Christ told us that “in the world you will have tribulation,” (Jn. 16:33) and the apostles Paul and Barnabas echoed this sentiment in their missionary journeys by telling the followers of Christ “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22; emphasis mine). The question is not whether you will suffer affliction but when, what kind, how often and of what magnitude.
We all have our stories of fiery trials in marriage and family, finances, work, health and friendships that went south. In the decade of the 2000s I went through my own Category 4 hurricane with a divorce (the marriage was annulled in 2013), financial strains because of the recession of 2008 and children who were rejecting the Christian faith.
The philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard is on-target in pointing out that our trials are intensified because we are finite and free. Because we are not omniscient or omnipotent, we must approach our affliction with limited understanding and cannot make things go away with the wave of our hand.
Because we are free and not robots or animals that operate on instinct, we are faced with multitudinous and often bewildering choices as we navigate our stormy seas. These internal dynamics, being finite and free, can turn a Category 1 hurricane into a Category 2.
Tribulation highlights and underscores the utter fragility and weakness of the human being. The “self-made man” is often slow to learn what God knows only too well: “For he [God] knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Ps.103:14).
Such a frail constitution can either drive us to redoubling our efforts for self-sufficiency or move us to a radical, moment-by-moment dependent relationship with the Almighty. The latter option reverberates throughout the Psalms, a text that has given a cathartic voice to the believer (e.g., the Breviary) for centuries in the face of the tumult and vicissitudes of existence: “From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Ps. 61:2).
Thus far this essay has discussed trials coming from marriage, family, finances, work, health and friendships going sour but nothing has been mentioned about the surrounding adversarial culture. Such a culture can intensify the winds and rain in your life.
This isn’t the 1950s anymore when the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen had a television show, Life is Worth Living, that rivaled Milton Berle in ratings and won an Emmy Award. The 50s were far from perfect but Mass attendance was high, most of your neighbors shared your values and half the people you rubbed shoulders with during your work week probably attended their own church service on Sunday.
In his magisterial work, A Study of History, eminent historian Arnold Toynbee divides world history up into twenty-one civilizations. He makes the point that the first twenty civilizations appealed to some religious authority (e.g., Scripture, Tradition, Magisterium) for guidance in personal and social affairs while the twenty-first, our age, has tied its wagon to the Star of Secularism.
One of the signatures of this secularism is autonomy: you make yourself the arbiter of truth and morality instead of submitting to a divine text or sacred tradition. We see this in the broader American culture that encourages people to “follow their heart,” embrace “your truth” (e.g., Oprah Winfrey’s speech at the 75th Golden Globe Awards) and listen to the “god within”-the premise of the wildly popular book Eat, Pray, Love.
With the storm increasing in our life because of an adversarial culture, it’s common for the practicing Catholic to look to the Church as a refuge. But what do you do when the Church is becoming the culture?
A recent poll that discloses the beliefs of self-identified American Catholics is heart-breaking:
- 65 percent believe that employers who have a religious objection to the use of birth control should be required to provide it in health insurance plans for employees; 32 percent disagree.
- 54 percent believe that businesses that provide wedding services should be required to provide those services to same-sex couples; 43 percent disagree.
- 47 percent believe that transgender people should be allowed to use public restrooms of gender with which they currently identify; 50 percent disagree.
The practicing Catholic may look at these metrics and believe they represent the laity and find consolation in the idea that the clergy are holding the line. Though there are many orthodox bishops (Archbishop Charles Chaput), the frequency of infidelity to the sacred deposit of the faith is alarming.
Though Pope Francis has been somewhat ambiguous about the upshot of Amoris Laetitia, there’s compelling evidence that it departs from the clear teaching of Christ on divorce and remarriage and that teaching’s implications for receiving Communion. The heterodox, Salt and Light CEO, Fr. Thomas Rosica, is not alone in the ordained priesthood in expressing these opinions:
“Pope Francis breaks Catholic traditions whenever he wants because he is ‘free from disordered attachments.’” He continues: “Our Church has indeed entered a new phase,” writes Rosica, “…with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture.”
When I was a boy growing up in southern California, my grandfather would take me fishing down south in San Diego County to lakes that had good fishing and weren’t as congested with people. In the off-season, his boat got turned upside down, and, when we turned the boat right-side up to make our first trip of the season, the boat was infested with black widow spiders (Welcome to southern California!).
This is the image I’ve had during this season of scandal and crisis in the Church with the revelation of widespread homosexual predation of underage and young adult males, the cover-ups, the hush money, and the moving of predator priests from parish to parish. The diabolical and the demonic reached new heights in a school (the Antonio Provolo Institute) for hearing-impaired children in Argentina, where a nun, Kosaka Kumiko, facilitated and took part in the sexual abuse of the students with three priests:
From the Washington Post: “The students in the school for deaf children would call her the ‘bad nun,’ the woman who was supposed to take care of them, but who they say would send them into rooms to be sexually abused by priests. Others said she committed abuse herself and would force them to watch pornography on television.”
If you love the Church, such reports can only leave you grieved, sickened and furious. To sum up: with an adversarial culture added to the ordinary trials of life combined with a Church that is becoming the culture, and, in some precincts, has become incomprehensibly depraved, the “hurricanes” of your life can easily move from Category 1 to 2 or even, in certain cases, from 1 to 3.
This is true especially for those believers who have a bad priest at their local parish and/or a compromised bishop pulling the levers of power in their diocese. Things start to feel very adversarial both outside and inside the Church.
My advice to the practicing Catholic with a bad priest at their local church is to leave that parish even if you have to drive one hour one-way to receive the ministry of an orthodox priest. The long drive will give you time to converse with like-minded family and friends with whom you are car-pooling.
Not to cast a pall on the reader, but, for certain devout souls, the storm can reach Category 4 if they decide, by the grace of God, to become part of Mary’s Heel and fight the darkness. When you engage the dark powers and principalities, they become livid and will retaliate.
In this present battle for the soul of the Church, the laity must become Mary’s Heel. This will look different for different people:
Some may be involved in the actual investigation of local churches and dioceses; others will write letters asking certain bishops and cardinals to resign; some will pray hundreds of Rosaries; others will start a petition to withhold financial support for egregiously corrupt dioceses; some may be involved in Catholic media, offering opinion and keeping the faithful abreast of breaking news; others will lead or take part in protests and demonstrations.
As far as weathering the storm that is here and is to come, remember that Jesus said that the man who is both a hearer and a doer of the word is like a man who built his house on a rock, and, when the violent storm came, he and his house weathered the storm. The man who was a “hearer only” suffered a great fall and much loss (Mt. 7:24-27).
Obedience can seem like a basic, meat-and-potatoes topic, not very “sexy” and somewhat banal. However, it’s a major aspect of Mary’s Heel and the key to weathering life’s storms. As the late, great Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus used to say, “Fidelity, fidelity, fidelity.”
In a recent article in this magazine, I explored five different dimensions of Mary’s obedience to the word of God: (1) to the words of Christ; (2) to Scripture; (3) to Tradition; (4) to the spoken word of God (e.g., Gabriel’s message to her); and (5) to the Eucharist (the Word of God).
To use another biblical illustration, Our Lady is like David gathering five smooth stones from the wadi to slay Goliath, who is a type of Satan whom she will crush under her feet. What obedience does, usually over an extended period of time, is give your soul a kind of structural integrity, like a well-built house, so it can withstand any storm.
Isaiah 61:3 calls us oaks of righteousness. Trees like the white oak have vast root systems (a heart and history of obedience) that help them to stand tall after major storms
The martyrs were able to accept their moment of martyrdom (e.g., being thrown to the lions) because they were living martyrs, practiced in dying to self, often for several years, before they became actual martyrs. In this current great travail that has hit the Church, we will be able to remain, by the grace of God, faithful in our hour of testing, because we already have a history of fidelity.