By Charlie Johnston
We are booked pretty solid through late June for my speaking tour this year – in the Midwest, New England, and New York. Come mid-July I have some stops in Florida. There is a little hole in the first half of July. I can use this to visit longer with family, but if any folks along the Atlantic seaboard want to host a visit during one of these holes, just contact my assistant, Mary Lapchak, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A lot of people are planning “invitation-only” events. With what is before us, I think the intimacy of that will allow for more detailed discussions. BUT, there are many readers who want to be able to visit when I am in their area, so we will publish the general area we are going to be in along with the specific date – and a contact email so that interested readers can contact the host and garner an invitation. Keep in mind that I always have a separate private dinner with the hosts and whoever they invite for that smaller affair, so there always is both a private and a more open event.
The theme of my talk this year is, “A Pilgrim’s Lessons for the Pilgrimage Before Us.” I will share some anecdotes from the pilgrimage I took across the country beginning eight years ago, then sum up some of the key lessons that came out of that – and apply them to the situation that faces us today. I walked into the unknown almost every day for a year and a half. It was sometimes scary, but ultimately exhilarating and joyful. How wonderful it is to be called to be pilgrims for God – and to recruit others to join us!
Again, if you want to schedule a talk, contact Mary at email@example.com.
I love the painting at the top of this article. It strikes me that all of us are called to be midwives to the “re-birth” of light, so it seemed most appropriate to me. (I actually was looking for paintings entitled ‘The Birth of Light.’ I once owned one by the fabulous Mexican artist, Leonardo Nierman. (Nierman gave this title to several of his paintings. I was hoping to find mine, but since it had been mainly privately owned rather than in museums, it didn’t show up). I was tickled to see that this painting was done by Ule W. Ritgen, a Danish artist. Since about the fourth or fifth month after I started these websites, we have had an oddly large Danish readership. So I love the painting AND I get to give a shout-out to our friends in Denmark. I love two-fers.
When 9-11 came, though I lived in southern Illinois, I was in the Chicago area for an important conference. Whenever in the Chicago area in those days, I stayed with a dear friend who worked for the governor’s office. She had a house that had become too big for her. When I got up that morning, I headed for a gas station to get a large cup of coffee. On the way, I heard on the radio that a plane had flown into one of the towers. What a tragedy, I thought. On the way back, I heard that another plane had flown into the second tower. It was horrifying news – for what had seemed a tragedy was clearly an attack. When I got back to the house, I went and knocked on my friend’s bedroom door. (She was usually a late riser) so we could see what was going on on TV.
We watched in stunned and horrified wonder. What sticks in my mind is that a few minutes before the collapse of the first tower, I saw what looked to me like a subtle shudder of the entire building. I looked at my friend and said, “Oh my God, it’s going to collapse!” She thought that was a bit overwrought – but a few minutes later, down it came.
As the establishment media and Congressional Democrats continue their persecution of Donald Trump – and Christians and conservatives – even after the Russia Collusion narrative has been revealed as a hoax – and a criminal one, at that, I get the same feeling as I did when I saw what I thought was that shudder. Social media sites are busy shutting down “dangerous” conservatives and Christians for their opinions; high-ranking Democrats are almost hysterically projecting their own criminality onto their opponents; weird scientists are forming “chimeras,” combining human and animal genes; we have massacred three generations of children and now the advocates of that child-murder are calling for all to be proud of it, to celebrate it as a “woman’s right,” (kind of like sending Jews to death camps was a “German’s right” 70 years ago); we are frantically declaring gender to be a social, rather than a biological, construct – and threatening to jail or fine those who won’t go along with the gag.
I look at all this and see the edifice of elite modern culture. It is a defiant new Tower of Babel. I do not see strength or majesty. I see hysterical spasms signaling the onset of a fatal and catastrophic collapse. Most of the world, the ordinary people, are not participating in the hysterical instability, just gazing on in stunned and horrified wonder. But all will be caught in the fallout.
We cannot stop the collapse or the violent quakes coming from all of this. But we can assemble the ambulances and prepare for the clean-up. It falls to those of us who are willing to “pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization.”
I would not want anyone to think for a moment that the secular forces that wage war on the faith and the faithful, on society and its people, on reason and memory, are going to prevail. Many such assaults have been launched throughout history. All have failed. The difference in this one is that it is far broader than all those in the past – and perhaps more ignorantly and arrogantly conceived. But I also would not want anyone to think for a moment that things are going to be set right without great trials and tribulations – or without our active, sustained work. In her first examination before taking the lead of French forces, Priests asked St. Joan of Arc why God needed soldiers. “The soldiers will fight and God will give the victory,” she replied.
The clean-up, the rebuilding, is ours. Onward Christian soldiers!
Fyodor Dostoevsky, the Russian author, was one of the most profound of Christian thinkers. A layman, his novels deeply probed the implications and consequences of serious Christianity and of alternative philosophies. Like many truly gifted artists, he expressed himself far more clearly and profoundly in his stories than in his direct contemplation of either theology or philosophy. In his masterwork, “The Karamazov Brothers,” he foresaw the bleak and despairing totalitarianism that secular communism would wreak – and he did it well before a single nation had adopted the system. (I know it is usually translated as ‘The Brothers Karamazov,’ but that is just a pretentious mistranslation. In English, adjectives usually proceed the noun they modify. In Russian, it is the reverse. The title, as Dostoevsky wrote it, was in the usual, everyday Russian form – so should be properly translated in the usual, everyday English form.) If the world had hearkened to his warning of what enforced secularism leads to, we could have saved 100 million lives lost to the slaughterhouse of socialism in the last 100 or so years – more than five times as many in a single century as all the lives lost in Christian religious wars in the past 2,000 years. In most religious wars, it was opponents who were killed on the battlefield. Secularism has a habit of murdering, instead, its own citizens who hold dissident views. It baffles me why, when secularism kills at a rate of 100 people for every one killed by Christian conflict and always turns its greatest atrocities on its own people, that leading elite “thinkers” are pressing hard for secular socialism. But I do believe our elite classed are the dumbest and most unlearned of any in history.
In his stunning chapter on ‘The Grand Inquisitor,’ (The Karamazov Brothers, Book 5, Chapter 5), with the inquisitor speaking to Christ, Dostoevsky writes that, “…ages will pass and mankind will proclaim with its voice of wisdom and science that there is no crime and consequently no sin, but only starving people. ‘Feed them and then ask for virtue!’ That’s what they’ll write on their banner which they will raise against You and with which they will destroy your temple. A new edifice will arise in place of Your temple, the terrible Tower of Babel will arise anew…” After that, Dostoevsky posits, real misery will begin.
Near the end of this chapter, he evokes a startling and terrible insight, that “…man seeks not so much God as miracles.” It is a terrible indictment of Christians, the assertion that many of the most pious are merely pandering to God in hope of obtaining a miracle. He notes how Christ rejected the showiness of miracles to benefit Himself in both the temptations in the desert and on the road to His passion, choosing the way of trust and love. It is a hard road, but his insight gets to the heart of the matter. If you ‘trust’ God in the expectation of temporal benefits and immunity from suffering, your hope is not in God so much as in the hope that He will put His finger on the scales to your temporal benefit. It is a hard road, indeed. The only way you can prove your love for God is to feed His lambs (John 21:15-17), even unto death. It is a very hard road. We prove our love for God by our love for our fellows. So when we pray, we must ask ourselves if it is from love of God, or are we merely pandering to Him in hopes of temporal benefit? Our prayers for the good of others are the most pure and powerful contemplative prayers, I think.
The U.S. Army is introducing a new dress uniform. It hearkens back to the classic dress uniforms of the World War II era. Perhaps thinking the modern dress uniforms are a bit
too sterile, the Army reached back to a rich, traditional look that intimately emphasizes its commitment to duty, honor and country. I am a fan of the new (old) look.
The Knights of Columbus are also adopting new regalia. Gone will be the old, rich, colorful traditional garb that said, “Catholic heroes” at a glance. In is prosaic, lifeless, colorless garb that says “globalist U.N. drones.”
I love what the Knights of Columbus do. They are the mainstays of providing expensive ultrasound equipment for struggling crisis pregnancy
centers throughout America. More than any other organization I am aware of, they have taken the lead in helping Christians suffering persecution and martyrdom in the Middle East this last decade. Many in the pews know them primarily for their pancake breakfasts, fish fries, and color guards at formal Catholic ceremonies. Behind their congenial fellowship, though, lies real commitment to human dignity and charity.
I asked some friends in the Knights how they could have actually favored these hideous and lifeless new uniforms. To a man, they told me they got no say in it – that it was a top-down decision imposed on them. So even the Knights have a clueless elite imposing its will on the more sensible people in the ranks. Some have told me they will surreptitiously use the old regalia instead of the new garb even though the top bosses of the Knights have said they will punish any council which defies this imperial order from the top after June 30.
It saddens me, but I suspect that the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre and the Knights of Malta are going to be getting a lot more requests to provide color guards in preference to the new colorless guards the Knights of Columbus are imposing on its soldiers in the trenches. This, too, will pass – and the Knights of Columbus will ultimately get a new generation of leadership because of it – a generation that objects both to the drab drone uniforms AND to existing leadership imposing its will in contradiction to the will of the Knights in the Parishes.
Seven years ago today, my Mother passed on from this earth. In 2012, May 12 was the day before Mother’s Day. Today, when it is simultaneously Mother’s Day and the anniversary of her death, it is a hard thing.
For most of my adult life, my relationship with my Mom was a rocky one, filled with misunderstandings and tension. She was a sensitive sort. While I got comic birthday cards for other family members, I always got flowery ones for her, not wanting to unintentionally offend her. One year she complained that all the people I liked got funny cards while she always got sappy ones. I finally found the perfect card. It had multiple folds. It started out by saying I wanted to wish her a happy birthday. The next fold said, “But I don’t want you to think I think you’re old.” The fold after that said, “But I don’t want you to think I forgot, either.” The next fold said, “What I’m trying to say is…” – and the last panel said, “I don’t want any trouble.” Ma loved it so much she framed it.
In the year before my pilgrimage, I stayed downstairs from Mom and Dad. What a gift that was! All the tension between Mom and I seemed to melt away. We would have long talks with each other – especially when Dad had gone off to his part-time job. Mom was never a gifted story-teller. She would lose her train of thought, go chasing after ancillary thoughts. While often enthusiastic, she would go off on puzzling tangents in which the
point she was making was completely lost. A medical condition late in life complicated this penchant. One day, she started off telling me a story as we sat in the cool of her sitting room. After turning off into the fourth tangent, she suddenly went quiet…and I realized she had started crying. I asked with alarm what was wrong. She said she had no clue what she had wanted to say and hated that she couldn’t keep track of a story to save her life anymore – and must seem a total fool to everyone. I told her, “Ma, it’s okay. Actually, I kind of like it. When you begin a story, it’s like a rabbit running into a thicket. I know where it went in, but I have no clue where it’s going to come out. It can be kind of fun.” She looked at me and, honest to goodness, started giggling. “It’s just like that for me, too,” she said. After that, we entered many storied thickets together – but she was not at all self-conscious about it anymore. In fact, when she got lost, we both laughed…and would find our way out of the thicket together.
At Christmas of 2015, I was missing her a lot. I was looking through her Mother’s Bible (which had been handed down to me at the instructions of my maternal grandmother, Mamo Rider). Mamo loved to stuff precious notes in her Bible. I still stumble on a new one now and then. On this Christmas Day, when I was feeling terribly lonesome for my Mom (who ALWAYS made Christmas a fabulously joyful celebration) the note I stumbled on, in my Mother’s distinctive handwriting, said, “Merry Christmas. Even though we are apart at Christmas time this year, we still can share the day in heart, for thought will keep us near.” I burst into tears. Shoot, I got pretty misty just writing this.
I am sure that this is a note Mom wrote to her Mom long ago – and that her Mom cherished it enough to save in her Bible. I am also sure that God intended, at the prompting of some saints and angels, that I stumble on that particular note on that particular day. And so I say on this Mother’s Day, “Happy Mother’s Day. Even though we are apart on Mother’s Day this year, we still can share the day in heart, for thought will keep us near.”