There has long been a deep reservoir of hate in this country just waiting to be tapped. Now Hillary Clinton on the left and Donald Trump from wherever he comes have both tapped it – it is open and gushing, it is vile, and it is threatening to bring this country down.
The only thing that will stop it is prayer – the ONLY thing. – online commenter Terry at Crisis Magazine online
The life of man upon earth is a warfare… – Job 7:1
Last night I entered the fray.
I joined the battle.
We established a beachhead.
I haven’t been writing much for more than a few weeks now. My efforts to continue with The Screwtape Letters project is, for now, on hold. I got tired of staring at an empty screen and will try to continue another day.
The bitter and honest truth is that I’ve been…how to say this…out of sorts.
Out of whack. Lost my equilibrium.
I’ve been under attack.
I’ve said before that I believe the great battle of our times is before us. I’ve also said that it will be a spiritual war.
After the events of the last month I stand behind those assertions.
It’s been a rough year. A year filled with self-doubt and second-guessing. A year of “what ifs”. Through it all I’ve struggled to keep my balance and maintain both my optimism and stay upright. At times I’ve come perilously close to giving in to despair. One beam of light guided me through this fog.
Prayer, specifically the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office.
We are living in strange times. Or hadn’t you noticed? Many have not. Distracted by the soft comforting glow of their various screens they are oblivious to history’s verdicts. How else does one explain our youth’s embracing of the culture of death and socialism? How else to explain the unhinged, vehement attacks levied at anyone who points out the obvious lack of conservative bona fides in the candidate widely embraced on the right as “the true conservative candidate”?
Thought and reason have no traction today because emotions and slogans have superseded them.
What the hell is going on?
And that’s the answer. Hell is going on.
Of late I’ve read many things online to ramp up my sense of urgency regarding this war. If the results from this survey by the Barna Group are in fact true, then I’m already to be considered an extremist in the eyes of many. The war is already being waged against me. I just as well fight back and make damn sure I live up to the evidence and label that may someday be used against me.
Society is undergoing a change of mind about the way religion and people of faith intersect with public life. That is, there are intensifying perceptions that faith is at the root of a vast number of societal ills.
Though it remains the nation’s most dominant religion, Christianity faces significant headwind in the court of public opinion. The decades-old trend that Christianity is irrelevant is increasingly giving way to the notion that Christianity is bad for society.
A new major study conducted by Barna Group, and explored in the new book Good Faith, co-authored by Barna president David Kinnaman, examines society’s current perceptions of faith and Christianity. In sum, faith and religion and Christianity are viewed by millions of adults to be extremist.
A growing portion of society considers me an extremist by virtue of my actually professing and living by my beliefs as a Christian. As a conservative I’ve watched myself or anyone else who questions the candidacy of Donald Trump be labeled a “rich, establishment, power mad” fool who is not a “true conservative” and will get “what’s coming to you!”. Ummm…what? I’ve watched those members of the media who call themselves conservatives outed for the carnival barkers that they are, nothing more than shills looking to make a book for the candidate du jour.
I’ve seen spleens vented at Pope Francis and any Catholic who dares call him or herself Catholic while pleading for some decent human decency be shown the less fortunate or the poor.
Obama voters the past two elections just pissed me off. I laughed them off as unserious kids fawning over an unqualified leftist. Supporters of Trump who spew their hatred and bile towards anyone who dare point out the flaws in their reason or simply ask for clarification on their stance scare the hell out of me because this lot is filled with rage and they are looking for someone to pour it upon. And I get it. I’m as upset with the Republican party leadership as anyone on how they’ve said one thing to get elected and then done the opposite once in office, while sending out letters for more money. I stopped supporting the GOP in 2006 when despite having control of all three branches of government they did not one blessed thing about abortion in this country. But as soon as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid took over in 2006 the fundraising letters once more were filling the mailboxes of pro-lifers everywhere.
So I get the anger and disillusionment. But Trump? And to vent that anger out on not just your fellow citizens of either party, but against those who are in tune with the Constitution and our nation’s history?
It’s nothing new. History has shown us examples of a citizenry embracing anger during the Reign of Terror in France, in Puritan England, and in pre-World War II Germany.
The lessons from this history is that it never ends well for the likes of people like me.
Already being bloodied from the blows received, I read the following from scripture one evening while in prayer:
My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance. Let endurance come to its perfection so that you may be fully mature and lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4 (Evening Prayer for January 29)
The very next morning I read this during Morning Prayer:
In everything you do, act without grumbling or arguing; prove yourselves innocent and straightforward, children of God beyond reproach in the midst of a twisted and depraved generation—among whom you shine like the stars in the sky. – Philippians 2:14-15 (Morning Prayer for January 30)
I decided I needed to make a call.
During mornings or evenings above 30 degrees you will find me outside with these.
It has been a long-time goal of mine to initiate the praying of Vespers, or Evening Prayer, at my parish. A few weeks ago I finally got around to setting up a meeting with my parish priest to discuss it. I say finally because I could no longer ignore what I see going on. I needed to stop fighting alone, and begin to form a squad to wage the only form of warfare that matters and the one for which I’m best equipped. My son is a United States Marine. He’s trained for the more conventional battles of this world. He has been raised to fight the other, too, but for now his task is elsewhere.
Mine, however, is not. Mine is against the “powers and principalities” of this world.
This is your fight as well.
I have prayed the Liturgy of the Hours for just about fifteen years, ever since I first worked up the nerve to ask our former assistant pastor Father Hottovy to show me the book he always carried with him. It was slow going and a struggle at many times, but I persevered until now my day feels unbalanced if I fail to pray at least Morning or Evening Prayers. Being a historian I researched its origins and revisions over the years, even purchasing an expensive set of pre-Vatican II era books containing the Divine Office in both Latin and English.
But mostly I have done so in order to sanctify time for God. Except for a handful of occasions I have prayed this communal prayer alone.
I wanted to change that. Father Johnson agreed. And we selected Wednesday evenings at 6pm immediately following 5:30 Mass. We agreed that instead of announcing it in the bulletin for now or at weekend Masses he would simply announce it at the end of last night’s Mass and invite people to stick around to join me.
About the same time that I first contacted Father for a Saturday morning meeting over coffee the attacks upon me intensified. As last night drew near they threatened to suffocate me. I struggled to smile or find happiness. Optimism about almost anything seemed to disappear. I found myself hit with dreams and visions in broad daylight…horrible and awful images of my family, especially my children, and at times my friends. I saw horrific scenes, too terrible to recount, that involved my children bloodied, in danger, or worse. I couldn’t sleep and had little energy. My despair would turn to frustration and in a flash my anger would flare with words against those who mean the most to me. Two days ago I was sitting at a red light when one flashed before my eyes and caused me to cry uncontrollably as the light turned green through my tear-streaked eyes. The devil knows our weakness. It has ever been so.
I honestly thought I was falling apart. Believe it or not thoughts of my own death and of not being a burden to my loved ones crept into my mind.
But then little pinpoints of grace would shine forth. Nothing huge, but small indications that I did have worth, that I mattered, and that I made a difference began to emerge. Two examples:
Two weeks ago my Marine and I were texting about his younger brother’s upcoming baseball season. Jonah is twelve and at this point in his young life already a much better baseball player than his older brother. Considering that Nolan was able to contribute and then start on two spring high school state champion baseball teams and compete for summer state titles as well, that’s saying a lot about his younger brother. A back injury almost cost Nolan his high school baseball career and deeply affected his attitude, causing lethargy and depression. Prior to his sophomore year he was going to quit and we argued back and forth about it for weeks before the treatment and work he’d been doing to heal his injury caused him to relent and play. Ever since 2012 I’ve beat myself up and wondered how much resentment my coaxing him to play had caused. I wondered if he’d ever appreciate all that he and his buddies had accomplished. Lately I’ve wondered if I would have the strength to do so again with Jonah should he travel a similar path.
It turns out I won’t have to get after Jonah. His big brother will. This is a part of our text exchange:
Nolan: Make him play at least through high school. He’ll be glad one day.
Me (after taking a big gulp): Are you thankful I pushed you to play?
Nolan: More than anything. I’ve been talking to some of the guys out here. We all want more than anything to be able to go back and play under the lights one more time. Whether it’s football, baseball, basketball, soccer, whatever…everyone wishes they could go back just one more time.
I hoped I would hear those words before I was 60, never dreaming I’d hear them at 48.
The last occurrence was the unexpected gift of a book from a friend. I had loaned her five books from the World War II era on the fate of Christians, including St. Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein to use as research for a college paper she was writing. Becky is my age but has gone back to school in order to finish up her teaching degree. Several weeks later she showed up unannounced and unexpected in order to present me with a copy of a book published late last year called Church of Spies. For fifteen minutes we stood outside as she talked about her research and thanked me several times for the use of books from my library. She couldn’t see it in the twilight, but I was so quiet because I was trying to keep from crying after being overwhelmed by her simple generosity. I’d been beaten down and was nearly exhausted, but her gesture was like a cool drink of fresh water.
And then yesterday I began to understand what was happening. While praying during my lunch hour at the Pink Sisters chapel and sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, I began to understand that I was under attack. Satan did not want me to introduce Evening Prayer at St. John’s nor did he want those I met with to understand they could use this great treasure of the Church themselves. The tradition of sanctifying time to God through the praying of the psalms goes back thousands of years before Christ when the Jews would pray them throughout the day. Jesus himself prayed these same psalms. The Catholic Church has done the same ever since. But not just Catholics. Anglicans, Lutherans and other Protestant denominations all have their own traditions that grew from the trunk of this tree.
While sitting slump-backed in that pew yesterday I was encouraged and renewed. Despite my self-doubt and fears I would press on. I was too close to quit now after wanting to begin for so long.
In the grand scheme of things it was hardly noticeable. After Mass last night I stood in front of the sanctuary with the booklets I’d printed for use. I made only ten, hoping for at least one or two people to join me. After a few minutes of thinking no one would I found myself suddenly surrounded by around 15 people. After a brief introduction on my part we began. Fifteen minutes later it was done. We finished while the church was filling for a 7pm First Confession service held for our second graders and their parents. I doubt very many were aware of us or what was going on.
But something did happen. A toe-hold was made. A command post was established.
Last night we began fighting back. In community. Communion.
I slept like a baby last night for the first time in months.
We will continue every Wednesday night going forward. We may grow in number or we may not. But I believe we will see an increase in numbers over time.
I believe there are many who want to fight back. They see the shroud of darkness descending and are hungry to learn about whatever weapons available to them.
Based on the comments and positive feedback received last night I stand by that belief. And I will be better prepared in the future for the spiritual attacks that I know will come. There’s always a counter-attack.
I’m hopeful that last night we struck a blow and that as we continue others will have their eyes opened to the beauty and power contained within the Divine Office. All are welcome to join us for 15-20 minutes of prayer. Perhaps in time we’ll extend it for 15-30 minutes of discussion. In the meantime I have made plans to include a sheet each week that teaches on some aspect of the Liturgy of the Hours and history of the Divine Office.
But I’m taking it slow. Better a start than none at all. For while we live in seemingly more desperate times and there is a sense of urgency, I feel a calm that tells me to not rush according to my own schedule.
It’s His time, after all. Sanctified.
For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-4