Faith: A Spirituality for This Present Age
It's easy to write articles pointing out the problems in the Church.
They, like the man who was possessed, are "legion!" When we have exhausted each other with "can you top this" horror stories about liturgy, catechetics and even dogma, we are left with that awful empty feeling of frustration that no one but a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic can truly appreciate! Sure there are terrible things going on in the Church and the truth is the sins of commission pale in comparison to the sins of omission! But it's a hierarchical Church and we are not part of the hierarchy! So, as we recite the current list of atrocities, and our blood pressure approaches meltdown, we begin to drown in our own frustration until someone throws us the old life preserver: "We'll just have to pray about it!" That soothes the sting, but leaves an empty ache behind. Prayer alone seems so inadequate. It is!
Have we forgotten that we are the "Church Militant?" Pope Paul the VI told us that the "smoke of Satan has entered the Church!" When Christ entrusted the Church to St. Peter and his successors, Jesus said the "gates of Hell will not prevail against it!" How can a gate "prevail"? It doesn't move or fight, It simply stands there. The only way a gate "prevails" is when it withstands a force seeking to beat it down. That force was intended to be the Church! Jesus Christ "did not come to bring peace, but a sword!" It isn't adequate to stand before the power of Hell with teacup in hand and pinkie extended! The Church Jesus founded was intended to be a race of warriors that would beat down the gates of Hell for the salvation of souls and the building up of the Kingdom of God. If you're going to stand up to Satan and his power, you'd better have the faith that made saints and prophets. The battle for your soul and the souls of the ones you love is what we called in a more enlightened time "spiritual warfare," and you'd better show up in full armor with weapons in hand. You're going to need Combat Faith! Before you can put on the "armor of God" and wield the "sword of the Spirit" there are a few presuppositions you have to deal with:
Myth 1. Numbers are important. Remember the story of Gideon in the Old Testament? Before the battle God said Gideon had too many men. So by the time God finished trimming them down, there was only a remnant to go against a much larger force. Guess who won! So it seems that a small number with God is greater than a larger number without God. The fact is most people are useless in a fight.
Many centuries ago a Greek philosopher/general named Heraclitus was involved in a war and he sent a famous letter back to his city-state of Athens. He said that out of every 100 men they sent, 90 were useless! They just got in the way and cluttered up the battlefield. Only 10 of that hundred were fighters, and only 1 would be a true warrior! He said it was on that one that the battle would turn!
After the battles of the American Civil War, they would pick up rifles on the battlefield that had multiple charges in the barrel. They had been loaded and re-loaded but never fired! This is like those 90% who talk and talk to one another about the battle but never pull the trigger. The 10% who will fight will be more than enough if we can find that one who is a true warrior!
In the entire history of the Roman Catholic Church there has never been a true spiritual renewal by committee, council, or document! These things have never caused Hell to tremble. The only time the Church has risen up to do battle with evil was when God raised up warriors, to lead the way. They were prophets and saints, wild-eyed and uncompromising! They may have lacked some social skills, but they burned with the love of God and that flame cleansed and enlightened the Church.
They also died, because as true warriors they were in the front lines. They were martyred, sometimes by their own Church and spiritual leaders. Remember, when Jesus returns to gather His true Church, the Bible says it will be a "remnant?" We think numbers are important because we live in a democracy and that is how you get elected, but true Christianity is not a democracy! Christ is our King, not our president. God doesn't need a lot of people; He just needs the right people!
Myth 2. Warriors look like warriors! Maybe so, if you see as God sees, but otherwise picture the scene at Harvard University a few years ago when Mother Teresa received an honorary degree. She may have weighed 90 pounds if she were carrying an abandoned baby in each arm, and she stands there on a box so her head clears the top of the podium, and she talks about the horror of abortion. Behind her the most powerful man in the world, the president of the United States and his wife are squirming in their seats. Jesus once asked people who went into the desert to hear John the Baptist, what they went into the desert to see? A reed swaying in the wind? No! People like reeds swaying whichever way the wind blows them are everywhere. Did they go to see a saint and a prophet? Yes! And the people at Harvard saw even more. They saw a warrior for God! So did the Clintons. God's warriors will not be known by bulging muscles or political clout, but by their courage to stand and speak the truth! Jesus told Pilate: "The reason I was born, the reason I came into the world is to testify to the truth and those who seek the truth will hear my voice!" Then Pilate asked the saddest question ever asked; "Truth, what is truth?" Yes, the truth can be painful, but as Pope St. Gregory The Great said: "It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed!" Saints and Prophets are truth-speakers, and nothing is more frightening to the powers of darkness than the light of truth!
Myth 3. If we follow Christ we will be loved. At funerals I have heard people say: "Everybody loved old Joe!" Why, "Old Joe didn't have an enemy in the world!"
What a terrible thing to say! Jesus Christ was perfect love and yet every Good Friday you shout "Crucify Him, Crucify Him!" Jesus was perfect but there were a lot of people who were very happy when Jesus died! There is an old saying that you're known by your enemies as well as by your friends! If everyone loves you maybe it's because you've never challenged, confronted, questioned or stood up for anything! There are certain people, some in positions of authority, who dislike me rather intensely. I accept this as affirmation. If I thought they liked me I would be deeply worried!
As a follower of Christ your task is not to call people to happiness, but to holiness! Have you forgotten that Jesus said: "I come not to bring peace, but a sword!" He whipped the moneychangers out of the temple and told the religious leaders (The Pharisees) they were "empty tombs filled with corruption!" If a person is so weak and insecure as to need constant affirmation, he will never be a warrior. The trick is not to have everyone love you, but to be sure the right people hate you!
Myth 4. We'll put it all in God's hands! Most people who say this are not really concerned that it's in God's hands, but rather that they get to wash there own. But they will learn as Pontius Pilate did that you can't wash away your guilt so easily.
Once Jesus had a man with a withered hand stand before the Pharisees who complained that Christ was healing on the Sabbath. Jesus asked them a simple question: "Is it right to do good or evil on the Sabbath?" The Pharisees thought they had a third option - doing NOTHING! That option does not exist for God's warriors. If you can do good and yet refuse to do it, then you have done evil! How vast is the category of "sins of omission" and how few go there to examine their conscience!
Remember how the Master treated the man who buried his money in the ground? The reason that God left the Israelites in the desert for 40 years was because they had been slaves and they had a slave's mentality. This made them unfit to enter and possess the Promised Land. That generation had to "die out" and a new strong people be raised up, a people who had been formed in the crucible of the desert. The nation that fled Egypt and the nation that entered the Promised Land were vastly different. They had been slaves looking for a master but now they were warriors ready to fight to build a kingdom for their God! Does it sound risky? It is! But there's an old saying: "Ships in a harbor are safe...but ships weren't built for harbors!" Christians with teacups in their hands are safe.... but God didn't design the hands of his warriors to fit the handles of teacups, but rather the handles of swords! The Bible says: "The Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent bear it away!" There is no greater act of violence than the dying to self that is necessary in order to say with the Mother of God "Behold the servant of the Lord! Be it done to me as you will!" Only that "surrender" insures our victory!
Fr. McNamara said; " The difference between us and the saints is that the saints throw themselves into the fire of God's Love and they emerge burnt, but magnificently transfigured, while the rest of us spend our lives walking around the fire, close enough to be warm, but never so close as to risk being touched by the flames!" Remember, we are looking for a small group, a remnant, a "band of brothers" who have walked in the fire of God's love and have emerged transformed. Are you one of them? Here is a little test: Picture the last and greatest prophet, John the Baptist, the night before he was beheaded, lying on the floor of his cell. Tomorrow he will die for daring to speak the truth and offending powerful people. Jesus Christ is addressing John's disciples and he declares: "I tell you, there has never been a greater man born of woman than John the Baptizer!" Do you think John was a fool? Did he throw his life away? Or would you say it was worth it and you would lay down your life, too, if only you could hear God himself say such glorious things about you? If so, you have the values of a warrior! Do you also have the courage to live them?
Rev. Charles Dahlby is a pastor of St. Rita's Church in the diocese of Springfield, Illinois.