Years of difficulty finally led me to spend yesterday morning looking at Director of Religious Education jobs, Catholic schools, houses, and parishes in the Archdiocese of Denver. Like many Catholic families, I found myself wanting to move our family to an area with a rich, vibrant, orthodox, and fruitful spiritual environment. I want to live somewhere where I know my family and I will be defended and protected by our shepherd. I want to have access to perpetual eucharistic adoration, six days a week of confessions, reverent Masses, an affordable, orthodox, and unapologetically Catholic education for our daughter, intellectual opportunities, and countless service projects.
After spending a couple of hours searching, I texted a priest-friend to tell him about it. His response was: “Don’t do it! It would be the easy way out moving to Catholic Disneyland.” I grew up in Montana and most of my family still lives there. That means I have a connection to the Rockies and would be much closer to them in Colorado than I am now, but I was cautioned not to flee from all of the difficulties this priest-friend knows we face. I’m supposed to resist the urge to flee to Tarshish, even though what God is asking of us here is difficult.
Another friend of mine—who is also a writer—lamented to me recently that so often we are unable to share in our writing the difficulties we face as Catholics when it comes to the hierarchy or parish life. We are expected to be silent in the face of the pain we experience, so we write in general terms and never get into specifics about the years of coming up against injustice, spiritual bankruptcy, politics, and indifference that led to my searching for a way out of what feels like a desert.
Many of us have suffered at the hands of powerful people who are heretical, heterodox, or spiritually blind, while others turn the other way and ignore it in order to cling to the lie of a false sense of peace and security and to get a seat at the table. It’s the Pilate problem. Protecting reputations matters more than the truth in far too many circles. Christ has been supplanted by human aspirations for power, honor, or worldly peace. If we don’t rock the boat then we can still have our comfort and claim to be authentic witnesses and followers of Christ. He doesn’t promise us comfort and ease, however. He promises us the exact opposite.
Even though I am not a regular Traditional Latin Mass attendee—I have been to a few—I have seen the uncharitable and unjust treatment of those who do. I have listened to people tell me that they somehow can read the hearts of others who seek to be reverent before the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. I veil during Mass, so I too have heard those comments aimed at people like me.
The implication being, the more reverent a person is, the less likely they truly love God from the heart. What arrogance to claim such knowledge of another’s soul! We have reduced our experience of the divine to the sentimental, to something superficial, and we claim to be able to tell the difference between a deep love of God and something shallow. Feelings are not love.
There are many Catholics who are tired. There are many who suffer tremendous afflictions in life who know a shallow faith is a dead faith. It is a lie. It’s the Cross or nothing. To not go towards Golgotha is to turn away from Christ. It is to flee into the world, into comfort, towards perdition. Yet, so often, we are given a Cross-less version of the faith. We are led by those who would lead us away from crucifixion into a lie.
We are often at the mercy of those who would persecute us for standing for the truth within our own Church. We are at the mercy of those who mean well, but are not seeking God’s will and the Holy Spirit because they are blinded by their own beliefs or ignorance. To quote the bishops’ letter sent to Germany recently:
The need for reform and renewal is as old as the Church herself. At its root, this impulse is admirable and should never be feared. Many of those involved in the Synodal Path process are doubtless people of outstanding character. Yet Christian history is littered with well-intended efforts that lost their grounding in the Word of God, in a faithful encounter with Jesus Christ, in a true listening to the Holy Spirit, and in the submission of our wills to the will of the Father. These failed efforts ignored the unity, experience, and accumulated wisdom of the Gospel and the Church. Because they failed to heed the words of Jesus, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15: 5), they were fruitless and damaged both the unity and the evangelical vitality of the Church. [emphasis mine]
All of us mistake the Holy Spirit for the machinations of our own ego, the world, or the enemy. It is easy to do in our fallen state, but it is becoming increasingly clear that many in the Church—including clergy—have forgotten or never learned how to discern the will of God and the Spirit. Instead, we are paralyzed by competing agendas, good intentions divorced from prayer, ideas, egos, and understanding that gets in the way of the Spirit.
Much of this is not malice. It is often our own spiritual blindness, stupidity, ignorance, sin, worldliness, and character flaws, which we mistake for the Holy Spirit. We all struggle with these things because we are all sinners, but we are called to go higher. To seek His will, not our own. To turn to Him, not the crowd for approval. To learn how to properly discern the spirits.
When we become disconnected from a life in the Spirit and a true discernment of God’s will, things go awry. Competing agendas take over. Supernatural vision grows dim and we can no longer see God working in our lives or in our parishes. We see with human fallen eyes, rather than the eyes of God. The Church becomes egocentric rather than Christocentric. Our projects fail to produce spiritual fruit because they were not grounded in prayer and sacrifice. We cling to our own understanding, comfort, power, and security, which is why many of us have witnessed clergy turning a blind eye to the truth in order to avoid rocking the boat or to place liability above the salvation of souls. This demoralizes the faithful in ways few things can.
There is nothing peaceful about the Gospel, except the internal peace given by the Holy Spirit. The life we are promised is the Way of the Cross. It is precisely because we are called to walk towards Golgotha that my priest-friend’s admonition to me not to take the easy way out is important. There is no Resurrection without the Cross. Christ is able to configure me more closely to Him in suffering. We also should never make a major change in our lives during desolation. This is discernment of spirits 101. The same is true for all of those who feel like they are in the desert right now. Those who are or have been persecuted by their own for a variety of reasons.
To become like Christ, we must love like Christ. We must love our enemies and those who persecute us. Those who judge our hearts because we are too reverent. Those who ban the Latin Mass. Those who turn a blind eye to the truth and lash out at those who do not. Those who would rather sentimentality and superficiality over the depths we are made for by God. Those who ignore heresy and heterodoxy. Those who refuse us a seat at the table for unjust reasons. We must love those who prefer worldly comfort and pleasure to the truth of the Cross. We must love them even when they do not love us.
To stand fast is to allow Christ to teach us how to love and how to put love in those places where authentic love is not fully being lived. Cheap counterfeits can only be cast out by the real thing; by those people who are willing to stay even when it is agonizing and lonely. There is no perfect diocese, even as there are some much more spiritually vibrant and stronger than others. We are a Church of sinners and wherever we move we are adding our own sinfulness to the community. God often asks us to stay where we are in order to bring about resurrection in our lives and in our communities.
As we continue through the Octave of Easter, even with our pain and difficulties, let us ponder the reward of St. Mary Magdalene’s faithfulness. She stayed with Our Lord on the Way of the Cross. She agonized over His death because of her profound love for Him. She stayed where He asked her to stay. She looked for Him in the tomb. She constantly sought His face. She was blessed abundantly for her faithfulness by beholding her resurrected Lord. It was because of her faithfulness that she became the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
May we remain truly faithful in whatever Christ is asking of us in the hope that we too will see Him face-to-face in His glory. Let’s say no to Catholic Disneyland if it is God’s will that we stay at the foot of the Cross awaiting redemption in those areas of our lives where we are suffering. He needs us where He has planted us. In that waiting, we can rejoice because Christ is risen. The Cross always gives way to the Resurrection.
image: Inside St Barbara’s Church (Kutna Hora) Leon Rafael / Shutterstock