The way of the world is wearying. As the Church Militant, we are soldiers battling our whole lives against the snares of evil and temptation and the war can seem never ending. If the Church is going to be victorious, however, we need to be reminded often of the convictions and strategies that urged us onto the battlefield in the first place. It’s one thing to fight hard – a whole new dimension comes into play when we also aim to fight smart.
Strategy #1: Know Your Enemy
Satan is not creative.
A good student knows that history often repeats itself. The Devil uses the same tactics over and over to tempt and destroy, such as appealing to fallen human qualities like selfishness, laziness, and narcissism. Rather than becoming discouraged at man’s tendency to fall for the same lies, the Church can instead take heart! The enemy’s plans have never been more obvious, and surely, his plans can be more easily recognized now. A wise soldier learns from his mistakes; because of history’s failures, Satan can no longer hide behind familiar lines. And it is much easier to do battle with a foe when you can see him.
These culture wars have been decades in the making. The devil may not be creative, but he is certainly patient. Recent challenges to society, such as the gender identity crisis and an increase of mass school shootings, to name a few – these are caused by old wounds that we initially suffered when faith and family life ceased to be the foundations of most peoples’ lives. As the lack of respect for life and sacrificial love gave way to individualism and relativism, gaping holes were left for the enemy to fill on his own terms.
Just as it took years for society to disintegrate as it has, it would be difficult for the true solution to take any less time to implement. Of course, all things are possible with God, but we must also be prepared to be in this for the long haul.
Strategy #2: Know Your Battle Plan
A soldier without a cause is easily unmotivated and distracted.
In our war, the Christian’s end game is this: conversion of hearts. This objective changes everything.
If we are fighting for hearts and souls, then our tactics have to reflect this. Reforming laws and posting articles on social media is only a very small part of the effort. To bring about conversion, our primary directive must be to lead others to Christ. Pope Francis is an excellent example of this: by extending compassion and gentle correction, he emulates Jesus in the Gospels and invites open dialogue with tepid hearts. Our enemy expects us to be belligerent in our conviction, but our strategy must be passionate peace.
It’s widely accepted in the sports world that the team with home field advantage will generally find it easier to be victorious. We have an obligation to remain vocal on the stages of the world, but it’s important to also remember that these battles we fight are not going to be won on the world’s terms. We must have presence, but also, avoid throwing all of our efforts behind grandiose political statements. If this is the only place we’re fighting, then we’re forgetting our home field advantage, where we rally strongest: the heavenly realm.
Strategy #3: Know Your Strengths
You know the saying: “Pick the hill you die on”.
So often, it is easy to become zealous for a few, if not many, worthy causes. However, not only is this ultimately ineffective, it’s also the best way to burn ourselves out, taking us completely out of the game. St. Paul tells us that the Body of Christ is made up of many parts. We are a people made up of many passions, fighting a war that has many causes – choose one! Spend your life conquering your hill and pray unceasingly for your brothers dying on the hills next to yours.
Finally (and most importantly), making sure your soldiers are efficient and effective is common sense for any good general. We should always remember that prayer is our primary means of attack. It is easy for many of us who excel in outreach to forget that ultimately, it is the Holy Spirit that inspires radical change and only through petitioning Him can total conversion take place.
The war that humankind has been embroiled in since the beginning will be hard-fought and hard-won. Our enemy is clever, but we are creative. The world plays by its own rules, but our battleground is heaven itself. And though the struggles are many, so are we.
So, onward Christian soldiers, and take heart! Fight hard and fight smart, for victory is most assuredly ours!
St. Michael, pray for us and defend us always!
In recent weeks, a Toronto United Church minister stirred up a surprising amount of controversy with her new book, and possible firing from her church. Although she’s a minister in the allegedly Christian United Church of Canada, Gretta Vosper has been an open atheist for years.
Leaving aside the implications of this whole story for the rapidly-dying United Church, I want to address the topic of her book, since it’s currently in the public eye.
You might think that a former Christian who no longer believes in God would be trying to convert Christians to atheism, and Vosper is, but in a particularly sneaky and nonsensical way. Apparently, she’d rather change Christianity into atheism while still calling it Christianity.
The book is called “With or Without God: Why the Way We Live Is More Important Than What We Believe,” but perhaps a better subtitle might have been “Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One.” Despite the somewhat novel element of the atheist minister, the worldview being proposed is hardly original. I feel like there must be thousands of books that have been written on exactly the same topic; that oh-so-trendy idea that being a Good PersonTM is more important than believing what is true. I’d be surprised if another one isn’t published before I finish typing this sentence.
Cashing in on Ignorance
Although books (and movies, and blogs, and youtube comments) of this kind thrive on controversy, there’s typically little originality to the arguments or conclusions they contain. To me, the only thing shocking about this poor woman’s idea is how some people actually take it seriously.
I can’t be the only one who sees a slight contradiction in writing a book about your beliefs, when you believe that beliefs don’t matter. Why not just sell a gold-plated book promoting asceticism? Or maybe some leather-bound PETA pamphlets?
Obviously Gretta thinks my beliefs are pretty important, if she went to all the trouble of writing a book just to change them. Or, is it a little more likely that she knows her writing is meaningless, but that many people will buy it unquestioningly?
Being a Good Person
Just being a good person and never worrying about what that means seems super simple and very practical… until I meet someone who doesn’t believe the same things I do.
As it turns out the world is a bit bigger than my local community center (aka United Church) and if I go outside, I’m going to meet someone who disagrees with me on how to be a good person. If I go far enough outside, I’ll meet someone who thinks that the way to be a good person is to kill me. And the same is true for anyone. Somehow, I highly doubt Ms. Vosper would approve of an ISIS terrorist killing her for not believing in Allah, yet it’s either that or admit that his beliefs matter.
I really think that the current fashion of pitting of belief and action against each other is in some sense an outgrowth of the protestant heresy of sola fides, which does the same thing, only exalting belief and claiming that actions are inconsequential. From one error, others tend to grow and multiply. The United Church of Canada is perhaps the perfect illustration of the results of this heresy, giving license to every moral whim of modern society, and putting the good ol’ Christian stamp of approval on it.
Fulton Sheen once said, “if you don’t behave as you believe, you will end by believing as you behave.” And this is why we need to believe what is true before doing what is good. If we accept the idea that beliefs don’t matter and just strive to be “good” with no definition of being good, we will quickly and inevitably believe whatever justifies our actions.
Have you ever forgotten who you were? Chances are that you haven’t, however, I found out it is more common than I realized. According to HealthResearchFunding.org, Dissociative Amnesia, which is the loss of specific memory which can include the loss of a sense of identity, occurs in up to 7% of the general population, with a minimum of 2% of people in the US population experiencing it at any given time. To put that into perspective, that is approximately 6,380,000 people all experiencing amnesia. Yet, I think there is a sort of spiritual amnesia also plaguing the people within the Church, and it is progressing.
K. Albert Little, a blogger over at Patheos, recently wrote a blog that is getting a lot of buzz called “Why the Catholic Church Must Become More Protestant.” In it, this recently converted catholic laments over the failures that our churches have made. He brings up valid points, please do not get me wrong, but he prescribes the wrong medicine. In his article he cites (without providing sources), Peter Kreeft, the famous catholic philosopher/theologian/Thomistic genius. He states that, “Peter Kreeft argues that the Catholic Church needs to do what St. Pope John Paul II’s New Evangelization has been urging the Church to do for several decades now: essentially, become more Protestant.”
I’m sorry, in what universe did the great Pope St. John Paul II ever, ever, urge the Church to become more “protestant”? I digress. Little concludes by stating, “the ultimate ecumenism—our ultimate embrace of Jesus’s prayer for us to be one—must result in a Church which is both Catholic, retaining the sacraments given to us by God, and equally Evangelical, with an orientation towards community, discipleship, and evangelism. This is, of course, the best of both worlds. This is what we should strive to attain. This is what Christ prayed for, and this is why the Catholic Church must become more Protestant.” Yet, is that the answer to the woes of the Church?
When I had my major conversion experience at the age of 12 and fell in love with Christ and the Catholic Church, one of the saving graces that I had was that I had been well-exposed to protestantism. I had been to the Sunday schools, the youth groups, the Vacation Bible Camps, etc. Why? My mother saw that there was literally nothing engaging me in my faith within the parishes in my town. As a young kid (before I rejected the faith for a short time), I used to rock out to the Christian band Petra, watch Psalty the Songbook and Gerbert (the days before VeggieTales), and the list goes on. Yet, when I experienced our Lord’s presence in my life in a real way for the first time, after a period of time of being away from God spiritually, it turned me not towards those protestant churches, but drove me deeper into the Catholic Church.
I still listen to Christian music today. I still go to Christian concerts, nights of praise and worship, and I do from time to time, listen to a sermon or two from Joyce Meyer or Rick Warren. I’m smart enough to pick out the heresies or false teachings that protestantism has embedded within it, however, there are things within protestantism that are authentically good. Yet, what I realized as a child, and what I still hold to today, is that while, as Little says, “Evangelical Protestantism, says Kreeft, has a serious market cornered on relationship-building, discipleship, and evangelization,” these things are not inherently protestant. How do I know?
I have read the Book of Acts and I know Catholic history.
The Early Church is our patrimony. You want to see a real grassroots community of disciples committed to the cause of evangelization? Look at the Early Church! The Holy Spirit used the men and women of the Early Church to spread the Gospel like wildfire across the world. Throughout history, Catholics were the ones writing the beautiful hymns of praise. Not only were we building religious communities, we were building civilization. We built art and culture that has stood the test of time and still inspires people today. Flashy lights, hip music, and cool videos, though nice, will not stand the test of time. Yet, here we are in the Western World, watching the decline of Christianity in the West (which has been overrun by protestantism), and we’re saying “We have to be more like those guys with their Starbucks and their rock music churches.”
NO WE DON’T!
PROTESTANTISM IS NOT THE ANSWER!
Blessed John Henry Newman said, “to study history is to cease to be protestant.” So many Catholics, both lay and clergy, seem to be dealing with the same issue our protestant friends have been dealing with – they have turned a blind eye to history. I love our Holy Father, but if you look at the sources used for our Holy Father’s Apostolic Exhortations and encyclicals, you will find that beyond a few major Saints who he refers to in small ways, the majority of the sources he uses do not go beyond Pope St. John XXIII (1958). If you look at a lot of the major protestant writings, there is a significant gap of time between the New Testament and the Protestant Reformation that they do not mention either. In both these cases, I fear there is a type of amnesia.
The answer to the struggles the Church is facing is not to become like someone else. The answer is to become authentically who we are! The Catholic Church is inherently a family of disciples, called to live in unity with one another, and to preach the Gospel to all nations. We literally wrote the book on it, we should know. We have been this in the past and our communities can be this in the future. The key, however, lies in our willingness to let go of the politics that surrounds living the faith, and just do it.
Here is one simple way of being authentically Catholic which will benefit the Church and the world:
Get together with a group of serious Catholics on a regular basis. Pray together. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you as a group. Then ask this question: “How are we going to evangelize our families, friends, co-workers, local church, and city as individuals and as a group?” Set out a game plan. Then, go out for a beer and half-priced appetizers and hang out. For the love of God, just hang out with each other and build community. Stop compartmentalizing the faith and integrate the faith into everything you do, always looking for an opportunity to share the Gospel.
At the end of the day, community life, evangelization, and discipleship are authentically catholic things, just as much as the devotional life. Protestants may have borrowed these ideas and made them their own, but they are found originally with the Catholic Church; the Church Jesus Himself founded on a community of 12 men. Do not let anyone tell you different. We, however, need to start acting like the Catholics we are meant to be, not the Catholics that have filled the pews for decades and did nothing. We also cannot wait upon our priests and bishops, parishes and dioceses, to formalize this type of community. It is in our hands to do it ourselves, and we must. The days of greater persecution are coming when we are going to need each other more than ever before. We really need to get to know each other before then and starting working together. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the Early Church.
My grandfather has always been a hard working man. Constantly going out of his way to serve his family. Yet, starting about ten years ago we started to see him decline. He began to sleep-a lot. He was diagnosed 7 years later with dementia and was recently put into a facility for veterans who suffer from dementia as well. One thing I came to see in him was that the more you sleep, the more you’ll want to sleep. Recently we visited him and the nurse said to us, “he sleeps all the time. It worries me.” Yet that was his normal routine. The more he sleeps, the more he just wants to sleep. I think this principal applies to many of us.
I have heard the Church referred to as the sleeping giant many times. I have come to understand that to be a great analogy for the Church in our day. Yet, I think the analogy fails a little a bit. I don’t think the entire church is asleep, and has never been. We refer to the Church as the mystical body of Christ. The Church, like the scripture says has many members. If that is the case then I would surmise that only certain parts of the body are asleep.
Say you fall asleep on your arm and you wake up. Many people would have the same experience of feeling like the arm is deadened. You may not be able to feel it if you touch it. It may feel heavy and not move normally. As the blood begins to flow more freely through the limb you may get a sensation of pins and needles. For many people this hurts. It is not a pleasant experience. Yet after a few minutes your arm is back to normal and you can freely move it and feel things again. Can this experience be applied to the faithful?
A priest friend of mine once preached at Mass about a hot button issue. He only briefly spoke on the issue, however, two people walked out during his homily. Family members of the two who walked out came and spoke to him after Mass, accusing him of speaking out of line and actually “against the Church’s teaching.” When he was able to finally get the answer as to what the supposed heretical thing was that he said, it turned out that it revolved around what they thought Pope Francis was teaching. Yet, what they had read was completely false (See “Just Ignore Everything You Read About Pope Francis“). They were actually completely off the mark. These family members refused to listen to anything this priest said based solely on what they had perceived with no actual study or proof. For years these parishioners have been coming to church and receiving a watered down Gospel and have become to accustomed to their spiritual lethargy that when this priest simply mentioned absolute truth, they immediately reacted. It was like a rush of blood back to the limb that had been asleep for so long.
This same priest received many thank you and praises that same day for a great homily. Rightfully so. Yet, the experience of these people shows that while some people are awake, some are not. Some are also more awake then others. This also shows that some who have been asleep do not want to be awakened. What is my point?
For years, the professional Catholic crowd has been banging the drum of “be pastoral” and “create dialogue”, and while these things are good in principle, they have become for many the end of all of their endeavours. The fear of creating offence overwhelms these poor tepid, modestly paid souls, and they will sooner chew out someone for speaking the truth than chew out real social and spiritual injustice. Yet, no matter how many programs are formed to try to avoid offending anyone, there will and should always be someone who experiences discomfort when coming in contact with the truth. Jesus makes this reality clear in the scriptures. The lives of the Saints show over and over again that you need to sometimes just speak the truth and let the chips fall as they may for real fruit to be borne. So speak the truth, always in love, but speak it nonetheless. It’s time to awaken the sleeping body of Christ. The world needs us. Speak life into dry bones!