Fire Forges Saints (The 3 chastisements)

Becoming saints is our calling, but it is not easy. Sometimes God sends us chastisements to speed us along. But they only work if we embrace them

In my opinion we are underwing three chastisements. Let’s acknowledge them, and let’s embrace them. Because as only fire and an anvil can forge steel, only fire and trial forges saints.

This was written in 2021 and re-published later


This has been a complicated year for faithful Catholics with any heart. The things we care most deeply about—our country and government, the culture, the Church and more—seem to be going in the completely wrong direction, and this shift off of the course of right-ness and righteousness brings us a lot of headaches and heartache. Doesn’t it seem like everything is just…wrong? Like the clouds have gotten thicker, and the evening has turned to the darkest night? Don’t be afraid. It’s all God’s plan. 

We are suffering at least three chastisements; politicalsocial, and spiritual. But God doesn’t chastise without a purpose or end game.  This post discusses those three chastisements, and what our attitudes and actions should be in light of them. In a later post I’ll talk about what we should be doing about them in the long term, and how we should be surrendering to God, accepting his justice, and cooperating with his plan and purpose and goal.  As I said, God doesn’t chastise without a purpose or end game.

The Three Chastisements

Consider the possibility That God is allowing chastisements in our time, that we, as a people, (myself included) may actually deserve them, may actually need them, and that God intends for them to correct us, and to provoke change in our hearts, and to move us closer—perhaps even quickly—to holiness. God doesn’t chastise without a purpose. 

Political Chastisement

Love him or hate him, President Trump has had his last day in office, and starting now there is an unfaithful, “progressive” Catholic named Joe Biden sitting in the White House. The drama encompassing this transfer of power, and the presidency itself is deep and thick, involving four tumultuous years of Congress’ obstructionism, a costly and lengthy investigation into the President’s alleged collusion with Russia, a farcical impeachment or two, an allegedly (and quite possibly) “stolen” or “rigged” election and election fraud. All of this collectively is drama enough to distress and weary us. But add to that the fact that a Biden administration, and a democratic congress will mean our country will be swept up in a tidal wave of policies and agendas that will not only be at odds with Truth (the faith, the Gospel), but will act and function as a practical, if not literal persecution of the Church and the faithful in this country, to say nothing of the persecution of the minds of our children. 

“As Catholics we may find ourselves feeling defeated, frustrated, and worried…”

As Catholics we may find ourselves feeling defeated, frustrated, and worried rather than hopeful about the future. We may be confused as to why God would allow our country veer in this direction; the direction of more liberal abortion laws, gender ideology, anti-family agendas, the silencing of free speech, the potential that proclaiming the Gospel may one day be practically criminal (they may not be able to throw you in jail for proclaiming or defending it, but they may be able to fine you, cancel you, make it impossible for you to earn a living.) “Why, oh God, why would you let this happen?”

Spiritual

But there’s more! Faithful Catholics are probably frustrated, angry, worried about the state of the Church, too. The ongoing sex scandal, which reached new heights with the Theodore McCarrick scandal, a Pope who seems to be more about worldly agendas than about shepherding the faithful in Truth (see my post about “Heaven or Earth” for more on that), bishops and priests who have forgotten their calling to be shepherds and teachers, and proclaimers and defenders of the Gospel, errant or novel theology written or spoken or tweeted by priests and bishops who should know better. It’s frustrating, at best, and disconcerting at worst. Are orthodox Catholics a dying breed; an endangered species? Can we not even rely on “the Catholic Church” to be Catholic? What will become of the faithful, then? And what then becomes of the world? 

Social or Societal

Then, of course, there’s COVID-19, which has chastised the Church, the faithful, and the world, has taken lives, has closed businesses and cost jobs (maybe even yours!), had kept the faithful from the sacraments and from mass for months, and for many continues to do so. It has separated and distanced us from one another, and that is not merely an “inconvenience”, as it has been called. Social distancing and “stay-at-home” orders are naturally contradictory to human nature, and to the lived faith experience of togetherness and community, and that makes this pandemic not just detrimental to our lives, but harmful, even fatal, to the very human spirit and heart.

So what’s a faithful person to do? Complex though our current woes may be, the “what-to-do” is simple: Be saints! And what does THAT mean? Well I’ll cover that in another post, because the formula is not as simple as “pray more” or “be nicer”. And note that I didn’t say “Become a Saint” (after you’re in heaven) but “Be a saint!” here and now. You can’t become one without being one; without living a life oriented toward perfection, steeped in holiness of heart, mind, and action, bent on charity and humility, on meekness, and on frequent union with God in prayer and meditation. It’s a big task, but it’s one we are all called by God to accomplish, and God wouldn’t call you to something that is impossible. And as big as that task is, don’t you think the world in its current state, course, and trajectory warrant something so big as an explosion of saints? If the world is so dark, it needs great light to shine on it.  But more on that in the next major post.  For now I thought it would be best to start with applying right actions and holy attitudes to the three chastisements that life, with God’s permission, has put before us.

“Why, oh God, why?”

Understand that nothing happens without God’s permission. It’s very likely that God handed our country over to “the enemy” (to the political and cultural opposition) because we deserve it. Remember that God delivered Israel into the hands of their enemies as a chastisement for their unfaithfulness (See Num 14:39-45, Josh 7:1-12, 1 Sam 4:1-11, 28-29, 311, Cron 10:1-14, 1 Kings 142, among other examples). He also permitted the Babylonian exile as a chastisement. Interestingly He also allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be stolen by the Philistines, which was a chastisement of Israel and subsequently (See 1 Samuel 5) a chastisement of the Philistines, too (some chastisements afflict the winners and the losers—the believers and the non-believers—at the same time. Some human instruments of chastisement are later themselves chastised, in God’s great justice). In all of these and other examples, God gave Israel over to their choices. In how they lived, and how they governed, they chose against God and God allowed them to choose against him. 

“…You have chastised me, and I was chastised, like an untrained calf; bring me back that I may be restored, for you are the Lord my God” Jeremiah 31:18

Jeremiah 31:18

In the same way, maybe we deserve a President Biden and a militantly-progressive congress, because we have not been as faithful as we should be. Even weekly mass-goers can be betrayers of God’s call and of the Gospel. Will a Biden administration and a liberal congress bring a measure of doom and self destruction? Maybe, according to God’s wisdom, justice and mercy, that is what we deserve. Maybe God has given us—our country, the faithful and faithless alike—over to our choices. Maybe we took the faith, the mass, the sacraments and our freedom for granted. Maybe we weren’t as faithful to the whole Gospel as we should have been. Maybe we were lukewarm about the call to holiness and sainthood. But, as it was for the Jews, this can be temporary.  God will rescue us when we correct our course and change our ways and return to him fully (Jeremiah 31:18). This political chastisement can wake us up and provoke us to change, if we let it.

Now, what about the rot in the Church? Why would God allow the Church to rot from the inside? Well the first thing to understand and believe is that if there is rot in the Church, it’s only in the Church…the inside, not the outside. The Church on the “outside” is the Church as Jesus established it, and that structure is sound. The sacraments are still there, the Holy Sacrifice of the mass is still efficacious. The communion of saints hasn’t gone anywhere, we still have access to the saints and angels and they are ready, willing, and able to intercede for us as members of the communion of saints on earth. The voluminous library of papal encyclicals and letters, saints’ works and stories of the lives of the saints, Church theologians and other Catholic scholars and academics, etc. are all there for us to read, to learn from, and to be formed or transformed by. The Rosary and other devotions are still here, the spiritual life is still here. The Church is sound. If it is rotting—and I believe it is—it’s rotting from the inside.

The dead cells and the cancerous cells of Christ’s mystical body are that rot. It manifests in liberalized, counter-Catholic theology engendered and voiced by high ranking, or otherwise high profile prelates. It manifests in the failures of priests at the parish level who are good administrators, but poor pastors of souls. It manifests in dwindling numbers in our schools and in our pews (the cause and effect of which is suitable for an entirely different blog post). And of course it manifests in the sex scandal that seems to pop up afresh every decade. The McCarrick scandal is the most obvious example to point out, but there are sex scandals happening on local parish levels too. Did you hear about the priest who had a sex escapade in a Catholic Church?   The rot in the Church is manifold! 

“…Because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the LORD.”

Hebrews 8:9

Why? Why is God allowing this? The answer, again, is that perhaps he has surrendered “the church” (the human institution, not the divine institution) to our choices. Do we recognize the great treasure that is our Catholic faith? Do we take our faith, and the Faith seriously, or is it just another political party, and the sacraments just secular rites of passage? Do we see Catholicism as the pearl of greatest value? And how often are we praying for priests? Our Lady of Fatima, warning us of the coming corruption of priests, asked us to pray for priests and bishops and the Pope in our daily Rosaries. Are we doing that? Are we even praying a daily Rosary at all? And while many priests are giving empty, lackluster homilies from the pulpit, are we doing due diligence to learn about the faith for ourselves? Of course a priest has a responsibility to preach well and effectively but that doesn’t mean we have no responsibility for our own learning and growth in understanding the faith. If we know our faith well, the lackluster homilies wouldn’t effect us in the least, in fact a Catholic who knows their faith well can still get little nuggets of wisdom even from shallow, lackluster homilies. 

Then there’s COVID-19. Why would God allow this pandemic which has cost us all so very much—lives, jobs and businesses, peace of mind, security, community and more? That is a deeper issue and I have written probably too much about it (See links below), but I still believe it to be a chastisement with a purpose. This is a sinful world and we are, all of us, very sinful people. Even the best of us, in this uniquely fallen age, are not really where we should be in terms of fidelity to the Gospel, holiness and charity. The failure in charity alone, which is something we all do frequently, and sometimes egregiously in this selfish age, is a more serious offense against God than we appreciate because it is a sin against his very being. And sins against charity are only the start of it. Sins of the flesh take on a unique form and frequency of commission in our time. Sins against faith and hope, in an age when we increasingly place faith in ourselves, and place our hope in our technology and devices, are rampant. Sins against humility and meekness abound in our age of self glorification, self adornment, anger and resentment and jealousy. Sins against the first commandment—to worship God alone—find unique character and volume in a time when our money, our very-many possessions, our sex, the body, our comfort and pleasure, have become our true god. We are all guilty, and the coronavirus has chastised all of us in relation to many of these sins.

In these chastisements, we are being purified by fire, but only if we surrender ourselves to the flames. Even Israel accepted their chastisements. That is, they accepted that they were being chastised for their lukewarmness and betrayal of God and His Law. By that acceptance they were self reflective, were provoked to change their ways, to return to God, to the Law, to live what it means to be God’s chosen people. God subsequently liberated them, gave them victory after victory, elevated them, restored them to peace and prosperity and to wholeness (until they turned away from him again). 

If we are wise, we will also accept our chastisements, and allow them to provoke us to self reflection, and to change. I’m sure those of you reading —especially if you’ve gotten this far—are not villainous folk. I’m sure you’re great people. But ask yourself, are you one of the righteous? Are you living every day that God gives you with the goal of being holier than you were the day before? Are you trying to be a saint every day? God chastised Israel for not living their lives in accord with their calling to be God’s chosen people. In Christ, by our baptism, the saints—you and I, set apart for holiness—are God’s chosen people. It is our calling. Are we failing to live our lives according to that call, just as Israel was? 

We are called to sainthood. That has always been true, and has always been the calling of every baptized Christian. Above and beyond that I believe we are called to a higher sainthood in our time; in a time when saints are desperately needed, and when God is calling people to heroic saintly lives, exceptional to the whole history of the Church. With all of that in mind look back on your life a year ago. Or go further back in time if you like. Really analyze your life there. Now…what will you change starting today? Go and do. 

I will, too.

Ave Maria, Virgo Fidelis!

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