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Reading the Data and Preparing for Exile

March 14, 2019



“The Father and I are one.”
The Jews again picked up rocks to stone him.

– (John 10:30-31)

One day at Mass, a favorite priest remarked on the whole of John 10:30-42. I took notes, but still am paraphrasing a little:

“I think the men who wanted to stone Jesus were offended that he would come in their era, that he would intrude on their time with his messianic talk. Because it’s one thing to look for and hope for Messiah, and quite another to have to encounter Messiah, which demands an interior, real, and lifelong change, a delivering up of self.

But we cannot chose the time of God’s coming; all we can do is learn to read the data and then respond in a right way, understanding that many, many will seek the world and its answers, because the way of the world appears easier. The world can be touched, seen, smelt; it seems like the reality, and they cling to it.

For the rest of us, all we can do is be faithful. Will it be scary? Yes. Will we be abandoned? Not on your life.

The world we can sense does seem “easier” to fall into step with, even though we know that most of what goes on around us is all passing trend or profound illusion. We know that if the atoms around us cease to move, everything “real” will crumble, and so “reality” is in some ways conceptual. In this form we are exiles—our truest selves are, as Chesterton pointed out in Orthodoxy, “more distant than any star.”

We also know that time is a construct; everything that is going on now has always been going on. Everything that is to come, has already come. We are forever in Eden, forever at the foot of the Cross, forever glimpsing a final glory. As Christians, we live in exile to our true home and our truest natures, and while we are here we must maintain our courteous and just citizenship in a world that does not quite understand us—or perhaps understands us all too well—and therefore increasingly wants us silenced and put out of sight.

She never heard my priest’s adjuration to “read the data,” but Peggy Noonan recently did just that. Observing the galloping social media movement to silence “offensive” viewpoints, Noonan compared the trend to Mao’s “Cultural Revolution,” which would haul dissenters before the jeering crowds before imprisoning and often torturing them.

The air is full of accusation and humiliation. We have seen this spirit most famously on the campuses, where students protest harshly, sometimes violently, views they wish to suppress. Social media is full of swarming political and ideological mobs. In an interesting departure from democratic tradition, they don’t try to win the other side over. They only condemn and attempt to silence….On literary Twitter social-justice warriors get advance copies of new books and denounce them…Books on the eve of publication have been pulled, sometimes withdrawn by authors who apologize profusely. Everyone’s scared. And the tormentors are not satisfied by an apology. They’re excited by it and prowl for more prey.

The powers currently dominating academia and media seem to approve of the Maoist trajectory, so we may be riding it for a while until it either peters out on its own or is shot down. As variations in view become less tolerated from all corners, we should remember how one man bore up against such oppression, and perhaps even take him for our patron.

Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin Mei spent more time in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, than Nelson Mandela, but his story is not well known. His crime was keeping fidelity to his faith.

His foundation shares a story that we should all keep in mind:

[His] arrest finally came on September 8, 1955, when the Bishop and more than 200 priests and Church leaders were taken overnight. Months after, [Kung] was taken to the dog racing stadium of Shanghai to publicly confess his “crimes.” Thousands were present in the stadium as he was pushed to a microphone, hands bound behind his back, and wearing only pajamas.

There he made his confession: “Long live Christ the King! Long live the Pope!”

The assembled crowd immediately roared back, “Long live Christ the King! Long live Bishop Kung!”

Authorities rushed him from the stadium. He spent the next thirty years behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement, refused visitors or letters. Released in 1985, he spent an additional decade under house arrest.

The charges brought against Cardinal Kung included “opposing the Communist plan to set up a schismatic Catholicism free of Vatican control” and “protecting counter-revolutionaries.” Just the sorts of charges we may eventually see brought against other church-folk as secularists gain momentum.

Finally free, Kung—made a Cardinal in pectore (meaning, “in secret, in the heart” of Pope John Paul II) while he was still imprisoned—celebrated a Mass in Rome, offered for the intentions of Catholics in China. He preached:

So we must not be surprised when persecution comes because it is a normal event for the Church to suffer persecution. Once, when Pope Pius XII received a group of seminarians in audience, he asked them how many special signs distinguished the true Church of God. They answered immediately without further thinking, “It is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The Pope said, “There is still a fifth sign.” The seminarians did not know how to answer. The Pope said, “Persecution.” So, if the Church enjoyed peace all the time without any persecution, it would be very abnormal. It would be a reason for us to worry and examine ourselves lest anything was going wrong. Perhaps we were not living as faithful disciples of Christ? As persecution must be expected, it comes as a special sign of the Church and we should not try to make compromises or concessions of any kind in order to bring the persecution to an end quickly. We ourselves cannot take the initiative to create or arouse persecution. But if it comes to us one day, not only should we accept it readily from the hand of God but we should even rejoice and be glad.

In a few years, particularly in light of the failings of our own leadership and the Church’s weakened moral authority, we Catholics in the United States may be advised to abandon our troubled, “intolerant” Church for one that is more politically approved and correct—and if you think that thought is paranoid, such a move was tried in one state just a decade ago by politicians who had gotten a little ahead of themselves.

Someday, we may be asked to bow before something other than a Tabernacle, and we’ll either comply and then have to live with ourselves, or refuse and then live with the consequences.

And that will be when we need to remember Ignatius Kung Pin Mei, and how the power of one single voice ready to proclaim “Long live Christ the King” turned a stadium full of jeering, terrified spectators into sudden witnesses: “Long live Christ the King! Long live Bishop Kung!”

Meanwhile, we must practice prayer—the most subversive of liberties—and keep the faith, remembering the optimism of another Cardinal, Francis George of Chicago, who told a group of priests: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

Let us pray:

Ignatius Cardinal Kung, from your place among the holy men and women who stand in the presence of the God of All Creation, pray for your brothers and sisters who live in worldly exile, that those who worship in freedom and those who yearn to do so may remain strong in faith. Where we are persecuted, let us remember that we are not able to choose the time of Christ’s coming or his deliverance, but that we are never to be abandoned. Pray for us, that we may learn to pray well, and with peace. Amen.