By Charlie Johnston
During the Q & A session of a presentation I was giving in the spring of 2016, someone in the southwestern crowd rose to say that she thought Donald Trump was God’s plan for America. I was not a Never Trumper, but at the time I was decidedly skeptical about the Donald. I listened the woman out, then said, “Well, God can do anything, so that may be true. But I have to tell you, if that is God’s plan I think it is the dumbest plan God ever had.”
I have since apologized to God for my short-sightedness. I have also apologized to several people who are close to Trump. God willing, at some point, I hope to apologize to Trump, himself.
It is flabbergasting to see this combative billionaire, who spent much of his life as a playboy, become the most active pro-life president of my lifetime. He is the most consistent and passionate defender of religious liberty in the world right now. Lefties used to say illegal aliens are critical because they do the jobs Americans won’t do. Trump has become something like that. In his consistent, full-throated defense of religious liberty, he is doing the job that most of our Bishops refuse to do. God bless and keep him.
A host of people sent me links to the news of Washington Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s reprehensible attack on Trump’s spirited public defense of religious liberty. Some were rueful, others gleeful, undoubtedly because of my publicly professed affection for Abp. Gregory some months back. He was my Bishop when we were both in Belleville, Illinois.
Of course, a notably and volubly orthodox Bishop could not be appointed to an important see under the administration of Pope Francis. I noted in my piece on Gregory that he looks, for all the world, to be a heterodox Bishop, just another scheming lefty. I’ll go further: he craves the approval of the cool kids. There are few things he aspires to more than to be chaplain to the reigning insider’s club. The 2002 American Bishop’s Conference in Dallas, when Gregory was President of the USCCB to address the sexual scandals in the Church was a disgrace. Christ was scarcely mentioned. It was all “zero tolerance” and administrative formulas – and one of the loudest voices promoting zero tolerance was then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Yes, even as McCarrick was preying on seminarians, he was playing at being a reformer. This is not the first time Gregory’s need for approval from the cool kids has led him to be played for a chump.
But Abp. Gregory has a problem. He can’t help but recall, at times, that he is an Apostle of the Living Christ. He did a solid job cleaning up the sexual mess in the Diocese of Belleville when he was appointed there. He has the most natural, engaging way with children (without condescension) of any Priest I have ever seen. He is one of only two Bishops I have ever known who candidly and humbly told me (in private) that he thought he had been badly wrong on something. There will be more episodes, I am sure, where Abp. Gregory’s instincts will lead him to join the trendy mob protesting western civilization and adding his voice to those shouting, “Crucify Him!”
But in the silence of the night, he sometimes recalls his duty to act as an Apostle of Christ. That is why he will, ultimately, be an unreliable ally to the leftist mob. I remain convinced that, at a critical moment, he will remember who he is called to be and, instead of tearing the faith down, will courageously build it up – whatever the mob demands. But don’t be surprised if we have more offenses ahead before reaching that moment.
I decided at the beginning of all this that, for the spring, I was going to give all religious leaders a mulligan on how they handled all of this. That said, if their approach to the concerted assaults to come are the same as they have been during this trial run, they will find themselves irrelevant at best or completely run over by the cultural Marxists, at worst.
The first and foremost command of Our Lord to the shepherds He appointed was, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-19) How in heaven’s name so many of our shepherds decided that locking the sheep out of the sheepfold, starving them, and giving them video of the shepherds feeding themselves fulfilled that command is beyond me.
When secular officials imposed much stricter rules on Churches than on liquor stores, big box stores, pot shops and abortion clinics our religious leaders should have been in the vanguard defending our rights and demanding, at least, equal treatment under law. But most religious leaders have actually imposed even more stringent restrictions on their flocks than the government. We have to look to William Barr and Donald Trump to defend our rights.
Now that it has been determined that Covid is NOT the black plague, is NOT the Spanish Flu, but is within the normal range of bad viral seasons, most Churches are still demanding face masks for all, social distancing, and forcing you to sign up in a first-come, first-served system that still excludes many of the faithful. The danger in this is that if you concede that government has the right to demand this for what is within the normal range of viruses (though at the outer edge), you concede that government has the right to do it at any time. No bona fide emergency is needed. If your definition of “feed my sheep” means managing who you are going to exclude from the Table of the Lord each week, you really just are not clear on the concept of “Feed My sheep.”
I do not demand that Churches do everything to suit the preferences of people like me at all times. The Church is there for all. Some people have co-morbidities which justify extra precautions. One of the great things about Catholic Churches is that they do not just have a service each week: most have three to five or more. It would not bother me a bit if in every flu season the Church had one or two Masses set aside for people who have such concerns and required masking and other talismanic precautions. Have the other Masses for whoever wants to come, without restrictions. For those who are seriously at risk, have a corps of ministers who will take the Eucharist to them each week. In my first Parish, I was head of the Ministers of Care – who did precisely that. In a Parish of 2,000 families, we had seven people, plus Deacons, who visited with the sick by appointment and made the rounds of all the local hospitals. The point is that the focus is to feed all who seek the Eucharist, rather than managing who to exclude – either directly or by imposing rules that are not related in any serious way to the problem at hand.
Religious authorities SHOULD be prickly in asserting their rights and prerogatives. To do otherwise too often leads them to become toadies of the state, betraying both their adherents and Christ. In China, if you want to go openly to a Catholic Church, you have to go to one governed by a Bishop who is first a communist and second (if at all) a Catholic. That this betrayal was facilitated by the Vatican I consider one of the greatest scandals in the history of the Church. After the Russian Revolution, the Russian Orthodox Church became a hotbed for collaboration with the Soviet intelligence, with many Priests becoming willing agents of the KGB and its forerunner. It infiltrated the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the 60’s and 70’s with KGB agents holding top positions in the organization. They successfully pushed the council to focus on racism and ignore human rights violations. In the 70’s, they pushed the council to agitate for unilateral western disarmament in Europe to facilitate Soviet aims at infiltrating, subverting, and ultimately subjugating these countries (read ‘The Sword and the Shield’ for a terrifying look at what the release of the Mitrokhin Archives after the fall of the Soviet Union revealed) .You do not have to always battle Mammon (which is not just money, but are the things of this world), but you cannot serve both God and Mammon.
Spiritually, you are not obligated to feed yourself. In fact, unless you are a Priest, you cannot do so, for you lack the faculties to consecrate the Host. If the clerics who are charged with this task refuse to do it or demand a “poll tax” of restrictions not related to any rational risk, Christ is still with you. It is the clerics He will hold to account. I do not begrudge anyone going to a masked Mass; each person has the right to determine their own level of vulnerability – and even if they exaggerate it, I respect their right to determine it for themselves. If a Parish only offers masked Masses or other significant restrictions, I will not go to that Parish. To do so is tacit assent to government and cultural control of the terms on which the faithful may worship – and the current cultural zeitgeist is to ultimately crush Christian worship altogether. Right now we are in the probing stage of finding out how vigorously faith leaders will defend the faithful. The great assault is on the way. I have not, for the last four weeks, missed Sunday Mass. I even received on the tongue last Sunday.
Many people fear we are losing the country. I have news for you: we have already lost the country. Almost all of our major institutions have succumbed to the Marxist madness. Revolutionaries who cannot prevail with the force of their arguments instead demand that all dissenting voices be silenced – and claim this as their natural right. For almost a decade, our cultural assumptions have been fundamentally pagan rather than Christian – something that had not happened in Western Civilization (except briefly in Germany) for over 1,600 years prior. Fortunately, we have a few institutions of real heft that are pressing for the restoration of the American system under God. First and foremost in America is the president. I am not a Trump supporter out of partisan preference, but because (contrary to my original expectations) he has been full-throated in his support for the traditional values of America, Christianity and of Western Civilization. So long as he continues on that course, he has my enthusiastic support. We also see a smattering of high clerics who seem to understand the stakes before us. I deeply admire the Rev. Franklin Graham and his consistent, unapologetic voice for Christian liberty and pre-eminence. Though he gets a little edgy at times, I deeply admire Abp. Carlo Maria Vigano, whose open letter to Pres. Trump last week is, I think, divinely inspired.
I have said several times before that I think the willing and knowing acceptance of the traditional offering to the pagan goddess, Pachamama, on the altar of Christ at the Amazon Synod was the foreshadowing of the “abomination which makes desolate” and has caused a fundamental breach in the hierarchy unlike anytime in Church history. You would do well to read Jesus’ words on that abomination (Matthew 24:15-28), for He says it would lead quickly to the greatest tribulation in world history up to that point. This does not mean we are excused from our duty of obedience to lawful orders from lawful authority. I do not obey the lawful authority of the hierarchy because I admire the men who currently hold the offices Christ established. I obey their lawful orders because Christ, Himself, established the hierarchy and told me to. Even though the gears are stripped, even though those lawful orders come surrounded by frivolous fluff, raw ambition for social standing, and unlawful pretenses, I obey the lawful orders – those things that are legitimately within their purview and do not contradict the plain words of Christ. I would obey a lawful order even from Pierre Couchon, the corrupt, evil Bishop who engineered the judicial murder of St. Joan of Arc.
It looks like we have entered a great battle. In reality, we have all entered Christ’s winnowing fan and are giving direct witness to Him of who we are and where we stand. It is a knife’s edge we walk, with God commanding that we form and exercise our moral agency in the midst of terrible chaos. We will not be excused for doing what is wrong by citing what some faithless cleric said. We will not be excused for a failure of obedience to a lawful order because we disagreed with our Bishop. It is why I have put so much emphasis on acting with great deliberation every step of the way. There is no place of neutrality. We must make our stand and accept the consequences. I do not seek to tell you exactly what will happen or what you must do. Since I started this, my consistent message is that Christ is close at hand to you. You will be held to account for each decision you make and each action you take. This is why I so emphasize the message, “Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you.” When you do that, you focus on your relationship with Christ. If we live that with fidelity God, Himself, will repair the hierarchy and renew the faith of the world. But we must do the little right before us with great fidelity.
I do not seek so much anymore to persuade the mob that the only peace to be found is through Christ (though I would be gratified if some in the mob took that message to heart). We are in thrall to identity politics. Identity politics IS racism. The only way for a Christian to properly view his neighbor is as created uniquely in God’s own Image. Racism is not possible if you live that command. Tyrannical revolutions are almost never achieved with majority support. Often, they succeed with as little as three percent of the population determinedly imposing their will on others. They succeed because those who know better are too timid or cowed to defend their culture. I do not look to persuade the revolutionaries among us. I seek to call those who are willing to make their stand and refuse to bend the knee to anyone but Christ.
The hierarchy is called to accommodate the world to Christ. Many, perhaps the majority, instead seek to accommodate the Church to the world, regardless of how they must pervert even Christ’s clearest commands. We must now choose who we will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And I pray the hierarchy decides its top priority is to feed the Lord’s sheep.