Looking back on the Year of Our Lord 2023, I find many things to be thankful for and some things to pray for, personally and professionally as well as nationally, internationally and ecclesiastically. Here are just a few highlights.
Personally, I was blessed to make four brief road trips this year. The first was with a friend of mine to Richmond on February 1 for the Virginia March for Life. We joined with Bishop Barry Knestout, Bishop Michael Burbidge, Governor Glenn Youngkin, Attorney General Jason Miyares, and thousands of fellow Catholics and Christians from across the Commonwealth to peacefully demonstrate and advocate for the legal protection of the unborn in our state and to support and encourage single mothers to choose life for their babies. The second trip, in mid-April, was to the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and the nearby National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes (on the campus of Mount Saint Mary's University) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The awe-inspiring Byzantine architecture and unique history of the Shrine as the birthplace of the Catholic school system, and the peaceful, prayerful atmosphere of the Grotto with its outdoor Stations of the Cross, many statues of saints, tiny Blessed Sacrament chapel, and towering gold statue of Mary nearby, renewed and uplifted my spirit as I continued to recover from COVID.
My third trip was to the northern West Virginia panhandle in early July to visit a good priest friend and former boss of mine. We enjoyed an afternoon and evening together, with the beautiful scenery of the Mountain State and the Ohio River a pleasant bonus. The fourth and most memorable trip was to the historic Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. on October 21 to participate with more than 1,000 fellow Catholics in the Diocese of Richmond's pilgrimage led by Bishop Barry C. Knestout. It was a partly cloudy and windy autumn day, and every time the sun came back out it would pour through the many stained-glass windows onto different areas of the walls and columns and mosaics of the massive basilica. I took advantage of this opportunity to tour and photograph the many Marian chapels and mosaics adorning the magnificent Great Upper Church, and to go to confession as well as pray the Rosary and attend Mass and Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction with fellow pilgrims. The bishop's homily on the great treasure of our faith did not disappoint, and the world-class music provided by the Shrine choir and organist for the Mass and Eucharistic procession through the basilica was so glorious, majestic, and overpowering at times that I could scarcely hold back tears. I will continue to treasure this day-long visit to Mary's Shrine for years to come.
Professionally, from January through June, as music minister and liturgical assistant, I was blessed to continue leading Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Lexington, Virginia, through the sesquicentennial celebration of its establishment in 1873. To commemorate this historic event, the adult choir performed renowned sacred masterworks, several for the first time, including Palestrina's "Sicut cervus", Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine", Bruno Vlahek's "Ave Maria", Mozart's "Ave verum", and Handel's "Hallelujah!" Chorus from Messiah. I was further blessed to begin leading the parish through the National Eucharistic Revival this year, highlighted by a Eucharistic healing service in April led by Father John A. Boughton, C.F.R., and a remarkably successful Forty Hours devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in October--the first such event at this parish in decades.
Also professionally, a few months ago I learned that the publisher of my first book, America’s Back-Door Enemy, went out of business in 2017 under a cloud of corruption and scandal. Back in 2008 when they accepted my manuscript and offered me a contract, Tate Publishing was a small but idealistic and high-quality Christian publisher located in Mustang, Oklahoma. By 2014 they had grown to become the third-largest Christian publishing house in the United States, but I was unaware that this position had been attained through the dishonest practices of senior management. I pray for the conversion of those who grew wealthy by violating the Seventh Commandment on such a massive scale. If you haven’t read this important book about American foreign policy in the Middle East but would like to, please write to me and I’ll obtain a used copy for you.
Nationally, it was a tumultuous year in government and politics, reflecting our ever-deepening philosophical and moral divide and the increasing totalitarianism of the Democratic Party leadership. Having secured a narrow majority in the House of Representatives in the 2022 election, Congressional Republicans under the capable and effective leadership of Speaker Kevin McCarthy proceeded to act in the best interests of the country while holding the illegitimate Biden administration accountable for its flagrant abuses of power; opening a corruption investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden’s shady business dealings with Communist China, Russia, and Ukraine; and launching overdue impeachment proceedings against "Crooked Joe." Congressional Democrats and eight Republicans In Name Only joined forces to brazenly retaliate by firing McCarthy as House Speaker in September.
Meanwhile, former President Donald J. Trump, the rightful winner of the 2020 presidential election, spent the entire year preparing for his 2024 presidential campaign by traveling the country, speaking to and raising money from millions of ordinary Americans who are grateful for what he did for the nation during his first term as president and who are appalled by what has transpired under Biden's misrule. Remarkably, Trump has successfully weathered multiple violent storms of personal attacks, baseless indictments and lawsuits involving his finances and eligibility to run for president, arrest and imprisonment, and FBI surveillance from Crooked Joe and his Democratic cronies, all coupled with pervasive anti-Trump bias from major media outlets--steadily increasing his support base to the point where he is now clearly leading not only Biden, but all of the other Republican presidential candidates combined, in the polls in all of the key battleground states. May God grant this fearless champion of the American people victory over his enemies and return him to the White House in 2025.
At the same time, independent thinker and plain-spoken maverick candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. successfully connected with millions of voters disenchanted with both major parties, adding another element of interest to the early presidential contest. He promised to break the unholy alliance between Big Government and Big Business and to do an even better job than Trump of draining the D.C. swamp. Mainly an old-fashioned liberal with a handful of conservative issue positions, he will likely draw many more votes away from Biden than from Trump in November 2024. Some of his derided "conspiracy theories," such as the link between childhood vaccines and autism and the CIA's role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, are actually true (check out the books Autism--Prevention Care and Management by Marvin Anderson, M.D. and Plausible Denial by Mark Lane).
We pro-lifers were disappointed that voters passed pro-abortion laws in Ohio and Kentucky and elected pro-abortion majorities to the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates, but we shouldn't have been surprised. The Planned Parenthood abortion cartel and its loyal Democratic allies poured millions of dollars into false advertising in these states to frighten and deceive voters regarding the nature of the proposed laws and to convince them to vote for Democrats. Just like the fight against slavery, the fight against abortion will not be won quickly or easily. It takes time to change hearts and minds and to defeat rich and powerful enemies.
Internationally, the tragic and devastating war in Ukraine continued unabated with the tide gradually turning in Russia’s favor, and the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict re-erupted with a brutal Hamas terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and an invasion of Palestinian Gaza by the Israeli army. Both conflicts have been viewed too simplistically by many prominent observers and ordinary people who are unaware of the complexities involved. Russia and Ukraine share a close ethnic, cultural, religious, and geographical relationship going back many centuries, and eastern Ukraine is more Russian than the rest of the country. Russian naval access to a Black Sea port is a key issue at the heart of the conflict that Ukraine has failed to address. In recent years, many Western leaders ignored the lessons of twentieth-century history, failing to realize that by siding with Ukraine and expanding NATO on Russia’s western flank, they would provoke a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. While some of Russia’s grievances and territorial claims may be legitimate, they do not justify the murderous and destructive military invasion and occupation of Ukraine. And while Ukraine has the right to defend herself against Russian aggression, there is a great deal of corruption in the Ukrainian government.
Neither is the Israel-Hamas confrontation as black and white as conservative American commentators paint it. It is not a “war,” properly speaking, between the armies of two nations, but rather a violent conflict between the Israeli army and Hamas terrorists. Nor is Hamas an entirely evil entity; it is primarily a humanitarian, social, and educational Palestinian institution with a radical terrorist fringe. The peaceful organization operates quietly, enjoying broad support among the Palestinian people for its good works, while its violent wing grabs the media headlines. Although nothing justified the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on innocent Israeli civilians, this atrocity did not justify Israel’s unilateral military invasion of Gaza with its unacceptable collateral damage to Palestinian homes, churches, hospitals, and innocent civilians either. Hamas terrorism is fueled by the situation of political and economic injustice to which the state of Israel has unfortunately subjected the Palestinian people for more than seventy years. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be resolved until a Palestinian state is officially established alongside Israel, both sides agree to respect the borderlines drawn by the UN in 1948, and Jerusalem is placed in an international zone. (For a more thorough examination of this topic, please request a copy of my book mentioned above.)
Ecclesiastically, Pope Francis--at age 86 the oldest pontiff in recent memory—marked the tenth anniversary of his election and continued his holy and generally wise leadership of the Church, unruffled by constant criticism from certain faithful and well-meaning Catholic bishops and media outlets, delivering insightful homilies and addresses and visiting several foreign countries despite his declining health. Some of the most powerful and memorable words he spoke this year were uttered to government leaders in Budapest, Hungary, in April:
"In the world in which we presently live, however, that passionate quest of a politics of community and the strengthening of multilateral relations seems a wistful memory from a distant past. We seem to be witnessing the sorry sunset of that choral dream of peace, as the soloists of war now take over....
"Peace will never come as the result of the pursuit of individual strategic interests, but only from policies capable of looking to the bigger picture, to the development of everyone: policies that are attentive to individuals, to the poor and to the future, and not merely to power, profit and present prospects.
"At this historical juncture, Europe is crucial, for thanks to its history, it represents the memory of humanity; in this sense, it is called to take up its proper role, which is to unite those far apart, to welcome other peoples and to refuse to consider anyone an eternal enemy. It is vital, then, to recover the European spirit: the excitement and vision of its founders, who were statesmen able to look beyond their own times, beyond national boundaries and immediate needs, and to generate forms of diplomacy capable of pursuing unity, not aggravating divisions."
In October, Catholic bishops, priests and lay leaders from around the world converged on Vatican City for the Synod on Communion, Participation, and Mission (sadly misnamed the "Synod on Synodality"), in a serious and mostly sincere attempt to first listen to the concerns of Catholics worldwide and then to discern where the Holy Spirit is leading the Church today. As with so many other high-profile events in Francis' pontificate, this worthy undertaking has been unnecessarily controversial. For example, some prominent faithful Catholics harshly criticized Pope Francis for allowing certain dissident and unfaithful Catholics to participate in the Synod, forgetting that the Synod is merely an advisory body to the pope and that Jesus himself regularly associated with notorious public sinners.
Likewise, in December, the Holy See's issuance of new guidelines for blessings for homosexual couples ignited unnecessary controversy among many faithful Catholics. The secular media didn't help by quickly spreading the lie that the Church now officially recognizes homosexual unions on a par with traditional marriage. Bishop Robert Barron's analysis of both the Synod and the official blessings document from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is correct: the pope is not trying to change Church doctrine (as if he had the power to do that in any case), but rather trying to draw people who are not fully living the doctrine closer to the fullness of life in Christ.
Indeed, many things to be thankful for and some things to pray for. Let us continue to pray the Rosary for the conversion of sinners and for peace in the world as Our Lady of Fatima requested.
Happy New Year!
Copyright © 2023 Justin D. Soutar.