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The Only Way Out is Through

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I spent the past couple of hours cleaning out my email inbox. Not because I wanted to, but because it seemed easier than coming back here and trying to write whatever the thing is that I know I need to be writing but can’t quite put my finger on.  Lately, it’s been like that more and more often.

As I whittled my inbox ALL the way down from over 400 unread emails to just 8, I realized I had things in there I hadn’t responded to since 2015! And frankly, I was completely overwhelmed by it all. I’d say about 8 out of 10 emails I received are inquiries looking for a detailed response. Many are long enough to be articles in themselves. Often they come from people seeking advice, or from those who are looking to shine a light on a story important to their parish or community and that they are worried will slip through the cracks unless someone gives it some real attention. And I feel for them. So it was incredibly difficult to force myself to admit I will never reply to them all. To YOU all. If you’ve sent me an email to which you never received a reply, I’m sorry. I truly am. But to be honest I feel, like Bilbo Baggins famously said, “like butter scraped over too much bread.”

I recently told someone that when I started 1P5, it was a calling. It became a labor of love. And now, it’s just…labor. More and more I find myself sitting in front of my screen, typing and deleting sentences until I finally throw up my hands. I am a professional. I don’t get writer’s block except when I have nothing to say. And the thing I keep coming back to is that I don’t know what to say that’s new. That’s helpful. That’s hopeful. The mess we’re in is deeper than anything I’ve seen in my 40 years on this planet. It’s worse than anything I’ve read about in history.

And nobody is coming to the rescue.

Rumors reach my ears at a steady pace. So many secrets. So many whispers I hear multiple times from different people, all of whom appear to be in a position to know, but everything is off the record, naturally.

These rumors indicated that there would be a formal correction in October. Then in November. Then…not at all.

They point to opposition to his leadership that is growing amongst not just those who oppose his agenda, but those who support it as well.

They say that certain high-ranking members of the Church believe that the pope is evil, or that he is an apostate, or any number of things. (All while his supporters continue to fawn over him and deny the principle of non-contradiction and tell anyone who will listen that whatever the present pope says or does magically abrogates what his predecessors taught, or even what Our Divine Lord taught. That the only magisterium is the magisterium of the now. That the pope is the master of truth, not its servant.)

But surely, if any of these rumors or reports were true, one of these bishops or cardinals alleged to be thinking these things would do something about it, right? I mean, when the house is on fire, isn’t there an obligation to shake people and shout at them if you have to and tell them to get out? Or should you just save yourself, for fear that if you do warn them they might just not take you seriously anymore? That your effectiveness would be reduced? Live to fight another day?

And I find myself asking, if that’s the rationale, effectiveness in what, exactly? Blending in with the scenery? I want to root for these guys. I want to defer to them like a good little Catholic soldier, like a member of the laity who has no grace of state and no authority to do anything within the hierarchical structure of the Church. But I’m not wearing the red of a cardinal — a red, which, by the way, is supposed to remind them of their duty to shed their blood for the faith — and it’s hard for me to feel as respectful as I should towards these men when they won’t even, as one commenter I saw put it, shed ink for the cause. If they believe the pope is promulgating heresy, they have a solemn duty  to act, even if they think they’ll get the St. John Fisher treatment.

Or are we all consequentialists now?

On the flip side, I hear from Catholics who think that at this point, any tact or prudence whatsoever is far too generous. Nothing less than scorched earth will do! I was having a conversation with someone yesterday about the recent podcast I recorded. The person was trying to understand why some of the commenters seemed upset about it. Why they were claiming it was too legalistic or not helpful.

I told him, “there’s this huge catastrophe in our midst. I mean Godzilla is in the city knocking down buildings. And all the leaders are sipping lattes and reading the morning paper.”

We want to believe this is a war. The truth is, if it were a war, both sides would be fully engaged. Instead, it’s mostly people treading lightly and speaking in code on one side, and on the other, they’re driving over us with Panzers and flying their flags in the public square. It’s entirely one-sided. And they gloat as they tell us they’ve already won, and that if we don’t toe the line, we’re nothing but dissenters. That we don’t really believe in papal primacy. That we don’t really respect the Church’s authority. That somehow, by clinging to the perennial faith against the advance of heresy and damnable error, we have become a rebellious enemy in the heart of the Church.

And so, while it’s important on some level to understand the technical distinctions on what significance there is when something is put into the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, or the weight of a post-synodal apostolic exhortation, on the other hand it feels like — going back to our earlier example — having a conversation about fire extinguisher mechanics while the building is burning down around you.

I get it, everyone.

I get it, Cardinals and Bishops. There aren’t many of you who care about how bad this has become, and in fact many of your brethren are complicit. I get that you feel as though the only way to be effective is not to become another Archbishop Lefebvre — marginalized because you stood your ground and wound up looking like a schismatic. You think your fight is most effective when you can stay close to the situation. When you have access to the Vatican and even the pope. When you can collaborate with your fellow bishops without being labeled disloyal; a dissenter.

But so what? Our Lord inspired St. Luke to tell you what would come. “I know that, after my departure, ravening wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. And of your own selves shall arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20)

St. Paul gave you example of what to do: “But when Cephas was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.” (Gal 2:11)

And Our Blessed Lord told you how you should react when they turned on you: “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men.” (Mt. 5:11-13)

I get it, frustrated and fed up laymen. You’re exhausted by the crisis of leadership. You’re fed up with feeling like the burden has been left on your shoulders, as though you couldn’t possibly understand the cross a prince of the Church has to carry. You’re tired of being talked to like you need to just trust that things will be taken care of when you see no evidence that it’s true. You’re worn out from the constant arguments about what’s magisterial and what isn’t, by the pretense that you can simply ignore something a pope is saying or doing because it’s better for your peace of mind or because it fails to rise to the technical level of heresy or because it does rise to the technical level of heresy but it’s only material and not formal. And you’re really not all that interested in hearing anyone tell you that you have to continue to be respectful and parse minutiae when you’re 99% sure the man we call pope isn’t fit to teach a kindergarten CCD class and cannot be followed into anything. You’re done being told that it’s up to you — the little guy — to fix it, but every time you step out of your pre-defined box someone pushes you back in, telling you that you’re not a pope, not even a cardinal or a bishop, so who do you think you are and remember your place and what business do you have making declarations and assertions like this? You’re sick of being told that God is in charge, and that He runs this Church, and any minute now He’s going to start chucking thunderbolts like Thor at all the bad guys running things, because in part you’re really not so sure that He’s going to do that, and in part you’re worried about how ugly it’s going to get if He does.

But you, too, were warned:

“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.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5).

And what about this one, which might sound familiar? “Be sober and watch: because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about seeking whom he may devour. Whom resist ye, strong in faith: knowing that the same affliction befalls your brethren who are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little, will himself perfect you, and confirm you, and establish you. To him be glory and empire for ever and ever. Amen.?” (1 Peter 5:8-11)

These are hard times, but hard times give rise to great men. Yes, confusion reigns, and yes, it grows worse by the day. Wherever you are, whatever your state in life in this crisis, if you are trying to stay close to Our Lord and His Church and their collective teachings, you are no doubt bone weary, dispirited, discouraged, and unnerved. You are almost certainly wondering just what God has up His eternal sleeve and just when, exactly, He’s going to show His divine hand.

Many of you have come to appreciate my honesty, so I’ll give it to you straight: I have no idea what to expect next. I couldn’t predict it if I tried. And I am running on fumes.

2016 was arguably the hardest year of my life  — that is, until 2017 arrived. Every day this year has felt like an uphill battle. Work has been a Sisyphean slog, and my family has suffered near constant assaults from the enemy, draining me of energy and the ability to focus or the will to move forward. My faith has come under attack, as has any desire to pray or grow in holiness. Everything feels like drudgery, and there is no greater temptation than to find someone to hand the torch to, or drop it and walk away. I would rather do practically anything than continue to document the willful destruction of the Catholic Church at the hands of the man whose job is to guard and protect it. And I feel almost like a liar when I present to you the beauties of our faith as though they, too, do not fall under the pall of this threat from the man in Rome.

And I am not alone. As I strike up conversations with others who are in our little faithful alliance, they tell me similar stories. Of the impenetrable malaise, the personal sufferings and illnesses and wounds and upheavals, the uncertainty and obstacles that keep tripping them up. As if this fight wasn’t hard enough, it’s as though every single person engaged in it is being handed weights to carry.

In moments like these, I am certain that your prayers are among the only things that get us through. There’s simply no way to overcome what is being thrown at us without a spiritual army at our backs.

And as for the Church herself? Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Christ promised us that the gates of hell would not prevail because it would appear that the Church would succumb before those gates, and He wanted us to remember that promise when things looked most grim.

I’m not proud to admit it, but there were times this year that I’ve thought about giving up. I’ve thought about just walking away from it all. But if we turn our eyes away from Him, there is nothing but darkness. Emptiness. Meaninglessness. There is no life worth living outside the confines of His will. His plan. Even if we cannot fathom it. Even if we think we cannot bear it. 

There is only one response for the man of faith, no matter how turbulent the sea or violent the tempest. No matter how bleak the future appears, no matter how hard the sayings we are forced to accept:

But Jesus, knowing in himself, that his disciples murmured at this, said to them: Doth this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth: the flesh profiteth nothing. The words that I have spoken to you, are spirit and life. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning, who they were that did not believe, and who he was, that would betray him. And he said: Therefore did I say to you, that no man can come to me, unless it be given him by my Father. After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. Then Jesus said to the twelve: Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered him: Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and have known, that thou art the Christ, the Son of God. (John 6:62-69)

To whom shall we go? Where else is there to turn? Is there another port in this storm? I have looked for another way out, and I cannot find one that leads anywhere but sorrow. It is dark, yes, but we walk by faith, and not by sight.

Through trial and torment, through weakness, weariness, and worry, the only way out is through.

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