Last September, in the leadup to the second synod, I found myself overwhelmed. The deluge of bad news washed over me like waves in a tempest, and the feeling of defeat that came with it was, at times, crushing. The game was rigged, the deck was stacked, the fix was in, and everyone knew it — even those who coyly pretended otherwise. I could feel the rising tide of panic and despair in the questions and comments of readers and friends.
Why was this happening? What was God going to do about it? Surely, He would put a stop to it before things got any further out of hand!
But the storm raged on, the Synod proved itself a masterwork of manipulation and deceit, and the baton was handed to the Holy Father to make his decision; to tell the world what the Church had concluded based on this two year process of tearing up marriage and family by its deep and long-planted roots to examine it in light of “new situations.”
That day in September, I sat down and I prayed. I asked God to give me the words that people needed to hear. And then I wrote this.
Today, I find myself in the same mental place. Today, again, I sat down to pray, asking God to give me His words.
Six months have passed since the Synod, and we now are being battered about in the wake of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, this incredible departure from the sacred duty of the Church to protect and preserve Our Lord’s teaching on marriage — or even on the nature of sin. Ten straight days of talking about the exhortation, and I find the topic at the same time exhausting and impossible to walk away from. Its import in the history of the Church cannot be overstated; its murky depths are, as yet, far from sounded. The delicate but fatal toxins concealed therein are even now beginning to hatch out in a thousand dioceses, tens of thousands of parishes and confessionals, and millions of homes around the world. It will take time before they have their full effect, just as, in 1967, the anticipatory effort to undermine the very teaching that would later be expounded in Humanae Vitae led inexorably to the vast majority of Catholics engaging in the deadly sin of contraception. And yes, they did so regardless of a doctrine the Church made clear was still “unchanged.”
So I am re-writing what I said in September. I am taking out all of my observations that were specific to that situation and putting in new ones that apply to this one. The rest, I believe, came from Our Lord, and those are the parts that will stay. They are as relevant now as they were then, and will be in a thousand years, if God so ordains the continuation of the world to such a time.
St. Hildegard von Bingen had a vision, cited by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his Christmas address to the Roman Curia, December, 2010:
In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, 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)”
In this moment in Church History, a scene from the Gospels comes to mind, the deeper meaning of which many of us are now experiencing in a new and personal way:
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that the ship was filled. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awake him, and say to him: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish? And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? (Mark 4:37-40)
It seems now as we watch the Barque of Peter battered on the waves of heresy and scandal that Christ sleeps through the tempest that surrounds us. Even so, we must remember that His power is not latent and His awareness has not turned away from us. His love for His bride is deeper than any man’s for his own beloved, and He will save her in her deep distress.
In his encyclical on the Kingship of Christ, Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI reminds the faithful:
Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy. We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that men’s faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before.
Take heart when you see the attacks of those who hold false doctrines, for the glory of Holy Mother Church will once more shine, the splendor of the Mystical Bride, who “lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood.”
She will prevail, her robes mended, her shoes polished, her face cleansed, her radiance restored. Christ sleeps, but soon, He will arise. Why are we fearful? Have we not faith yet?
If the answer to that question is, “Yes!”, the next question is: what do we do now? The forces of darkness have won this battle, but they will never win the war. Still, we stand scattered amidst the debris, the minds of many otherwise good people have been deceived, seduced into a defense of the indefensible. Christ warned us of this very thing:
“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.” (Matthew 24:24)
As did St. Paul:
Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine; but, according to their own desires, they will heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears: And will indeed turn away their hearing from the truth, but will be turned unto fables. But be thou vigilant, labour in all things, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry. Be sober. (Timothy 4:3)
So what can we do? I recommend three things — broad categories within which we have many fruitful options:
The first thing we must do is pray. We must especially pray the Rosary, that fearsome weapon of Our Lady, who even now leads legions of angels in combat against the forces of darkness in the Church and the world. Pray daily for the Church and her shepherds — both that the good will find the courage to fight and prevail, and that the bad will be converted or defeated.
We must pray also for ourselves, that we will not fail in virtue or in faith, or fall into despair.
And we should beseech God that He reform and restore His Church, and that the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary — a promised victory — will be realized soon. A prayer of special value in this time of spiritual combat is the August Queen prayer, said to have been given by Our Lady herself to a priest in need of aid:
On January 13, 1864, a soul (Father Louis Cestac, who died in 1868) accustomed to the favors of the most Holy Virgin, was suddenly struck as if with a ray of divine clarity. He believed to have seen demons spread out over the earth, causing unbelievable ravage. At the same time, he had an elevation towards the Holy Virgin. This good mother would have told him that as a matter of fact, the time had come to pray to the Queen of the angels, and to ask Her to send the holy legions to combat and overthrow the powers of hell.
“My Mother,” said this soul, “you who are so good, could You not send them without our having to ask?”
“No,” replied the Holy Virgin. “Prayer is a condition set by God Himself in order to obtain graces.”
“Well then! my mother,” replied the soul, “would you teach me Yourself how we must pray to You?” And he received from the most Holy Virgin the prayer: “August Queen”:
August Queen of the Heavens, heavenly sovereign of the Angels, Thou who from the beginning received from God the power and the mission to crush the head of Satan, we humbly beseech Thee to send Your holy Legions, so that under Thy command and through Thy power, they may pursue the demons and combat them everywhere, suppress their boldness, and drive them back into the abyss. Who is like God? O good and tender Mother, Thou will always be our love and hope! O Divine Mother, send Thy Holy Angels to defend me and to drive far away from me the cruel enemy. Holy Angels and Archangels, defend us, guard us. Amen.
This prayer is said at the conclusion of each day’s devotions in the Auxilium Christianorum, which I urge you to prayerfully consider joining at this critical time.
The second thing we must do is penance. This one is the hardest for me. I enjoy the creature comforts of this life more than I should. I have a low tolerance for suffering. But the time has come to embrace the cross more tightly, to offer acts of mortification, even small ones, in reparation, and to strengthen ourselves against the temptations and trials that will come. This past Lent, by God’s grace, I at last overcame my lifelong resistance to fasting, and while I’m far from an ascetic master, I did begin to discover the spiritual power that it holds. But we have many other opportunities: the irritations, aches and pains, small humiliations and insults, financial burdens, and other daily trials we all experience. We should make it a point to never let a moment of suffering go to waste! It occurs to me that if I could just channel my impulse to complain into a spontaneous offering of sacrifice, what a world of difference it would make.
The third thing we must do is to immerse ourselves in the truth and beauty of our faith. In 2014, Bishop Athanasius Schneider anticipated the very chaos we are seeing today, and he offered us the comfort of Our Mother, the Church:
Nevertheless we have all the beauty of the divine truths, of divine love and grace in the Church. No one can take this away, no synod, no bishop, not even a Pope can take away the treasure and beauty of the Catholic faith, of the Eucharistic Jesus, of the sacraments. The unchangeable doctrine, the unchangeable liturgical principles, the holiness of the life constitute the true power of the Church.
To this end I would suggest that the most important thing you can do is to make worthy, reverent liturgy your highest priority. Do not let laziness give you cause to go to the cringeworthy Mass that’s ten minutes away. Let your love of Our Eucharistic Lord — He who will now be defiled by countless new sacrileges committed by unworthy communicants — move you to give Him your very best. The story of Cain and Abel shows us, quite clearly, that God is not indifferent to the quality of our worship:
And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings. But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it. (Genesis 4:3-7)
Now is the time, if there ever was one, to ensure that you have access to the best Mass available. One that offers you respite and refuge, and moves your mind and heart to contemplation of the full majesty of the August Sacrifice of Our Lord. I will make the controversial assertion that you should avoid the Novus Ordo if at all possible, for it finds its origin in the same poisoned theology that gave us the Synod and the exhortation. Find a Traditional Latin Mass, or, if you are so inclined, one of the Church’s many beautiful Eastern Rites, which make use of some variation of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. When once we find our our place in supplication before the Lord, our hearts and minds will follow. A reader recently said to me, “It’s only attending the Latin Mass that has allowed the scales [about what is happening in the Church] to fall off my eyes.”
I am not exaggerating when I suggest to you that if you don’t have one of these options near you, and your faith (and the faith of your spouse and/or children) is at all important to you, you should do all that is within your power to move to an area that has one.
“Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Given a choice, you would not live in an area that does not meet your material needs for food, shelter, and work, so why would you live where your spiritual needs are left unmet? If it is a sacrifice to move, don’t be afraid. God will bless and reward your fidelity to Him.
You should also stock your home library with Catholic fare. Read the scriptures, as well as the great saints and theologians. Study Church history. Examine the works which have done the most to expose the triumph of Modernism at the time of the Second Vatican Council and what followed — for it is that revolution which is even now attaining its loftiest goals. Deepen your understanding of the liturgical revolt and all that it has wrought, and how it left us defenseless against this assault. Teach your children the real value of Mass and the sacraments — and be sure to find them sacraments (especially baptism!) in the traditional form. When instructing them, use texts like My Catholic Faith and Treasure and Tradition and The Baltimore Catechism. Find and observe those traditional devotions to which you are drawn, especially to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Fill your home with beautiful religious imagery and statues. Have sacramentals on hand like exorcised holy water and exorcised Benedictine crucifixes and blessed candles, oil, and salt. Enthrone your home to the Sacred Heart and have it blessed and exorcised regularly.
In all of this, the goal is to transform ourselves, because the only true Catholic revolution is the revolt against self, against sin, and in favor of interior reform.
To put all of this advice into a single phrase: Become the kind of Catholic you want the world to be full of.
Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence,) with fear and trembling work out your salvation. For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to his good will. And do ye all things without murmurings and hesitations; That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:12-15)
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.