If there is one dominating characteristic that backlights American politics—on the right as well as the left—it is a growing sense of desperation. After nearly eight years of President Obama’s disastrous policies, the prospect of another Democratic president is simply unthinkable to most conservatives. For them, especially those activists in the trenches of the Culture War, the 2016 election is increasingly seen as one of the most important in our lifetimes, if not the history of the American Republic. They are desperate to avoid what might be the most liberal president in our history.
This desperation extends to the left as well. Liberal politicians, activists, and professional agitators, thwarted by a conservative Congress and a defiant American public that have blocked a significant part of President Obama’s agenda, are resorting to every legal and illegal tactic in the book to impose their agenda on America with unprecedented speed and ferocity. If anyone doubts the very real desperation and frustration on the left, then one doesn’t have to look any farther than the screeching followers of Bernie Sanders.
Leftists are doing everything they can to exacerbate tensions and foment fear and uncertainty. By supporting the immigration of thousands of Muslim “refugees,” liberals are essentially facilitating the slipping through of Islamic terrorism into America. The so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement that has helped create a climate, in which police are being killed, has made Americans more fearful than ever.
Taking a page from totalitarian regimes around the world, liberals have begun to use fear to intimidate conservative Americans into silence. With a fanaticism that borders on religious fervor, the left has moved far beyond civilized debate and instead has initiated a type of great purge to root out everyone from academia, government, the military, and the corporate world who dares to oppose political correctness. This can be seen in the violent response from every liberal lever of power to North Carolina’s HB2 (the so-called “Bathroom Law”), Indiana’s failed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), or the vicious attacks on Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who conscientiously refused to issue homosexual “marriage” licenses.
With fear comes another dangerous element: anxiety about the future. We Americans are a practical people who place great importance on planning for the future. Unlike other countries with a more indifferent attitude, American culture traditionally values overcoming future difficulties with planning and foresight. We apply this outlook to everything. In war, we ensure victory with utterly overwhelming technology and firepower. In finance, we hedge our bets to minimize exposure and risk. In our personal lives, we insure our property and even our lives against possible loss.
But this national trait can become a liability when we encounter situations with no apparent solution. When we are no longer able to foresee the future, when we feel that we are no longer in control of our destiny, we can easily succumb to discouragement and despair.
This combination of desperation, anxiety, and fear is deadlier even than the physical threats we face. This time-tested mix is used by revolutionaries to manipulate people into accepting ideas and policies they normally would not consider. Fear of a new World War led Western nations to appease Adolf Hitler in the thirties. Fear of a nuclear holocaust during the Cold War was used to intimidate Western nations into conceding to Soviet demands. Fear of civil unrest in the sixties and seventies allowed liberals to implement their radical social experiments and government programs on American society.
Likewise, the fear of riots, Islamic terrorism, and a third World War with Russia or China is influencing Americans to do today what was almost unthinkable a generation ago: to question and even doubt the foundational principles of our country and the Christian West and to retreat from the indispensable role that our country plays in the world today. Tragically, many Americans have already lost hope and are simply waiting for the inevitable crash. They have grown indifferent to the consequences of such a calamity and have abandoned the fight to save America. Some, taking an imbalanced view of our national faults, have even cheered on our enemies’ efforts to destroy America.
How can a concerned American navigate these pitfalls and discern the correct response to the crisis? The burning problems facing our country today do not have easy, obvious solutions. One thing we can do, however, is to adopt the right disposition so that we may not find ourselves deceived by the many false solutions that will lead our country to ruin. There are four specific things we must ask of God if we wish to successfully navigate the winds of crisis.
First, we must pray for calm. In times of crisis, those people who dominate themselves and maintain a cool head successfully emerge unscathed. In fact, it is precisely in times of deepest crisis when we need calm the most.
A sign of personal greatness is the ability to stay cool while under fire, whether it be on the battlefield, during a debate, or in times of social unrest or confusion like our own. Some of the most memorable stories of heroism, for example, are on the battlefield when officers calmly and valiantly expose themselves to gunfire in order to calm their men and lead a successful counterattack. In times of crisis—in life no less than war—those who allow themselves to be overcome by fear or panic will always perish.
And for those with faith, we have the sublime example of Our Lord Jesus Christ when He slept on the boat of His Apostles on the Sea of Galilee during a storm. When Saint Peter woke up the Master with the despairing words, “Master, we perish!”, with a divine tranquility, He commanded the winds and the waves to cease. To His astonished Apostles, He asked, “Where is your faith?”
Second, we must ask to be guided by reason, not emotions. Fear and desperation are strong emotions that can lead people to forget or even deny what their reason tells them is true. When we see institutions crumble and our way of life under threat, we may easily allow ourselves to be deceived by slick propaganda and charismatic leaders who more often than not lead nations to ruin.
Our reason must also be firmly rooted in principles, namely, true philosophy, natural law, and the traditional Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Empires come and go, great leaders rise and fall, but the perennial principles taught by the Church must be our true refuge, especially in times of chaos and confusion such as ours. It is more important than ever to scrutinize proposed solutions in accordance with Faith and morals, to study the burning issues of the day with seriousness, and to resist the tendency to solve very complex problems with over-simplified “solutions.”
Third, we must pray to God, through the intervention of His Holy Mother Mary, for courage. Our generation is being forced to reckon with a crisis that has been brewing for generations. Seeds sewn centuries ago are only now coming to fruition. The left has expended enormous amounts of time, money, and effort to infiltrate every institution of power and influence to subvert what remains of the Christian social order.
In the face of such a daunting threat, it is easy to despair and simply retreat from the field of battle to await the inevitable collapse of society. It seems that the forces of the left are simply too strong to resist. This position, sometimes called the “Benedict Option,” is being promoted by some Catholic commentators. Although attractive to many, the “Benedict Option” can easily lead to an unconditional surrender to evil. And as any good spiritual director would say, surrender to the devil is not the path to Heaven.
Nor is it rooted in reality. Evil has never simply allowed the good to live in peace. Rather, evil men actively hunt down the good to pervert and destroy them. The ancient Romans sought out Christians and killed them wherever they were found. Islam has spent its entire existence invading Christian lands. Socialists have sought ever more sinister ways to conquer souls through propaganda, education, and culture. The only effective response to evil is and always has been to fight back with redoubled vigor.
And lest we forget, it is we and not evil who have the certainty of victory. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, and Our Lady of Fatima declared before the whole world that “Finally, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” The Church has survived 2,000 years and can confidently say to the world, “I have seen other winds, I have weathered other storms.”1 We must imitate the confidence and faith of Saint Joan of Arc, who declared, “In God’s name, the soldiers will fight, and He will grant victory.”
Fourth, we must show openness and docility to the winds of the Holy Spirit. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways,” the Scriptures say.2 Although we often don’t understand why they come and for what purpose, the trials and tribulations of life that God sends us are always for our greater good. He may send us a grace to perform a particular mission, or He may ask us to make a unique sacrifice that is completely beyond our limited understanding.
The saints and heroes of history were asked to perform unimaginable deeds in the face of seemingly impossible situations. The Apostles as they began the conversion of the world to Christianity, Don Pelayo at Covadonga in Spain, Godfrey of Bouillon during the First Crusade, Saint Joan of Arc when called by her voices, or Christopher Columbus sailing for the New World, are just a few examples of heroes who heard the voice of grace and corresponded to it. Although they could never have foreseen the consequences of their obedience to God’s grace, it always resulted in some of the most glorious chapters in the history of the Church.
Like Our Lord in the Garden of Olives, we must respond to these moments of trial, confusion, and suffering with docility, obedience, and humility. “Not as I wilt, but as Thou will” should be our lifelong response to them. Rather than consult our own will, we must discern what God’s will is in a given situation.
In Return to Order, John Horvat writes about the dangers we now face as a nation and the ease with which we may fall into false solutions:
…at a time when the situation calls for firm principles, decisive action, and unity, we could find ourselves scattered in a confusing jumble. A psychological climate could reign where there is a doubting of all certainties, a supremacy of the emotions, and a rule of relativism. What characterizes these false solutions is a general loss of faith in political solutions and a corresponding tendency not to believe in anything at all. We run the risk of a reaction driven, not by convictions, but only by frustration, whim, and rage.3
Let us pray to God, through the intervention of His Blessed Mother, to have the courage to face our present crisis with true Christian heroism and the wisdom to discern and avoid the traps laid by Satan, the father of lies.
- “Alios ego vidi ventos; alias prospexi animo procellas,” Cicero, Familiares, 12, 25, 5.
- Isaias, 55:8.
- John Horvat, Return to Order, p. 110.