that her saints had revealed to her the very date she would be set free. She had been told true, but she had not expected to be set free by means of her execution.
I have spoken of the nearly decade-long period when I was younger when I was mistaken on the interpretation of every prophetic utterance I was given. When it came, it would be obvious, but not at all what I expected. It was so frustrating I wanted it to end, wondering what purpose it could possibly serve to be shown these things if I would not understand them until they had happened. Finally, I was shown that this is not given so that even a true prophet would know the mind of God, but as landmarks along the way to alert him to pay attention to the supernatural reality behind a temporal event – and to act on it in that light. Even so, I am constantly informed by people with little to no experience in such things that they have figured it out completely and understand exactly how things will play out. It is like a physicist listening to a kindergartner explain how simple and obvious quantum physics is. It is not the banal interpretations they come up with that astound me, but the hubris that they think they have mastered, with scarcely any effort, what the greatest saints and theologians throughout history have struggled mightily with.
Then there are those who treat the events of a decaying world as an exhilarating adventure quest-game. Their focus is to choose their role. Are they going to be Gandalf, Frodo, or maybe Samwise? They are focused on imagined glory and the statues that will be built in their honor after they have shown themselves a superior order of being, rather than on simple service to God and His people. They focus on the glory while ignoring the price to be paid and the hazard which, unaccepted, cannot but lead to destruction. At a meeting once with one of my lesser-known but particularly virulent critics, I asked earnestly why he was so viscerally nasty to me. After some sputtering, he finally exclaimed with furious anger, “They should be following me.” Then I understood. He was trying to mount a religious movement with no success. I did not tell him it was because he dealt in boring, unoriginal platitudes; nor that it was patently obvious to almost everyone that his priority was to show how smart and superior he was rather than to help others live a more actively God-centered and richly fulfilling life. His vanity undoes his efforts. He will neither pay the price nor live the service necessary to be a useful servant.
Most people who are serious have occasional deep insights. There is wisdom in this – and the wise man will be alert for it from all. But it is not to be mistaken for scholarly knowledge. Scholarship is a matter of discipline. Since I entered grade school, I have spent a good three or four hours a day studying. Thankfully, it is a joy to me. If it were a burden, I would still have to do it, given the work I understand myself to be called to. God cut me some slack here by giving me the inclination for it. Scholarship is not to be confused with talent. One may be scholarly with a deficit of talent, or may have talent with a deficit of scholarship, but scholarship is, itself, a virtuous tool. Let me give an example:
If, for the last 10 years, I had been playing, practicing and refining my tennis game for four hours each day, given the level of talent I actually have (which is very little) and was matched against tennis great Roger Federer one would expect me to be skunked – unless he had never previously picked up a tennis racket before. Even given his level of raw talent, if he had never practiced and refined his skills, I would skunk him. If he then began to practice and hone his skills, he would very quickly leave me in his dust…but not until he began to train. The point is, rigorously trained mediocrity beats untrained talent almost every time, and usually quite badly.
In any field, the rigorously trained person rarely brings more than a fraction of his knowledge and experience to any particular encounter. It would simply be unnecessary and vain overkill. But it is also foolish vanity for those who may have had an insight to fancy themselves a scholar on the same level. A beer-league slugger who thinks he should be a major leaguer deceives himself. We are beset, in modern times, with what I call “Google Intellectuals,” people who have read a few books or looked something up online and fancy themselves an expert. It is as silly as picking up a foreign language dictionary and, without further years of study, thinking oneself fluent in the language. You can deceive yourself, but once you open your mouth you will not deceive many others – and never anyone who actually does speak the language in question fluently.
My focus has been on history and geo-politics, generally speaking. If you have read a book on a particular major historical figure, I like to encourage you. Most who have done serious study will go to some pains to keep from discouraging you. But while you have gotten the joy of discovery from that book, I have probably read seven to 10 on the same figure, from different perspectives. I have also read a multitude of books on his contemporaries – and the context of the local and global milieus in which he operated. That is not vanity, but simply the discipline that scholarly work entails.
If you have a point that you want to advocate and have done some studying up on it, if you do not know (with some depth and intimacy) the opposing interpretations, you are not an analyst, but merely a partisan. If you do not know the larger context in which it is placed and cannot account for similar historical events that do not fit neatly into your worldview, you may have some tactical sense but you are strategically at sea.
I don’t want to discourage anyone – and I do not want to miss the often profound insights that even dabblers have. But if you are going to present yourself as a genuine expert, your expertise is going to be tested more aggressively here than it has been.
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the vanity involved in inflating such claims is dangerous – to you and to others. A man who makes a 200-yard rifle shot has done something impressive…but if he deludes himself that this qualifies him for military special forces, it can only get him and others killed. You ALWAYS have to pay the price for genuine expertise, regardless of raw talent. Second, these are deadly serious times – and there is no time for indulging self-actualizing aspirations.
Recently, there has been a dispute here on whether Pope Francis was validly elected and whether Pope Emeritus Benedict’s resignation was valid. I take the position that both are valid. Yet I have been terse with the commenter who has intently advocated for the opposing position while I am very respectful of the arguments of Bishop Rene Gracida, who takes much the same position as our commenter. The reason for that is simple. Bishop Gracida has paid the price in coming to his conclusion. We have talked privately about the matter. I recognize the potential validity of his case, while he recognizes the potential validity of mine. Neither of us has ever felt constrained to force the other to accepting our position as the only possible legitimate position.
Bishop Gracida thinks there are significant flaws in the way this has played out. I actually agree with him that there may have been some significant deficiencies. He puts his emphasis on his interpretation of some canons – and I respect that. It is, of course, driven in part by his dismay at the state of the Church. I am equally dismayed. Yet my perspective is that the big controversies in history are almost never settled by legalisms. They are settled by superior persuasion and force – and legalisms are later used as a fig leaf to justify the ultimate cultural and philosophical resolution achieved by force or numbers.
I’ll tell you a little secret: I am in sympathy with what many call “birthers” regarding Barack Obama. I think it very likely he was actually born in Kenya. The promotional jacket of his first book said he was, no one has ever come up with a genuine contemporary long-form birth certificate from Hawaii (it is all computer-generated stuff), and I suspect the invincible refusal to release his college records has less to do with his grades than it does with the likelihood that he received aid that is designated for foreign students. Even so, I think if I am entirely right, it is far less dispositive than the typical “birther” thinks. When I was active in political races during his tenure, I sought earnestly to tamp down conservative activism on that count rather than inflame it. His mother was an American citizen. Unless she renounced her American citizenship prior to his birth, he was a natural-born citizen wherever he was physically born. Some have claimed she did, but I have never seen any serious evidence to that effect. A claim is not the same thing as a fact. The natural-born child of an American citizen is a natural-born citizen regardless of the geography involved. Otherwise, children born overseas of American military parents – or vacationing American parents, would not be natural-born citizens. Had it been otherwise, neither Obama nor his 2008 opponent, John McCain, would have been eligible for the presidency (McCain was born in Panama to military parents). Then there is the practical matter: any contest over Obama’s citizenship should have been made during the election cycle. That it was not led to implicit consent to his eligibility, barring actual fraud. The “birther” theories drove me nuts during that time, for I thought they distracted attention and effort from the actual crisis facing us – what was our country to be, a Constitutional Republic or an absolutist authoritarian bureaucratic state – and re-directed it towards what was extraneous.
I give this lengthy example to illuminate the context in which such questions must be addressed in the midst of grave controversy. If we do not resurrect a culture of life and of committed faith, it does not matter what legalisms we unearth. Their only value is to give fodder for the effort now and justification for a victory later – but they will not, themselves, provide victory. Every successful revolution in history has been illegal in terms of the country’s laws in which it began (with perhaps the Nazi takeover of Germany, which started legally but quickly evolved into illegal territory). Every revolution successfully put down has involved some illegal means. We must, indeed, win hearts and minds back to Christ, or we will lose the culture, whatever the law says. I will, of course, give thanks for whatever legal analysis helps win some hearts and minds, but I will not rely on it for victory. Ask Czar Nicholas II of Russia, King Louis XVI of France, or King Charles I of Great Britain among many others how that worked for them (they were all illegally executed by revolutionaries who had seized power illegally).
For this site, however, the key is that I do not want to miss the insights of any. I will continue a relatively hands-off policy towards honorable disagreement and intellectual debate, however lacking or abundant in erudition the debate might be. If you insist on an expertise that you think should end all argument, though, expect your expertise to be tested. We have no time to squander on self-actualization crusades or contests over who is the smartest of them all. Our focus is to Acknowledge God, Take the Next Right Step, and Be a Sign of Hope – doing those practical things that help build up each other, the Kingdom and usher in the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart.
In an email to me, Beckita suggested that an article I wrote in early August of 2015, “Trust to a Plain Path,” lays out nicely our approach here. You will notice that in the article, which I reprint below, I had misinterpreted the Rescue as an event rather than the process I have come to see it as. I will be wrong about some other specifics before this is all done – and so will you. In fact, God intends that our errors be revealed to test whether we can suffer embarrassment – a mocking and painful crown of thorns – and still endure humbly in His service with fortitude. Our call is to build each other up, to live the prayer of doing, and to evangelize the whole world in preparation for the Lord to act. Here then, the piece I speak of:
With new waves of readers coming on board, I am being inundated by a host of requests in emails. A few things that folks should know, particularly if they are new here:
1. I am getting a lot of letters from people who think they have a prophetic message they are called to share with the world and wanting my advice or blessing. Well, first, whatever I am, I am definitely not the Church or a priest – and I am not the person to guide you on this. The Church is. Most times, a person is mistaken on the matter. The way to discern is to get a solid priest spiritual director and obey him as he discerns. If you are Protestant, you had best get a sound minister to guide you. If you will not take direction and be obedient, you are deceiving yourself; you do not have such a call – for the virtue God loves most is obedience to legitimate authority. Then, if you clear that hurdle, just do. Either it will have merit and catch on or it will not. If you really want to follow the path I have, you would spend years trying to desperately find a way out…choose a priest for your first disclosure who is noted for integrity, but most likely to tell you to forget it and give you a way out, then spend more years having that priest and any he brings on discern, all while looking for a way out, then finally speak publicly after many things you have said have come to pass. But when you first speak publicly, do so a bit sullenly, refusing to do anything to promote what you say unless it drops in your lap, hoping it will all go away so you can be left alone. Oh, and be prepared for much sacrifice. I have never had a career. I had what looked kind of like a career, but it was just episodic things laid one after another. Why? Because from childhood, part of what I agreed to was that I would get attached to no work so much that I could not leave it forthwith if I were called to the Master’s service – so I had to forego a host of otherwise perfectly legitimate opportunities because they would violate the terms of service I had promised to live by. This is just the tip of the iceberg. You will need to put yourself in a very radical way in the hands of the Lord – and in ways you will never speak of. It is a fearsome thing that is not for everyone. In the military, many would like what they think is the glamor of being in special forces, but few can pay the price. I do not boast when I tell you you really need to consider whether you can pay the price, for if not, it would just crush you. And the first installment is direction and obedience. In any case, I am not the judge of such things. You may occasionally have what some call a “word of knowledge” for yourself or others, but if you think you have a public calling, submit yourself first to a priest or pastor and obey him.
2. I am also getting a host of people asking me what they should do about very specific personal problems and decisions. That is not what I do, even though I can sometimes offer counsel over how to approach important decisions. My fundamental message is not that God is close to me (though I believe He is) but that He is close to each of you. Simply call on Him (acknowledge God), make the best decision you can, and act, trusting in Him to gently correct your errors and draw fruit from them in the process. I am not a guru, but the larger point is that there are no gurus who can tell you definitively what God wants from you. God endowed you with moral agency. He expects you to exercise it in choosing what you should do, what the next right step is for you. By exercising it, you build your relationship with God and learn more about what His mission for you is. When you search for a guru to tell you precisely what to do, you are trying to evade the responsibility of the moral agency with which God endowed you. It is like being replaced by a pinch hitter in a baseball game: even if the pinch hitter gets a hit, it is not accrued to you. You may – and should – seek counsel from trusted friends, family members and pastors, but you must make and take responsibility for every decision and action you take. That is how you learn and how you become a true servant of God. Do not worry much about your many mistakes. How many times must a toddler fall before he finally starts walking? Would you want him to stop trying so he would not fall? Of course not – if he did, he would never walk. Even when he falls, you are endeared to the effort he put into trying to walk – and more deeply endeared to his fortitude in keeping at it despite a long succession of failures. You know that if he keeps at it, he will eventually learn to walk with confidence and ease. Your Heavenly Father views you with the same affection. So get up and walk. When you stumble, get up and try again. Sometime after the hundredth or so try, you will begin to get it – and your Father in heaven will rejoice along with you.
3. Finally, something that worries me a lot. Many of you are asking me such things as when you should pull your kids out of school and hunker down. I know many people – and credible voices – are focusing on September as a time of crash. I have not publicly said that. I do not know when the final crash comes: only when the Rescue comes and all the things that must come between now and then. That does not mean that crash will not come in September. I do know it will come soon. We have been redlining all the cultural, social, political, economic and security systems throughout the globe for nearly a decade now. Like a building with multiple boilers, all of which are in the redline danger zone, one of them will eventually blow. When one does, the rest will follow in short succession. But the rules for this crisis are different than any other crisis in world history. Your instincts will easily fail you if you don’t truly trust God. Part of my training included a searing set of experiences that you have not had – and it was one of the toughest two or three parts of the training. It is about truly trusting God. Before I was a teen, I started being shown some hard things that would happen with certain people I cared about – but ordered not to say anything or actively prevent it. I flatly disobeyed in many cases – and brought down a far worse situation than what I originally saw. At first, I did it because I thought I knew better than God – and the fix seemed so simple. The Good Lord patiently showed me that I knew nothing, and that if I did not learn to trust Him, I never would. When I obeyed, the things I saw still came, but the consequences of them were not near as bad as I expected – and often were a source of blessing to the ones involved. Even so, sometimes I would get so frantic, I could not help myself. God was consistent. If I interfered where I had been ordered not to, small disasters ensued. The last time I disobeyed was 19 years ago. To give you an idea how deeply engrained this has become in me, several years before the terrible tsunami and earthquake hit Japan I knew that it was set for some type of terrible, widespread strike – but ordered to tell no one. This was an agony, because my brother and his family – and my son – were stationed there at the time I was shown. Every instinct in me cried out to warn them, to get them out of there. But experience had shown me to try to do so through disobedience might get them killed. So I kept silence. Oh, I agonized privately and in frequent prayer on their behalf, often in tears. But I obeyed, even as I suffered from the obedience. I was so relieved when they were both out of there – and even more relieved that, when the destruction came, it cost very few lives. Japan, having suffered that tragedy will, in fact, be better prepared to be a field hospital for the suffering during the worst of the Storm. My point is that you cannot outwit God. If you try you may well call down disaster. So act with prudence. If there is a good reason for your child to take a sabbatical year that will help him and the family, then consider it. But if the primary reason is to keep him from harm, know that instead you are likely leading him into harm. You cannot outwit God. The whole point of the Storm is to learn to trust God and know that your confidence is well-placed in Him. I sympathize with you as this was one of the two or three hardest disciplines I had to master – and I had a lot longer to learn it than you do. But I must tell you true. I devote myself in prayer that when you fail at this, the consequences will be light: just enough to teach you you must trust to God rather than devise plans to evade Him, but not so much that you face devastating loss.
4. I often say that nothing is lost in God’s economy. What that means is that it pleases God that you continue in the good things you would normally do. If you are the head of a company that employs many and know that the Storm is coming, keep taking care of your business and helping your employees grow. There will be a need for such after the Rescue, and those who have acted with fidelity and resolve will be entrusted with more. If your kids are doing well in school, encourage them to persist, for we will need people with good educations after the Rescue. What they gain now will be useful then. I had the head of one institute ask me whether they should proceed with a planned major renovation or defer it and keep their money in the bank. I told him to proceed. First, if I am wrong, there is no reason to defer the renovation. If I am right, however, money in the bank will be gone along with all the rest. But if they proceed with the renovation, even if it is interrupted, they will still have many of the materials and will be that much further along when the Storm is over. The point is, nothing will ultimately be lost from the good and noble things you are trying to do, even if an interruption in all society comes for a time. Keep at it, trusting to God to sort out all the results.