Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. (1 John 2:18-21, NRSV)
All heretics, all schismatics went out from us, that is, they go out from the Church; but they would not go out, if they were of us. Therefore, before they went out they were not of us. If before they went out they were not of us, many are within, are not gone out, but yet are antichrists. We dare to say this: and why, but that each one while he is within may not be an antichrist? For he is about to describe and mark the antichrists, and we shall see them now. And each person ought to question his own conscience, whether he be an antichrist. (Augustine, Homily 3 on the First Epistle of John)
Recent weeks have shown us just how far some people are willing to go to create a controversy. Despite various reports indicating that indigenous statues represent Our Lady of the Amazon, the motherly love of the Lord, the Amazonian lands and peoples, and our sister Mother Earth, a mangled cadaver of far-right Catholics have done everything in their power to confuse the Faithful and malign our Amazonian brethren. Many seem surprised to see the white supremacist talking points erupting across Catholic Twitter, speaking of the inherent superiority of a specifically European Christianity. The rot pours forth from its source and the source was never Christ. It is and always was a root born of egoism.
Some of my own friends (and former friends) have been caught up in these sins. People who I spent many nights over many years counseling, praying for and with, exploring problems and solutions, attempting to help. People that I brought into the Church, as a convert myself. People whose faith I tried to strengthen. And people who strengthened my faith, too.
It has certainly been difficult to watch Catholics whom I helped join and grow in the Church, or those who helped me, espouse this absurd ethnocentric fantasy. Perhaps— please God— they do it without realizing it, but they remain totally invincible to any counterargument. Even my former pastor and parish have taken to blindly maligning the Pope, misrepresenting the Faith, and molding the Gospel to their own sensibilities. One friend told me that it was quite a time to be alive, but I find myself more and more bored with these tired old heresies that never seem to be as interesting as when they were first revealed.
Watching my treasured circle of friends, pastors, and confidants throughout the Midwest abandon the Faith— here quickly and loudly, there slowly and subtly— I don’t think I have ever felt pain like it. I wrestle with Jesus about it every day. I don’t believe there is a moment this loss doesn’t weigh on me, whatever else I try to occupy myself with. They may have been my friends, and I will always be grateful for them, but regardless they have certainly been deceived. The result has been that I have questioned myself more than ever before. There are days when I feel like throwing the whole spiritual life aside and giving in to the temptations of the present. Oh, well. There is an insight into my own faults for you.
When I go into my soul to pray, so to speak, I recognize myself. I don’t recognize my old friends, obsessed with race and conspiracy and being right in the face of all contrary facts. I certainly don’t recognize the priests who once showed such tact and patience but have traded it in for triumphalism. I don’t recognize my old friends, yet I don’t feel different. But my former colleagues, partners, pew-sitters, brothers and sisters— people I built up parishes with, evangelized with, prayed with, held onto through difficult life events— I look in their eyes and listen to their words, and realize I don’t know them from Adam anymore. They truly have tossed aside the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It has made me a weeping mess in my reading chair in my quiet garage, before my little icons and crucifix, more often than is perhaps good for me.
Most of these fools speak as if Christ was a red-cheeked Norwegian or a tea-sipping Englishman. It really is a comical affair, insisting that Christianity is inherently European. Christianity, it turns out, is inherently Indigenous. It is inherently foreign to almost everyone, in the strict, ethnic sense. Our Lord is— not was— an indigenous Jewish man from Palestine. He maintains that immutable identity for all of time and eternity. Jesus is a poor indigenous laborer whom the Father has exalted to heavenly glory. The Son of God may be the infinite ground of all existence, but He chose to become one of the feeblest and most helpless of men. Who is less powerful than someone trapped under the thumb of an imperial power? But the Lord turns that dynamic on its head.
According to our Faith, two poor, indigenous Jews are the King and Queen of Creation. Their humble, native culture, through the power of God, is precisely what transformed the cultures so many white Catholics take for granted. As Pius XI once said, “Spiritually, we are all Semites.” If I may update that phrase for my own purposes: spiritually, we are all natives, not of Europe or the United States, but of a kingdom not of this world. That kingdom can take the whole world up into it. It is a kingdom that can redeem anything if human beings will just let it.
We know— well, we all knew, last I checked— that there is no white or black or brown in Christ. There is no man or woman. There is no superiority or inferiority. There is no “inherently” Christian national culture; every seed the Lord sows must be tended to grow and thrive. There is no inherently superior race in the eyes of God, and there is no inherently superior culture to offer him. So long as a group of persons is open to Christ and obedient to His Church— re-read that, if you’re one of my old friends, because you forget it— their culture grows and evolves into something honoring the Lord. Do European Christians look down on their Indigenous brethren for their Christianity’s youth? Paul reminded Timothy to defy people like that.
No, Indigenous cultures, handed over to Christ, are just as much capable of worship and humility and art and insight as our own. Their spirituality is as open and honest, and as capable of refinement and improvement, as any other Catholic’s. Their thoughts, words, deeds, emotions (even if we disagree with them), are worthy of respect and patience. Do you think some Catholics are worshiping the wrong way? Perhaps the prudent option is to calmly talk to them about it, just to be sure. Then, perhaps someone could offer some of that filial correction we hear so much about from traditionalists— rather than throwing someone’s religious or cultural possessions into a river and proclaiming your “white” Christianity is superior to their “native” Christianity.
I intentionally selected 1 John 2 and St. Augustine’s commentary to open this essay. I believe that every traditionalist— including those who once saw me as a brother to pray with rather than an enemy to be defeated— knows exactly my meaning by citing these texts for them. Meanwhile, those of us who choose to remain in the bosom of the Church, who choose to strive despite our daily failures for faith, hope, and charity, press on. The work of the kingdom doesn’t stop because of a small cadre of rabble-rousers and their parodic apostles.
It truly doesn’t make sense, however despairing I may feel on this 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, to give up because a small band of sad, bitter racists wishes it could hijack the Church. It makes no sense at all to surrender Beauty, Goodness, and Truth because a group of fundamentalists insists on making physical threats of violence and committing hate crimes out of their bigoted ignorance. The opus Dei continues. We must press on, faithful to God, obedience to His Church, receptive to the Successor of St. Peter.
Well, back to work, everyone. The Lord will take care of His people, and He will deal with those who pervert the Gospel for their own sinful ends. We have souls to save, penances to perform, and good news to proclaim. Let not your hearts be troubled. Keep your eyes on Christ and His Mother, the poor Lady of the Amazon. God love you.
Whoever are not antichrists, it cannot be that they should continue without. But of his own will is each either an antichrist or in Christ. Either we are among the members, or among the bad humors. He that changes himself for the better, is in the body, a member: but he that continues in his badness, is a bad humor; and when he is gone out, then they who were oppressed will be relieved. (Augustine, ibid.)
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Joe Dantona is a convert living in eastern Ohio. He studied political science, history, and theology. He divides his free time between entertaining his wife and kids with dad jokes and getting distracted while reading good books.