Being a faithful Catholic today is a difficult business. Readers of these pages know of the willful confusion, the disregard for doctrine, and the blatant attempts to completely remake the Church in the image of man that are going on today. And even in those quarters where the embers of orthodoxy still glow, there is a sense of something like shame when it comes to presenting to the world the unequivocal beauty and exclusive claim on salvation found only within the Catholic Church.
Unable to turn our eyes away from the astonishing procession of unthinkable words, actions, images, and gestures emanating from the very highest reaches of the Church, we find ourselves battered and thrown about on the waves of this storm, icy tendrils of doubt and anxiety threatening to drag us overboard and into the dark depths of despair. This experience is then worsened when we are chastised by our fellow Catholics — family, friends, or even sometimes our pastors — for seeing and knowing things we never wanted to see or know, but are unable, because of our love of truth, to unsee or forget. Our priests, if they find thesmelves similary aware, have even fewer consolations. Under a perpetual torrent of abuse and chastisement from their spiritual father in Rome, they more often than not find their own bishops, to whom they have vowed obedience, gleefully embracing the nauseating new paradigm for the Church that unfolds with breathtaking speed each day.
Some have begun to lose their grip, doubting the truth of Catholicism, or the reasons why they converted to it. Some, finding themselves pining for something that at least looks and acts like a true religion, look with desire upon the alluring veneer of ancient and powerful liturgies and theological structure of our schismatic brothers in the East. Those who choose to remain steadfast in faith often find themselves at odds with those who should, in a sane world, be their allies, the chaos bearing down on them leading to infighting about what to do and how it should be done, Catholic against Catholic, priest against priest, bishop against bishop. The stress builds, leading many to walk around, dazed, a constant knot in the stomach, knowing it can’t go on forever, wondering when the mounting tension will break and God will at last unleash His fury upon his hard-hearted and unfaithful people…then realizing that they, too, may find themselves in the path of His righteous vengeance. A destruction they do not welcome, but can hardly reject as unjust, knowing their own sinfulness.
Some, unwilling to leave but unable to endure what it takes to stay, tune out. They numb themselves with distractions, vices, the minutiae of every day life. Some seek the narcotic relief of a bottle; others fall into other sins of the flesh, seeking consolation where only destruction can be found. Amidst it all, we return again and again to the passage from First Peter from which this publication has taken its name:
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
And in so reflecting, we recognize that on a watch like this, sobriety — from whatever helps us to escape our sorrow — is the hardest part. It is no wonder the apostles could not watch one hour with Our Lord in Gethsemane. Did we think we would fare better than they?
And yet…and yet – we must take heart, for God is with us!
I have written before about the presence of the Divider, already in our midst. Similarly, I have reflected on the scriptural story of Christ asleep in the boat during the tempest. In the former case, we know that the Devil will always be as active as possible in our lives if it can gain him any foothold, if it can increase the odds ever so slightly that he may destroy our souls. In the latter, we know that Our Lord will at times be withdrawn, even seeming to abandon us during our hour of greatest need, and in so doing call us forth out of ourselves and our comfort, asking that we trust in Him, and that even when things seem most dire, we must have faith that He will not allow us to perish.
I think often on two scenes from the gospels: first, the scourging of Christ at the court of Pontius Pilate; second, the apostles in a state of shock as Christ lay in the tomb.
Anyone who has seen The Passion of the Christ knows that the scourging is, by far, the most difficult thing to watch. There has never been another scene on film that makes me more uncomfortable. Every time I watch, as I sense the approach of that moment, I want to look away; to leave the room. How much worse must it have been for Our Blessed Mother! How she must have looked upon the cruel torments visited upon our Precious Lord and wanted to do anything to make it stop – yet knew all the while that it was the will of God that these things should come to pass.
We find ourselves less like the humble, faithful, obedient, and ever-constant Virgin Mary, who though innocent of any sin allowed her heart to be pierced with swords, watching her beloved Jesus suffer and die. We find ourselves more like Peter, who though he loved our Lord, was ever-scandalized that he should have to endure such a passion and death; it was his rejection of this idea just moments after he was declared “the Rock” upon which the Church would be built that caused Jesus to then call him, “Satan!“; it was his fear of sharing the same fate that caused him to deny his Beloved Lord three times in his moment of greatest need.
The Church is Christ’s bride, and so the two are one flesh. Her body is mystically His. As He suffered His passion, so she suffers hers. We have no more right to deny that this is necessary than Peter did. Remember the great prophecy of the Church by St. Hildegard:
I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’
And she continued: ‘I lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood. With that same blood as his dowry, he made me his betrothed.
For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.’
And I heard a voice from heaven which said: ‘This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’” (Mk 16:15)
The second scene on which I often think is that of the apostles after Jesus was laid in the tomb. The entire 24th chapter of Luke tells the story, but the desolation the apostles felt is perhaps best summarized by just one line. After finding the sepulchre empty, and upon hearing the words of the angel that Christ was risen, Luke tells us that “Mary Magdalen, and Joanna, and Mary of James, and the other women that were with them” went and “told these things to the apostles.” And how did the apostles react?
These words seemed to them as idle tales; and they did not believe them. (Lk. 24:11)
Imagine it. These men, who gave up everything to follow Jesus, who believed Him when he said, “my yoke is sweet and my burden light,” – these men reeled at the fact that the man they had come to believe was the Son of God had been arrested, beaten, tortured, and crucified until he was dead, then laid in a tomb.
They must have felt like the biggest chumps in the world.
They must have been torn, reminding each other of Jesus’ own words and teachings, then questioning how they could be true when all evidence pointed to the contrary. Even though He had told them (Mt. 17:22-23) He was going to rise from the dead, they were losing faith before His body was even cold. It took Jesus Himself, on the road to Emmaus, to once again shake them from their cyncism:
Then he said to them: O foolish, and slow of heart to believe in all things which the prophets have spoken. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him. And they drew nigh to the town, whither they were going: and he made as though he would go farther. But they constrained him; saying: Stay with us, because it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent. And he went in with them. And it came to pass, whilst he was at table with them, he took bread, and blessed, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him: and he vanished out of their sight. (Lk. 24:25-31)
We have had it easy for too long. We have taken for granted that Our Lord walks amongst us. But He warned us again and again of times that would come that would scandalize us and throw us into doubt. In fact, it is at this time of year when the wisdom of the Church’s ancient liturgical calendar makes manifest an ending of all things — and their renewal in Christ. The Gospel for the Last Sunday of Pentecost — the final Sunday before the beginning of Advent and the end of the Church’s liturgical year — is none other than Christ’s warning about the abomination of desolation from Matt. 24:15-35:
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: “When therefore you shall see the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place: he that readeth let him understand. Then they that are in Judea, let them flee to the mountains: And he that is on the housetop, let him not come down to take any thing out of his house: And he that is in the field, let him not go back to take his coat. And woe to them that are with child and that give suck in those days. But pray that your flight be not in the winter or on the sabbath. For there shall be then great tribulation, such as hath not been from the beginning of the world until now, neither shall be. And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect those days shall be shortened.”Then if any man shall say to you, ‘Lo here is Christ,’ or ‘there’: do not believe him. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect. Behold I have told it to you, beforehand. If therefore they shall say to you, ‘Behold he is in the desert’: go ye not out. ‘Behold he is in the closets’: believe it not. For as lightning cometh out of the east and appeareth even into the west: so shall also the cowling of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together.”And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light and the stars shall fall from heaven and the powers of heaven shall be moved. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. And then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And he shall send his angels with a trumpet and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them.
“And from the fig tree learn a parable: When the branch thereof is now tender and the leaves come forth, you know that summer is nigh. So you also, when you shall see all these things, know ye that it is nigh, even at the doors. Amen I say to you that this generation shall not pass till all these things be done. Heaven and earth shall pass: but my words shall not pass.”
Pivoting from Pentecost to Advent, the holy season leading up to Christmas begins with this Epistle (Rom 13:11-14):
Brethren, knowing the time, that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is past, and the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.
And again, the First Sunday of Advent reminds us of the Eschaton in a Gospel reading taken from Luke (21:25-33):
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: “There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves: men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand.” And He spoke to them a similitude: “See the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh; so you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen I say to you, this generation shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
Beginnings and endings. Alpha and Omega. Signs, wonders, confusion, fear, expectation. Permanence of holy things; of divine things. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
Amidst the darkness, confusion, and doubt, amidst the worry and wonder, we must always return to Him, clinging not just to His words in the Scriptures but to His Precious Body and Blood in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. To His forgiveness in the confessional. To His mother in the rosary.
Popes come and go. Most of you reading my words today will, barring an unexpectedly early Parousia, live to see the next conclave. The damage that is being done in our days, not unlike the scourging — or, for that matter, the entirety of Our Lord’s Passion and Death — is transpiring only through God’s will, whether active or merely permissive. And to those who believe in the beauty, richness, and splendor of the Church throughout the ages, I would suggest a note of optimism: what we are now witnessing is the so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” unchained. Those who are engaging in this re-shaping of the Church do not recognize that they are undoing the entire post-conciliar experiment by their own hands. It is not tenable. It will not last. It is a house built upon sand.
Some believe that the modernists have changed the Church. I would counter that they have instead built a false countenance on the edifice of the Church. They have added accretions, protuberances, and distortions. They have built a hideous facade to hide the breathtaking face of Christ’s glorious bride.
And yet, she remains. They may cover her over, but they cannot change her. Like the tower of Babel, they may attempt to reach the heavens — to be like gods — and like the tower of Babel their works will be stricken, their false, dark church will fall, and they will be scattered.
I do not know enough to tell you that it is the end of times, the beginning of a time leading to the end of times, or the interminable time before all these things, too, shall come to pass. I do know enough to tell you that the Church will stand through it all — battered, beaten, bloodied, and yes, quite likely reduced to a remnant before being restored in glory — but She. Will. Stand.
Take heart. Do not despair. Do not abandon her in her hour of need. Do not fear her dust-stained countenance, her torn garments, her sullied cloak, or her blackened shoes. Do not run from your mother as though she is a monster simply because she has been hidden behind a monstrous mask. Stand by her. Defend her. Die for her.
As the voice from heaven told us: “This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.”
How long, O Lord, wilt thou forget me unto the end? how long dost thou turn away thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsels in my soul, sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider, and hear me, O Lord my God. Enlighten my eyes that I never sleep in death:
Lest at any time my enemy say: I have prevailed against him. They that trouble me will rejoice when I am moved:
But I have trusted in thy mercy. My heart shall rejoice in thy salvation: I will sing to the Lord, who giveth me good things: yea I will sing to the name of the Lord the most high.
– Psalm 12 (DR; 13 RSV)