By Charlie Johnston
The first thing to understand is that God wins. There is no doubt whatsoever about that.
That being the case, there is only one question that is relevant in each of our lives. It is not whether or not the Church will survive and what we must do to save it. Nor is it whether society will completely collapse and what heroic efforts we can mount to save it. Rather, the only question that matters is what we are called to do to participate in God’s victory.
A woman asked me last week if I thought the Covid shots could be the mark of the beast. I asked, somewhat crabbily, that if it is, what was she going to do about it? I then softened it to say that no, I don’t think so, but that it is a good foreshadowing of what the mark might look like. I then added that it has been a good drill for all of us. So many people, when everything is calm and peaceful, boldly declare how incredibly brave they would be in a crisis – and then run like scalded dogs when the crisis comes. It is perfectly fine to take the shot if that is what you think you should do, but if you have a moral or practical objection and you take it because of coercion, you see how brave you actually are – and are being inoculated to know that you DO need Jesus, every moment of every day to actually do the most right thing you can think of.
Now is a test of faith and trust. I see far too many people shaken by their fears or their grief into worrying whether the things of God can survive this withering assault. Some of the better Christian thinkers I know are swinging wildly, positing absurd theories and palliatives, engaging in the sort of breathless speculation that, even a decade ago, was confined to the fever swamps. That is understandable, I suppose, as people’s judgment does not usually get more steady and sober in the midst of great turmoil, especially if they give in to panic. It is not helpful, though.
In other circles, detailed prophecy about the future is spinning like the flywheel of a runaway semi. Many competing circles are in contradiction of each other. They can’t all be right, but they might all be wrong. I don’t argue with most of them, largely because I don’t care. I have said repeatedly that long ago I was instructed that when the storm sets in, the time for prophecy is suspended until the storm is finished. It is a time for doing, not for speculating. Unfortunately, as things get worse, many think the heart of Christianity is knowing, figuring out what will happen. Alas, all too often that is a false piety: people governed by self-will think if they just have the inside scoop from God, they can formulate their own plan. That is a formula for trust in yourself, not in God.
Oh, heaven knows, I have done my own share of prophesying. Interpretation is tough, tougher than you know, and so I stumbled badly on two occasions. At the heart of it, though, I wanted in real time to convey three things: 1) that a great storm was coming; 2) that this was not the end and; 3) that God has work for each of us if we will only take it up. I did not do it for the thrill of sharing “secret” knowledge, but simply so that when the big sweep of it came to pass, I would have credibility when I assured people that this really is NOT the end and that there is serious work for each of us if we will accept it. We are there. Now, I am most enamored by people ready to humbly put their shoulder to the plow and devote themselves to the tasks before us, remembering that, “sufficient to the day is the evil thereof” (Matthew 6:34).
I am not a Pollyanna. But there are things I cannot know and things I can. I know that there is a great war within the Church as to whether we will stay faithful to Scripture and the Magisterium or whether we will create a new religion, completely unmoored to Scripture and the Magisterium. We have a choice between the City of God or the city of man – and it is raging within the very heart of the Church. In the Protestant world, I never thought I would see Evangelicals take the route of the Mainline denominations and try to rewrite the Scriptures to accommodate themselves to the world. But in the last decade, big chunks of the Evangelical community have done just that. No one, of any faith, can take much pride in how their faith tradition has lived fidelity well. I know, from long experience, that when the grapeshot starts flying, some who demanded fidelity and courage the loudest slink away in abject terror. Others, who seemed timid – or even enemies – find their courage and heart and become champions of the cause quite unexpectedly. I don’t know who is who just yet, so I give all a lot of latitude.
Politically, the very concept of liberty and self-government are under sustained and heavy assault by a large faction which denies God and insists it has the right to rule over all, even as it blunders about like a sinister Mr. Magoo, leaving a trail of incompetence and destruction in its wake. The credibility of all our public institutions has collapsed with amazing speed and comprehensiveness. So, I focus on the basics: Acknowledge God, take the next right step, and be a sign of hope to those around you – while waiting patiently for the initial fog of confusion to clear.
For all the disorder sweeping the world, I do see some profound signs of hope that hearten me as the battle deepens. I am not sure the US Conference of Catholic Bishops serves any worthwhile purpose. Almost all of their pronouncements are written in a scholastic style, hearkening back to St. Thomas Aquinas – but lack the precision, clarity, comprehensiveness and insight of the masters. They have the style without the substance. It is hideous and comical at the same time, kind of like a child smearing her mother’s makeup all over her face. Yet there are heroes among our Bishops and among our Priests – and more of them are quietly rising.
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and my own Archbishop, Denver’s Samuel Aquila, have become the indispensable axle of orthodoxy in the Church in America. Many have joined them and are following their lead to preserve and restore the glory and fidelity of the faith.
In a profound pastoral letter to begin Advent, Archbishop Aquila articulated a profound reality that we all face: we no longer operate in a Christendom culture, but find ourselves abruptly in a missionary context. I often quote Abraham Lincoln on how important it is to understand where we are to determine how we must proceed – and how in unprecedented times we must “think anew and act anew.” This letter, in plain terms, lays out clearly where we are and the context in which we must work to find our way forward effectively. I think it one of the most insightful and useful documents I have seen from a Bishop in my lifetime – and a blueprint for action.
Last month, a group of students walked out of a pro-life all-school assembly at a Catholic High School in the San Francisco area. Archbishop Cordileone sent an open letter to all the students at the school in preparation for meeting with student leaders. It is a breathtaking model of firmness, charity, and fidelity to the faith. It is a great exercise in the teaching office of a Bishop, neither trying to accommodate itself to the current zeitgeist nor driving its readers further away by emotionally condemning them. I don’t know how many will sip from the cool, refreshing water the Archbishop offers, but he has surely led them gently to the source of living water.
There are many problems with the hierarchy in America (and the world), but these two Bishops are laying out a clear path forward, grounded in the fundamentals of the faith – and many are joining them in this great quest – far more than you will know if you only pay attention to the problems. I do not say ignore the problems and the assaults, only that that is not the only thing you should pay attention to.
Archbishop Carlo Vigano, the former papal nuncio, after a sometimes volatile start has become a clarion voice for the faithful. His Christmas Letter to the American People is a heartening sign of hope and call to action against the anti-God effort of globalization.
These just scratch the surface of the voices rising within the hierarchy for a renewed commitment to the faith of Jesus Christ – rather than some alien theology designed to supplant it – a theology that would preserve the bathwater while jettisoning the baby.
Again, I am no Pollyanna. I respect the work of Michael Voris and Church Militant – who are doing work that no one else in the Church is doing. But I tell you reflexive cynicism thinks itself smart just as reflexive credulity thinks itself faithful. Both are just mindless excuses not to engage in the hard work of actual discernment. I prefer to find the thread of virtue in others and nurture it as well as I can, without ignoring the disorder that besets us. As the disorder is coming to a head, so I see many threads of virtue rising to form a great, living prayer cloth.
And so, in the darkness that has descended this Advent, I see, in the distance, a great light that is rising and growing stronger. The Lord is calling those who will hear – and more are answering each day. Pray that you will become a clear vessel through which the light of Christ may shine, that your soul may magnify the Lord to all you encounter.
Next week, we will embark upon a two-week fundraising effort for CORAC that will come to a close on the Feast of the Epiphany. Just after we started our last effort, I was knocked out by my two-month bout with Covid. Frankly, it was worse than I let on, particularly in that first week and a half. Poor Beckita saw me at my worst – when getting out of bed to go to the washroom would set off several minutes of hyperventilating, when my oxygen was dangerously low and my heartbeat dangerously high. Yet throughout, I was never panicked. I trusted in God, knowing that if this was my time, He had decided I would be more useful advocating from the next world and that, if it was not, He would use this great infirmity to instruct me and strengthen both my faith and resolve. Either way, all would be well.
I have been delighted since emerging from that long tunnel of infirmity to see how well CORAC is doing what I envisioned it doing from the start, bringing people together all across the country to help each other and all those of good will right where they are. Since getting to where I can handle more than two or three calls per day, I have heard from people in Los Angeles, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Georgia and more about how they were struggling with illness or other problems and members of CORAC in their area helped them get through it when no one else would.
Our operating nut remains low, at only about $11,000 per month. Come the first of the year, I will start writing a weekly column exclusive to the CORAC site which will focus on the things we all can – and should – do to weather the storm around us together with out neighbors. I have a lot to catch up on after two months out of commission. I will devote myself to the work before us – and I pray that you will join in generously helping us and each other to keep this candle of hope burning. I also hope you will check out the latest Podcast (#3) I did with Dr. Joe Brickner. It focuses on the Incarnation.
Find me on Gab at Charliej373 or at the CORAC group.
The Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC)
18208 Preston Rd., Ste. D9-552
Dallas, Texas 75252