I am the Immaculate Conception

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Yesterday I was privileged to attend Mass for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Of all the things which people ignorant of history say about the Catholic Church say, the thing I understand the least is the allegation that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. No, we worship God, we don;t worship human beings. Quite why this is so hard to understand escapes me. Perhaps modern Westerners no longer understand language and its ranges and nuances, or perhaps some people don’t want to, or perhaps they just think they understand what people believe better than the people concerned. The whole dogma of the Immaculate Conception is proof no one worships Our Lady.

People sometimes get mixed up and suppose that it has something to do with the Virgin birth. It doesn’t, of course. What it does refer to is the very fact that Our Lady herself, as a human being, needed to be saved from the consequences of sin by her Son. I suppose there are some odd Christians who suppose that God is not omnipotent and cannot do anything, but Catholics are not among them. Clearly Our Lord was without sin, we know this from Scripture. Yet, since he was fully human (as well as fully divine) he ought to have inherited the effects of Original Sin – all humans have done so, so how could Our Lord be fully human and not have inherited its effects? That’s where the dogma of the Immaculate Conception comes in. Our Lady was, from the moment of her conception, redeemed from the effects of Original Sin by her Son. If you think God could not do that, I’m not quite sure what sort of God you believe in, but it’s not the God revealed in Scripture.

Of course, if you confuse ‘Immaculate Conception’ with ‘Impeccability’ you’ll find yourself in trouble. Being redeemed from the effects of Original Sin does not mean that in her life Our Lady made no mistakes or did nothing wrong – although, since Scripture records no such moments, I am free to believe, as I do, that she was indeed free of such human errors; but not being Immaculately conceived, I may be wrong, and may be misled by the love I have for the mother of my Saviour. But I’m happy to be misled in that way. What I don’t do, is mislead others and claim that Catholics worship anyone except God.

I do find it hard to understand how anyone could not love the Virgin Mary we meet in Scripture. The simple girl who accepted the task she was given by God; and example ti us all in terms of obedience. The tender mother who nursed and loved her special Son. The mother who stayed with him to the bitter end. The mother who knew him resurrected and as her – and our -redeemer. I can’t see what is not to love. Perhaps there is some misogyny there? Perhaps people don’t understand the difference between worshipping Our One Redeemer and calling His mother blessed? If you tell me you know better than me what I believe and that if, to you, my veneration looks like worship, I can only reply that your comment looks like idiocy. But who knows, and frankly, who cares? People believe the oddest things when they want not to see what is simplicity itself – which is that those of us who confess our faith in the Lord, the Redeemer of mankind, love that lowly maiden who bore Him. We love the Son and the mother; how can one not? A mystery to be sure. But as I prayed at Mass last night, I knew she was listening, and I thanked her for all she has done for me. That was what people call gratitude, it was not worship.

The Exhausted West?

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The post which follows, Jessica wrote for Christmas week in 2013 on NEO. It is one of those posts I referred to yesterday, and I like it as a follow-on for yesterday’s as well. It seemed a strange post for advent to me until I thought it through. She has much right here, I think. I’m a typical American, with all the individuality that sometimes goes with that – What’s that? Get off my lawn! But she and Solzhenitsyn are simply right. We were not created to be solitary figures, we were meant to exist in families at first which grew into communities. Remember this, the family started in the Garden, it is actually older than Original Sin, and that is why so many try to tear it down because, without that ancient tie, we are much more defenseless against all manner of evil things. Enjoy Jessica’s post, which I agree with completely..


The title is not mine and it is not new. It was the title used by one of the last century’s greatest writers and spirits, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for his 1978 Commencement speech at Harvard. This came as a shock to the West at the time. Here was a man whom it had lauded as a hero of the Cold War, a moral giant who had exposed and condemned the Stalinist regime and its successors; in the face of his writing, the Left which liked to appease Communism fell silent, and the Right which loved to excoriate it celebrated him. But after his Harvard speech, his admirers were puzzled. Instead of thanking them and saying how wonderful the West was, Solzhenitsyn could not have made it clearer that he did not think that the best alternative to Communism was individualistic, humanistic capitalism. Any system which saw man as instrumental in a materialistic sense missed the point of human life: we are not here to be parts of the economic utopia or to consume, we are not an economic animal whose main point is to accumulate as much wealth as we can, or to consume as much as we can; there is nothing wrong with creating wealth, or even accumulating it – unless it is an end in itself. After all, the Good Samaritan could not (as Lady Thatcher once reminded us) have done any good had he not had the money with which to do it. Jesus did not condemn wealth, he feared its effects on the rich man, and he wanted it, like all of God’s good things, to be used rightly. A society which pursued wealth for its own sake and which makes money (or celebrity) an end in itself is not a good one.

America was founded on noble ideals, including the pursuit of happiness. Our wealth has become such that many citizens can get an unimaginable amount of material wealth, but, as he noted:

the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life, and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. 

He saw a society in which:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 

It is hard to see that nearly forty years later, things are any better; here, as elsewhere, Solzhenitsyn  prophesied aright. He identified the reasons for this very well:

Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day 

The West was, he said, ‘spiritually exhausted’. The ‘human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.’

The origin of this decadence lay, Solzhenitsyn suggested, in the anthropocentric views of man’s destiny which came in with the secular thinking of the Enlightenment. Man was at the centre of all things, and the ends for which he was meant were material ones:

Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones. 

But these are not the ends for which man is made, and so even if he reaches them, he is dissatisfied and his spirit unsatisfied. So it is that even in the richest society the world has ever known, even the rich lack what is needed to heal what ails them?  We can reject God and make gods of ourselves. But Solzhenitsyn did not see that as bringing us what we needed; and forty-five years on, we can see, even more clearly, that like Jeremiah, he was a prophet to whom few wanted to listen.

A Remarkable Faith

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irinaIt’s funny sometimes, how things come together. Last night, I was looking at some old posts on NEO, thinking about rerunning a few over Christmas. Some are mine, and some are Jess’. Two that really struck me were two of hers speaking about Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and his not all that favorable view of the west.

This morning I read in the Catholic Herald, from our friend Francis Phillips, about an interview on Radio Four with Irina Ratushinskaya. She was, as I’m sure few of you know, I hadn’t, sentenced to four years in the Soviet labor camps, mostly, I think, because she was a Christian. Well, make that present tense, because she still is.

Here is some of what Francis says.

By coincidence, I happened to visit the friend who had introduced me to Ratushinskaya on the evening of the morning I had heard the broadcast. We both listened to the interview again and I borrowed Ratushinskaya’s subsequent book, In the Beginning, about her life before her mock trial in 1982, from my friend’s book shelf.

It struck me how God can penetrate the most improbable places, such as the rigidly atheistic school environment in Odessa, where Ratushinskaya grew up in the early 1960s. Stalin might be dead but under his successor, Khrushchev, the penalty for anti-Soviet behaviour, such as writing religious poetry, was still extraordinarily harsh.

As a child Ratushinskaya started to pray, convinced that God existed because her teachers kept insisting that He didn’t. She understood almost instinctively that that only through religious faith would her soul “remain my own: nobody will be able to manipulate me.” Later she learnt that her grandmother had her secretly christened when she was a baby.

It struck me, as it seemed to strike Francis, as remarkable how in a society as aggressively atheistic as the Soviet Union, she still managed to think her way into Christianity, as did her husband. It’s also remarkable that they were able to find things like an Orthodox priest to marry them, and to soldier on, carrying the flame of Christ, now finally in the open.

What a remarkable story, do read the whole thing.

BuzzFeed’s hit piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines is dangerous (and annoying)

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Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” (HGTV)

Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” (HGTV)

There was a hit piece published on Buzzfeed last week on Chip and Joanna Gaines last week. If you don’t know they are the hosts of one of HGTV’s house flipping shows. And no, I haven’t seen it, I no longer have cable (other than for the internet) and rarely watch TV. But the difference in this one is that the hosts are Evangelical Christians, and that was the point of attack. Here’s a bit from Brandon Ambrosino, writing in the Washington Post (yeah, I went , “Huh?” too).

I am currently planning my wedding, and I’ve never been happier. I believe that God brought me and Andy together and that God celebrates our love. I also believe that our marriage will offer a powerful testimony to skeptics that queer love can be God-honoring, and even sacramental.

I have heard from a few well-meaning Christian friends that they feel they can’t attend my ceremony. I think that’s silly, I think it’s theologically misguided, and it hurts me deeply because it makes it seem as if they care more about abstract principles than me, their friend and family member.

Still, I do not think these conservatives should be shamed or mocked. I do not think they should be fired. And I certainly do not think they should be the butt of a popular BuzzFeed article.

I’m referring to a non-story written by Kate Aurthur, published Tuesday on BuzzFeed. The piece starts off innocently enough by describing the success of Chip and Joanna Gaines, a husband-and-wife team whose series “Fixer Upper” is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. After pivoting to the religious beliefs of the Gaineses, and pointing out that they go to an evangelical church whose pastors oppose same-sex marriage, Aurthur then poses these questions:

“So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s ‘House Hunters’ and ‘Property Brothers’?”

The entire article is an elaborate exploration of that hypothetical question. And yes, it is very much hypothetical, by the reporter’s own admission: “Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. Nor were emails and calls to HGTV’s PR department.”

But that does not stop Aurthur from writing almost 800 more words about the non-story. Her upshot seems to be: Two popular celebrities might oppose same-sex marriage because the pastor of the church they go to opposes same-sex marriage, but I haven’t heard one way or the other. (I can’t imagine pitching that story to an editor and getting a green light, by the way.) […]

BuzzFeed is probably at the forefront of discussions surrounding diversity in entertainment. But do their reporters think diversity refers only to skin color? Does ideological diversity count for nothing, especially when it is representative of, again, a sizable chunk of the American public? It’s hard to make the case that the website promotes this kind of diversity, particularly on same-sex marriage. In June, Ben Smith, the publication’s editor in chief, told Politico that “there are not two sides” on the issue.

via BuzzFeed’s hit piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines is dangerous – The Washington Post

Ok, ya all got that? There are not two sides to the question, so sit down and shut up, not to mention believe what we tell you to believe.

Well, guess what? A whole bunch of people say there are at least two sides to this question. Our churches (unanimously till about 15 minutes ago) have always believed and taught that marriage is between one man and one woman. A case can perhaps be made for SSM, civilly anyway, although I’m not going to, so don’t even go there with me. But the mainstream view is one man and one woman.

And you know what else? This supercilious, arrogant attempt to shut down the debate, that they created, is a good bit of why Donald Trump will be President. Because we all, any of us who disagree with the overly narrow left about anything, have simply had enough.

Decidedly true in America, in fact, you might even ask Kelloggs, who recently and ostentatiously pulled their advertising from Breitbart, and now is looking at a possible conservative boycott, or the failing network ESPN and it’s NFL franchise, or Target, and its frantic backtracking on bathroom policy.

A good many of us have simply decided to put our money where our mouth is, and you know, it works, not least because we are a 40% (at least) plurality of the country, and we’re not very happy lately. Vote with your feet, vote with your ballot, and yes, vote with your pocketbook. Remember this? So do we.

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Faith: an Advent reflection


David Cameron came in for a deal of mockery for his comment that for him, faith was like a poor radio signal – it came in and out, and reception was often poor. But I wonder if he didn’t, in fact, speak for many? I don’t know the last time any of you tried to uproot a mountain by the exercise of your faith, but I can’t say I have ever found the attempt to do so successful. I think even the most literal interpreter of Scripture recognises that such passages are not to be taken literally – though our friend Bosco may want to differ. We are saved by faith in Christ, and we know that faith should produce good fruit, but beyond that we enter an area of great subjectivity. In the absence of any of us moving mountains, we cannot evidence that which is to save us, and the God who will judge us can, alone, know the secrets of our hearts.

We know from the lives of the Saints that many of them have gone through what St John of the Cross calls the ‘dark night of the soul. There was much press speculation when St Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s diaries were published and it was revealed that for many years she had felt cut off from God. I know many Christians who found them helpful, as they recognised what she described; if a saint like Mother Teresa could feel this, then it somehow made it easier for those who were not fit to loose the latchet on her sandals. Prayer is our conversation with God, and one of th complaints most often aired by people is that it is one way; but Mother Teresa kept on talking, and so should we.

What can we do to help, if not our faith, then at least our difficulties with it? We can read Scripture, prayerfully, and we can attend church regularly, and we can talk with our fellow Christians. We can try to create space in our day for prayer and Scripture- are we really so buy that we have not a spare few moments? I find habit helps here. If I pray the Rosary at ththe same time every day, I find myself looking forward to that quiet time, and it becomes a part of the day set aside for God. Each to his or her own, but one thing seems to me sure, which is that Faith resembles a muscle, the more we use it, the stronger it gets.

A topsy-turvy world?

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The French National Assembly has approved a bill which would criminalise pro-life websites which it says “exert psychological or moral pressure” on women not to abort. The proposed offence would be punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and a €30,000 fine. Quite how one would legally define such terms is, no doubt, a question which will keep lawyers in fees for many years to come. We know that here in the UK the authorities will not allow pictures of abortion procedures to appear on screen because of the fear of causing ‘upset’. Thus, killing babies in the womb, which might do more tan ‘upset’ many, and would certainly ‘upset’ the baby is allowed, but let’s not talk too much about it, and let’s not do anything which might cause a mother-to-be to change her mind in case she gets ‘upset’.

This is a difficult issue precisely because it marks the point of intersection between a Christian view of life and a secular one. The society into which Christianity came was one which held human life cheap. There was a lot of it, in the sense that many babies were born, and there was a lot of death, in the sense that mortality rates for babies and infants was high. Unwanted babies were left out on hillsides to die, human beings were bought and sold as commodities, and for all but an elite, life was usually poor, nasty, brutish and short. It might be added that that last condition has been the case for most of human history, but the coming of Christianity changed the attitude to life. If all human life was from God, it was sacred, and even if someone was a slave, they deserved treating as a fellow child of God. Without that Christian impulse it may be doubted whether slavery would have been challenged; certainly in societies untouched by it, slavery persisted, and it may be no accident that as Christianity has receded in the West, we have discovered slavery is on the rise. Fallen mankind has within it the darkest instincts derived from the father of lies, and left to itself will indulge itself in acts so wicked that they defy description; it is also capable of finding specious reasons for its actions. Left to itself, its own comfort and selfishness figure high on mankind’s lists of ‘needs’.

None of this is to minimise the distress of women who find themselves pregnant and who feel unready or unable to take care of a child; it’s easy enough to stand in judgement and sniffily tell them they should have thought of that first; how easy it is for those without sin to cast the first stone – but at least the Pharisees had the sense of shame to walk away without casting any stone. Nor its it to excuse the way in which society, not least agents of the Churches, have treated what used to be called ‘unmarried mothers’. Indeed, that mistreatment, like the way in which the Church dealt with sex abuse cases, has eroded much of its moral authority in our society. It is hard to take lessons on morality from any institution which showed itself more concerned with its own reputation than with the damage done to others by its agents. Thus are the sins of the fathers visited on posterity.

In a society where life is not sacred and where the feelings or preferences or life-styles of people take preference, and where the Church’s point of view is compromised by its own history, finding a language in which to discuss this most emotive of issues has not proved possible. The natural next step is for politicians to close down points of view they do not want to hear. The banned the pro-lifers, I was not pro-life, so did nothing. When they get round to banning your own point of view, there will be no one there to speak for you – and perhaps no point in speaking.

Punishing & Healing

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As human beings we are very familiar with legal codes and penalties; if we are caught transgressing the law, we can expect to be tried and, if found guilty, to pay a penalty of some sort. We see this in the Old Testament in the Deuteronomic Code: I sin, I am punished, I repent, God forgives me and restores me to his love. Te most revolutionary aspect of the Gospel message is that God still loves us though we are far off: Saul of Tarsus was not repentant, and yet God’s love reached him and he repented and followed God even unto death; unearned Grace saved him, and it is the same Grace, similarly undeserved, which will see us home of we repent and follow God’s precepts.

This runs so counter to our experiences as fallen human beings that we have trouble comprehending it. Jesus asked (Luke 7:42) who would love more, one forgiven a small debt, or one forgiven a large one? As the Word Incarnate he knew that true love stemmed from receiving forgiveness rather than from fear of being punished. It is understandable that so often the Christian message gas been spread in terms of the fear of God, but it is hard to see that as the main message coming from Jesus himself. He offers salvation to all who will receive him and his message, and that message is not based on frightening us, but on enlightening us, not on fear, but on love. I know there are those who have a visceral reaction to the word ‘love’ because of its use to effectively obscure the consequences of not turning to God and repenting. It may well be that there are those who have turned to God because of fear, but we are not presented with any examples in the New Testament of Jesus or the Apostles using such methods.

Punishment does not heal us. It may make us mindful enough to avoid whatever behaviour got us punished, or it may make us cunning enough not to get caught again, but it will not heal us – it will not make us good. Where Scripture talks of the ‘fear of God’ the Greek word ‘phobos’ is better translated as ‘respect’ or ‘awe’. In encouraging us to call God “Father”, Jesus encourages us to think in a way which can help us. So, though it may run counter to some modern child care theories, fathers do set boundaries, and they do so for the sake of their children; there are some things which are bad for children which they would, nonetheless, embrace if allowed (think child, think sweet-shop, think unlimited access to same). But a father who punished his child for an infraction with the threat that they would burn forever unless they behaved would not command ‘awe’ or ‘respect’, he would be someone to be reported to the authorities for child cruelty.

We have free will from God. He wants us to use it to embrace his love for us and to love him back. If we turn away from that offer, if we refuse that free Grace, then we exile ourselves – and in so doing, thwart his will for us which is that he should be all in all to us. In this Advent Season let us not turn away, but tread the road to Bethlehem.

How not to run things?


Large organisations need to be run, they cannot simply run themselves. The first Christians soon discovered this and we see, in Acts and in the Epistles, a structure being developed, partly to allow for different charisma, and partly because even house churches need leaders. Church leadership is perhaps the most testing type of leadership. The successors of the Apostles are endowed with a great deal of spiritual as well as ordinary power, and if absolute power corrupts absolutely, then those exercising such power need our prayers even more than other leaders. There was once a time when the ruler could just say ‘off with his head’, and it was out of such episodes that more conciliar forms of governance arose – in England Magna Carta was a direct response to King John’s pressing of his powers beyond custom and practice; where rulers cannot be trusted to keep their word, their subjects look for ways to bind them, and, in extreme cases, to depose them.  

Church history is full of examples of the difficulties attendant on trying to secure consensus on issues of doctrine; nearly every schism has emerged from the failure to achieve agreement. Constantine embedded the idea of having a Church Ciuncil yo reach agreement on such matters; if he had expected good and holy men to find the way to agreement easy, Nicaea disabused him. Subsequent Councils, like the most recent Church Synods, suggest that if times change, human nature does not. The Church failed to find a consensus on the vexed issue of whether remarried people could receive Communion under any circumstances.  This came as a surprise to those who thought Canon Law already embodied a consensus; but, of course, what was really meant was that the Church had not agreed to trim its sails to the prevailing wind. So, after attempts to get the required consensus, attempts were made to assert that that consensus really had been reached. These were not authoritative voices, but the intended direction of travel was clear. Which is why, as they are bound to, some Cardinals asked questions of the Pope. He, as we know, has not replied. We hear voices raised taking unguardedly on both sides of the issue.

At which point we return to the subject of governance. The point of having a teaching Magisterium is that it should teach. The point of having Synods is they should allow the Pope to throw light on vexed issues. There is always the old way, of the ruler asserting that his will is the law. It is the old way for a reason – it has never ended well. So perhaps the Holy Father is wise to say nothing! Newman bade us drink to a well-formed conscience even before toasting the Pope – there is wisdom in that.

Saved? An Advent reflection

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The major, but often unstated argument against the idea of universalism – that is that all will be saved – is that Christ was incarnated, died and was resurrected to save us. If we are all saved by God’s mercy, the question arises why did he bother? There was a purpose in his mission, his suffering and in the work of the Church he founded, none of which can be adequately accounted for in the belief that we are all saved. At the very least, the requirement for salvation is faith that Jesus is Lord and that we are saved through faith in him. It follows from this that, embracing our salvation, our new life in him should bear witness to the changes it has wrought in us. That’s not asking for the sort of behaviour which some of us might find excessive (although we might pull ourselves up a bit here and ask how else one is supposed to respond to the Good News that we are saved?), but it is to say that a faith which in no way evidences itself is a strange phenomenon (St James has harder things to say about this, of course). Now we can, and we do, argue about the Church, but as four years or so here shows (and as history confirms) this is a fruitless pursuit; but the churches all have in common the view that Jesus came to save us, and to offer us eternal life.

Now it may be, as some would argue, that the alternative to eternal life is death, extinction, non-existence, and we have discussed this here many times (as the link will show, a surprisingly large number). In my simple way, I take the many mentions of hell in the New Testament by Jesus to mean that there is a hell. I am quite content to think, with St Isaac the Syrian, that it is a state of separation from God that sinful and wilful men bring on themselves, and that the realisation of what one has done is like a burning pain, and I am uneasy with the literal view; but I know what my Churches teaches and reject the crude caricature foisted on us by atheists who ought to know better. But whatever view one takes, there is a place of separation from God, and it is a place from which, if we but knew it, we should pray to be saved. But we do not need to pray for a Saviour – we have one in Christ Jesus. Although, as a Catholic, I would, of course, say that the best place to find him is in the Church he founded, I don’t, as I say, want to be side-tracked by confessional disputes. I know many people who are better followers of Christ than I am if judged by their behaviour, and many of them are not Catholics, and if pressed I should simply say God is the only Just Judge and he alone can say who is saved and who is not; I should also add that I have found the Catholic Church the best place to find my Lord and could only say, if asked, that I am sure others would find it so too. But, and this gets us back to the main point of this post, the fact remains there is something from which to be saved. That being so, then unless all men embrace Christ as Saviour, they cannot be saved. Those who are ignorant of his holy name are in another category – that of invincible ignorance, and the failure is that of those who preach his name, not of those we have not reached. But again, the conclusion is that people need saving.

Our friend Bosco tells us truly that Christ is knocking at the door of our heart – and we should let him in, not because we fear hell-fire, but because we recognised in his out-stretched arms the love he first had for us. Now there’s a thought for Advent.

An age of confusion

Chalcedon’s recent piece, which has sparked such controversy, is a reminder that we are living in an age of uncertainty, both within and outside the Church. Uncertainty is inimical to faith, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The souls of men are “failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26). These “powers” are commonly understood as the stars and planets, and indeed Christ’s coming will be accompanied by such signs. But they are something more: they are the spiritual powers that were created before the earth itself. These powers have ruled the nations from the time of Babel until Christ took up His throne upon His glorious ascension. Even now they are being shaken, till every knee bows and confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The world is in convulsion, in attack and counter-attack. The Church is being brought into a time of purgation – yes, Protestants, I used the P-word. The days ahead will be hard, not easy, and will present each of us with a choice. The experience of the Catholic Church is evidence of this. We live in an age when authority itself is questioned, when anarchy rages in some quarters and seduces in others. The darkness is still upon us,  for the Day Star has yet to dawn – but when He does, His justice and His love will be revealed.

I cannot offer my Catholic brothers specific advice on how to navigate these times, for I am not a Catholic. But they have my sympathy, as do all people who find themselves enduring affliction and those who are desperately seeking the truth in an age of confusion. But this promise Christ has for those in such circumstances, those who are sincere: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted…Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled… Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5). Christ has not left you, nor will He, for He has promised: “Never will I leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He is with you in your hearts, in your sacred assemblies, in the communion of the Eucharist. And if He is in you, then so are the Father and the Spirit, for the Most Blessed and Holy Trinity has promised, “we will come to him, and make our abode with him.”

We have testimonies from the history of God’s people to encourage us in these perilous days. The Maccabees were faithful and God granted them victory over their enemy. The Christians of Rome suffered under the wicked emperors, but God cast them down and raised up Constantine to liberate them. The Christians of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq are enduring terrible torments, but God comforts them through miraculous visitations and the ministrations of godly priests.

The West is experiencing turmoil – and it will continue. We must not delude ourselves with the promises of the political and financial classes. I do not wish to imply that our governors are not trying their best to fix our problem, and indeed we should pray for them, as for our spiritual leaders, but these convulsions cannot be calmed through economic or political policies. These times require us to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves”, and they require our prayers. I will not make predictions about the collapse of Europe or the further wars of the East – you have no need that I should do so, the signs are there to read. Things cannot carry on as they are: the harder things get, the more radical the policies will become. But we must attend to our hearts, lest they become as hard as stone and as cold as ice – truly this is what I fear the age is doing to God’s people.