By Charlie Johnston
Serendipitously, I got home from my latest three-month tour on the tenth anniversary of my departure from the mountain to conclude my pilgrimage. I reckon I could do it again if I had to, but it would probably take me twice as long. If I have to do it again, I believe I will go with a bike this time.
I am always completely exhausted when I get home…a sort of deep fatigue that it takes me a week to begin to recover from. Some friends have urged me to take shorter trips to preserve my health at this age. Not gonna do it. As far as I am concerned, I promised long ago that I would go forth if these times came and I am not about to try to weasel out of it at this stage. I get my six or eight weeks at home to rejuvenate and then I get back to work. I also spend time at home exercising and dieting. I like to lose 15 lbs. while at home, which also helps prepare me for the next round. I can’t keep my weight down on the road because every time I blow into town, folks kill the fatted calf – and it would be an insult if I didn’t eat it with them. I jokingly told my housemate, Bob, that I don’t see how Jesus kept His weight down with all the Jewish mothers looking after Him. In one of his better lines, Bob retorted that Jesus didn’t have a Subaru, so He had to walk everywhere He went. Touche!
The only thing that gives me pause is that, in the last three to four weeks of a trip, my fatigue makes me raggedier and raggedier. When I get tired enough, I can get a bit sharp-tongued. I don’t mind giving someone a sharp retort if that is what I intend. I hate doing it because I am struggling with fatigue. But everywhere I go, people are visibly worried and waiting for the next shoe to fall in these ugly times. I don’t know why it is (for I surely do not give some Pollyanna outlook) but in most crowds I can see when they start to relax and gain confidence that, whatever may come, they can stand.
I don’t know what it is that gives me a soothing effect on people, but it is there. Having it, I believe I would be held to hard judgment if I did not use it to give people heart. After all, it is one of the three prime commands I march to: 1) Defend the Faith, 2) Hearten the Faithful and, 3) Defend the Faithful. Occasionally I get someone who is disappointed with my talk. They usually fall into one of two categories. First, there are those who are expecting some detailed theological treatise or some new or expanded pious devotional. Second are people who are enamored of mystics and expect me to follow every modern prophecy with the same eager excitement they do. But neither of these is my job, as I understand it.
I deeply respect serious theology and take pains to never contradict the defined teaching of the Church and the Magisterium. I am always reading serious matter on the faith (right now it is the late Cdl. Giuseppe Siri’s masterful tome, “Gethsemane.”) I take heart that I have become friends with a number of serious theologians and can have serious discussions with them to help me stay on the narrow path. Of course, there is a lot of nonsense that poses as theology today. Frankly, that which seeks to undermine the faith is pretty easy to identify and reject, though there are a lot of men wearing clerical collars who have traded intellectual rigor for ideological pretensions – and that is quite disheartening to the faithful. That material which is superficially consoling, but with substantial elements that are contrary to the faith, is more subtle – and all the more dangerous to souls who adopt it to assuage their fears, unaware of the fuse of serious error it lights up in them.
I most assuredly do not despise prophecy, but I am also aware that about 95% of it is delusional poppycock. There are a couple of people, not well known, whose mystical utterances I take deadly seriously. But not a one of them gives detailed temporal accounts or thinks they have all the answers – or even that they understand what they have been given very well. I say, firmly, that God is giving us our opportunity to show that we truly love Him by putting our shoulder to the wheel to clean up the mess we have collectively made and by caring for and calling to our neighbors. All the happy talk about how God is going to solve everything for us if we just wait is not coming from me. He will intervene when we take up our cross and follow Him with real fidelity and resolve, not neglecting to feed His lambs. And bluntly, I bristle when someone presumes to lecture me on prophecy and how I have to follow what Joe the mystic from Kokomo has to say to the letter. In a meta sense, who has told you more true what we face over the last 10 years than me? And I, of course, made a couple of significant errors…which I am now exceedingly glad of, that more may understand that even he who gets it most right in the meta sense struggles with details – so you won’t be discouraged when your fondest expectations fail. All the timelines and treating prophecy like choreography is almost always a distraction. Dealing with mystical elements is a quantum magnitude harder than people think. We carry these treasures in earthen vessels. So a purported mystic who is not restrained in the scope of his speaking is either not a mystic at all or a mystic headed for a fall. Don’t judge any by how comforting what they tell you is, but whether they endeavor to tell you true. The God of mercy is also the God of justice. In fact, in God’s economy, mercy and justice are the same thing.
My portion is to take the treasures that have been handed on to us and help ordinary people apply them simply and faithfully to their daily lives. I am grateful for the bounty of devotions that so many saints have given us, but I am leery of those who ostentatiously display their private devotions to everyone else. It strikes me as similar to all those tassels and phylacteries some Pharisees ostentatiously wore to boast of how incredibly pious they were – and what Jesus had to say to them (Matthew 23). I enjoy communal devotions, but other than that, I hate to be caught praying a private devotion – for fear that it is robbed of its merit. If your faith is sound, the fruit you bear should show it. I am profoundly grateful for the refined knowledge that many theologians have given us, for I have been lifted up in understanding by many of the giants of faith. I also know that even the most serious theologians face the temptation of acting as if the faith is a complex puzzle box that they, by their cleverness, have decoded. They can get caught up in believing that those who are not theologically sophisticated are children of a lesser god. They can forget that an amazing feature of our faith is that its heart is so simple that anyone can live it well and that it is so refined and deep that even the most brilliant can never plumb those depths. As a child I saw that some men are more dangerous with a Bible in their hand than with a gun, constantly searching the Scriptures to glean material with which to beat down and condemn their fellows. I prayed for some years that I not speak at all on these things until I could speak in a way that builds up rather than tears down. So I measure myself by the hope, the resolve, the courage I spark in those around me, knowing that he who loves best lives the faith best, and my sins are always before me. I emphasize the ordinary prayer of doing (the most neglected form of prayer in modern times) for we each will be judged by the fruit we produce as evidence of our faith and love – which covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
A friend once shamefully confessed to me that he had missed Mass that day. He said he had seen an older lady struggling with fixing a flat tire and could not bear not to stop and help her. I told him that what he had done was shown God he lives his love – and so is a man after God’s own heart. We should not neglect worship and devotions for they feed us spiritually, fitting us for our daily work. But we should emphasize the weighty matters of charity and consolation.
My fondest hope is not to convince anyone that God is close to me (though I always pray that I am close to Him), but that God is close to every one of us, right at hand if we only call on Him…that He is not looking for some excuse to smite us, but is eager to help us on our way, to find the thread of virtue in us, nurture it, and use it to grow us and lead us into heaven. One of my profoundest joys, something truly worth living for, is when I see the light of new hope, new resolve, and new joy rise in the eyes of someone hurting or fearful as we talk. I saw, in Annapolis earlier this year, a bumper sticker that summed up my own approach to spirituality: “Navy wives,” it said, “Changing the world – one diaper at a time.”
A woman who is a long-time supporter, in a burst of enthusiasm some years ago, told me, “I knew God would send someone. I am so glad that when He did, He sent a poor schlub just like the rest of us!” It was one of the sweetest things anyone ever said to me. If my epitaph calls me an apostle to the poor schlubs, being one of them, that will be a life well lived.
I can talk knowledgably with the most sophisticated theologians, I can speak with insight on mystical things, I glean important insights from on high and on low. At heart, though, I am a blue-collar guy and am most happy when I am about the business of changing the world one diaper at a time. That, I think, is key to it all.
I was delighted while traveling to find two Bishops who did wonderful and courageous things. Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample responded to Traditionis Custodes by decreeing that the Latin Mass will continue in Portland as it always has, as it was NOT causing division among Catholics there. He may be overruled by the Vatican next spring: I have heard many rumblings that the Vatican is going to outlaw it entirely in May or adopt absolutely draconian restrictions on it. Let me tell you, people like me who have access to good, pious and orthodox Novus Ordo Masses are not fleeing to TLM Churches: it is people who are forced to listen to error after error from the pulpit who are going to TLM Parishes where they know it will be orthodox. The heterodox clerics don’t like that these good folks have a choice to preserve their orthodox faith. Thanks be to God for gutsy Bishops like Alexander Sample who want to feed their flock.
Sioux Falls Bishop Donald DeGrood has issued a statement on human sexuality that should be an authentic Catholic model everywhere. It upholds authentic and venerable Church teaching while acknowledging the dignity of the human person in all, including those struggling most deeply with gender dysphoria – particularly in a climate that has made this terrible trial trendy.
Don’t ignore the many troubles in the hierarchy today, but don’t neglect the points of light that foreshadow, even now, the great renewal of faith ahead.
I was particularly glad to get back to Missoula, Montana – the only place I have ever had to cancel a talk because I was too sick to go on last fall. I spent over three weeks in a hotel room recovering from a terrible bout of Covid. I got to meet and have dinner with Dr. Blythe Bartos, one of the doctors who cared for me. At the talk, I met a whole bunch of dear folks who had prepared food and sent it to me while I was sick last fall.
Of course, it was Beckita who acted as my caregiver during the roughest period of three weeks. She came in three times a day to sit with and check on me. If I remember things one way and Beckita remembers them another, take her word for it – for I was pretty hazy during most of this. God bless Mark and Mary Lapchak, who came to pick me up and carry me back to central Colorado when I was well enough to be transported – and I spent the next three weeks of my recovery with them.
One thing that deeply touched me was that the staff of the hotel I was at figured out pretty quickly that I was a very sick man. They prayed for me and kept checking with Beckita on how I was. I got to go back to this hotel and thank the staff for their kindness. The woman in the center of the picture below teared up to see me healthy and lively. There was a housekeeper (who was off the day I took the picture) who ventured into my room once. I warned her I was recovering from Covid. I thought she muttered that she doesn’t treat anybody like a leper – and she came on in, straightened things up, and sat and chatted with me. She did that every day or two in the last week or so.
I was grateful to see some of my heroes who rallied around to help me get through that terrible challenge.
I stayed with a retired couple in a beautiful mountain home while I was in Missoula this time. The husband, Joe, is the most gifted and artistic woodworker I have ever encountered. He designed and created the “rocking moose” in the picture below for his grandkids. You can visit his website at jzwoodworking.com. My hostess, Mary, is one of the most fabulous cooks ever – and she was a neurological assistant for most of her career. It was nice chatting with someone who understood what I was talking about with my neurological disability.
Sorry it took so long to get something out after getting home. I was just utterly exhausted – and now, today, I have caught a very nasty virus from some friends. In the future, I will make sure to have a repeat piece ready for when I get home so it is not so long between articles.
I know that everyone is on pins and needles right now – and particularly in the last week, I have been talking to people who had thought things were going to smooth out who now do not believe the left will ever stop the madness until they are stopped.
Hang in there. I am spending all my time working to come up with approaches that keep the faithful collaborating with each other and that resist the vicious depredations of the left in effective, but non-violent ways. We’ll be talking a lot about that, going forward. As St. Peter said, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) These things must come, but God prevails. Let us endeavor to be on His side.
If communication goes out for any length of time, meet outside your local Church at 9 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Tell friends at Church now in case you can’t then. CORAC teams will be out looking for people to gather in and work with.
Find me on Gab at Charliej373 or at the CORAC group.
Find me on Twitter at @Charlie62394802
The Corps of Renewal and Charity (CORAC)
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