By Charlie Johnston
For many years I puzzled over the enigma of Judas Iscariot. Why would he betray Christ and then hang himself when Christ was given up to the power of corrupted men? None of the forced pious explanations satisfied me. When I am contemplating a story from the Bible, I like to immerse myself in the story, to try to see it as the people there saw it, to find the internal logic that motivates the participants in each drama. When I was a kid, I liked to follow mountain streams up to their source. Contemplating the Bible in this manner is similar. For every tale, there is a coherent, internal logic that brings the lesson into crisper relief. Sometimes the point is not what we initially think it is. Of course, Scripture is like a precious stone with many facets. I don’t think we ever see them all, and so when someone says they know what a particular passage means, they actually have grasped a single facet of it. Scripture is rich, dense and deep. But there is always a fundamental internal logic to a story if we look at the characters as real people and contemplate it.
Finally, just after I was received into the Church, I contemplated an explanation that satisfied my objections – and brightly illuminated the story for me in a way I had not previously thought of. I think Judas firmly believed that Jesus was the Messiah. All of Israel had expected the Messiah to be a warrior king, including Judas. After traipsing around the desert for three years, I think Judas lost patience and decided to force Jesus’ hand. He thought that if he put Jesus in a desperate situation, it would force Him to reveal His mighty power. Things did not go the way Judas expected. When he saw Jesus handed over to the authorities to face the judgment of men, Judas despaired over two things. First, he had betrayed innocent blood – and since Jesus did not reveal His mighty power immediately, Judas stopped believing He was the Messiah. I don’t think Judas’ great sin was the betrayal of Jesus. Rather, I think it was threefold. First, he sought to supplant whatever Jesus’ plan was with his own. Second, He could not conceive of Jesus having a fundamentally different plan than his own. Finally, he despaired when his plan did not come to fruition as he had intended it. The fundamental sin was that Judas never had any real faith in Jesus except to be the strong instrument to carry out Judas’ plan – which he thought was the only possible plan. He didn’t wait long enough to see that Christ’s power extended even over death.
For over 40 years, my method of analysis has not been dependent on a particular scenario, whether dealing with temporal or spiritual things. I long ago lost the illusion that I can ever know what, precisely, is going to happen. Rather, I deal in contingencies. After getting intimately familiar with the lay of the land, I come up with potential scenarios and go into an “if-then” sequence for each of them. On critical matters, I usually come up with about a dozen potential scenarios in my mind. When dealing with a specific client, I will give two or three main potential scenarios and how to address them. In addressing them, I generally give the probable benefits and shortfalls of each approach, along with my recommended approach (and I candidly address the probable benefits and shortfalls of that one, too). Even with this method, a good 30-40 percent of the time the reality is significantly different from what I expected. Yet the effort in putting it together this way both prepares me better for the unexpected and prevents me from becoming wedded to a particular scenario. I am occasionally wrong in my expectations, but I am rarely ambushed by the unexpected. A big part of what my clients have most valued about me is that, whatever happens, I almost always have a ready approach. Sounds like a know-it-all, doesn’t it? But the reality is that a know-it-all could never do this, for they are too vested in believing in their own superior knowledge to plan for contingencies. They already know what is going to happen, so why bother with so much labor to prepare for things they know are not going to happen. One of the best things that ever happened to me was my candid abandonment of the illusion that I already knew what was actually contingent and, thus, could only be known by God. It doesn’t stop me from devising strategy and tactics, but keeps me from getting vested in any. It is a way to develop strong muscles that are also supple. And it helps prevent me from committing the sin of Judas.
People ask me sometimes if I am still receiving messages – and if so, why I do not reveal them. Even when I was speaking openly about such things, I said that it was only until the heavy sequence of events began, for when that happened, it was no longer time for me to tickle the ears with messages, but time to act – to humbly acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around us. What we think we know will avail us little; it is what we do under God that will be decisive. The fact is I have never seen my mission as propounding messages, though for a time it was necessary. I have always believed my mission is to help hearten people that we can make our stand under God, no matter how difficult things seemed, and become heralds of the great renewal to come with the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart. To defend the faith, hearten the faithful, and defend the faithful. I actually hated speaking of prophetic things. I much preferred giving good, but very fallible, counsel. Wisdom is its own justification – and if the counsel I gave was wise, it would find fertile ground because of that. I did not want to become one of the chorus of those who compel people by claiming a special pipeline to God. My message has always been that God is close to YOU – and accessible to you when you devote yourselves to acknowledging Him, taking the next right step and being a sign of hope. I can offer counsel, but I cannot be anyone’s guru – and too many seekers who put emphasis on such things are looking for a way to escape their humble moral responsibility for the choices they make before God. The primary (actually the only) reason that I spoke publicly about such spiritual things was that, by telling you true of what was to come and what it would look like, it would build credibility for when I told you that this was not the end – a message that would be critical when all the institutions we counted on had collapsed and all was in chaos and confusion. Even that, I did fumblingly. Oh, I got the landscape right – a global civil war fought on cultural lines and a collapse marked by the complete loss of confidence in our vital mediating institutions. But I fumbled on the timing and the details of how it would come about. That, too, was a blessing, for it helped prepare each of you who, like me, will be wrong about many things, to accept your errors, take responsibility for them, and forge ahead anyway. I have had both public and private direction from my Archbishop – and that, too, has been a blessing. On occasion, I have chafed a bit, but his occasional direction has been wise and well-considered. I am thankful for the fidelity and charity of Archbishop Aquila.
Knowing that I am going to be wrong about some things, but not knowing which, I am largely open to competing theories on what must come. If someone offers wise words and good counsel, whether they are the same as mine or not, I generally leave them here without comment. There are only a few things I get prickly about. I strongly reject any notion that this is the end. I get very sensitive to anything that would beguile people into thinking that they will not have to make their stand and both publicly and boldly declare themselves. I fear that is the sort of false hope that could lead many to despair or destruction. The fundamental things I live by are: “Be not afraid. God calls all men to salvation,” and “Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you.” I know people want more, but that is sufficient – the things I have developed over decades. Contemplate those deeply in light of the Lord and you have all you need to find your path forward – and I don’t see why you should have it any easier than I have all these years. But no, my interior life has not changed in any significant way.
It is not just in what I have said and written that I have tried to keep faith and prepare. In the late 90’s I told my Priests that my understanding was that if I accepted my mission, I would be quickly plunged into a prolonged period of intense suffering to prepare me for the vicissitudes that would come later. Whether it was imagination or not, just a few months after accepting it fully, I was plunged into five years of intense strife and struggle. I do not like to discuss it, but perhaps someday I will have to. (I would prefer that, on that, in the end one of the three witnesses who were there for the duration describe it). It took me once to the brink of despair. Sometimes, when things seemed too tough to bear, I would ask for relief and then catch myself, asking rather that God give me strength to bear it and more. It ended with my life-threatening neurological injury. I have not had a minute without significant pain since 9:03 a.m. Central Time on Good Friday in 2003. That was when something broke in me – and I could feel it when it happened. It was two months before I was able to receive the surgery that restored fluid to my spinal cord – and by that time, I was told that the best-case scenario would be that I would be, at least, partially paralyzed on my right side. Months after the surgery, wondering how long it would be until the pain subsided, my neurologist told me it might never subside – that his tests showed I should not be able to walk at all, so my system had unusual resilience but the pain might be a constant feature. So it has been. One of my Priests prayed intensely that I be healed of the pain. I asked him to stop. I noted I could still walk and do things – and the pain served as a sort of integrated hair shirt that I could always offer up for others and in penance for my own sins. The only thing I really hate about it is how easily I am fatigued. I don’t like to speak of the details of it, but it may come in handy sometime. If many are suffering, I may be able to hearten them with my own sufferings and how one can endure and even find joy in the midst of them – and I chose it.
There were many blessings from my pilgrimage, walking across the country. I left with $50 in my pocket and a laptop in my backpack on which I could write little pieces for a content studio at libraries on my way and get paid $15 a piece for them on a cash card. That and the generosity of the people I met along the way was mainly how I financed my walk. It occurred to me during that pilgrimage that, if the time came when some people were displaced from their homes, I could speak comfort to them as a fellow traveler who chose extended homelessness when it was not necessary – and that they, too, can both survive and thrive.
For a full decade I have lived poverty – and often like to joke that I got fat in the process. When people lose much of the material things they have, I can assure them as a fellow traveler that the only reliable wealth any of us have is God, our family, and our friends.
If times get hard enough that I have to offer these reassurances, I will not be speaking as one who has lived great comfort to the poor and benighted. Rather, I will be talking as a brother who has long walked in the shoes they are in – and assure them all the more that they can endure and thrive under God.
If you come to me to find the detailed plan on how everything will unfold, I am not your guy. If you come to me in hopes that I will tell you that the scenario you have devised in your mind is the only possible one, I am not your guy. If you come to me in hopes that I can fortify you in your search for what God wants from you and for credible assurance that God has not and will never abandon His people, I may have something for you.
For almost all of my life, I have imagined my path as similar to a spring bursting forth at the top of a mountain, determined to find its way to the bottom and form a clear pool of refreshing water. Along my path, I will encounter many obstacles – sticks, rocks, dirt and dead leaves. I can go through all of them. Occasionally I will encounter an obstacle so big and solid that I can’t go through it. On those, I will well up against it and go around it. But I WILL find my way to the bottom to form that clear pool. And when I get there, I know I will realize that all those obstacles actually purified me on my way, filtering out the impurities and dirt that clung to me at the beginning. I may die a complete failure, but if I do, I won’t know it in this world, for I will press on to the end of my way. I pray – and I have been encouraging all of you these last eight years – that you do the same.
Today begins our end of the year fundraising drive for CORAC. Many of you will receive emails from me hitting you up for money for the organization. Now that we may have to mount a full-fledged resistance, it is more important than ever. The board of directors and I are calling people to secure the funds for matching grants of up to $15,000. The CORAC site will have a thermometer tracking how close we are coming to the goal.
Besides the committee of coordinators from around the country to run operations in their regions, we have set up national committees to deal with medical needs, sustainability (previously called home skills because of the lost basic arts in times of want – but it is not just for those who have an acreage to retreat to. We want everyone, whether they live in a village lot or a large farm to have the resources they need to sustain them and their families), communications, and prayer teams. Beyond that, we have people developing reproduceable pamphlets you can use to defend your rights and set up action teams for specific projects.
If you can spare a little extra, please send it our way. If you can spare a lot extra, send that, too. And whatever you do, if you have not signed up, please join us. We have a lot of wood to chop ahead of us.