There is a joke I have been telling people in the last few weeks. Not a joke, really, more of a jocular quip. I mentioned to a few friends and correspondents that I have to find out who the patron saint of jugglers is because I have so many duties to juggle that I need some help from above in keeping all those balls in the air without dropping any. To use a rather conventional figure of speech, I wear many hats: superior of my community, high-school teacher, administrator, writer, and weekly talk-show host. If I neglected to list any, well, maybe I dropped a ball.
One’s examination of conscience can be harrowing when keeping in mind that attending to our “duties of state” is inextricably bound to our salvation.
Given certain things in our own case that are intensifying — which I am not at liberty to discuss — my administrative duties have considerably eclipsed my writing duties of late, which explains why it is that you have not lately heard from me in this space with my accustomed fortnightly precision. Hopefully, my new friend, Saint Julian the Hospitaller, can help me, along with my old friend, Saint John Bosco — these two saints being invoked as patrons for jugglers.
It is not lost on us that as things with our community are intensifying, so too is the crisis in the Church — witness, among many other things, the absurd push for banning the traditional liturgy, right on the heels of the strange moratorium on private Masses (and nearly all traditional Latin Masses) in Saint Peter’s Basilica. If we can be persecuted for doggedly clinging to the Church’s defined dogma which states in plain Latin that extra ecclesiam nulla salus, then all tradition — doctrinal, liturgical, and moral — is similarly subject to attack. It should go without saying that when the “salt of the earth” that is the Church Militant is in such a state, civil society must perforce go mad. (Note the order of the causality at work here: It is the Church that is meant to contain the forces of hell; when she is institutionally afflicted as she is at this moment in history, then we must expect the world to become more hellish.)
Hence, the grandiloquent title atop this Ad Rem.
In considering some general principles applicable to remedying our present ills, let me begin with one that should be obvious, but, as with so many obvious things, is too often forgotten: Nobody can prevent you from being as Catholic as you want to be. Nobody, that is, but you. The corollary to that is nobody can keep you from becoming a saint — again, except you. (Well, God could, but that is not His interest.) Please recall these principles from time to time. They are also important to bear in mind in considering what follows.
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While preparing myself for a recent Reconquest episode with Sister Maria Philomena on joining a Catholic culture to permaculture, I learned about the principle which states that where there is unused waste in an agricultural system, it becomes pollution; and pollution is destructive of your system. But where a species can be brought into the system that somehow benefits from that waste, then erstwhile pollution is transformed into abundance (see here and here). Death becomes life. A Christian trope for sure.
A prayer from the Anaphora of Saint Sixtus in the Maronite Divine Liturgy beautifully asks God for that very transformation to happen in our lives: “O Lord, hasten to transform all that is harmful and detrimental into that which will help and benefit us, that we may raise glory to You, now and forever.” Much more profound than the trite secular proverb, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” but it is the same seminal idea augmented and elevated to the supernatural.
What plants — and even other animals — do with animal waste products on a well-run farm is amazing. Truly, nothing is wasted: an indication of the order and providence of God, who built these amazing symbioses into nature.
Whether or not you appreciate agricultural talk, recall that our first parents were given custody of a garden which they were charged “to dress … and to keep,” and after they failed to obey Him, God deigned to become Man to redeem and save our fallen race, commencing His Passion in a garden after concluding three years of public and private teaching filled with agricultural parables and metaphors.
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A young man who was discussing a certain moral issue with me once made the remark, “I hope I have enough virtue to do what I need to do here.” In response, I pointed out that, by doing what he needed to do in the situation we were discussing, he would acquire virtue. Virtue is not something we develop in a sterile laboratory environment away from real-life situations — only to apply them, once we have worked out all the kinks, to the real world and the people who inhabit it. While we might conceive of mental prayer as the closest thing to such a secluded “laboratory” in which to cultivate virtue, actual virtue — acquired, tried, and tested — comes from the laboratory of real life, which necessarily includes our crosses, headaches, and difficulties with other people. It is often messy business, but — as with the manure that becomes life-giving fertilizer — that mess can be productive for us if we turn occasions for sin and death into occasions for grace and abundant life.
Naturally, being Catholics and not Pelagians, we want to avoid making the Christian life sound like a matter of “horizontal causality” or a bottom-to-top affair. Without God’s actual grace, His divinely infused sanctifying grace, the infused theological virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, we are all hell-bound. Of these, only the moral virtues (including the cardinal virtues) can be strictly “acquired” (see The Mystery of the Moral Virtues), but once sanctifying grace and the theological virtues are infused, our free-willed and grace-aided exercise thereof augments them, for they do admit of increase. Let us not forget that; nor let us forget that virtue perfects the man, while the gifts of the Holy Ghost perfect the virtues.
Inasmuch as the Christian life is a partnership wherein God’s role is primary while our role is also indispensable, all those agricultural figures of speech sure do come in handy. Farmers realize how dependent they are on nature and the God of nature. What farmer really thinks that soil, seeds, rain, air, and sunlight (to name but a few essential items on a farm) are his own creations? Hence, such salutary Christian customs as the Rogation Days (cf. also this sermon).
We denatured, hyper-industrialized moderns too often miss these lessons.
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Those who appear to have the upper hand at present — the Modernists, Liberals, Americanists, etc. — will only win if we let them win. How do we do that? By the loss in our own souls of sanctifying grace; by the loss of faith, hope, charity, and the moral virtues we are called to practice. It is pretty simple, really. In the end, the enemy will lose because our side wins. The real question is “will we win?” — that is, will we remain on the winning side? “But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13).
From my perspective, chief among the Enemy’s weapons are fear and the lack of peace that comes from the constant spiritual agitation that is such an ever-present byproduct of modernity. Consequently, there is a pressing need to cultivate the virtue of fortitude and put it at the service of Faith.
In real time, these lines were written around Good Shepherd Sunday, the second Sunday after Easter. Aside from the fact that the discourse of Our Lord in the pericope from Saint John’s Gospel (10: 11-16) presents us with one of Our Lord’s many agrarian figures, it is very germane to our subject because so many of our present ecclesial ills come from clerical hirelings of the sort Our Lord rebukes.
Context in the Gospels is often revealing. Our Lord preached His beautiful discourse on the Good Shepherd immediately after the healing of the man born blind, which Saint John related in the previous chapter — where Pharisaical hirelings made a real nuisance of themselves, zealously straining out gnats and swallowing camels as was their wont, and throwing in persecution of the innocent to add injury to insult. Jesus was contrasting Himself and the shepherds who imitate Him with those blind guides who leave off the weightier things of the law, like justice, and mercy, and faith.
Many of our modern ecclesial malefactors are worse than hirelings; they are wolves. That such can happen in the true Church of Christ is attested by no less a man of the Church than Dom Prosper Guéranger himself, who wrote some practical and salutary words on the subject:
When the shepherd becomes a wolf, the first duty of the flock is to defend itself. It is usual and regular, no doubt, for doctrine to descend from the bishops to the faithful, and those who are subject in the faith are not to judge their superiors. But in the treasure of revelation there are essential doctrines which all Christians, by the very fact of their title as such, are bound to know and defend. The principle is the same whether it be a question of belief or conduct, dogma or morals. Treachery like that of Nestorius is rare in the Church, but it may happen that some pastors keep silence for one reason or another in circumstances when religion itself is at stake. The true children of Holy Church at such times are those who walk by the light of their baptism, not the cowardly souls who, under the specious pretext of submission to the powers that be, delay their opposition to the enemy in the hope of receiving instructions which are neither necessary nor desirable.
There is much in the pious abbot’s words for prayerful meditation and practical action.