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Be Not Afraid: 5 Ways to Have Hope in Dark Times
October 25, 2019
Among Catholics who love our Lord Jesus, there is a great deal of interior suffering and perplexity of late. The reason is no mystery. The forces of evil have been unleashed on the world, and the the spirit of wickedness, the spirit of anti-Christ, grows ever stronger, like the thick, black clouds of a threatening storm devouring the horizon.
Worse still, from this storm there seems to be no safe haven. For even our beloved Church has been infected by the spirit of the age. Confusion and dissension reign within her once sheltering walls. Catholics viciously attack one another with acid rhetoric. Shepherds who should guide and protest us abandon their flock in favor of political platitudes and corrupt cronyism. Priests who should be ministers of grace are mired in moral debauchery, luxury, or at the very least, lukewarm tepidity. Even good men who do care lose their courage and refuse to speak on behalf of truth.
Faced with such looming darkness, the greatest temptation of all is despair and faithlessness. The devil whispers in our ear that it doesn’t matter, the the Church has failed, that it is all a lie. The easiest thing in the world would be to believe it—to surrender to doubt and lapse into impotent anger and unbelief.
And yet we must resist this temptation with all our might. We must not be like St. Peter, who out of fear, confusion, and uncertainty denied our Lord three times.
The greater the time of trial, the greater the grace poured out. I am firmly convinced that in these times, the merest stammering of the creed, the weakest but most heartfelt act of faith, despite all feelings to the contrary, will be rewarded with a crown of martyrdom. For we must be martyrs, for martyr means witness. When all that felt certain is crumbling around us, we must bear witness to the faith we hold.
Here are five simple ways to keep the faith in difficult times.
1. Nourish Your Interior Life
The men who will survive this current crisis will not necessarily be those with encyclopedic knowledge of theological minutiae. They will rather be those with a deep soul life. Those who know Jesus Christ at an intimate level and who love him with every beat of their heart.
Nurture, then, your interior life. Pray (especially the rosary). Meditate. Cultivate interior silence. Constantly pray the psalms, those great and mighty testaments to grace in times of darkness as well as times of victory. Repeat acts of faith, hope, and love. Immerse yourself in spiritual reading. Spend time in Eucharistic adoration.
Seek to really know our Lord in a more than intellectual way. Open your heart to him and ask for interior knowledge of his care and presence. He will not leave such a prayer unanswered. Ask and it will be given to you. Knock and the door will be opened. Seek, and you will find.
2. Stay close to the Immaculate Virgin
The Virgin Mary is the greatest of all saints—even the greatest and most marvelous of all creatures. She is the Mother of God and the mediatrix of all graces. To her, God has given the promise of crushing the serpent’s head. She is a real and living being who loves you, and who is powerful beyond imaging.
Stay close to her, then. Hide yourself under mantle. She will feed you with the milk of grace. She will defend you from all evil. She will lead you to the burning heart of her Son. No one who turns to her will be unaided.
In the words of the great St. Bernard:
“In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”
3. Live Sacramentally
In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam plunge into the darkness and evil of Mordor. The horror of this place is almost enough to overwhelm them completely. They are often weak and desperately thirsty. Yet, they are sustained daily, almost miraculously, by the Elven lembas bread they were given in Rivendell. While it is tasteless, it gives them a strength well beyond that of ordinary food.
There is no question that Tolkien was giving us an image of the sustaining power of the Eucharist. Indeed, Tolkien deeply loved the Eucharist and recommended it be received daily. Here is what he wrote in a letter:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth…
The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.
Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.”
To survive this storm in the Church and in the world, we must, like Tolkien recommends, find strength in the sacraments. Especially, we should receive frequently the Eucharist and go to confession.
But if you are married, you should realize that this, too, is a powerful sacrament. Cardinal Raymond Burke went so far as to say, “There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage. After the Holy Eucharist, it has a power beyond anything that we can imagine.” Let us draw strength from these powerful means of grace we have been given.
4. Practice Obedience to the Truth
There is much confusion in the world right now. Many voices clamor for our attention, and many false teachers spread subtle lies that seem truthful, but really hide a secret poison.
But really, for those who want to know the truth, it is not that difficult to discover. The teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church that he founded have been made abundantly clear by saints, holy men, martyrs, bishops, priests, and popes for twenty centuries. And, in an unprecedented way, we have access to these teachings through an abundance of easily accessible books, internet archives, and audio teaching. Yes, untruths are spread throughout the world, but likewise the truth is more easily discovered than ever.
The way to sanctity is not complex, but it does require effort and commitment—a firm decision to follow Christ no matter the cost. In confusing times, let’s pledge ourselves to follow the truth in obedience—to be martyrs (witnesses) to the truth in word and in deed, in a time when many question, like Pilate before Christ, if truth even exists. For sanctity is nothing less than perfect obedience to the will of God, who is truth itself. And the truth will make us free.
5. Feed yourself with Goodness
“And now, brethren,” says St. Paul, “all that rings true, all that commands reverence, and all that makes for right; all that is pure, all that is lovely, all that is gracious in the telling; virtue and merit, wherever virtue and merit are found—let this be the argument of your thoughts” (Phil. 4:8).
You cannot maintain your peace if you are constantly filling your mind with things that produce anxiety, anger, and restless agitation. Shut off the nightly news, close the Catholic websites if they are not helping you grow in love of God and in his peace. If it is not helping you grow, it is harming you.
That does not mean we should be ignorant of the evil in the world. But we should not let it disturb us, for this is a victory for the enemy of our souls. The saints tell us constantly that peace of heart should be guarded at all times, even in the most terrible storms and trials. “Strive to live in and holy and immutable peace,” said Padre Pio, “We should not allow the enemy to creep into our hearts and rob us of this peace.”
Our Lord said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” To cultivate this peace, practice silence, feed yourself with beauty and goodness, and immerse yourself in the splendor of truth. Only then will you find the peace of God that passes all understanding.
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