Saturday, August 9, 2014

Projects, Changes, and Updates

Dear Readers, Listeners, Subscribers, and Friends of True Restoration

Our mid-season break on the Radio Network is concluded, and with that end comes a number of disclosures.

Firstly you’ll find our Frequently Asked Questions, which aggregates questions we frequently answer into one document.

You’ll also find our letter to Non-Subscribers of our Radio Network.  It explains the end of the all-free, all-the-time format of Restoration Radio and the change to a mostly-subscriber format (some episodes will always remain free).  You’ll find our new donate levels here.  You can also listen to a short episode with Nicholas Wansbutter, Justin Soeder, and Stephen Heiner which details the reasons behind the change.

Finally, you’ll find our launch of the crowdfunding campaign for our first new book since 2009: The Anti-Modernist Reader.  Exciting details can be found here. We've already reached our first goal during this campaign.

This post should be all the evidence you need to believe that just because we’ve been “off” it doesn’t mean we haven’t been working.  We are looking forward to a great end to the Liturgical Year, our 3rd radio season, and 2014.  That work begins now.


NB  All the subscribers to our regular quarterly newsletter got this news first.  If you would like to subscribe to our newsletter, send your name and email address to mail AT or click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Over the years in various private correspondence we have answered these questions. As a time saver and as an informative document, we have prepared this article. We will periodically update it.

True Restoration (General)

How and when did you get started?
In late 2005 Stephen Heiner ran across the now-defunct Traditio in Radice blog co-founded by Nicholas Wansbutter. Stephen was inspired by the topics covered and the aesthetics of the blog and moved to begin one of his own. The focus would be on timeless issues but would occasionally feature current events.

What inspired the name of your apostolate?
Stephen has always been focused on the idea of “going back to how things were” not out of a robotic nostalgia but out of the principle that the “tried and true” works.  So instead of re-inventing things we should simply go back.  Catholic Restoration is a name that Bishop Donald Sanborn had been using for a number of years for some of his work, so instead “True” Restoration was picked, with a nod to the idea that the Restoration had to be comprehensive and not solely religious.

Why do you have so many websites?
Not because we choose to, we promise!  Our apostolate was originally started as a blog and then grew into other things.  Almost six years after we started we realized we needed to create a coherent look and feel.  We are working on having a single unified website that unites all that we are doing.

What social channels can I find you on?
Just about all of them.  The only major one we are not on is Instagram.  Otherwise, you can find us on facebook, twitter, google+, pinterest, flickr, and linkedin.  All of these are on our page.

How do you pay your bills for this apostolate?
First and foremost, through our radio subscribers.  They represent our largest source of funds, though even this is scarcely enough to meet the demands of operating our apostolate.  Outside of that we receive modest revenue through book sales, streaming video downloads, etc.  We also have some people who just donate to our work without expectation of anything.

Do you pay any of your staff, guests, etc.?
We have, over the years, tried to pay our staff for work they have done and have given stipends to our priests and guests.  However, as we created a larger model with more shows we’ve had to suspend those payments as revenue was outstripped by expenses.  As part of our goal to move to a sustainable model in late 2014 we want to pay our staff and guests modest stipends.  Some of our volunteers refuse compensation and we usually reward them in Mass stipends.

Who designed your logo and what’s the thought process behind it?
Anna Ladd of Circle Sideways designed our logo.  As we described it to her we wanted the tiara to crown our efforts.  We have been called “neo-ultramontanists” and we proudly wear such a label.  There can be no love or defense of the papacy that is outdated or outmoded.  There are many today who seek to limit the love and devotion to the papacy.  We don’t.  We know that the Restoration will only happen when we have a truly Catholic pope, which is why a tiara crowns a head, as yet unknown, but when he is known the “TR” will fade and we will see his face.  In the meantime, we need to work as if everything depended on us while praying as if everything depended on God.

Why did you pick St. Ignatius as your patron saint?
We consider ourselves militant, rabidly devoted to the Papacy, and focused on a high and intellectual spirit in our works.  St. Ignatius brought those motivations to all he did.

You say you have a chaplain.  Why is that?  
Because it is folly for laymen to guide themselves.  We reject novel and un-Catholic notions like lay boards and we likewise think it’s ill-advised to do any work like what we attempt to do here at True Restoration without close clerical counsel.  We also think that such a work requires guidance and a unity of spirit, and that can best be achieved with clerical guidance and advice.

Can you tell us a bit about the ownership group - who they are and what backgrounds they have?

Stephen Heiner (Founder):
Stephen is the majority owner.  He came to the knowledge of the integral Catholic faith at 17 and brought his entire family to it.  His story can be found here.

Nicholas Wansbutter (Co-Founder):
Nicholas co-founded Restoration Radio with Stephen in 2012, and before that, inspired Stephen’s entry into the blogosphere with his own (now defunct) blog Traditio in Radice. He is a criminal lawyer who resides in southern Ontario, Canada, with his wife and children. He was raised from the age of nine in the Novus Ordo sect and discovered the true Catholic faith while courting his wife, Monika. He is a man of diverse interests, who dabbles in history and also runs a science fiction/fantasy blog and radio show in addition to his work at True Restoration.

Justin Soeder (Vice-President & Executive Producer):
Justin is the Vice-President of Operations of True Restoration and Executive Producer of The Restoration Radio Network. As a long time private collaborator with True Restoration, Justin Soeder officially joined Restoration Radio in Season 2. Born and raised in the Novus Ordo sect, Justin gave up on it in his late teens and after having explored the Protestant false religion, began searching his way to finding true Roman Catholicism. Through this journey, he went through the usual steps towards the ultimate conclusion of the vacancy of the Roman See, spending time at the diocesan "indult" and many years in the Society of St. Pius X, until 2012 when things fell into place. Justin resides in Central Florida where he works as a design consultant in the field of structural engineering.  Outside of his primary interest of Catholicism, Justin is a lifelong guitarist, a student of history, a writer, a scuba diver, a passionate traveler, and finds himself happiest breathing in the crisp air of the snow-capped mountains and volcanoes in the continental United States.

Wendy Haught (Director of Social Media):
Wendy is a happily devoted wife to her husband of 35 years and the proud mother of two adult children.  She loves young people and revels in her new-found role as a Titus 2 woman.  Passionate about the Restoration, she is a lifelong learner and lover of classical education.  Her background in journalism and love of her Catholic faith discovered a cozy nesting place at True Restoration.

Łucasz Paczuski:
Luke joined the True Restoration staff by hosting a Polish show with Fr. Rafal Trytek, a sedevacantist priest residing in Cracow, Poland. Born in Warsaw, he spent his adolescence in the United States, then moved back to Poland, but finished his studies in Paris (licentiate in Philosophy, MA in European and International Studies). He is married since 2012 and last year, with his wife, came to the inevitable conclusion that the Holy See is vacant, although this was the terminus of a process that started with the leaving of the Novus Ordo in 2007. He enjoys all sorts of outdoor activities, the study of philosophy and theology, chess, Gregorian chant and Baroque music, astronomy and calligraphy.

Where are you headquartered?  Are you a non-profit?  What is your business structure?
The company is a Kansas C-corporation.  We are not a non-profit.

What do you all look like?


This is a picture from our last Annual Meeting, in 2013, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada.  From right you have Stephen Heiner, Nicholas Wansbutter, Justin Soeder, and Joshua Gunsher.  It’s not a comprehensive picture of all of us - but we hope to have one of those soon.

Restoration Radio (General)

Why did you start a Radio Network?
We thought there was a desperate need for good, true, Catholic programming.  We didn’t want to just cover timely issues, but as was always the mission for TR, timeless topics.  It was a trial run for one season.  It proved to be immensely successful and we went on to a second season and beyond.

Where do I find your shows?

How can I listen to your shows?
If you are a subscriber you can listen anytime via our subscriber page.  If you’re not a subscriber, the first 15 minutes of most shows can be found on with links to purchasing individual episodes.

What is your criteria for hosts?
Firstly, a burning zeal for the Faith and a willingness and ability to be in the public spotlight.  We then have an interview and audition process, after which time we tell someone whether he is a good fit.

What is your criteria for guests and clergy?
If clergy, they must be non-una-cum, without question.  Guests must respect the Mission Statement of TR even should they privately disagree.  We don’t require a unity of personal belief, but we do require a respecting of our boundaries.

What is your criteria for sponsors?
Sponsors must simply be offering a good product/service, which is environmentally responsible, and must want to commit for a season-long contract.

True Restoration (blog)

What is your criteria for writers?  Where else are they published?
We want people who are willing to commit to 1-2 pieces per month.  They should write well, but not be verbose.  An “audition” article can be sent to mail AT anytime.  Our writers are often featured in print in The Four Marks.

True Restoration Press (General)

What kind of books do you publish?  What’s your process for examining manuscripts?
We publish all books by new and notable Catholic authors.  We examine manuscripts, solicited and unsolicited, over a 6-month period.  We then notify the author of our decision.  In the long term, our goal is to publish one book per year.

Why did you stop publishing Bishop Williamson’s works?
This was at the Bishop’s request.  He has started his own publishing house, Dinoscopus Editions, and wanted to publish his own works.  We respected his request.  This also made sense given our vast gulf on the question of the Papacy, which Bishop Williamson, formerly quite “tolerant” on, has become committed to an extreme “recognize-and-resist” form of on this question.

True Restoration Media

When will we start seeing video interviews again?  Why have you stopped doing them?
We hope to return to video interviews in 2015.  We simply underestimated our resources for 2014.  The same crew and staff who man our radio programs would assist with the video interviews and there was simply not enough time to execute a well-run radio season and a well-done video season.  We will plan better for 2015 and beyond.

Do you have plans to do any timely video work?
Yes, in the future, we do.  Keep that in your prayers.

Do you sell DVDs of your work?
No, but we do produce DVDs exclusively for

Why do you charge people for what you do?  Are you trying to make money off the Faith?
We charge for what we do simply because we don’t possess independent wealth to fund these things.  Surely our work is not “necessary” for salvation, but we do believe that we can contribute to people’s spiritual and doctrinal lives.  While we reject the notion of the unrestricted “free market” we do believe that the market does determine supply, demand, and pricing.  So far, we have had a demand for our work that has manifested itself in payments across all kinds of media: books, DVDs, streaming downloads, and radio.

True Restoration (Theological Positions)

What is your position on una cum Masses?
Our position is one and the same with the St. Gertrude the Great/Most Holy Trinity Seminary clergy, best enunciated in Fr. Anthony Cekada’s Grain of Incense article.  We are 100% non-una-cum, with no compromises.

What is your position on Thuc-Line Clergy?
We accept the conclusions of the extensive research of and Mario Derksen.  We also offer our own brief interview with Fr. Anthony Cekada on this matter.

We accept as unquestionably valid the consecrations of Archbishop Thuc.  We lament that some of them may have been ill-advised and imprudent, but that doesn’t speak to validity.

What is your position on the claimants to the papacy since Pope Pius XII?
For various reasons, we consider the claimants known as John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis as antipopes and merely pretenders to the papacy, either through ineligibility (known heretics cannot be elected pope) or loss of office (open heretics lose the papacy).  The evidence for the heresy espoused by these villains is legion and need not be reproduced here.

True Restoration (Pastoral Positions)

What’s your connection with TradCircle? Why do you administer it?
We participate in and moderate TradCircle.  It’s yet another part of the Restoration.  We are connecting people all around the world and helping new friendships to form.  Some even get married! :-)

What is your position on relocating for the Sacraments?
While there isn’t 100% unity on this within the ownership group, we could be characterized as “relocationists.”  If we have not relocated for the sacraments, we are in places where we have ready access to them.  We have radio episodes espousing our positions on this matter both from a lay perspective and a clerical one.

What is your position on Homeschooling?
We believe that it’s important to support Catholic schools where they exist, but that the decision on schooling ultimately falls with parents.  We have a radio episode on this topic.

What is your position on Bishop Richard Williamson?
All of us at True Restoration have been profoundly impacted over the years by the priestly and episcopal ministry of Bishop Williamson. In some way, each one of us has benefited greatly by His Excellency’s zeal and love for Holy Mother Church. Over the years, it has been very public that we have had a professional relationship with His Excellency, through publishing his Letters from the Rector collection as well as both Stephen and Nicholas acting as editors for Eleison Comments. When, for very non-conspiratorial (sorry to disappoint all of our conspiracy theorists) reasons, both parties decided to go their separate ways, the parting was a very friendly one and we remain friends with His Excellency to this day.

Our outspoken criticism of Bishop Williamson has nothing to do with the person or personality of His Excellency, but rather remains one on the level of doctrine and ecclesiology. We find His Excellency’s recent salvos against the theological position of sede vacante rife with error, false analogy, plentiful contradiction, and a bifurcated mindset espousing a bifurcated Catholic Church; one where there exists a Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth who reigns over both a true Catholic Church and a false heretical modernist sect. There can exist but one true Church, one true religion, and one true Pope; to whom all must be subject for their eternal salvation if he is indeed a true Pope vested with the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ. (cf. Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, 1302). We also find His Excellency’s continual gravitation towards a terminally apocalyptic worldview disheartening. What is even more upsetting to us is that this worldview is draped in Catholicism and given its own spirituality, and in doing so, has created an entire following of people who are obsessed with end times’ prophecies and private revelation which for many of them, becomes the sole focus of their spiritual life.

We will forever be grateful to His Excellency for his positive impact in each one of our Catholic lives over the years, and we will keep our friendship with His Excellency cordial and intact. But we will not follow his ship into a tumultuous sea of error nor join him in an endless crusade which is led by the banners of private revelation and apocalyptic prophecy. We are called to be Catholics, led by the hope of Our Lord Jesus Christ who opened the gates of Heaven to us upon Calvary. While we readily admit that the world around is falling into hell under the weight of its own iniquity, that we are living in certain times preceding the reign of the antichrist, and that a new world order does exist to displace the reign of Christ the King with its false and freemasonic religion of naturalism which is inspired by Satanism, we refuse to sink into despair or cynicism.

What is your position on the Society of St. Pius X and the “Resistance” groups?
This question is a rather involved one. With charity in mind, we will begin with the positives.
All of us here at True Restoration have, at some point in time in our lives, benefitted in some way from the ministries of the priests of the Society of St. Pius X. For us who have come from the dregs of the Novus Ordo, the Society was a logical and necessary stepping stone in our journey during this crisis of the heresy of modernism and finding our way out. While certainly a conflicted man, Archbishop Lefebvre was a man of God who had the prescience to understand the necessity of his intervention in a time where all was being lost, corrupted, and destroyed; not the least of which was the valid priesthood. While the Archbishop’s personal sanctity was supremely edifying to all those who personally knew him, and to those who only know his legacy, what is more edifying is that of all the world’s Bishops at the time, he was one of a tiny few (Bishop de Castro Mayer and Archbishop Thuc were others) who stood up to resist the modernist takeover and did so at great personal costs. All of us are supremely grateful to God that we had access to valid priests and sacraments with the priests of the SSPX who were ordained by Abp. Lefebvre and his successor Bishops. In the Society priests, we have seen Holy and devout Sons of Our Lord Jesus Christ who take their ministry and the those entrusted to their care seriously. In the Society faithful, we have all experienced relationships with very devout individuals who are truly doing their best to live and die in the Catholic Faith. We see large families who are sacrificing at great personal expense to virtuously carry the cross of the family life, fruitfully procreating and heroically educating the children with which God graces them in a world which is a cesspool of indescribable proportions and poses endless obstacles. We have observed that the SSPX priests and faithful are very edifying in their general comportment and dress.
With all of the above in mind, we must however, bring to our readers’ attention the stark realities which afflict the SSPX and the problems which exist with the very foundations upon which the SSPX stands. For all of the wonderful qualities that can be told of the Archbishop, one must also objectively realize that His Grace’s response to the Modernists in Rome was one that was shaky at best; an incomplete sculpture. The fundamental problem with the SSPX lies in its false Ecclesiology, and from this fundamental problem flows forth all of the manifest problems which have been brought to light in recent years. Breaking it down to its least common denominator, the question which burdens every Catholic is this question: Is the Church which follows from the time of Vatican II the very one and same in its doctrines, disciplines, and Liturgical worship? Does Vatican Council II teach and re-affirm authentic Catholic truth, which flows forth from the teaching Authority of the Church given to it by Our Lord Jesus Christ? Does the Mass of Paul VI faithfully transmit, without equivocation, the eternal Truth that the Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary for the sins of mankind, offered by a Priest acting in persona Christi on behalf of the faithful at the altar of God? Does the theology of the Mass itself give us an unbroken and faithful transmission of Catholic Tradition?

There are no shortage of quotes from Archbishop Lefebvre, both in writing and speech, of his forcefully damning condemnations of Vatican II as a “schismatic council,” and the New Mass as a “bastard rite [which] contains a poison which is harmful to the faith.” Many times over, His Grace welcomed His “excommunication” from a “schismatic church” which he wanted nothing to do with, yet, he never formed a firm position by which he could be defined, other than to say that he continually sought recognition by the modernists that he correctly viewed as the destroyers of the Church. Therefore, because its founder never formed the correct, stalwart, and only conviction to be held against the modernists, his Society would be left in a vacuous, ever-changing, and sadly, un-Catholic position of recognizing a Pope and hierarchy which they view as valid, yet resisting them in almost everything they do.
The SSPX has, from its very outset, operated with the desire to be recognized by the Modernists whom their very institution is built to resist. The SSPX says that he is the Pope, and with that acknowledgement comes the burden of submission to him; not negotiation with him. (cf. Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII, 1382). If the hierarchy is valid and the Bishops and Priests of the Society view them as such, then they nor their faithful possess any right to condemn or ignore an officially promulgated Rite of Mass as impious and poisonous to the faith. (cf. Trent, Ses. 22, Canon 7). They have no right to reject a Code of Canon Law, nor to preside over internal marriage tribunals which have resulted in de facto annulments which alone belong to the Roman Rota. They cannot set up a worldwide apostolate in defiance of the Roman Pontiff and the Bishops in union with him, all the while saying that they are in union with the Roman Pontiff because they place his name in the Canon of the Mass and hang a picture of him in the vestibule. They cannot criticize and ignore an officially promulgated Catechism, which supposedly teaches and transmits the Catholic faith.
What all of this boils down to is that the Society of St. Pius X continually fails to see what almost every child educated prior to Vatican II well understood: the Church cannot give to its faithful error of any kind. It cannot give to its faithful an evil rite of Mass. It cannot give erroneous Catechisms and defective Canon Law, nor can it promulgate heresy in an ecumenical Council. But yet, these things have indeed happened, and the Society continues to operate under the grave error that those who occupy positions of power in the Vatican and the bishopric who teach and believe these errors of the last fifty years are in some way still Catholic and posses valid authority.  
The only way the Society of St. Pius X would be justified in their actions and in the efforts of their worldwide apostolate would be to finally admit that Vatican II is indeed a false ecumenical council because it officially teaches heresy and in doing so, has caused the ruination of the true Catholic faith in the minds and souls of millions of individuals; the faith without which there is no salvation for any soul. They should finally admit that the men who promulgated these heretical documents did indeed lose their office, or never had it in the first place, and that those who continue to defend and teach in the name of these documents are guilty of the same.
In recent years, it has been beyond disturbing to us to witness the manner in which the SSPX operates under its current Superior General, the Most Rev. Bernard Fellay. The manner in which the SSPX ejects its priests and faithful who voice any public disagreement with the current mode of thought of the Society, the grotesque and Stalinist manner of secrecy in which the Superior General operates with the modernists in Rome and keeps from the faithful, the public relations campaign which exists to consistently “clarify” the words of Bishop Fellay, and endless vacillation of position regarding the reaction the SSPX takes regarding the Novus Ordo sect and their Pope has provided to the world a troubling vision of the institution of the SSPX.

We at True Restoration pray for the day that the SSPX, under a future leader, will finally come to the proper conclusions that the Roman See is vacant and form a proper reaction to the modernist heretics in Rome, and hopefully, that reaction will sound synonymous with that of their founder in 1976:
We believe and accept our faith as the only true faith in the world. All this confusion ends up in compromises, which destroy the Church’s doctrines, for the misfortune of mankind and the church alike.
The Church which affirms such errors is both schismatic and heretical.  This Conciliar Church is therefore not Catholic. We have never wished to belong to this system that calls itself the Conciliar Church.  
To whatever extent pope, bishops, priests or faithful adhere to this new Church, they separate themselves from the Catholic Church.
We ask for nothing better than to be declared excluded from impious communion with infidels.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Episcopal Visit: Europe edition

His Excellency, Bishop Donald Sanborn will be visiting Europe in August and early September.  His public stops include August 30th and 31st in Krakow, Poland, and September 6th and 7th in Budapest, Hungary.  These visits are to give conferences and sacraments to faithful and committed Catholics who are attached to the true Catholic Mass, without any una-cum compromise whatsoever.

Should you live in Europe and wish to attend either of these conferences, the Bishop will be delivering his conference in English and there will be a simultaneous translation into the local language (Polish and Hungarian, respectively).  So, you don't have to speak either of those (pretty challenging!) languages to profit from His Excellency's clear and concise words.

There will also be a possible opportunity to receive the sacrament of Confirmation for those in need and who can demonstrate the requisite requirements.

For details on sacraments and the organization of the weekends in these respective countries, please send inquiries to mail AT  We will then connect you with our local organizers.  

True Restoration was a part of organizing this trip and we will be on the ground taping and photographing as much as we can.  Some of this content will be made free to the public but much of it will be available to our subscribers only, without whom we could not participate and help sponsor such forums.

More details, should they need to be shared, will be posted in the coming weeks.

True Restoration Press has a new book project

There will be a number of announcements during the month of August.  The first is the announcement of our first new book for a number of years: The Anti-Modernist Reader.  Read all about it here.  The campaign closes at the end of September.  We hope you are part of the pre-ordering group.

We're happy to be back after a "month off" in July.  But we were working on plenty behind the scenes.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Enjoy this piece from Matt Beck on this important feast. -Ed.

I: Preparation

“…the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose.” These words, spoken by St. John the Baptist in respect of the Savior, could just as appositely be said by us in respect of John. Upon a prayerful survey into the readings assigned by the Church to the feast of his nativity, the prospective commentator, if he is at all illumined by the Holy Ghost, is impressed first of all by the great font of mysteries bubbling up before his eyes, by the febrility of so much divine largesse lavished in quick succession, and by the many and fine-grained allusions to prophecies that are here fulfilled, proclaimed, or interpreted. Although my heart leaps at the disclosure of all this, my mouth is restrained from glossing on it; for such an office has not been given to me, lacking as I do the teaching authority that Holy Orders would confer; and if it be objected here that mysticism is by no means confined to professed ecclesiastics, I would answer that my own lingering impurities but poorly dispose me burst forth in canticles. Heaven calls my will, but earth has sealed my lips. Thus, feeling most unworthy and unable to add aught to those commentaries that are of a mystical or exegetical nature, I have, in no small vexation of mind, proposed to tease out, to make available for reflection, some themes that are present in the account of John’s nativity in such a manner as will ignite the fear of God rather than presume it (for such virtues cannot be too little presumed these days); and in so doing discharge my obligation to magnify the holy forerunner, though I have perhaps but taken up a writing tablet and on it put, “His name is John.”

While there is no end to the wonderful things we might justly say of St. John the Baptist, and while the unicity of God’s self-revelation in Scripture would serve to make all those things applicable in some way or another, today we will hold to the spirit of the particular feast and its readings by focusing only on his nativity, the description of which is to be found entirely (and exclusively) in the first chapter of St. Luke, with some preparatory backward glances at Isaias and Jeremias. Therefore any extensive discussion of his life and preaching, his baptism of repentance, his identification of the Lord, or his persecution by Herod, must be left out of the account for the time being. These events belong, properly speaking, to a later phase of John’s life and, more generally, to a later stage of salvation history, the specific purpose of which was to prepare for and highlight the public ministry of Jesus Christ. In the present instance there is much that remains hidden; and how much more must it have remained hidden to John’s contemporaries who had yet to see the events play out in their fullness. It is a truth firmly established that the entire essence of John’s life, the very nature and purpose of his existence, was to “make straight the paths of the Lord,” to be a preparation for Jesus Christ. Insofar as the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets—nay, the very nation of Israel—is itself a preparation for Christ, St. John the Baptist stands as the culmination of all that went before him; hence there is “no greater born of woman.” But the preparer himself was without any definite preparation of his own. We wish to avoid formulations of the sort “the preparation for the preparation was…” if only because they have the appearance of involving us in an infinite regress, when we know that revelation has a beginning and an end. Moreover, we wish to avoid them because they are wrong, because they belie John’s character as a forerunner. The coming of John was not “announced” by a previous revelation; he was himself an announcement. An announcement is a kind of signal that prompts us to orient our concern in a specified manner and direction. That which John signifies is the presence of the Messias in the world. We may take Isaias 28:16 to be a foreshadowing of that announcement, wherein we read the voice of God saying, “Behold I will lay a stone in the foundations of Sion….” If Jesus Christ is the stone in that description, then John can be said to have the character of the “Behold.” He is the quintessential “Here!” and “Harken!” and “Lo!” It is therefore no departure from truth to say that John’s life ought to mirror the ontology of an announcement. By viewing his nativity in that light we can develop the following themes.

II: Pregnancy

A sort of holy mist hangs over the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, which is the envelopment of grace descending. The story begins with the sudden, unanticipated, and most extraordinary pregnancies of two women: Mary, who shall give birth to Christ, and Elizabeth, who shall give birth to John. In both cases the archangel Gabriel is commissioned to foretell the good news. His appearance is abrupt and awe-inspiring—something decidedly supernatural which occasions the wonderment of Mary and the downright disbelief of Zacharias. The pregnancies he foretells each involve a circumstance usually thought to render such things impossible in the ordinary course of nature, for Mary is to conceive without having known man and Elizabeth will conceive in her old age after a lifetime of barrenness. The strangeness of these events, as well as their angelic heralding, are meant as signals to draw our attention. They are, to use a modern metaphor, a flashing red light which indicates something of immediate importance happening within our environment.

It is not possible to accurately interpret these data according to our everyday concern, or that which Christian philosophizing traditionally refers to as our “natural mind.” However, here we must distinguish “according to” from “on the basis of.” Strictly speaking, it is not possible to penetrate any divine mystery without the supernatural light of faith. A self-contained mind which understood only natural causes would not be capable of discerning anything miraculous in these pregnancies; hence “according to” such a mind certain elements of the story must either be superstitious or false. On the other hand, the proposition that there may be supernatural causes at work in the world as well as natural causes is itself a datum that our natural mind can comprehend. Any miracle or sign from God, in order to be understood as such, must involve an awakening of this sense of supernatural operations. These operations disclose themselves as a suspension of those effects which ordinary natural causes would enjoin; as a deviation from the expected outcome. The expectation pertains to our everyday concern, to the outcome we would calculate upon when making our way through the world under ordinary circumstances. In the course of a miracle this outcome is taken away; i.e. there is a very real sense in which we are deprived of something that belongs to us: our ordinary world (even though something much better is substituted for it). The loss of our object of everyday concern raises an alarm with us; it is “on the basis of” this disruption of nature that the awareness of the miraculous as such first obtrudes upon our consciousness. It is the signal of a divine operation. All Christian fear, awe, and joy is founded upon that to which this signal adverts. Miracles are a symptom of the divine presence. In a miracle God Himself does not appear, but His love and power are manifested.

So much could be said of any miracle, but how forcibly is the point brought home when the event in question is a miraculous birth! It marks the child as destined for God’s special handiwork all of his life. But as every birth are preceded by a pregnancy, the miraculous character of the birth can only be entailed upon it by the presence of the same specific character in the impregnation, by God acting literally as begetter of the child in a greater-than-ordinary way.  The question “And who is the father?” will naturally arise whenever a new pregnancy is first brought to our attention. It is primal; it insists on being asked, even though it is often suppressed out of delicacy. Zacharias is certainly the natural father of John; but we are given to believe that the act could not have been accomplished without divine assistance, and God wishes this to be known by everyone. This manner of birth links John back to such figures as Isaac, Samson, and Samuel, and all of them to Jesus their head. Here we see the “Behold” of God announcing itself in and through the miraculous birth of John.

But a pregnancy, though it reveals much, also conceals much. The greatness of the father is shown through the pregnancy, and the greatness of the son foreshadowed; but the inner workings are of necessity hidden. In the Gradual for today we hear the voice of God speaking through the prophet Jeremias saying, “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother, I knew thee: and before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee,” with the implication being that only God could know or sanctify anyone in those conditions. Pregnancy in general is a time of secrets, of brooding, of preparing, of silent and unobserved growth, of the rumblings of something about to happen, of being directed and oriented towards something that “is” but is not yet, though it is also something that must be and will be. What better metaphor is there for the vocation of the forerunner than pregnancy? For as pregnancy goes before birth, so John goes before the face of the Lord. Pregnancy makes straight the path of a new being coming into the world, just as John makes straight the paths of the Lord. And as pregnancy is the sign or symptom that points forward to new life, so John is the sign that points to Jesus, the life of the world.

We have said how God’s grace, as it pertains to these events, is like the mist, like the gentle rain descending to fertilize the earth with Jesus and John; however, it is also like the gathering storm clouds, which alike are described as “pregnant” with an imminent deluge. The supernatural character of the sign ensures that our everyday concern is disturbed. We are alerted here to the tremendous portents of what is to come. Let us not, therefore, fail to abide in this mystery. Let us not become functional materialists with respect to a miracle which, if we are honest with ourselves, has probably dimmed in our appreciation through frequent and careless perusal. The sign calls us to sit up, to pay attention. That we must.

III: An Imposed Silence

The impending birth of John was first foretold to his father. Zacharias was of the priestly caste, and it so happened one day that it fell to his lot to offer incense in the sanctuary. While he was doing this he unexpectedly meets St. Gabriel the archangel standing by the altar of incense and, himself being very much afraid, is treated to the typical angelic salutation: “Fear not.” Gabriel then goes on to tell him that his prayer has been heard, that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son, and such a son as has scarcely been heard of in all the world. His name will be called John, the angel tells him. He will go forth in the spirit and power of Elias, and be filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb. As if this were not enough, we hear that his destiny is to prepare for the Lord a perfect people. Zacharias has much to be thankful for; but instead of gratitude, incredulity dominates his thinking. He returns a question to the angel, “Unde hoc sciam?” Now this phrase can be literally translated as “How shall I know this,” but that rather fails to capture the spirit of the thing. Sciam, the verb participle referring to Zacharias’ knowing, is cognate with the noun scientia, meaning the understanding of demonstrable knowledge. Zacharias is in effect saying that this makes no sense at all. A more colloquial translation of his question would read something like, “How do you expect me to wrap my mind around that?”—or perhaps, if we wish to be particularly uncharitable to the poor man, “What do you take me for, an idiot?”  Therefore Gabriel, much resenting this impudence, and perhaps astonished to find such unbelief in a consecrated priest of the Most High, imposes upon him the punishment that he shall not be able to speak until the child is born. We can imagine Gabriel departing from thence in a huff, with even more than the usual archangelic swiftness.

The ‘calm before the storm’ is a phenomenon familiar to all of us. Whenever you are caught beneath the final stages of a developing thunderstorm, before the outflow boundary hits, the winds fall, the clouds lower and darken, barometric pressure drops, and voices refuse to carry through the thin air. These are all signs associated with ominousness—in fact signs so engrained as such by experience as to be practically synonymous with it. And if these are the signs that attend a natural storm, how much more ominous must the supernatural calm imposed on Zacharias have appeared in the minds of all those about him? For nine months he could utter not a word. The gathering storm of God had sucked the voice right out of his bosom. It is as if God were saying: “I will allow no disbelief, no casualness, no ignorant speculation, no supercilious disregard, no intimations of doubt, to mar what I am doing. The storm shall announce itself by its own calm.” Zacharias becomes as silent as a stone, but in the eeriness of his reticence the stone cries out.

As the angel promised him, Zacharias’ power of speech is restored to him at the birth of John, whereupon he holds forth in an outpouring of praise and prophecy known as the Canticle of Zacharias. This is the Holy Ghost’s own “commentary” on the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, so I advise everyone to read it today. It contains, at least in germ, everything that can be said on the subject. That is far too much mystery for us to delve into in detail, but in keeping with the theme of this essay I will briefly mention one particular aspect. Zacharias is said to be “filled with the Holy Ghost” when he speaks. In doing so he has become a personae (literally ‘a mask’) of the Holy Ghost, who is speaking through him. The Spirit of God reveals Himself while concealing Himself, preserving the truth of Jesus’ statement that “No one has seen God,” even though His revelation is even now all around them. What we see is the signal alerting us to His presence, the symptom of something which does not itself appear. The signal conduces to a state of fear and readiness to receive the Word, which shall be our final subject.

IV: Anxiety and Penitence

When Zacharias’ tongue is finally loosed, the Gospel records that “fear fell upon all their neighbors” and they wondered one to another, “What a one, think ye, shall this child be?” This tells us that the signal has gotten across. Disturbance of everyday concern, the apprehension in the face of the supernatural, has, for the time being, asserted itself. However, if the matter were to end there it would leave us standing on the edge of a precipice. The wonders of God have been displayed for us and, without being themselves chaotic or unreasonable, have flummoxed our ordinary understanding. We are now aware of the wisdom and power of God as well as our own dependence upon His sufferance, which is a most uncomfortable place to be in. The abyss of anxiety opens up before us when the miracle deprives us of our ordinary world. Having been conducted to such a state, it is necessary to ask the question, “Now what?”

The question cannot be answered by dialectics alone, for having gone beyond the boundary of the natural light we no longer have any premises to reason about. The answer, when it arrives, will not be contrary to logic, but it cannot be logically deduced from preexistent foundational knowledge. We need, as it were, a new premise which only revelation can supply. It would be cheating at this point to take what we already know from later in the text, and from the entirety of the Christian witness concerning John, and retroject it upon his birth narrative. Let us try to abstract from all that (even though it can never fully be done) and imagine ourselves among Zacharias’ neighbors, who had yet to experience anything further. What clue did they have as to John’s destiny? We turn again to the Canticle, wherein we read such lines as: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people,” and: “To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins.” We recall again that Gabriel declared he was to prepare for the Lord a perfect people. Do these statements seem to point in a definite direction?

John is here to signal the day of salvation, to give testimony to the Light. He is an indicator that Emmanuel—God with us—has entered the world. To this end he is very irritating, for so befits his role as a signal. Alarms, sirens, klaxons, and other instruments of warning are not chosen on account of their pleasantness. Their job is to raise anxiety, for through them the environment announces to us that something demands our immediate attention. By such devices we are brought to a state of readiness to receive what is approaching. In readying ourselves we must adapt ourselves to threat, and the threat that John announces is this—Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.