June 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — As a Catholic in the U.S. today striving to be faithful, it can seem like a depressing time to be alive. With the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic impact, the riots and violence gripping the nation, and the overall division within our country and even our own Church, it can be a temptation to fall into despair.
But are these times really that much worse than other challenging times in history? How would the saints respond if they walked the earth today?
There is no doubt that God put us here — at this time in history — for a reason, and we should all prayerfully discern our personal response in these turbulent times. There are, however, some core practices that apply across the board. The list below is one I developed for myself, and I thought it might benefit others as well.
1. Love your family more. Now, more than ever, we should recommit ourselves to our families. Love is an act of the will. It takes effort and discipline. We should practice patience and bite our tongues. We should put away our phones and spend quality time with our loved ones. News and social media can easily overwhelm us and cause anxiety and despair. Sometimes it’s better to just turn them off and be present — physically and emotionally — with those who matter most. After all, how can we be a shining light in this dark and broken world, as Christ instructed, without first loving and forgiving those closest to us — our spouses, children, parents, siblings, and extended family?
2. Love your neighbors more. We can’t flip a switch and fix the brokenness in our society. The traditional family is under blistering assault by dark forces that want to destroy truth, beauty, and goodness — and reshape society. Countless unborn babies — precious and unique human lives — are still being murdered in their mothers’ wombs every year in the U.S. These are complex issues that require complex solutions. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a role to play. We should harness our God-given power to solve these problems in our own circles by small but consistent acts of charity toward our neighbors. We must remember that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, that God can transform the hearts of even the worst sinners, and that even one small act of love can transform a soul. If Christians across the world regularly and sincerely used their God-given power, grounded in love, many souls would be saved, and many problems would be solved.
3. Defend the Truth. Loving your neighbor never involves compromising the Truth; that would be a false love. On June 22, we celebrated the feast day of St. Thomas More, a martyr for Truth and the patron saint of lawyers. He died — as all martyrs do — because he realized that the Truth is worth dying for. In his case, he died defending the Truth regarding the indissolubility of marriage and papal authority in the Catholic Church. He put these truths over his own physical well-being (as he was ultimately beheaded) — because he recognized that his eternal soul was at stake. The example he set no doubt saved countless other souls as well. The Truth is constantly under attack by the enemy. Things we know are evil are being called good, and things we know are good and true are being called evil. Government officials and even Church officials have failed to defend the Truth and, in many cases, have worked to dismantle it. We are called to defend the Truth at all costs — even when it means risking our jobs, our reputations, and even our lives. Truth is under attack, and we should consider to what extent God put us here to defend it.
4. Vote. It’s no secret that the radical left in the U.S. is actively working to dismantle the traditional family and reshape society as we know it. Leftists are advocating, at every level, for the systematic murder of the unborn, so-called “gay marriage,” a complete rejection of the concept of biological sex, and much more. The radical left is organized and militant and is seeking to destroy anyone who dares to question the regimen leftists seek to impose on society. They are fighting tirelessly to destroy religious liberty and many of the values that our country was founded upon. Entire treatises can be written on this subject, but the point here is that our vote matters profoundly. If Catholics across the U.S. committed to voting for candidates who actually shared their values, blue states would turn to red states, and order would be restored through strong and solid leadership. The problem is that many Catholics don’t understand their faith and, consequently, don’t understand why it’s worth fighting to preserve. Those of us who do must exercise our constitutional rights to vote, to encourage others to vote, and even to prayerfully consider running for office. In the end, however, we must remember that God is in control and that no politician is our savior. We must trust God, but we must also use our talents and intellect to advocate for a just society that is pleasing to God.
5. Avoid sin and frequent the sacraments. As Aristotle said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.” We should engage in a daily battle to conquer sin. Fight the devil at every turn, resist temptation, and stay close to God. We should regularly confess our sins and seek to cultivate virtues. Church politics can be distracting and depressing. It’s important to know what’s going on in the hierarchy of church, but sometimes it can be overwhelming — particularly since there is not much that we, as lay faithful, can do to change it. Find a good church led by a solid priest, and make that your parish — even if it means driving three times as far as the closest church. Sacraments are essential to salvation — regardless of what the governor or county health director thinks.
6. Begin your day with a holy hour and mental prayer. Starting your day with a holy hour will change your life. It takes time and discipline to work this into your schedule, but it can pay eternal dividends. Some of that time can be spent in vocal prayer, reading Scripture, or reading spiritual books, but at least fifteen or twenty minutes should ideally be reserved for mental prayer. Many saints have taught that regular mental prayer is necessary for the salvation of our souls. For example, St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches that “[s]hort of a miracle, a man who does not practice mental prayer will end up in mortal sin.” St. Vincent de Paul tell us, “A man without mental prayer is not good for anything; he cannot even renounce the slightest thing. It is merely the life of an animal.” St. Teresa is quoted as going even farther:
Without mental prayer a person soon becomes either a brute or a devil. If you do not practice mental prayer, you don’t need any devil to throw you into hell, you throw yourself in there of your own accord. On the contrary, give me the greatest of all sinners; if he practices mental prayer, be it only for fifteen minutes every day, he will be converted. If he perseveres in it, his eternal salvation is assured.
A regular holy hour will give us direction, keep us grounded, and keep our minds and hearts close to God. As explained in detail in The Soul of the Apostolate by Jean-Baptiste Chautard, focusing on the interior life will lead us to regularly ask, “Quo vadam et ad quid?” Where am I going and why? Mental prayer will help us understand what Jesus would do in our place, how He would act, what advice He would give us, and what He wants from us during these difficult times.
7. Keep your end in mind. Many theologians and biblical scholars have questioned how much more God will tolerate and whether these could be the end times. Many prophecies, apparitions, and even the Book of Revelation help shed light on our current circumstances. Regardless, we should always assume that the end is near — because it is (our personal end, at least). The only thing we control is this present moment. The past is gone, and the future may never come. We should treat each day as though it were truly our last. We should not live in fear. After all, as one faithful priest recently explained, nowhere in the Bible does it say to “stay safe” — as we commonly hear these days. But the Bible repeatedly reminds us to “be not afraid.” As Jesus said in the Book of Matthew, “do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” We should have a healthy fear of God by growing in charity and avoiding sin.
In sum, these times present many challenges but also many opportunities for sanctification. We are not all called to “fight the culture war” through politics and the courts. Some are, but many are not. But we are all called to be saints; we are called to be faithful; we are all called to know and love and defend the Truth; and we are all called to love God with our whole heart, our whole mind, and our whole soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
In the end, the most important aim is to save our souls and to bring as many other people as we can to Christ. We should try to improve our society in the process, but we should not be discouraged if we fall short in this life. Ultimately, we know that God is in control and that “all things work for good for those who love God.” And as Saint Teresa of Calcutta wisely said, “We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.”
Paul M. Jonna is a partner with LiMandri & Jonna LLP, a civil litigation practice based in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Mr. Jonna also handles constitutional litigation, defending religious liberty and First Amendment rights, including current cases representing David Daleiden, Cathy Miller of Tastries Bakery, Stephen Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful, Children of the Immaculate Heart, and Timothy Gordon.