Things are out of whack.
Seems as though everywhere you look, there are changes in the works. At times, these are as subtle as the erosion of rock beneath an ebbing tide; at others, as violent as an earthquake or a volcano. Things long held to be constant are no longer considered so. Surprises lurk at the dawn of every day, and around every corner. So much is happening so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. In fact, I’m beginning to think it’s not even a good idea. The picture that is emerging is one of staggering complexity. There are forces both natural and preternatural at work in the world, and they’re not just tinkering. The whole place is being remade before our eyes.
It’s easy to spend your days chasing shadows. Shining the light in every dark corner, trying to tease out truth from the tangled web of falsehoods laid like traps at every turn.
People are afraid. They are afraid of the turmoil they are experiencing in their lives, personally, professionally, spiritually. On the micro-level, things seem tumultuous and uncertain. In the aggregate, the transition that mankind is experiencing is tectonic in nature.
We will never be the same.
What we have known before will never be again.
I have written about little else lately than the evils I see at work in the world. It’s draining. I feel as though I’m trying to tackle an octopus by grabbing the ends of its tentacles, one at a time. Every time one issue is addressed, half a dozen others assert themselves. Around and around we go. It’s a Sisyphean task. And I wonder about the futility of it.
I’ve been trying for months to get people to open their eyes to the image of what is to come. What I have encountered are those who either say, “You have expressed what I, too, have been experiencing” or those who say, “You’re out of your mind. Things aren’t perfect, but they’re no worse than they ever were. You’re just stirring up trouble and hurting people’s faith.” So while many have told me they feel consoled by seeing their own thoughts echoed, none have said that they have come to be persuaded by what I have presented. The conclusion I am forced to reach is that you either see it or you don’t. If you do see it, you lack the capacity to unsee it, despite the discomfort it may cause you. If you don’t see it, no amount of evidence is going to remove the scales from your eyes.
Which makes me wonder: is there a point to what I’m doing?
The truth of much that is happening is obvious, even if the end game is not yet clear. The actors are on the stage, and by this point in the play you have either a good sense of who is a villain and who is not, or you are a fool. It appears that a large swath of the Catholic media, like their secular counterparts, have chosen sycophancy, safety, and the approbation of donors or powerful constituencies over truth-seeking. Some are burying their heads because they can’t face the music. Others have their own agendas, not least among them is holding on to the idea that “orthodox Catholicism” is synonymous with novusordoism and baseless papolatry.
Some are just nasty, miserable, pitiable human beings who attack anything outside their pre-determined worldview.
Since the existing gatekeepers are making a ferocious effort to maintain the status quo, not ask the difficult questions, and ultimately make themselves irrelevant, it seems clear that we need new ones. But who, and how? And to what end? To shout into the storm? To convince those who won’t be convinced?
And how can we transcend identifying the problem and work toward building something? The work of pointing out dangerous errors and hazardous trajectories is perhaps vital, but essentially negative. It takes away from energy that can and should be spent building something. We are not engaged in a positive endeavor when we are always playing defense.
We need a new strategy. And maybe it’s not a community-based thing. Maybe this isn’t something we can all do together. Maybe we are due for another wave of interior reform.
In a recent article for Crisis Magazine, my old professor, Dr. Regis Martin, wrote about this very thing as he recalled the life of Saint Benedict:
Sent to Rome as a student, Benedict experienced first hand the trauma of its loss and, recoiling from its depravities, fled into the wilderness to pursue an undistracted life of union with God.
And there amid the prayer and the fasting and all that attend the struggle to obtain self-mastery, young Benedict made an important discovery, one which would enable him to become a great light upon an age whose descent into darkness could not to be dispelled in any other way. He saw that by his very exertions to overcome himself, to draw nearer to God, to respond to those promptings of grace that Christ had come to dispense, the world that he’d fled was itself becoming a better and more wholesome place. In other words, by turning his back on the world in order to turn his face to God, Benedict had become, quite unwittingly, an instrument of the world’s regeneration.
As if the world could only be saved by those who turn their backs upon it.
What if this is the solution, not just to the situation in the world, but the crisis in the Church? What if ignoring Pope Francis and his cabal of heterodox prelates and their machinations to undermine Catholic life and thought is precisely the remedy for that very thing? I’ve always argued that the problem with being a discontented traditionalist is that Catholics believe in a hierarchy of authority. Grassroots movements don’t fit our understanding of the structure of the Church. We don’t agitate for change like the nuns on the bus, or Voice of the Faithful, or Call to Action, or Cardinals Kasper and Maradiaga. In fact, we’d prefer a whole lot less of it.
But holiness is transformative, if elusive. Holiness is not a demand for change, it is a change that creates demand. Have you ever encountered a truly holy person? You want to be in their presence. You want to hear them speak. But most importantly, you want to be like them. Rather than sparring with words and battling over doctrine, the saint converts by example. And if a saint cares deeply about doctrine, so will those they inspire.
I don’t know that this is the answer, but I know that it’s an important piece of the puzzle. I worry where it would leave those who don’t know better if everyone contented themselves with getting their own houses in order and leaving all else aside. But a world mired in darkness needs saints, and saints are made in the trenches of spiritual warfare and mastery of self, not in the ideological battles that consume the denizens of the Internet.
Probably, there’s more that needs doing. Maybe we need new Catholic media. Maybe we need more voices crying out in the wilderness. Maybe we need as many Catholics as possible shining light into the dark places.
Maybe we need all of the above. I wish I knew. What I do know is that the present circumstances need to change. How we go about that remains to be determined.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He 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. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.