By Charlie Johnston
Just a couple of hours after I published my venting complaint Thursday (The Assault on Reality), I saw a beautifully vivid double rainbow while I was out in a farmyard. I had been feeling more and more gloomy about the growing absurdity and fecklessness of modern life – in society, the culture, and in the hierarchy of the Church. I hate to write when I feel like that. I much prefer to offer solutions than merely curse the darkness. Sometimes, things get so clogged internally, you have to vent before you can get back on track. I see that a lot of you took the opportunity to vent, as well. Good for all of us.
Make no mistake, though; I am no revolutionary. My attitude is more akin to that of William Wallace in the movie, “Braveheart.” I want to press those who are charged with leadership to exercise it on behalf of the people they are called to serve – not just to feather their nests or cover their behinds. I want the king to be a king worthy of the name and the nobles to act with nobility. If they don’t, that doesn’t stop me from acting with vigor, fidelity and fortitude. Over time, those characteristics can inspire even a moribund leadership class. It was not Wallace who won Scotland’s freedom – but Robert the Bruce, the rightful king who had once betrayed Wallace. Yet he was so inspired by the great commoner that he ultimately chose to live fidelity to Scotland – and finally accomplished what Wallace started.
I don’t just want victory; I want a proper, honorable order resurrected. I want the elite to be worthy of the name rather than pathetic, arrogant shams; I want nobility, I want both courage and restraint, kindness and rigor, everybody living their lives with honor, dignity, and affection for their neighbors and tolerance for each other’s quirks. A few thoughts on that…
I was disappointed to see the venting lead some to take shots at St. John Paul and Pope Emeritus Benedict, suggesting they had to know about the scandals. To the contrary, before Pope Francis, those noxious clerics who want to subvert the faith took great pains to remain in hiding. Remember, Theodore McCarrick pretended to be a passionate reformer in 2002 even as he was about the business of molesting young men and older boys. St. John Paul, in his youth, literally risked summary execution to maintain fidelity to the faith in Nazi-occupied Poland. Benedict XVI wasn’t far behind navigating Nazi Germany as a youth. For men such as this, the idea that Priests and Bishops would eagerly and intentionally betray the faith to indulge their own sexual perversions was literally unthinkable. I can see them seeing discrete reports and thinking that these were just a few bad apples who had given in to human weakness. The idea that it was a large, co-ordinated conspiracy indulged in by a large cabal of depraved clerics was literally unimaginable. Shoot, it was unimaginable to me just a few years ago. I know that Benedict decided to resign within days of receiving a report he commissioned on just how bad the problem really was. When he saw how big and extensive the evil had become, it is entirely credible to me that he decided a younger, more vigorous man must tackle this. And then it became clear that God had another plan.
Some say anyone in such a position must have known. I know better. I have served as chief advisor for more than a few statewide candidates and officials. The pace is so frantic, even at that lower level, that the principal rarely knows more than his advisors and the media tell him. I took pains to have some different voices in the campaign and tried to never let my guy get sand-bagged by a public surprise. Many chief advisors do NOT do that. I knew and was close to one statewide official who had once been good, but had an office that had grown rife with corruption. Turns out he had developed an alcohol problem and his chief of staff was both protecting him AND badly taking advantage of the situation. That chief later went to jail. So with everyone trying to hide the corruption – and much of it being centered in the Vatican – AND the idea of such widespread filth being literally unimaginable to men like St. John Paul and Benedict, you bet I see how it could have been kept from them except at the margins.
To trade reflexive credulity for reflexive cynicism is a very bad bargain. One who is reflexively naieve lacks judgment, but is usually innocent. One who is reflexively cynical gets on a downward escalator; first believing everything is corrupt, then believing that the good is not even possible. Once you convince yourself there can be no good, you are not far from believing there is no God. Besides this, any sort of reflexive response makes you a slave to others. It is a lazy man’s way to play at being good or smart. If I know how you reflexively think, it is simple to manipulate you. Do what Jesus said and “Judge righteous judgment.” If you say all clerics are honest and true, that’s annoying and can allow a culture of corruption to fester. If you say all are corrupt, you are doing the devil’s work of smearing the righteous and just. Judge righteous judgment.
The virtue of obedience is both misunderstood and underrated in these times. In Christianity, obedience is not a matter of the lesser submitting to the greater. If it were, how would it have been possible that, after the temple, Jesus was obedient to His earthly parents? In Christianity, obedience is a means of cooperatively opening up channels of grace with each other.
A quarter of a century ago, my first spiritual director was concerned that I was, perhaps, too eager to obey. He was concerned I might think this relieved me of my personal responsibility. I explained the above to him and noted that if he gives me the best, most well-considered direction he can, even if he errs, his intention and my obedience sanctify it and cause even the error to bear fruit, opening up a channel of grace between us. Similarly, if I err or even rebel for a time, his careful prudence in advice sanctifies my error and, again, opens up a channel of grace between us. If we seek, then, under God, to live our duty to each other well, we keep the channels open and the grace flowing – and can always re-visit any matter that seems errant.
We worry way too much about dominance. We should rather worry about legitimacy and obedience. The person who commands in an area takes responsibility before God and man for living his duty. I have often been the leader of significant temporal movements. When I have that responsibility, I listen carefully to the ideas of those who work with me, but I expect their obedience once I have made the decision. Similarly, when I am a member of a group under another’s command, I endeavor to follow the lead of the head with fidelity. I reserve the right to speak in disagreement if necessary, but I rarely use it. It is stupid and mendacious to argue with the leader just because that is not the way you would do it. You disagree when you are concerned that a particular course would cause lasting damage. Few people make excellent leaders if they do not also have the capacity to be excellent followers.
Obedience never means you should submit to an unlawful order – nor do you have to obey an order that is outside the capacity of the one giving it. Far too often, though, we rebel against lawful authority out of pure mulishness. That is not from God.
I am obedient to my Archbishop – and glad to have him. Though our communications are not frequent, we do speak informally through his designees and, occasionally, formally but privately. While it occasionally stings, he has never ventured outside his legitimate authority over me – and it has helped me make this site better and live my duty better. In fact, though our audience here is about a quarter to a third of what it was a few years ago, we count an astonishing number of key decision-makers in both the Church and secular society among our readers. A key to that is not just that I write some pretty insightful material, but that I listen, obey lawful authority, and endeavor to tell you bluntly when I am wrong.
Ego is killing us. That is a key lesson God wants us to know and that the devil wants to hide from us. If you are more concerned with proving you are right than actually getting it right, if you are too focused on establishing your dominance to ever follow a leader faithfully, you are going to have a lot of problems ahead. I am more terrified of failing to acknowledge an error than I am of actually making one. Everyone makes errors…it’s just part of our pilgrim journey. But when our pride causes us to refuse to acknowledge or repent of them, it encases the error in cement around us. Encase yourself in enough cement and you soon won’t be able to move at all. Better to shake it off as quickly as you can.
The Rev. Michael Brown (not the Spirit Daily publisher) wrote a brilliant piece about what happens when a nation spirals into darkness. If social trends continue their current trajectory, we have some dark days and real strife in our future. We must be deliberate in everything we do; not giving in to despair, to indifference or to triumphalism. Don’t walk around with your hair on fire at every offense that comes. Rather, steadily acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope to those around you. There will be times when you have to make quick decisions. The habits of deliberation, regularly and vigorously cultivated, will make even those rushed decisions into better decisions.
Along our way, we will all vent sometimes. But never let such venting take possession of you. Frankly, I don’t fight it too much. Rather, I wallow for a few days – and then get back to work. Of course, the call we have is a hard one. What grace, what merit would there be in it if it were otherwise? We are in God’s winnowing fan – and everything we do gives witness to Him of who we are.
If the storm on the horizon moves in in its full fury, the decisive element will not be found among the bankrupt class that calls itself elite. It will be found in the faith, fidelity and fortitude of millions of ordinary people all across America and around the globe. The most effective leadership will come locally and regionally…leadership that resolves that, whatever is happening around the world, it will take that next right step in cooperation with willing neighbors who share the same commitment, fortitude and fidelity. I am glad that most of my readership here have abandoned the false hopes of individual prepping. It is cooperative action between friends and neighbors that will hold things up when the elite classes are violently self-destructing around us. I have been working with some people to develop areas that people who are working together in every area should consider in order to help each other weather the storms. I will publish a piece on it just before I go back on the road in a few weeks.
When you are weary or worn out, go ahead and let loose a primal scream. Heaven knows, I do. But don’t let that be the last word. Judge righteous judgment, knowing that the criteria you use to judge others will be used to judge you. Resolutely take the next right step, even though sometimes you have to rest your weary soul. If we do this, when Christ comes to hold us to account, He will find faith on earth.