By Charlie Johnston
Thursday was the Feast Day of the Visitation. It was on this occasion that Mary spoke the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) to her cousin, Elizabeth. It is my favorite prayer. It resonates in the depths of my heart.
In most translations, it begins, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord…” In a large minority of translations, it starts with, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Though both are moving, the latter has a special meaning for me.
That meaning snapped into place over the long period when I contemplated what was at the heart of St. Joan of Arc’s sanctity. I have always loved St. Joan, even in my early days as a Protestant. As I studied her more, contemplating ever deeper her personality and mission, I pondered over what was at the center of her sanctity – and what caused me to so deeply love and admire her. Though she was burned at the stake, she was not technically a martyr. Her life was suffused by mystical experiences. Certainly she was a prophet – but a prophet that got it wrong almost as often as she got it right The many things she was right on were so absurdly improbable that it could only have come from God. I loved that she was a very practical woman, that despite the mystical phenomenon that surrounded her, she was focused on the ordinary work right in front of her. While others were oo-ing and ah-ing over her charisms, she was very earthily exhorting all to put their shoulders to the plow with her and get to it. She was a saint made to order to be patron to me.
It was while praying the Magnificat that the heart of St. Joan’s sanctity came to me – and, in fact, the heart of all sanctity: her soul magnified the Lord. When she burst onto the scene, all the army of France – and all the leaders, as well, were completely dispirited and forlorn. None believed that they could revive the nation. They were just sullenly and sorrowfully waiting for France to become a mere province of England. Her presence revived the people of the nation, fortifying them with a joyful new heart and joyful new resolve along with an unshakeable new fortitude. Before she lifted the siege of Orleans, no one, English or French, thought that France could ultimately survive. After she lifted it no one, French or English, thought France could ever be conquered. Her soul magnified the Lord and everyone could feel it and draw strength from it.
But there was a flip side. While the simple and the straightforward took new heart at her presence and work, the self-servingly ambitious loathed her with furious hatred. It was not just the English. The pretenders in the French court hated her and schemed constantly against her – fearful that her success would dislodge them from their sinecures. Strange to realize that many men would rather remain captains of a dying organization than serve as soldiers in a winning one, but that is the reality. Even Charles VII, King of France, casually betrayed her after she had won and secured his throne for him. (It grates on me terribly that he shares my name. I have often vowed that I will be the Charles who keeps faith with her and Our Lord – and hope it is a little consolation to her). A brother of mine who once had frequent staggering insights, once explained such mindless hostility to me by saying, “Don’t you know that nothing so enrages a fraud as to be confronted by the real thing?” All the frauds hated Joan – and whatever piety they cloaked their malice in, they only ever wanted to destroy her to protect their pathetic little sinecures.
I started putting every saint I could think of to the “magnify the Lord” test. There are such a huge variety of authentic saints and authentic charisms…but at bottom, every saint is completely focused outwards on God and God’s people. There is a palpable joy in them as they discover new facets of how to serve the Lord – and share it with their fellows. They protect their personal prestige to the extent it is necessary for their work, but the work itself is entirely focused on loving the Lord and rallying His people. Perhaps the most brilliant theologian ever, St. Thomas Aquinas, was entirely so focused. When you read him, dense as his material often is, you can feel the delight bubbling up with each new insight – and the eager desire to share it with his fellows. His soul magnified the Lord. Any discipline can be perverted, made into a pale shadow of the real thing. I have read many religious writers, even some gifted theologians, whose insights are mutilated because their main message is that, “I’m smarter than you and my discernment is better than yours: just do what I say if you want to get to heaven.
For everyone who is the real thing, their soul magnifies the Lord. They both delight in sharing it with their fellows and their fellows can feel it. The soul of frauds, no matter how telling their occasional insights, invariably magnify themselves and are ultimately barren – and their fellows can feel that, too. If you want to be great, forget about greatness altogether and seek only to be good. As soon as your aspirations turn to greatness rather than simple goodness with your fellows, you will cease to be either good or great – and any notoriety you achieve will ultimately be infamy. Let your soul magnify the Lord without worry of yourself.
Today is Ascension Sunday in most Dioceses. I say my private Rosary very slowly – sometimes only a single decade a day. But each of those decades involves invoking several saints, offering a multitude of specific intentions, and a deep meditation on the Mystery involved. I don’t like plastic piety, so as I meditate on a mystery, I like to ponder the real thoughts and feelings, the sorrows and joys, of the flesh and blood real people who are referenced in the mystery – men and women who are trying, usually stumblingly, to find their pilgrim way. Some of you have read some of those meditations in the little fictional stories I sometimes publish. I meditate, try to enter in and live with the people involved for a bit, to see what they see, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel. Sometimes I am surprised at what I find. After my meditations reach a certain critical mass, I start writing the story of my particular meditation.
The thing that dominates my thoughts when I contemplate the Ascension is the profound and unexpected joy the disciples and followers of Jesus must have felt. Just a few weeks earlier, witnessing the Crucifixion, they thought it was the end of their hopes. At the Ascension, it must have rammed home with staggering, joyful power that what they had so mournfully thought the ending just a few weeks before was actually the beginning. And so they rejoiced, put their shoulder to the plow, and began the work of sharing the Good News of the Gospel throughout the world.
Looking at the world, the culture, even the Church today, many see an ending of what once they cherished. I tell you, it is not an ending, but the beginning of a glorious new springtime of the Gospel. Let us rejoice as we put our shoulders to the plow together.
Of course, as the old passes away to make way for the new, we can easily get distracted by the violence, the passion and the fury that accompanies the collapse of the old. In his disgraceful press conference last Wednesday that turned the concept of jurisprudence on its head in order to take down Donald Trump, Robert Mueller filled Democrats and the media with new resolve to seek impeachment despite the collapse of the Russia Collusion hoax.
I see the hand of God in everything. It is well-known by all serious persons now that most media, most Democrats, and some Republicans, have been intentionally and maliciously bearing false witness against Trump. This press conference actually provided an opportunity for malefactors to say, no…no more, to return to equal standards of law for all. But the malefactors just jumped on it like a hungry trout on a fly. All things are being revealed. When you intentionally bear false witness and continue after it has been revealed rather than repenting, it is your own destruction that you are chasing after – and you will catch it in the end.
I was bemused when Pope Francis said last week that he would directly confront Pres. Trump over the evils of border walls. I wondered whether he would invite Trump inside the wall that completely surrounds Vatican City to deliver this jeremiad or whether he would venture outside those walls, himself, to explain the evils of border walls.
On Thursday I toured the Obria clinic in Iowa City. It is a full-service women’s clinic that is committed to a culture of life. It provides breast and cervical cancer screening, referrals for adoption services, childbirth and parenting classes, pre-natal care, ultrasounds, referral for social services help (both private and public)….all the things that Planned Parenthood (in order to justify abortions) says it does but doesn’t. While the only “health care” option PP actually does regularly is abortion, that is the only procedure that Obria will not do.
Both Lila Rose and David Daleiden had spoken to me about Obria before, but I thought it was just a small California project – and something of a sophisticated crisis pregnancy center. That was not either of their fault, but my own, for I was focused on other aspects of the battle to rebuild a true culture of life. The reality is that Obria is a genuine full-service medical clinic for women that is truly and entirely focused on women’s health and the well-being of infants before and after their departure from the womb. Besides California, it now has clinics in Oregon, Washington, Iowa and Georgia – and it is growing.
I maintain that the evidence is already there that will, before this year is over, entangle Planned Parenthood in criminal charges that are likely to ultimately bring it down entirely. They got too greedy, too arrogant, and their efforts at bullying critics have finally revealed to the Justice Department and other investigators how hideous, evil, and apparently criminal many of their practices are. Sadly, abortion isn’t going to go away even when PP falls, but there will be a vacuum. How glorious it would be if that vacuum was filled by an operation that actually protected women’s and children’s health rather than making its money by killing babies. Obria is the model of how to fill that role.
This is the first time I have written about Obria, but it sure won’t be the last. I regard it as a new pillar in the growing pro-life foundation – and will be talking to all my friends and colleagues in the movement about how to help it grow as we rebuild a culture of life and hope.
I am speaking in Wadena, Iowa today. Next Sunday, I will speak in Jackson, Michigan at Finley’s Grill and Smokehouse. Contact Mick at firstname.lastname@example.org for information and to secure a spot.
Click on the Menu button and the top right-hand of the site and then click on “Travels With Charlie” from the dropdown menu to get continually updated information on where I will be.