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A Reflection From the Trenches

When I stopped to think about it, I realized I don’t know a lot about World War I.

I mean, I know I’ve studied it some, at least in school. I know that understanding it is the launching point for Belloc’s Europe and the Faith. I’ve seen various aspects of it drawn into fictional works I’ve enjoyed. But when it comes right down to it, I recognize I know so little about the causes and historic events that took place throughout that first “war to end all wars” (and didn’t), that I’m not even competent to comment on it.

And yet, the images of the particular brutality of that war, as symbolized by life in the trenches — and what happened when soldiers were forced to leave them for that devil’s maw known as “no man’s land” — that sticks in my mind.

Trench warfare has, in a way, become emblematic of any knock-down, drag out struggle. I don’t think any of us can really contemplate the true horrors of that war and its conditions — for heaven’s sake, the British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme alone — so as an analogy to every day conflict, it doesn’t really compare. Still, I was reading something about it and immediately felt a ping of recognition.

It was a description of how conditions in the trenches, even apart from the fighting, were awful. The spread of disease and infection, the problems with constant dampness and the way it would literally eat away at flesh, a condition called “trench mouth,” which was an infection of the gums at least partially associated with the stress of being under constant bombardment, and of course, the “shell shock” caused by the same.

As I sit here writing this, I can tell you that I have knots in my stomach. These days, they’re almost always there, every waking hour. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been a worrier, and prone to chronic anxiety. But over the past year I’ve noticed it getting worse and worse. And that phrase “constant bombardment” is just ringing in my ears, because that’s what watching the Church in our time is like.

I’ve mentioned that I’m trying to pull back a little from the front lines so I can regroup, unclench my fists, and renew my focus. That I want to look for and share with you the beautiful stories about why our faith is still great even as others here continue to carry on shining the light into the darkness. Every time in the past I’ve attempted to do this, it has proven challenging, and now is no exception. Even as I write this, rumors are percolating, after the unexpected announcement of another consistory, that Pope Francis is planning to resign. I’m not putting too much stock in them — I struggle to conceive of a man like that giving up the power he worked so long to attain — but it’s a reminder that at any moment, perhaps especially when things seem quiet, they may take a sudden turn in another direction.

And when it comes right down to the situation in the Church, humanly speaking, we’re totally on our own. How many reports have you seen about how extensive the knowledge of Cardinal McCarrick’s misdeeds were? How many people spoke up?

Where is the formal correction that was promised? Where is something beyond the general, non-specific condemnation of doctrinal errors being propagated by Rome from even the best of our prelates? Who will stand for us against this tide?

No one. No one will. It is up to us.

We who are awake to what is happening and demand better are in the minority in the Church. There’s no sugarcoating it. It’s just a fact. We are fortunate to have some of the clergy with us, but they, too, face an overwhelming task – and have no institutional power to change what is happening.

As one of my friends often puts it, “It’s like fighting a dragon with a toothpick.”

It bothers me sometimes that “war” and “battle” and “fighting” are the metaphors most apt for describing our present circumstances — especially because our war is now not just focused on holding off a hostile culture, but the enemy within. Nevertheless, this is the imagery that is most apt, and so, I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: we are here, in the trenches, with no way forward and no possibility of retreat. We are able to advance on the enemy, but we might just outlast the bombardment.

For our part here at 1P5, whatever role we play in what is unfolding is only as significant as God wills. We do what we can to aid the fighting in the absence of heavier armaments — or generals to lead them.

As I sat down to write this today, without knowing quite what to say, I was thinking mostly of two things — unworthiness and gratitude. Unworthiness, because am so unworthy. You have no idea how unfit I am to have carried this standard. The words of St. Peter come to mind, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And yet, I can never truly mean it when I think it. Instead, I find myself asking Him endlessly not to let me go. To help me to love Him. To help me to pray. To help me to not just renew my flagging faith in a Church that appears to be falling before the gates of hell, but to imprint in my heart and soul a real, courageous faith like I have never known. To help me stop stumbling into the same sins again and again. Through it all, I feel undeserving of the task that has befallen me, and I worry that I have taken on something for which I am not sufficiently equipped.

The second thing, gratitude, is because of all of you. I can’t tell you how many times the thought has occurred to me that if it weren’t for your prayers and support, I would have been swept away by now. The devil has been at my family’s throat since I started this project, and he isn’t the sort to let up. I want to thank you all for calling down God’s protection on me and everyone at 1P5, because it has been essential. Please don’t stop! We need it now more than ever. Discouragement is spreading, and we need the grace to keep us on our feet.

Finally, we need your financial support to keep the work going. With more than half the month already behind us, we’ve reached less than 50% of our monthly goal. It is no exaggeration when I say that we can’t do this without you.

To return to the theme of gratitude, I was thinking of how, in 2015, we almost lost the house we were living in because I put all my eggs in the 1P5 basket and we couldn’t make ends meet. I took a huge leap of faith, and for a while, I didn’t think we were going to make it to the other side. You not only pulled us through, but have made it possible for me to actually provide for my large family while continuing to do this. And now, we’re beginning to be able to help other Catholics like us to make at least a part of their living from this work – something I hope to continue to do more of going forward.

What is amazing to me is that just a few thousand people have kept this project going with their financial support for four years.

So if you appreciate what we do here, please consider joining your support to theirs. Every single dollar counts. We have strength in numbers, and we’re all in the trenches together.

God bless you, thank you for reading, and thank you for your support!

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