By Charlie Johnston
Orangevale, California – When I was in my 20’s, while visiting family in Alabama, I spent an afternoon with a distant cousin (almost every time I am there, I discover relatives I have never previously heard of). He had one of the weirdest things I have ever seen: a glass gallon jar filled with medium-sized snakes. It was a creepy, hideous, writhing mass – kind of a creepshow, living kaleidoscope. I could not help but keep my eye on it in quietly horrified fascination.
These days, the Vatican reminds me of that horrible jar. It is not so much a particular offense, but that the offenses twist and slither without stop.
Pope Francis put an end to the debate over whether the statues that were worshipped in opening ceremonies for the Amazon Synod were a weird image of Our Lady or were the pagan goddess Pachamama. He apologized for the theft of the Pachamama idols which were thrown into the Tiber River, thus confirming that it is a representation of a pagan deity. He added that the idols may be present in the Church for the closing ceremony. This has led some commentators to speculate ominously about whether the “abomination which makes desolate, standing in the holy place” has come to pass. Perhaps, but lately it seems we get a new desolating abomination each day, as grotesque as snakes in a jar.
“I am the Lord your God…You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image…you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God …” Exodus 20 (the beginning of the Ten Commandments).
Our Triune God is a Community of Persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. From the love that processes between the Father and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit. This process is, itself, the fount of all creation. Yes, God wills to create, but in a very deep sense, creation falls like ripe fruit from the love that processes among this Community of Persons. It could not be otherwise. God, Himself, is the archetype of fruitfulness through love. It is at the heart of His nature.
Each of us is endowed by God with an immortal soul. Each soul God creates is given the power to become a child of God. (John 1:12,13) We are NOT all children of God, but God gives each of us the power to become so by receiving Him. We are born of flesh and blood with an immortal soul: we must be born again in the spirit by embracing God and living His commandments. Then we become children of God.
Each soul is endowed with free will. We can choose, of our own volition, to do good or to do evil. In that sense, we are in the image of God. But it is only a partial image. “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” (Genesis 1:26-28). It is as a community of persons, through which love processes and bears fruit that we are fully in the image of God. Thus, the family is the fullness of how we are made in the image of God. We are made in God’s own image, individually – but individually we are incapable of sharing in the fullness of His creative power. It is within the family, a loving community of persons (just as God, Himself, is a loving Community of Persons) that we fully reflect His image and likeness.
The nature of the satan (who is pure malice) is to pervert, mutilate, negate and ultimately destroy what God has created.
Because of our fallen nature we are prone to sin. When we sin, it is akin to cutting ourselves spiritually. Wound ourselves enough and we die. This is why God warns us against sin: not because He is a killjoy, but because He knows it will kill us. He calls us to life. The satan both tempts us towards the sin we are already prone to and anesthetizes our spirit so we don’t immediately feel the pain of the wound. In fact, it usually feels downright pleasurable at first. When we have opened a wound and drawn blood, the satan gleefully infects and inflames it. Then there is only misery. Even a small wound with a virulent infection can prove fatal.
Yet God is merciful. Even in the midst of the greatest wounds and the most poisonous infections, the cure is right at hand. We merely need to call sincerely on the name of the Lord and repent of our sins. Spiritual ailments are the most deadly of all – but also the most easily cured if we simply humble ourselves and call on the Lord with repentance.
The Church is our rock. Governed ultimately by Jesus Christ, it is the sum total of Scripture and Tradition expressed authoritatively in the Magisterium, defined doctrine. Each generation of men who form the hierarchy are guardians of the faith, not masters of it. They are tasked with handing on the faith with fidelity to all the faithful and governing the visible Church. Our understanding of the faith may be refined by these servants of the Lord in the hierarchy, but defined doctrine can never be contradicted by anyone, however grand his transient earthly title.
We are confronted with the spectacle of officials at the highest levels of the hierarchy waging increasingly overt war against the faith. It is a frightening thing. Yet when anyone wages war against God, he can only end by destroying himself. Some foolishly think they are working to make the Church more “tolerant.” The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). What these worldly and dissenting clerics assert is that the wages of sin is not death – while heartily approving of the satan’s anesthetic to deaden us to the consequences of sin. That will not bring life, only allow us to die more comfortably. Christ calls us to life, not to death. How ironic that, at a time when an opioid crisis is killing many in America, so many clerics are prescribing the spiritual opioid of false doctrine!
Amidst the spectacle of high clerics assaulting the rock that is the Church, we are not called to leave and form our own simulacrum of the Church Christ founded. Christ, Himself, formed the Church as an hierarchical institution and endowed that hierarchy with governing authority. In the battle unfolding, there are many Bishops who are relentlessly faithful to Scripture and the Universal Magisterium. Follow them. The ones waging war on the cornerstone of our faith will only break themselves against it. With each day, God reveals more about who is His faithful servant and who is an heir of Judas in the hierarchy. Follow those who, within the Church, live fidelity to their duty as guardians of the faith. “…Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a Gospel contrary to that we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)
In the early centuries of the Church, controversies often arose that roiled the waters of what all thought they knew to be true, confronting them with how to navigate these controversies in a way that maintained full fidelity to the commands of Christ. It was not easy, but usually resulted in great refinements in doctrine. Ah, but those refinements only came after great and extended strife. Now we are confronted with yet another such great controversy after centuries without such a challenge. We are forced to contemplate when the most dangerous attacks come from within the Church rather than from without. God is forcing everyone to choose and declare where they stand. We now walk a knife’s edge.
As you navigate these perilous times, remember that the coin of God’s realm is the souls you help bring back to Him, the souls that you help bring back to what gives life. Sometimes that can involve conflict with those who are trying to destroy what God has created or with those who are prescribing the spiritual opioid of false doctrine. More often, it involves being a sign of hope by how you live your day-to-day life and being sensitive to what people need to revive their hope. Many of those who are lost in the misery and anger of sin (which they decided is actually good) already quietly know that they have lost the capacity for joy and for abundant life. You will rarely draw them back by what you say, but if you live joy with candor, people will be drawn to you, especially as things get darker. Show the way to life, which is the way to Christ.
When we stand before God and give account for what we gained with the talent He gave us, it is not the people we vanquished, the arguments we prevailed in, or the titles we won that will elicit a “Well done” from Him. It is the people who were lost who we helped recall to life that will be counted as our gain in His sight. Let your anger never go beyond righteous anger; let your righteousness never degenerate into self-righteousness; be salt and light that draws people to Christ out of darkness. A tree is judged by the fruit it bears (Luke 6:44). This is fruit that will last.
Viva Christo Rey!