It is a cool, dark Montana night in early May as we head west from Bozeman toward the Idaho border. Sheets of rain fall intermittently through our drive as we pull our recently acquired utility trailer up and over the passes that divide East from West, Atlantic from Pacific, Montana from Idaho. We are transporting the first of our belongings over to northern Idaho, where we will find a storage unit and seek out temporary lodging for what is to be a challenging transition. We are leaving the comfort and familiarity of the Montana home we built from the ground up and have enjoyed for twenty-one long years. Yes, we are moving.
We get a break from the rain in Missoula, where we stop for half an hour to visit my younger sister. We meet at a fast-food joint to wolf down a few chicken strips and talk about the changes that lie in our future. “Katie took a job at what hospital?” She is incredulous that we are leaving Montana. “Is there enough carpentry work there to keep you busy?” As we drive away, Katie and I look at each other and nod in agreement: “she just doesn’t get it.” I reflect a moment longer and quietly add, “Not many do.”
We pull back onto the interstate and spool the truck up to cruising speed at 75. The break between squalls is ephemeral, and darkness looms large on the horizon. Yet again, we feel the need to reflect upon our trust in God’s providence in the uncertainty of whether it is truly necessary to do what we are doing. The rain begins again, the light fades, and the Carmelite mystics come to mind as we wonder aloud whether we have entered into our own “cloud of unknowing.”
At 11:30, we decide we aren’t going to make it over the two remaining passes to Coeur d’Alene tonight, so we start scanning the Gazetteer for a wayside campsite. A gravel road takes us along the St. Regis River, which parallels the interstate, and we finally find a spot to circle the wagons and pitch our little pup tent away from the glare of passing headlights. We throw up the tent in the rain, grumbling a bit at the weather and our circumstances: “We bought this trailer for camping in bear country, in order to sleep inside of it, so just what are we doing sleeping outside it, again, on the ground…?!”
As we drift off to a fitful sleep, the questions linger. How did it come to this? How is it that at 50-some years old, we are making our own exodus from our local diocese, from the familiarity of our jobs and our home, from the places and people we know and love, to go settle in a new locale? To begin again?
Morning prayer and recitation of the familiar words of Psalm 131 help to remind us:
O Lord, remember David, and all his meekness.
How he swore to the Lord, he vowed a vow to the God of Jacob:
If I shall enter into the tabernacle of my house: if I shall go up into the bed wherein I lie:
If I shall give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids,
Or rest to my temples: until I find out a place for the Lord, a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
Behold we have heard of it in Ephrata: we have found it in the fields of the wood.
We will go into his tabernacle: We will adore in the place where his feet stood.
Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified.
Let thy priests be clothed with justice: and let thy saints rejoice.
Married late in life, my wife and I do not have children. In this sense, we are vastly different from the many, many families making similar sojourns to the Northern Rockies, to traditionalist parishes here and elsewhere, seeking liturgical and theological sanity, seeking the fullness of the faith. We have met a considerable number of these families. They are large families, many of whom have 8, 10, or 12 children – families from Florida; Washington; Kentucky; and, of course, California – and we have had the opportunity to hear similar stories of their own paths of “exodus in search of orthodoxy.”
It is the Benedict Option applied in northern Idaho.
The stories we hear include elements of cognitive dissonance between what is being said and done – or more commonly, not being said or done – in chancery offices and bishops’ residences with regard to questions involving Amoris Laetitia, climate change as a tool of cultural manipulation, the revisionist conceptualization of Islam in pacifistic terms, and on and on. Then there is the ongoing hostility toward Tradition and faithful souls.
Here we arrive at the heart of the issue. For if Moses petitioned Pharaoh in his obstinacy to allow the Israelites to travel a three-day sojourn into the wilderness such that they might give proper praise and worship to God, what effort is too great for us to employ such that we might do the same? Are we not equally compelled to give right worship to the Blessed Trinity, Who maintains both our essence and existence? Are we not compelled, as were the Israelites, regardless of the sacrifices such worship requires from us?
As prayerful Catholics living in the modern technological age, we must be vigilant not to fall into the complacent notion – the heretical notion – that God is happy with us just as we are. No, we are each and every one of us called to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We must be on the path of sanctification. For if our perfection is not achieved among the Church Militant, it will be accomplished in the midst of the Church Suffering, or worse yet, never accomplished at all.
I lived in western Montana for 25 years and studied in a diocesan seminary on the West Coast in consideration of a priestly vocation. With this background, it is precisely this disconcerting compulsion toward the status quo that – by God’s pure grace – my spouse and I awoke to find as a malignant toxin in our souls.
Fr. Garrigou-LaGrange, O.P. writes in his famous work “The Three Conversions of the Interior Life” that souls that do not progress through the purgative, illuminative, and unitive stages of spiritual growth become static souls. Put in its simplest terms, he states, “He who makes no progress loses ground.”
In recognition of this, it is incumbent upon each and every faithful Catholic to engage in the daily examination of conscience to which the Church exhorts us. If we fail in this self-examination, we become susceptible to the siren song of complacency, a complacency that, by definition, requires far too little from us. It is a complacency that mires us in perpetual mediocrity and stifles all movement toward perfection. It is this mentality of theological minimalism that seems to have pervaded the chanceries of a great many American dioceses. Indeed, along with perpetual liturgical depravity, wherein the General Instruction of the Roman Missal itself is commonly disregarded, this is the fundamental reason we are leaving our diocese in western Montana.
To my way of thinking, this is the cancer at the heart of the modern paradigm, wherein Catholics spend more time celebrating themselves as “the people of God” than they do the One and Triune God. The horizontal axis of theological practice is overemphasized in pursuit of a so-called “Communion Ecclesiology,” and the vertical axis emphasizing union with God through interior prayer is largely ignored. And thus, we are left with an emasculated form of public prayer, for the horizontal axis corresponds with a fundamentally feminine spiritual dynamic of inclusiveness and pastoral sensitivity. It is the vertical axis that compels men to give right worship to God, as an act of justice between sons and their eternal Father. “Dignum et justum est,” indeed.
Beyond this crippling complacency, made manifest in a profound unwillingness to engage in the spiritual works of mercy, what other explanation can there be for the failure of our bishops to make necessary correction for the entrenched heretical positions that now plague us – Communion for the divorced and remarried, the abandonment of mortal sin, situational ethics, etc. And if sound dogma and doctrine are not maintained, and the fundamental law of non-contradiction no longer applies to magisterial teachings, by what means is unity within the Church to be perpetuated?
It would indeed seem that Yeats said it best in “The Second Coming”: Things fall apart, the center will not hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. It is a true postmodern nightmare wherein philosophical relativism reigns supreme, and the last bastion of truth, the Holy Roman Church, appears to be conceding its Apostolic throne.
Fast-forward, now, to the 15th of June, and another rainy night in the Bitterroot Mountains. A couple hundred intrepid souls have gathered from all points on the compass at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It is the Feast of Corpus Christi, and our young priest, a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and a former Marine, thanks the congregation at Mass for assembling to make a Eucharistic procession for several blocks to a nearby park. He notes the incessant rain and the beauty of the witness of faith that will be displayed tonight to an incredulous world, to a world that no longer chooses to worship or recognize the Son of God, the Creator and Redeemer of the world, Who humbly makes Himself present to us in Eucharistic form.
The ancient Mass concludes, and our priest recites the Last Gospel.
Yes, the rain falls heavily again in mountain country. This night, however, the light shines forth through the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.