By Fr. Dana Christensen
About a year ago, I was diagnosed with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It has already taken much from me, like the ability to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, feed myself, or walk. Yet it has also brought me great freedom to live my priesthood in a radical way. Although this disease has taken much from me, and will take more, it cannot take from me the holy priesthood. It may change how I exercise my ministry, but it cannot take the ministry of preaching, teaching, and sanctifying. One of the ways I can continue to preach and teach is through writing. Technology is such that even though I can’t use my hands, I can use a computer that uses eye tracking to type. The technology is amazing. In fact, this whole article was typed using only my eyes. In this way, in the freedom that comes from knowing I have nothing to lose but heaven, that I can preach boldly through the medium of the written word.
This article had its origin as a reflection on my experience with COVID-19, particularly my stay in the hospital, but as I wrote and prayed it became clear to me that the Lord was asking me to speak boldly, especially to my fellow clergy, and to call them to live their priesthood without fear or compromise during these dark days.
I address this, then, to my brother priests, all bishops, as well as the laity. Think of it as an open letter, or maybe as a sermon in written form.
My own experience with the COVID-19 virus taught me a great deal, but the most important of these things is that the COVID phenomenon is primarily a spiritual reality. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a science denier on COVID. It is a very real virus. But the point I’d like to make is that our ancient foe, the devil, is an opportunist, and will use every chance he can to use something like this against us.
When I first got COVID, I seemed to have few symptoms. I seemed to have gotten away with a light case. But little did I know that this would not be the case.
Some of you, especially the more astute of you who follow me on social media, noticed that I was getting more and and more agitated. I felt very much a demonic disorientation overtaking me. It was something I have not felt in a very long time. Not even in the midst of the dark days of being diagnosed with ALS. For the first time I seemed to be losing my peace, which I found chaotic.
This was certainly compounded by the justified anger I felt about Pope Francis and his completely erroneous teaching on civil unions, as well as the non-stop media bias against everything good and holy. Not to mention a “catholic” candidate running for president who is a man of iniquity and sin disguised as a child of light. But not even these things have, until I got COVID, caused me to lose my peace so completely.
What this tells me is that COVID is more than a simple virus. It may have started that way, but the bastard demon couldn’t leave well enough alone. You see, the thing that Satan wants more than anything is you and me in hell for all eternity. He knows that one of the best ways of getting us there is to bring us to a place of isolation, fear, despair, lack of interior freedom, and most insidiously of all, a separation from the means of our salvation, the sacraments. Yes, I believe this is the work of the devil.
This is what the devil does, and in so many ways, the Church and her leaders have played right into his filthy little hands, and it is high time it stopped.
So, what is the solution? Well, when it comes to spiritual warfare, we have to fight fire with fire. If Satan turns up the heat, so do we. We must use every weapon in our arsenal. Some of these weapons are suited more for priests and bishops, but there is plenty that everyone can do to begin knocking back the enemy of our soul.
One of the means our Lord used with me when I began to feel disoriented is that He wisely removed me from the agitation. This required me to go to the hospital, surely an unpleasant way of finding some peace, but highly effective. No phone, no computer, no Facebook, no soul-sucking Twitter, not even a good book to occupy my mind. This spiritual detox was exactly what I needed. It forced me to focus on Jesus and him alone. The devil hates this, which is why we must embrace it. We need a great disconnect from the world, and a great reconnect with Jesus. This will require the Cross, but without doing it, we will continue down the path of demonic disorientation, which we cannot afford.
The next part of the solution falls squarely on the shoulders of priests and especially bishops. This is the part of what I have to say could get me in trouble, but it needs to be said, so out of love for Holy Mother Church, and out of love for souls, including the souls of priests and bishops, here is a challenge to my brother priests, including bishops who have the fullness of the priesthood. And maybe challenge is not the right word. It’s more of a plea that we take up in earnest our Christ-given mission without apology, knowing full well that this means we will have to mount the wood of the Cross. After all, brothers, is that not why we became priests? Was it not to become co-redeemers with Jesus, priest and victim? Was it not to do anything necessary to save souls, even if it meant shedding our life blood? If this is not the reason for our existence, then what is it all for? A nice income for life? Job security? A pension? Nice diocesan programs? Slick pamphlets asking for money so USCCB fat cats can continue to collect their government dole? No, that is decidedly not why our Lord called us, yet that is how many of us act. Instead of saving souls, using every means at our disposal, we act like hirelings more concerned with keeping the peace than calling people to conversion and providing them with the means to bring that conversion to fruition through the sacraments.
Bishops, in particular, have an important role here. In the fight for souls they are the generals. They go first. If they have the testicular fortitude to actually embrace the Cross, and climb up on it, the priests will follow, and then too, the laity, but the bishop MUST go first!
So, what does this look like on a practical level? Let me offer a few, though by no means, exhaustive, list of suggestions.
First, if we believe COVID is being used by Satan to drag souls to hell, then confronting that head on needs to be priority number one. Bishops have immense authority when it comes to casting out demons. As successors of the Apostles they have full authority in their diocese over the devil and his minions. There is literally nothing stopping a bishop from exorcising his diocese, except, of course, fear of people thinking he is crazy. That’s what they said about Jesus too. I believe the exact quote is that “he is out of his mind.” To bishops who are afraid of being seen as out of their mind, I ask again, why are you a priest? To be thought well of, or to give your life with Christ as a ransom for many? If it is the latter, then put on your cassock, drive to the four corners of your diocese, open the Roman Ritual, put on your purple stole, and set to work. And here is another idea, don’t hide what you are doing. Jesus didn’t hide his ministry of casting out demons. He exorcised in public as a way of drawing souls to himself. So I say call in the troops. Invite your priests to join you. Call in the religious. Call up the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher, Malta, and the Knights of Columbus! We suffer from a severe lack of Catholic identity. What better display of authentic Catholic identity than the bishop surrounded by his priests and the laity to boldly and fearlessly confront evil? Sure, some would say the bishop is crazy, but what kind of a bishop cares what people think, when souls are at stake?
After my stint with COVID I shared the idea of exorcism with my own bishop, who seemed open to it. But even so, while bishops must take the lead, we also, as priests and laity, have a right and duty to demand proper pastoral care, which includes protection from the ancient foe. So, dear brother priests and laity, ask for and demand action. Your bishop may think you a bit off, but come, now, Father, did you become a priest to be a bishop-pleaser, or to be a hero of the faith?
The second thing that I would encourage is for every bishop to call for a Year of St. Joseph in their diocese, focusing on St. Joseph’s title of Terror of Demons. Along with Fr. Donald Calloway, I believe we are living in a time marked by St. Joseph. Bishops would do well to spread devotion to St Joseph, even aiding their dioceses in a period of preparation for a consecration to St. Joseph. I would even have special medals of St. Joseph, Terror of Demons struck, blessed, and distributed to anyone who promises to wear it.
Surely, many bishops will not be open to this idea, but that’s just fine, because pastors of parishes have the ability to call such a year of St. Joseph in their parish, and they should! One of the privileges of my priesthood was to serve as dean. One of my frustrations, however, was convincing pastors that they have real pastoral authority in their parishes. Slowly, over the years, the idea that we shouldn’t start an initiative, or implement reforms, or make any changes without a directive from the chancery had taken root in the minds of priests. This led to a spirit of mediocrity where nothing changed for the better because everyone was waiting for guidance from the chancery that would never come.
No, brothers, you have real canonical authority to govern your parishes, so do it! Seize the day! If you want to call a Year of St. Joseph, do it! If you want to start offering the Traditional Latin Mass, you have every canonical right to do so. If you want to start using Gregorian Chant, or to get new hymnals, or any number of reforms, do it! You have real authority to do so. Do it wisely, and teach your flock why, but to wait for the chancery to issue a document or to wait for the bishop to direct you to reform the liturgy is futile.
Exercise your God given authority without fear.
Finally, and most importantly, the issue of bishops and priests depriving their flocks of the very means of salvation, the sacraments, needs to be addressed forcefully. With lockdowns looming on the horizon again, and even pope Francis already, quite prematurely, cancelling Christmas Masses at the Vatican, bishops and priests need to start thinking now how they will handle not only the unlawful overreach of governments, but also the unlawful overreach of a pope or bishop who would again shirk their duty of providing for their flock when the sheep need their shepherds most.
Now, I must be clear: my criticism lies not with bishops and priests who did everything they could to provide the sacraments, but rather with those who, with no spirit of fighting with a supernatural faith, immediately capitulated to what a person with a basic sense of human freedom could recognize as an infringement of the rights of the Church. No government has the right to tell the Church of Christ how, where, when, or how many can worship. My criticism lies with those bishops and priests who would rather win favor in the eyes of the world, who would rather go along to get along, who would rather hide out in fear instead of courageously putting their lives on the line to save souls.
To return to an earlier theme, why, brothers, did we become priests? To capitulate to oppressive governments? To capitulate to cowardly bishops? Or did we become priests to put ourselves out there in spite of the danger? Our forefathers died for such things. What about us?
I have experienced firsthand the spiritual ravages wrought by COVID. I know how a soul caught in its clutches can become diabolically disoriented, and for a pope, bishop, or priest, to deprive a person in that situation of the comfort of the sacraments is the height of cruelty and a grave sin of omission. For the pope not to be actively be fighting for the freedom of the Church is a scandal. The same goes for bishops and priests in their own dioceses and parishes.
Now some may come to the defense of bishops and priests saying that they don’t have any control over hospital policy or government regulations, and there may be some truth to that. But where is their fight? What would happen if the bishop himself showed up at the local Catholic hospital with a small army of priests with media in tow to hear confessions, anoint, and distribute Holy Communion? This is what we need! Bishops who are unintimidated by the world or what worldly people think about them. Men consumed with zeal for souls.
This past week we saw yet another mandatory lockdown in Great Britain, including the draconian prohibition of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The bishops are rightly making statements questioning this injustice, but are mere statements enough at this point? It seems to me that we are well beyond that. It is time for choosing to be radical obedience to Jesus Christ no matter the consequence. Bishops and priests have suffered to bring the sacraments to the faithful in every day and age. They have been imprisoned, tortured, and martyred in most heinous ways, yet in most parts of the world, bishops and priests live in fear of the slightest threat from governments or leaders in the Church beholden to the globalist agenda and government handouts. This sort of soft and effeminate behavior is an insult to our forefathers who freely gave their lives for the flock. May these martyrs of old and of today intercede by giving weak bishops and priests a swift kick in their clerical trousers, reminding them that they are men, and should act as such.
I realize that much of what I have called for in this article is wishful thinking. We have come to a point where most of us have lost confidence in our Catholic leadership. Between the lack of transparency on sex abuse, the refusal to acknowledge the problem of homosexuality among the episcopate and presbyterate, the constant revelations of serious financial corruption at the highest levels of the Church, regular reports of money given to the bishops conference by you and me being used to promote and pay for mortally sinful activities, widespread liturgical abuse, unjust and canonically unlawful restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass and ad orientem worship, and most grievous of all, the doctrinal confusion perpetrated by none other than Pope Francis himself, there is nary a faithful soul who has confidence in our leadership. In my experience in listening to the faithful, most are in this camp, even if they don’t say it out loud. The faithful have sadly come to the conclusion that the pope, bishops, and most priests are not coming to save us. I wish they were, and maybe the Lord will intervene, but their actions thus far don’t speak well about how they will act in the future.
So, what do we do? Where do we go from here?
First a word to my brother priests. The time for fence sitting is over. We have to choose whose side we are on. This choice will mean the Cross. I admit that I am in a unique position to speak more forcefully, and that some of you may not be as free to speak as I am. God has blessed me with a disease that has required me to retire from active ministry. It has allowed me to have the ability to be in a position to have literally nothing to lose except Heaven, and I’m not giving that up for anyone or anything! And so I have resolved to fearlessly say what I believe the Lord is asking me to say. I do, however, encourage you, my brothers, to put aside ambition and human respect so that you too might experience the freedom that comes when we surrender to God’s will, even when it means losing everything. I am losing everything to ALS, yet I am more free than I have ever been. This freedom has come at a cost, namely the Cross. But it is worth it because the Cross and the truth and the salvation of souls is why I became a priest. How about you? Why did you become a priest? Are you willing to suffer to do what you are called to do even if the government, or God forbid, the pope or bishop were to tell you not to? Are you willing to be obedient to Jesus above all? Jesus didn’t commission us to give the sacraments to only those who were not quarantined, or only in time of health, rather Jesus showed by example that we should visit those who are contagious like lepers, that we should visit And even touch those who are unclean like the woman with the hemorrhage, that even those possessed by the devil were granted help in their need. Are you, my brother, willing to do this even if the government tells you not to? I hope the answer is a rousing yes! Your salvation may depend on it.
For everyone else, the answer to where we go from here is different. But that doesn’t mean that the work of the laity is any less important. The laity has an important role to play in these times. First and foremost, prayer, fasting, and reparation are the first priorities. Second, showing unflinching support for those bishops and priests who are willing to defy the government is important. Financing lawsuits and legal defense is expensive, so stepping up financially will be necessary. It is possible that some courageous priests will be dismissed, and they too, should be supported financially and morally. There is another side of the coin when it comes to finances, and that is withholding finances from parishes and dioceses who refuse to provide the sacraments to the faithful. Instead, give to parishes, dioceses, or religious orders who do. We all hate to admit it, but money talks, and scandalously, it is the only language some priests and bishops speak. Finally, speak up! Get involved in the political process. Meet publicly to pray, have processions, and gather in front of your churches even if they are locked. If the government, or your priest, or your bishop tells you not to, do it anyway. Obedience extends only to those things where the government, priests, and bishops have lawful authority. Last time I checked, bishops, priests, or the government do not have the authority to tell people that they cannot gather to pray. Anyone can gather at anytime to pray.
In the end, we know how this all turns out. God will come to judge the living and the dead. Justice will be done. The thoughts of hearts will be revealed, and all will be Made known. We have the promise of our Lady of Fatima that in the end her Immaculate Heart will triumph. If we are on the side of the angels, if we have sought to live the truth without compromise and in spite of, as the hymn says, dungeon, fire, and sword, then we will live forever in the sight of God. If, however, we choose the easy way, if we choose the wide path that leads to death, if we align ourselves with the ancient foe who seeks to isolate us, instill in us fear, and deprive us of the means of our salvation — the sacraments — then we will find ourselves in the most pitiable state of all, namely, eternal separation from all that is good, beautiful, and true. In a word: Hell.
So, choose wisely during these days. The consequences are eternal. Have no fear whatsoever. Love the Cross, for it is our freedom. Fight for what is rightfully yours. Pray, pray, pray.