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Inner peril: Reflections on the “Catholic sobriety test”

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 23, 2023

Livestreaming yesterday was a fascinating experience for me, and perhaps a microcosm of the Catholic life. I say this because so much went wrong in the effort to attractively present the purpose of and its worthiness of support. Thomas Mirus, who conceived and hosted the livestreams during our Queen of May Campaign, led Phil Lawler and me through a test session last week, so we could make sure our equipment worked and we would come through loud and clear. The test was a smashing success! Nonetheless, technical glitches reared their ugly heads as soon as the real thing began.

Phil’s technical problems were less serious than my own. Initially, the link he received to join the livestream did not work, which had to be rectified at the last moment. Later, there were some strange noises coming through Phil’s microphone and his voice was a touch fuzzy, both of which were ultimately resolved (if I understand correctly) when he found yet one more button to click in the app we were using to create the stream. Minor stuff, and no harm done.

Now, me, I’m supposed to have significant technical knowledge, and have at times been thought by others to be proud of it. So of course the glitches I experienced were far worse. My audio feed would occasionally go entirely silent. On one occasion, my video feed dropped as well. I should say at once that Thomas edited out the worst of the glitches before posting the livestream as an after-the-fact video: The Catholic sobriety test: livestream with Mirus & Lawler, May 22nd. Moreover, you should definitely click on this link, because it brings up screen cover art which makes both Phil and I look significantly younger than we are (and, if possible, even better groomed).

Every cloud has its silver lining….

Still, during the livestream—the disadvantage of which is precisely that it is live—I had to disconnect and reconnect both my camera and my microphone to my laptop in several different ways, and then figure out what settings had changed in the app when the original connections (as we like to say in the trade) “glitched out”. My theory (for I am never without a theory) is that (1) I had an intermittent connection for one of my devices; (2) When the connection stuttered, the app tried to switch to another device (such as the camera in my laptop, which was closed; or the microphone in my laptop, which was fairly far away; or one of the other devices which were available in my system but not active at the time); and (3) It took me some time to figure out that it wasn’t enough to reconnect something, but I also had to change a setting back to the way it had been before.

The result is that during parts of this heroic livestream I could be seen crawling around my desk trying to reach various cables and switch connections while Phil and Thomas talked. I fervently hope all of this has been mercifully eliminated from the final cut—unless they actually progressed beyond laughing to make significant points.

No wonder you have so few…

Now, mind you, I was a little nervous before doing the livestream. While I used to stand in front of a class of college students regularly many years ago (when I apparently still had a sense of humor), I found when I tried to record some apologetics videos four years ago that standing and delivering in front of a camera made me tense, stiff, and inexorably dull. Perhaps it is just as well that I spent some of my time crawling around checking wires and connections this time out, but (blast it) I had said a Rosary before my appearance on the set, and all I can say is that the whole thing brings to mind St. Teresa of Avila’s most famous quip. On one of her journeys to her various convents as a nun, she fell into a muddy stream, got up, and said to her Lord and Savior, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.”

This, of course, is saint humor, which I can only borrow. But I bring it up because everyone who has ever tried to do God’s will has (shall we say) funny stories to tell. In fact, the primary topic of this final livestream during our Queen of May Campaign was what we decided to call the “Catholic sobriety test”, precisely because it is so difficult for us to keep on an even keel when we see ourselves as battling for God and the Church in a fallen world. It is depressingly easy to become too attached to our own efforts and our own work for the Lord, and so easy to forget that Christ has already won the victory, and we are simply invited to participate in that victory, rather than to create it.

An old and much treasured saying holds that we must work as if everything depends on us, and pray as if everything depends on God. This has been attributed to both St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola, though sometimes in the form of working as if everything depends on God and praying as if it depends on us. In truth, however, I believe you’d have to peruse apocryphal works to find it in either of these saints. Nonetheless it has always been tempting to me to feel that I absolutely must do something and keep doing something to convert the world

Unfortunately, feeling driven in that way often reveals a lack of confidence in Christ. Relying too much on ourselves, we will nearly always fall into some extreme or another—at the very least the extreme of nervous exhaustion—even to the point of setting ourselves against the Church herself, especially when her leadership seems (in comparison!) so tepid and confused.

Catholic sobriety

It really is quite difficult to properly balance all aspects of the spiritual life, as St. Paul did when he wrote to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). But it is precisely this inversion of any human balance, this absolute reliance on the Christ-life within us, that enables us to recognize the fundamental truth of a truly sober Catholicism: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).

We may run madly here and there, making dramatic proclamations, or even—if we should reject the authority of the Church—claiming a righteousness we have actually sacrificed to our own worry, or even our own pride. We may be convinced that Christ’s work is burning to ashes for no better reason than that our own hair is on fire. This is probably why St. James wrote that odd little passage which so frustrates our inner pagan warrior:

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. [Jas 3:17-18]

No wonder St. Paul cautioned each of the Romans “not to think more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him” (Rom 12:3); and to the Thessalonians he wrote, “Since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation” (1 Thes 5:8).

And no wonder St. Peter cautioned us that “The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers” (1 Pet 4:7). And again, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).

He will find us to be tasty morsels, if only he can. The Catholic sobriety test is to recognize the difference between panic and responding to a challenge. The sky is not falling, but neither is the servant greater than his master. We are not going to have everything our own way here on earth, not even within the Church herself. We at would like to remain sane ourselves, and help others to do the same. The catch is that to know the triumph of the cross, we have no other option but to carry it willingly—even to the point of joy.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - May. 23, 2023 9:08 PM ET USA

    Enjoyed the replay of your live-streamed discussion—even when you had mike problems, maybe especially then, as I’ve been involved with more than 1 Zoom session & 1 pilot radio podcast which have also been harassed by tech demons. We all have a common goal: life support for Christian civilization. Hopefully, we’ll be truly friends in the hereafter.