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How God Built an Unexpected Band of Brothers

The alleged Covid-19 pandemic, or rather the disordered response of the temporal and spiritual authorities to it, was a challenging time for Catholics in central Pennsylvania. As in many other places, churches were closed and the sacraments suspended (although my family was blessed to know a brave and holy priest who clandestinely celebrated the Mass of the Ages for the faithful during the lockdown). But in general one would not think of the last year and a half as anything in accord with God’s will for the salvation of mankind. Nonetheless, He brought forth from the darkness a burst of light which showed in a personal way His provident care for the souls of His servants. As the Apostle teaches, “we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.” (Rom 8:28 DRB)

The story begins a little over a year ago, when a guy I had met in a local Catholic young adult group, Brandon, emailed me asking if I would like to do Exodus 90 with him (a 90-day men’s spiritual exercise combining prayer, asceticism, and fraternity). I had just met this fellow last summer. We both had studied philosophy and possessed strong but not always complimentary opinions. He came from a much more modern, even Leftist perspective than I, the “rad-trad Thomist,” but we enjoyed honest discussion and good-natured debate. We even found common ground on some surprising topics like Freemasonic infiltration, which later would earn us the amicable label of ‘borderline conspiracy theorists’ by the third member of our trio. Since then, this fine fellow has continued to overcome the biases of his former SPLC-based worldview, and after witnessing the integral Catholic movement in person might, by the grace of God, himself become traditional.

So, when he brought up Exodus 90, I accepted his invitation, since I had previously heard about the exercise and was interested in giving it a shot, although also intimidated by the disciplines. The next few weeks passed quickly and before I knew it, we had reached the starting date. Our fraternity originally had four guys, but one sadly had to drop out early on for personal reasons, leaving just three of us. The third guy, Larry, was the perfect counterpart to us other two. Unlike us passionate 20-somethings, he was a bit older, married, and by both nature and state provided a much calmer and steadier attitude that served to moderate the excesses of our enthusiasm. He’s also an incredibly talented craftsman, artist, and musician, skills which would have a prominent role in our later efforts as I will explain in a moment.

At first, it seemed this unlikely trio would not long hold together, but as we moved through the exercise, we only became closer and more open with each other. For you young Catholic men, there’s nothing like having a band of brothers. Men need the support of other good men, not only to keep them accountable, but also to have honest conversations about personal struggles which we often suppress in the superficial ‘social media’ style interactions which mark our daily lives. It’s a unique kind of bond, not the effeminate touchy-feely psychobabble of the therapist, but not a harsh, callous, and impersonal rebuke either. Rather, a firm challenge to conform ourselves to the ideal of the Christian life while remaining sensitive to the fragility of fallen human nature.

Thus, the weeks of the exercise quickly passed in personal shortcomings and accomplishments, fraternal correction and support, and some of the most profound discussions of my life: ethics, theology, politics, history, culture, music, art, whatever. Before we knew it, we had reached day 90, the end of the exercise. But even as we took the chance to kick back and relax from the disciplines, we all decided we wanted to keep some kind of weekly fraternity meetings going. Such a connection is not something you just want to throw away. So, at our last weekly meeting Larry mentioned that he had previously spent some evenings in the town where we came together for our meetings doing what he called, for lack of a better phrase, ‘street evangelizing.’ He was thinking about getting that started again and asked if the two of us would like to join in with him. Brandon and I we were immediately skeptical. Isn’t that something radical fundamentalist Protestants do? Surely no self-respecting modern-day Catholic would engage in such an audacious affair. Especially not in a town known all around the region for its Leftist flavor, ‘pride’ flags and all.

But we said, “heck, why not, let’s give it a go.” Then Larry said, “great, how ‘bout we do some right now.” By this point I was getting legitimately uncomfortable. But I reminded myself this is what being Catholic is about, as Our Lord commands us to “preach the gospel to every creature.” So I manned up and went over to help Larry unpack some supplies from his car and set up an ingenious folding table he, clever craftsman that he is, built to hold a crucifix and some prayer cards. We’d staked out a spot in a public park right next to a popular bar and many people were walking by.

And as if things weren’t crazy enough, Larry then pulled out a banjo and began singing praise-and-worship songs as we handed out prayer cards to curious passers-by. Every nerve of my ‘rigid’ Trad psyche screamed in protest at being totally outside my comfort zone, but at the same time I also felt a sense of peace and joy in sharing the Gospel. Despite fears to the contrary, we had an overwhelmingly positive and even enthusiastic reception. We closed the night under Our Lady’s mantle by praying five decades of the Rosary and excitedly planned to get out again next week.

When we returned, Larry rolled up with his real setup: a 1980s Ford pickup truck with a folding wooden bar, stools, and lantern – totally rad! This time I had upped my game too by bringing my fiddle, and we had a great time jamming and talking faith with people who made their way over to see the strangle spectacle. This night was the scene of the most memorable encounter in our ‘ministry.’ It was getting late, and we were thinking of packing up and heading home for the night when a group of young men leaving the bar caught sight of our setup and came over to check us out. One of them saw our instruments and asked us if we’d play a tune for them. When Larry gave some spiritual song titles the young man, who had apparently thought we were just secular music-makers and not realized our religious purpose, was disappointed and interrupted with a half-baked rambling argument for how neuroscience disproves the existence of God.

But right in the middle of his explanation he cut off as if struck by the Holy Ghost and confessed he actually was a confirmed Catholic, really did believe in God, and wanted us to pray for all those who had no one to pray for them! So after we played one of our songs for the group we had a poignant spontaneous prayer with him and his friends, who now also expressed similarly deep Catholic sentiments. I do not know what became of this fellow, but I have offered intentions and Communions that he be restored to and remain steadfast in the bosom of Holy Mother Church.

The ‘street evangelization’ soon became a weekly routine in the town park, despite harassment by a meddlesome policeman who accused us of violating noise ordinances with our soft acoustic music and unlawful ‘solicitation’ for passing out prayer cards to receptive pedestrians. And with the exception of one clash with a man who stormed off muttering he hoped we’d burn in hell for being part of what he saw as a pedophile cult, we have been party to many occasions of grace.

On another night, we met some young women from the college who asked us to pray for their friend who had recently been involved in a serious accident. And another night, I talked to a guy who had grown up in the same Liberal Novus Ordo parish from which I came and later fell away and began attending a nondenominational church. We had a heartfelt discussion about the faith and hopefully planted seeds for his eventual return. Yet another time, some clergy from ROCOR (a traditionalist Orthodox church) were visiting town with a renowned Russian icon from the 12th century, and their local priest stopped by to chat with us. We had a friendly yet spirited dialogue on Greek and Latin theology and discipline, especially about the Filioque, hesychasm, Palamism, divorce, and clerical celibacy. I don’t think I’m the only one here who has a special interest in the Eastern schism and was able to gain a fascinating glimpse of it from that chance meeting.

Contrary to the atheistic propaganda pushed by the godless (anti-)culture through the news and entertainment, people even in this ‘progressive’ town have a genuine hunger for spiritual things. And even when our message is not embraced by its hearers, we still are giving public witness to the saving truth of Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church through our presence, words, and deeds. In this age of seeming indifference and hostility towards religion it is easy for the faithful to keep quiet and just go with the flow, but this neglects our mandate to carry out the Great Commission.

Nonetheless, most of us are weak and liable to fail in this mission when left to our own efforts as isolated, atomized individuals in our contemporary individualist society. This is why rebuilding community is essential if we are to succeed in converting society back to the kingship of Christ. I know I would probably never have taken the step of sharing my faith in such a bold way on my own, but from my Catholic brothers I got the support I needed to conquer fear and get out there. No wonder Liberals, Marxists, and all the other enemies of Logos put forth such massive efforts to divide and pit their opposition against each other along the petty lines of class, race and sex.

Why am I writing all this? Because I think it shows us a path forward in the midst of the crisis both in the spiritual and temporal orders. It is so easy to get discouraged when we get lost in the nuts-and-bolts of the problem: political speculation and theological intricacies. But if we can connect with the human element of the situation, we have reason for hope. While my brothers are now both firmly within the bounds of sensible politics and orthodox faith, I would not agree with them on every issue and they both attend the Novus Ordo Mass. Despite this, we have a sincere fraternal love and charity for one another.

If the times get even tougher, I know that we will pull together to get through whatever the world, the flesh, and the devil throws at us. This is not at all to say that differences are unimportant, but instead that we must also look with an eye towards the bigger picture. And right now, all Catholics who believe and defend the dogmas of our faith need to join forces against our common Liberal, Marxist, Modernist, and Satanic foes.

Gloria in excelsis Deo!

Slava Isusu Christu!


Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

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