Obergefell v. Hodges: A Moment of Grace

At the end of a short posting on our site, “Rod Dreher on Obergefell and Living as Exiles,” I said about that horrible SCOTUS ruling: “this is a moment of grace for us.” The promise was made to develop that thought, which I now set out to do.

Some background is in order. By and large, American Catholicism has a long history of cowardice and complicity in the face of the dominant, non-Catholic culture around us. It is a tradition going all the way back to our first Bishop, John Carroll. (Yes, there are notable exceptions, many of which are showcased on this site. We call them “Real American Apostles.”) As long as public morals in our democratic republic were more generally on the side of the natural law and vague “Judeo-Christian values,” this cowardice and complicity did not look as obviously terrible as it in fact was. Now that the never-ending Protestant Revolt and its related cultural revolutions have brought us Bruce “Call-Me-Caitlyn” Jenner, gender-neutral “marriage,” and the constant discovery of previously unheard of “fundamental human rights,” this cowardice and complicity looks really bad.

While the name of this sickly Catholicism is legion, one of its faces is seen in the obsequious way Catholic prelates deal with evil politicians, and in the invertebrate reaction of some of them to Obergefell. But it goes back to a sort of Norman Rockwell approach to religion that’s part of the national air we breathe: the indifferentist Catholicism of the “Good Old Days” before Vatican II.

So how is this horrible thing a moment of grace?

Before I get to my affirmations that will answer that question, let me first get a big negation out of the way. I am not saying that this is a “blessing.” Clearly, it has more the quality of a curse, of a punishment upon a sinful nation. This ruling holds out grizzly prospects for our Catholic youth. Let us be sober and appropriately alarmed by it. What I said was that it is a “moment of grace.” And it is, for curses and punishments can be momentous occasions of grace. Throughout salvation history, they always have been. 1

And so has persecution. It is a given that the social revolutionaries promoting aberosexualism will now push their agenda even harder now that they have this judicial monstrosity to wield as a weapon. Persecution, even if only a soft sort of it, is around the corner. As C.J. Doyle told us, “Justice Thomas, in his dissent, wrote that the ruling ‘has potentially ruinous consequences for religious liberty.’” They will go at social conservatives, including real Catholics, with hammer and tongs. They will tell us that “it’s now the law of the land,” and will march as far as they can though every institution that resists.

Of course, civil disobedience will be called for. Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana, has already said of Catholics in public office, “In some cases, civil disobedience may be a proper response.” More importantly, ever more obedience to God’s Will is called for, which brings us to the main point, which will draw an analogy from the interior life of the individual and apply it to the life of the Church in the United States.

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., explains in his massive two-volume work on the spiritual life, that, to pass into the “unitive way of the perfect,” the very harrowing “passive purifications” need to take place. These include the purification of the three theological virtues themselves. This purification, which is a terrible experience for the saints who undergo them, strips the virtues of all secondary motives and human consolations. The result of this painful process is that the virtues of faith, hope, and charity are more firmly rooted, more lively, and more meritorious.

In the interests of brevity, I will cite only what he says of faith, but hope and charity undergo similar purifications:

Likewise, the motive for our belief in these mysteries [of the faith] is undoubtedly the fact that God has revealed them, but we dwell excessively on several secondary motives which aid us: first, these mysteries are the rather generally accepted belief of our family and our country; next, we see a certain harmony between supernatural dogmas and the natural truths accessible to reason; lastly, we have some slight experience of God’s action in our souls, and this helps us to believe.

But let us suppose that God were suddenly to take away from us all these secondary motives which facilitate the act of faith and on which we perhaps dwell too much. Let us suppose that in spiritual aridity prolonged for months and years, we no longer experience in ourselves the consoling action of God and no longer see the harmony between supernatural mysteries and natural truths; then the act of faith will become difficult for us. This is true especially if the purifying divine light illumines in these mysteries what is loftiest and apparently least conformable to reason: for example, infinite justice on the one hand, and the gratuity of predestination on the other. Besides, in this trial the devil seeks to make our judgment deviate, to show us that there is severity in inexorable divine justice, as if the damned sought pardon without being able to obtain it, whereas in reality they never ask pardon. The enemy seeks also to make us interpret the judgments of the divine good pleasure as arbitrary, despotic, and capricious, adding that an infinitely good and omnipotent God could not permit all the evil that happens in the world; the evil spirit increases this evil in order to draw an additional objection from it. He sounds a false note to trouble the superior harmony of the mysteries of faith. At times he wishes to persuade the soul that there is nothing after death, and he puts forth every effort to give this negation the appearance of an icy evidence which imposes itself absolutely.

The question may then be put under the form of a temptation against faith: Does the supernatural world exist? The soul finds itself between two opposing influences: that of the purifying divine light which casts the intellect into the unsuspected depths of mysteries, as if one were thrown into the sea before knowing how to swim; and on the other hand, the influence of the devil, who tries to cause the effect of the divine light to deviate.

In order to believe, there is left only this sole motive: God has revealed it; every secondary motive has momentarily disappeared.

Weigh those words, Dear Reader. They speak of the purgative process by which our souls are cleansed and sanctified. Some may be scandalized to learn that Saint Therese was tested against the virtue of faith. But in light of what spiritual theology teaches in these matters, there is no reason to take scandal. Such a test is part of the narrow road leading to life. And remember, what is said here of faith happens also to hope and charity. The process is not pleasant.

What Père Reginald says concerns those advanced in the spiritual life. I make no claim that this applies to the Church in America! But other purgative acts of God befall those hardened in sin, as well as beginners in the life of grace. As Saint Paul so delicately put it, “But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:8; the context is doubly germane here).

American freedom is not enough. Democratic tolerance of our religion is insufficient. The faith, hope, and charity of the Catholic Church in America will be put to the test. Only then will they become what they ought to be. We may not content ourselves with practicing our faith because it is permitted by society. We must no longer rely on the love of this world, or the protection of laws, or the civility of our countrymen. We need to do what is right, because it is God’s will — period: a point we seem to have missed as of late.

When the nanny state turns on us, it will be payback time for the sloth of American Catholics. We have failed to convert the nation, and failed (on the whole; there are exceptions) even to challenge our countrymen with the faith. From the beginning, we have sucked from the breast of American prosperity (now quickly vanishing), and basked in the liberties of our nation — but for what? Has it been to achieve our fundamental purpose in life: sanctity, God’s glory, and the salvation of souls? Or have we been merely content to have “equal rights” for truth and error? We will get hung on that petard, for, when we oppose “equal rights” for all manner of unnatural perversion, blasphemy, and sacrilege, the formerly tolerant system will turn on us because we are now against “equality.”

Some will accuse us of being too “negative.” They will say we are dwelling on evil and not on God’s goodness and mercy. True, the Religion is fundamentally an affirmation, not a denial. Denial comes in the face of sin and error, and it can only be proper if it is based on what we affirm, namely truth and virtue. But, if we do not oppose sin and evil, then we are weak or defective in our affirmations — i.e., in the actual content and practice of our divinely revealed Religion.

To those who would sissify us in our resistance, we say, with Holy Job, “The life of man upon earth is a warfare,” (Job 7:1); with Saint Jude: “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3); and with the gentle Good Shepherd, “No, I say to you: but unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

And to those in whom bitter zeal (Jas. 3:14) might be inclined to turn Catholics militancy into something rancorous, proud, or self-serving, we need to recall that sanctity is evinced by the living of seemingly contrary virtues, as Père Reginald says many times. The saint is zealous and meek, prudent and bold, fearless in the defense of God’s glory and humble concerning his own, and so on. ‘Tis not easy. But it is God’s will.

Sursum corda! Obergefell, my brothers and sisters, calls us to become saints.

Consider these words of Christ’s first Vicar as addressed to us Catholics in America today: “You shall greatly rejoice, if now you must be for a little time made sorrowful in divers temptations: That the trial of your faith (much more precious than gold which is tried by the fire) may be found unto praise and glory and honour at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (I Pet. 1:6-7).

  1. Such punishments are called “medicinal,” and Saint Thomas speaks of them here, here, and here. Excommunication, for instance, is “a medicinal rather than a vindictive penalty, being intended, not so much to punish the culprit, as to correct him and bring him back to the path of righteousness.”