The Virtue of Discernment in Our Times
But if it seem evil to you to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve, whether the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia, or the gods of the Amorrhites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. Joshua24:15
Depending on the context, the Virtue of Discernment can have many meanings. To a Catholic it can involve discerning one’s vocation in life, i.e. married state, single state, or religious or consecrated state. It involves deep and generally long introspection to determine God’s Will for His best use of us as His instrument in life.
Another meaning is the Discernment of Spirits, which many have heard of yet few Catholics fully understand. Discernment of Spirits is accomplished in one of two ways. Supernaturally speaking and most often exceptionally, some individuals can have a divinely given gift or charism of spiritual intuition. That is, they are, through God’s touching their spirit, able to see things that under normal circumstances cannot be known through inherent natural reasoning. The best known example of this is Christ, Our Lord’s response to Peter when he asked Peter …but ye, who do ye say I am? Peter, as most know, answered; Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. Upon which Jesus further responded; …Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens. (Mt.15:15-17) Our Lord, thus stating, that this was such a supernatural discernment freely given Peter by God the Father.
More commonly, discernment of spirits is achieved through reflection, observation, and Theological study. This method is an acquired human knowledge. That said, this ordinary inherent reasoning and knowledge is acquired through the assistance of grace, by assiduous reading and study of not only Sacred Scripture, but also works of Theology and asceticism, the lives of the saints and various hagiographies, and correspondence of distinguished and truly Catholic individuals, ascetics, and clergy. To this should be added the vigilance of watching and praying.
A large part of watching is to pay attention to what is occurring in the world and within the structure of the Church itself. In order to make rational intelligent determinations of both our supernatural and natural lives it is crucial that we keep our intellects informed of the Magisterial Teaching of the Church as well as more mundane matters that impact this Magisterial Teaching. This is most especially true for fathers and heads of families because we are uniquely responsible for the souls under our care. To do any less is to shirk the responsibilities of our state in life. We will, as the stewards of the various biblical parables, be called to account for our care of these precious souls be they minor or grown children, or our wives.
While it is true we must in turn listen, trust, and obey lawful orders from our spiritual leaders, be they our priests/pastors or bishops, we must always use our intellects and natural rational powers to help discern error. Recall that the beauty of our Catholic Faith is that it does not rely on blind unreasoning faith but on reason and the well-formed Catholic rational intellect submitted to Faith.
The Recent Crisis of the Traditional Faith
Regarding the headlines of late, concerning the rapprochement of the SSPX and Rome we must separate all the hyperbole from what is actually essential to the matter at hand. To begin with we must in any case be willing to talk to the Vatican, most especially when they approach us; this is our duty as Faithful Catholics who acknowledge that the reigning Pope, in this case Benedict XVI, is truly the Pope, the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. As St. Ambrose Bishop of Milan in the 4th century AD said: Where there is Peter, there is the Church; furthering the declaration of St. Ignatius Bishop of Antioch circa 105 A.D.: Where the Catholic Church is, there is Jesus Christ. Despite the belief of contemporary Sede Vacantist who contend otherwise, to say that there is no Pope is to essentially say there is no longer a Catholic Church, which by implication states the Jesus Christ, Our Lord is a liar when He stated His promise to be with His Church until the end of time. Further implications are that since he lied he cannot be God, thus blasphemy leads to further blasphemies, and so on until an endless chain of error continues ad infinitum; certainly this is a marvelous seduction of the devil.
With the above in mind, we can easily separate facts from pure speculation. Fact 1: we know of the letter of the three bishops of the SSPX to the Superior General, H. E. Bishop Bernard Fellay. This in not in dispute and has been acknowledged by all parties concerned. Fact 2: we also know of Bishop Fellay’s response letter, which also is acknowledged by all concerned. Fact 3: we know of Bishop de Garaletta’s warning, (he was involved in the initial discussions with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). He stated early on that we could not proceed, at this time, with any agreement with Rome as to our reconciliation. From the “revealed” letters we know that two of the other SSPX bishops concurred. Fact 4a: We know of Bishop Fellay’s stand from his interview with the Catholic News Service and subsequent interviews; in which he in essence states that we must reconcile with Rome at this time because we may never have the chance to do so again. However, in analyzing this statement we are forced to ask, is it the mission of the SSPX to reconcile with the Modernist tendencies of Rome or is it the mission of the SSPX to preserve the priesthood and thereby the true traditional Catholic Faith and follow the Truth? Fact 4b: We also know that Bishop Fellay believes that Rome and the SSPX are closer on matters of Religious Liberty and Ecumenism than previously thought. Again, if we analyze this we can infer that the good Archbishop Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, of happy memory, was wrong all those years ago, when he stood against these very same key principles of VCII. Does this mean that these many decades of sacrifice, ostracizing, and even persecution of we who have adhered to the traditional Catholic Faith were in vain? Fact 4c: From Bishop Fellay’s subsequent interviews and those of his subordinates, we are assured that with any agreement with Rome there will be no immediate changes to the Society or the orthodoxy of tradition. Careful scrutiny will reveal that key to this phrase is the word “immediate”; this does not just imply some changes later but anticipates them. Aside from this many changes have occurred already, nearly imperceptibly, to the operations of the SSPX. First we no longer hear sermons or conferences on the Social Reign or Christ the King, a concept that was abandoned by the Novus Ordo at Vatican Council II and which was stressed over the decades by the priests and religious of the SSPX until very recently.
There is also no mention of the dangers of Freemasonry or Naturalism which was very prevalent in past sermons and conferences. These subjects, as well as, the writings of Fr. Denis Fahey, C.S.sP., Vicomte Léon de Poncins, Chesterton, Belloc, and other Distributionist, Solenge Hertz, Henry Ford, Fr. Charles E. Coughlin and many others are no longer found within our bookstores. Even articles within the now slick publication of the SSPX, The Angelus persistently avoid these topics and authors. In fact, no longer is the very motto of Pope St. Pius X, with all the implications of Christ’s Kingship, heard in the chapels of the Society, that is, To Restore All Things in Christ. Thus, we can see that “immediate” change has already taken place and we can anticipate further changes down the road as we are increasingly contained by the machinery of the Vatican, as has been the case with other well meaning, but naïve traditional group who fell for Rome’s seductions.
The Measured Response
As Faithful and even as religious of the SSPX we must stand firmly with the traditional Catholic Faith. We must stand with, for, and on the Truth and the true Magisterium of the Catholic Church. For forty odd years we’ve been in our own “ghetto” so to speak, where we have gotten comfortable with our situation. We have settled into a co-existence mode of operation in regard to the greater Catholic Church, that is, our diabolically disoriented brothers in the Novus Ordo. We, in fact, have lost the taste for the good fight. We’ve become complacent and lost vigilance. The result is the situation the SSPX now finds itself in and to which Bishop Fellay cavalierly states it was all just a misunderstanding. In other words, we’ve come to terms with our lukewarmness! In a manner of speaking, we should look on this situation as a blessing and a wake-up call from God, that we must once and for always take up the banner and sword and be ever vigilant to our Confirmational mandate to be Soldiers of Christ.
Prudence! Prudence! Prudence!
Our response must be guided not only by the Holy Ghost but also with the Virtue of Prudence and a large measure of discernment. We mustn’t lose our way and enter into long diatribes and rants about the vagaries of the Jews or Freemasonry, be they true or not. This only serves to dissipate our energies and provide distractions. On the contrary, we must focus all our concentration on the matter at hand, the potential betrayal of Faith and the possibility of splitting of the SSPX. Secret organization and groups that solicit money and funds with no named fiduciary responsibility are the result of gut instinct and motivation rather than clear and decisive planning and action. Keep in mind all things that are done in the Catholic Church have always been what is theologically known as “open and notorious”. That is open for all to see. No matter how well-meaning secretive, groups and movements only hurt our cause and provide fodder for our enemies.
As the days pass and conditions rapidly coalesce, circumstances will dictate the formal actions to be taken, most especially by the Faithful, under the guidance of those priests and bishops who remain true to the Faith and the Sacred Magisterium. For the moment, we should not jump the gun acting on emotion, running off willy-nilly on tangents that do little more than tire and separate us. We must use Prudence and discern the movements of the devil from that of God. One way is to recognize that is if a solution strokes or enhances our egos, it is not from God. Similarly, if one is left feeling emotionally upset over a movement within our spirit, or if it is contrary to what has gone before, such as secretive association, than it is not of God. On the other hand, if an inner movement and subsequent action based on it leaves you at peace and is consistent with all that has gone before it is likely of God. Should you have trouble discerning this seek the spiritual direction of a competent, loyal, and holy priest.
Meantime, at this time we must keep each other informed of factual information, forming a loose network of like-minded people who can act as support for priests and religious should the time come. WE must stand as the SSPX has always stood, until this time, as an immovable monolith, relying on the Scriptural admonition which states: as to me and my household we will serve the Lord (Joshua24:15).
For all those of good will who hesitate under the notion of false obedience to disoriented authority I invite you to reread the good Archbishop Lefebvre’s own words in, I Accuse the Council. In addition, I would suggest a rereading of the SSPX’s, The Problem of the Liturgical Reform. A reprise and re-study of these two excellent books will help to put everything into perspective. In addition, I would encourage you to listen to the two following sermons from Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2012, (last Sunday) from Frs. Chazal and Pfeiffer, (Joseph). These are very powerful sermons and address the issue head-on.
Fr. Chazal’s Pentecost Sermon: (video)
Fr. Pfeiffer’s Pentecost Sermon: (audio)
In conclusion, we all must use the virtue of discernment along with obedience to those priests and bishops who uphold the Catholic Faith of two millennia; we must also watch and pray. We must be ready to act when and if the time should come. Most of all, we must keep in mind like the Catholic Faith itself, the Traditional Catholic Movement started in a kind of catacombs of rented hotel rooms, home basements and garages and if so led by the Holy Ghost we can easily, happily, and with peace of soul return to this. In fact, this may be what will once again stimulate our spirit to fight for the one, true, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith of Christ.
Though the official Rosary Crusade has ended keep up your personal and family rosaries for the Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We need this more than ever and it is our last, best recourse.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.