Hopeless and Despairing
The Lord has done what he purposed,
has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
and exalted the might of your foes.
As I talk with friends and listen to Catholic commentary, it seems like most of us are finding it harder to be happy. People smile, but there is a dullness in our eyes. We all feel the immense weight of the evil surrounding us, and the worse things get, the faster they have been deteriorating. It seems that more and more Catholics are feeling the claustrophobic, suffocating walls of despair closing in around them. We all seem to have the same question nagging us, “Is God going to save us?” but few are willing to ask the question because we fear we already know the answer: no, God will not save us from this crisis because we can only prevent God’s chastisement; once it has begun, there is no stopping it. We are too late.
Joseph Ratzinger’s decades-old prediction is coming true: the Church will lose its prestige, its earthly glory, and will be only a fraction of the size it was. We were warned so many times by the saints and Our Lady at La Salette, Lourdes, Fatima, and most terrifyingly at Akita. And yet we have done little to correct our course. God’s patience has expired, and He is purging the Church. Christ promised that the gates of Hell will not prevail over the Church, but He promised nothing about the condition of the Church. For a while now, I have struggled with watching the Church I love and my nation fall to pieces, but what I am finally starting to realize is that the primary source of our pain is not the state of the world; rather, our pain comes from our misplaced hope.
A few months ago, I was reading the first chapter of 1 Peter, and this passage jumped out at me as if I had never read it before: “Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:13). Now, if I learned anything from reading the Church Fathers, it is that there are no extraneous words in the New Testament Epistles. And that is what stood out to me: St. Peter did not say, “Set your hopes on the grace,” we all do that. He said, “Set your hopes completely on the grace.” That, I have not done, and neither have most Catholics, and those in the Traditionalist movement are not exempt.
What does it mean to set our hopes completely on God’s grace? What I realize now is that whenever we feel angry at God, it means we have not set our hopes completely on His grace. I placed some hope that Trump would be reelected. When it became obvious that the election was stolen, I hoped that the faux election would be overturned. Fifteen years ago, when my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer, I placed my hope in his survival because I was praying more than I ever had that he would live.
In each case, my hopes were crushed; and in each case, I was furious with God. While I did not put all of my hope in those things, I did put some hope in them. However, that is not what the Bible tell us to do. It does not say, “set your hope on the grace,” nor even, “set most of your hope on the grace,” but “set your hopes completely on the grace.” We find ourselves dejected precisely because we have put stakes in things other than God’s grace.
This is not a fun truth, nor a happy truth, but I am convinced that this is the truth: we are promised nothing except that we have the chance for salvation, nothing more and nothing less. We are not even promised salvation—only the opportunity for it. I recently read a chapter from St. Alphonsus, where he begins by saying, “Unum est necessarium,” “One thing is necessary.” In times as wicked as these, it is vital that we always remember that salvation alone is necessary. We accept that in principle, yes, but we look at others. What about the salvation of all the people scandalized by the sexual abuse in the Church? What about all the people being misled by the wolves in sheep’s clothing? The answer, again, is nothing you or I want to hear: “What is that to thee? Follow me” (John 21:22). Others’ fates are not our concern. The most we can do for people is the exact fulfillment of our duties, but we are promised nothing except that they have the opportunity to be saved. “What is that to thee? Follow me.” St. Leonard of Port Maurice argues that the majority of Christian adults are damned! “What is that to thee? Follow me.” The Church is burning to the ground because of the reprobates in the hierarchy! “What is that to thee? Follow me.”
God has not betrayed us nor broken any promises to us because He has promised nothing to us except the chance for salvation, that every pain we endure can be offered to Him to merit grace, and that in every single moment of our lives, we will be given sufficient grace to do what is right. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12), not the salvation of others. Give up on the Church hierarchy. Give up on the United States, the Traditionalist movement, the Jesuits, anything and everything! Give up on everything except the grace that Christ will provide you. That is what it means to set our hopes completely on the grace that God will provide us! “Let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). Rid yourself of the burdens that cling to you so closely when you place your hope in things other than God’s grace. They cling so closely that they become a part of you, and they become cripplingly heavy, I know. St. John of the Cross observes that Christ’s yoke is easy precisely because once one has put his hope entirely in God, nothing can burden him. He has only to carry his own cross. Christ’s cross bore the weight of the world, ours do not; so run the race with your eyes set only on Jesus, awaiting the grace He will provide you now and at the hour of your death. No other moments in human history matter.
With all this being said, I am a weak, fragile human. I have by no means mastered these principles, nor would I even venture to say I am remotely competent at them. But these are thoughts that have occurred to me as I helplessly watch Holy Mother Church burning to the ground. Contemplating these considerations is helping me cope with the pain and disillusionment of seeing so much evil, and I sincerely hope that they can help you in your struggles. I have heard people lament that the Church Fathers and the early saints were holy to degrees we can never achieve, but I am not so sure of that. Earlier this year, a priest mentioned to me that the early Christians were so holy precisely because of the adversity they faced. Perhaps the reason we almost never see saints of the same caliber as the early Christians is because a horribly wicked world is a necessary condition to produce the holiest saints. If that be the case, then it would seem that God is allowing the descent of the Church and the world into an utter abyss of evil precisely to produce saints akin to those of old. Perhaps God knows that the greatest degree of evil is necessary to produce the greatest saints.
To that point, then, as someone who has spent his entire life worrying about things outside of his control, I can tell you with absolute certainty that worrying about things outside of your control is one of the most foolish things a human being can do. And is this not what Jesus says? “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life… And which one of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt. 6:25, 27, 33). Maybe my daughter will die from some horrible disease. Maybe my wife will be brutally murdered by an LGBTQRSTUV lunatic. Maybe I’ll get economically blacklisted for my faith and my family will starve to death because I couldn’t earn a living. Jesus does not promise we will get everything we want, nor even all the things that are good for us; He only promises that we will have everything we need for salvation. Perhaps I have even been denied things that could be useful for my salvation, but never that which was necessary. I have struggled tremendously with trusting God, but in retrospect, that is because I have trusted Him to uphold promises He never made.
When I take a good, honest look at my life, I can see clearly that there is no reason why I should be here now instead of in Hell. It was perfectly within God’s rights to damn me to eternal perdition, but despite all my sins and failures, God always has provided me with Confession. And despite all my doubts and despair struggling with agnosticism, and as brutal and torturous as it was to find answers, I always did, in fact, find them. At my darkest hour, when atheism seemed inevitable for me, I happened to meet a childhood friend out of 600,000 people at the 2014 March for Life. That chance meeting set me on the path to save my faith. I did the statistics, and the odds that she and I would go to the same March for life and actually meet each other were over 1 in 5.76 trillion; and yet that is exactly what happened. As many times as I have felt disappointed by God or betrayed by Him, when I objectively look at my past, I can see that God has always given me what I needed for salvation without exception.
The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:15-16).
Frankly, it is unfair to God that I have been angry with Him for all these years for not keeping promises He never made. The only promise He did make He has never failed to keep—not once. And if you look at your own past you too will find that, painful as God may have allowed it to be, He has never denied you what you needed for salvation. God will not be thwarted, and while that means there is nothing that we can do to stop His purging the Church, it also means that God will provide us all things necessary for our salvation. And that is a great cause for hope. What others do with that opportunity is none of your concern. “What is that to thee? Follow me.” Unum est necessarium, and that is salvation. And Truth Himself has promised us that we can be saved, nothing more and—thanks be to God!—nothing less.
Andrew Petersen is a cradle Catholic, born and raised in Mississippi. He holds an M.A. in theology from Ave Maria University and is especially interested in apologetics. He and his wife live in Wisconsin with their baby daughter