Considering the pervasive societal darkness and rapid collapse of moral law around us, the laity are faced with a deep need of ‘finding refuge.’ Whether or not we are aware of pondering it, interiorly, a question is there.
How was the flame of faith fostered in the Dark Ages other than intentional areas of refuge committed to the preservation of Christianity?
I don’t have to regurgitate the concept of ‘The Benedict Option’ to readers here, whom I presume are familiar with the historical significance of the Benedictines protecting the faith for the future of the Church. It is important to note two key lessons that should be at the forefront of our discernment when praying about a potential migration for your family. That is prudence and providence or, put another way, obedience and abandonment.
The largest obstacle with migrating is ourselves. No one enjoys moving, or uprooting and leaving behind what is familiar. I often pondered when was it ‘the time’ for the Von Trapps to pack up and hike over some mountains, while Maria was pregnant and burdened by 19 kidney stones? I think of our relatives who left Europe during World War II, some of them with nothing, knowing nobody, settling on the opposite continent! Yet here we sit wringing our hands over whether or not we should move a few states away to a land of lesser taxes and more freedom to be a Catholic. To our generation which has enjoyed probably the most comfortable existence in decades, this issue of migration seems like a confusing mountain of discernment and an unfamiliar concept to even consider.
On the one hand: I love my home, I love where I live, my sisters are nearby, my parents next door, my doctor is amazing, our music teacher is brilliant and most importantly, I have access to a Catholic parish that does not have liturgical dancers. Yet I live in a deeply blue state, with even bluer neighbors, and vaccine mandates that seem to change daily or depending on the business and seep into our diocesan structure. Should we be farsighted? Or patient? When does it cross the line from patience to lax hesitancy?
Last week in desperation and exasperation, I asked Dr. Alice Von Hildebrand for some clear cut advice. “When did you know it was time to leave Belgium? How are we supposed to know if we stay or go?”
Her simple reply: “Bend your knees in constant prayer and you will know.”
It wasn’t exactly the billboard of direction I was hoping for, but it was again an echo of what I already knew but couldn’t appreciate: obedience and abandonment.
The more I ‘bent my knees’ and kept going to the Scriptures over these weeks, the more the Lord slowly began to reveal to my heart some pertinent truths regarding migration:
- As Catholics, we are pilgrims. Our homes, our salaries, our beautiful vegetable garden, our assets, our stocked pantry – nothing is our own, all is God’s and all is a gift. We must remain detached from all these things, even the home we love. We may become too attached to even good things. Like great doctors and brilliant music teachers and our comfort zones.
- Secondly, it is the Biblical path to be a migratory people. Perhaps this is to keep us dependent on an all-powerful God. But look at the story of Abraham, Moses, Joseph & the 12 tribes of Israel – even Joseph and Mary. I often ponder how aggravating it must have been for Joseph the minute he established his remote office, got some steady clientele, here comes another angel in a dream telling him to pack up and move it again. Obedience and abandonment. And if Joseph let outside opinion deter his commitment to God’s will, would Jesus have been spared by Herod’s killing spree? “What do you mean you’re moving again? She just had a baby! How do you know that dream was from the Lord? You have nothing in Egypt! What are you going to do for a living?” Relatives wringing hands, throwing them up in the air “OY VEY!” This brings me to the third point:
- Discern privately, with the help of a good spiritual director, and be wary of outside opinion. While it is important to be prudent, we must be careful not to allow personal opinions to scrape away at our commitment to being submissive to God’s will. Remember even Peter tried to deter Our Lord from His obedience and received a pretty stern chastising for that. Remain steadfast for no matter what you do in life, someone will always be offended or have a better idea of how you should do things. Mother Teresa’s prayer ‘In the end, in the final analysis, it is between you and God’ means perspective, as much as prudence is integral to discerning something as huge as migration.
God’s will exists in peace, not chaos. Turmoil and confusion are not a good barometer of the path to travel. It takes courage to follow that call, as we see through the Gospels, Jesus is constantly calling people out of their familiar situations and comfort zones and asking them repeatedly to leave it all behind, take nothing for the journey, and follow Him. Take Peter – he’s a fisherman, not a religious disciple. Yet Jesus enters in and asks him to trust Him, to let it all go, to switch gears completely against all reason which says ‘you have a place, you have a home, a job, a family.’ Despite everything, Peter obeys and abandons and finds more than he could have ever imagined was possible. Obedience to God’s will is the highest form of love!
Yes, this is crazy talk. It is radical. Really radical. The Great Catholic Migration that calls today is a radical choice, yet so many around us are feeling the call. It seems we are at a pivotal point in history to set the stage for something huge. It seems obvious since another pivotal point in history around 33 AD, a lot of people were called to make a lot of radical changes to set the stage for the Christianization of the world. Something is certainly on the horizon. At times we don’t know whether to pull the parachute cord or pack a lunch but the sense of anticipation is there. We must allow ourselves to be the chess pieces moved strategically on the board for the imminent triumph that approaches.
The simplest strategy for determining what lies ahead is exercising the spiritual muscles of obedience and abandonment. If we continually practice obeying the promptings and pulls of the daily duty of the moment, then when the path shifts we can readily respond. As Fr. Jean de Caussade points out in The Sacrament of the Present Moment: “Respond to divine operations meekly and obediently, remembering only to do your duty. Follow your path without a map, not knowing the way, and all will be revealed to you.”
Sometimes you will be asked to make a decision and let God confirm it, which is certainly the more harrowing, Abrahamic path. Trekking up that mountain for the sacrifice with no clue if a ram will appear in the thicket. It allows for more clear-cut discernment: the Lord will either throw obstacles in your path or allow to you carry on. Other times we will be asked to bloom where we are planted, like the Jews during the Babylonian exiles to whom Jeremiah spoke on the Lord’s behalf telling them to stay put, have families, live in the pagan wasteland, and be a light to them.
We all have a different calling and no call looks the same. Some are called to mission work and others to stay put. Some are asked to be pioneers and trailblazers and others have to watch the hearth and tend the flock. All of us are called to the pilgrim life by training our hearts in immediate obedience to the Lord’s will and abandonment to his promptings. Then and only then will we grow in detachment to things of this life, attach ourselves solely to Him Who is our refuge, and await our marching orders with hands open in receptivity.
Annemarie is a wife and homeschooling mother of five. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville and Mother of Divine Grace Homestudy. She is author of the Curious Little Catholic book series.