When I woke up Saturday morning to discover that Ireland legalized abortion I was heart-broken. The bloody nihilistic tide had finally extended its reach over the whole of Western Europe, Portugal remains with the most conservative abortion laws, but it is not completely illegal there either. The loss has historical and spiritual significance.
The conversion of Ireland changed the world — thanks to St. Patrick and others — and led Ireland to help save Western civilization in the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire. They preserved much of that civilization in their monasteries while also living the missionary spirit and evangelizing various areas of Western Europe.
The impact that Ireland had on what would become Christendom cannot be overstated. This is one of the reasons why it is so tragic that such a vibrant Catholic nation should succumb to the culture of death.
It is true that secularism is largely to blame, but we cannot overlook the deep pain the clerical sex abuse scandal caused the Irish people. There is a reason why it has become a cudgel people use to bludgeon us to death. Yes, this is unjust on their part because the vast majority of our priests and bishops were not involved and they have each worked diligently to live as another Christ to the world; however, we cannot pretend that it did not have a serious impact.
There is something that utterly devastates the world when a Catholic priest or bishop falls into grave sin, evil, and scandal. The world may not understand as we do the significance of the priesthood, but they know deep down that there is something different and other worldly about our priests. Our own culture is obsessed with Catholic priests, even as it attacks them in the nastiest of ways. Even as the world hates and reviles us, they deep down hope we are different and that our priests are different. They may want to see them fall, but when it happens it robs them of some kind of hope that they longed for in the deepest parts of their being. We cannot pretend that the sins of a small minority of our priests and bishops have not had a huge impact on the nations ravaged by the sex abuse scandal, a scandal that is still going on in various parts of the world.
If we also take an honest look at history, we can see where the modern Church has failed in her evangelical mission. She largely stepped out of intellectual discourse after the Enlightenment and left the West to move towards secularism until Blessed John Henry Newman wanted more for Catholic universities. While the West transformed, we largely disengaged until a revival of Thomism over a hundred years ago.
We cannot have a sentimental view of the Church or our faith. Anyone who has studied Church history will take their rose-tinted glasses and throw them in the trash where they belong. To love is to love the beloved with all of their flaws and we love the Church with all of the stains and failures caused by our brothers and sisters in Christ both in the laity and the clergy down through the ages. We are able to do so because in the end we know it is Christ who is the Head.
Sentimentality doesn’t convert souls and it does not come from a position of strength. We are at war. We’ve always been at war. This is a battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of every human being who has ever lived, is alive today, or will live in the future. The Enemy seeks to destroy us and drag us straight to hell with him and his demons. Moral therapeutic deism isn’t going to get us anywhere.
Christ told us the gate is narrow, this means we must live lives dedicated completely to Him. As Dr. Robert George stated a few years ago: “The age of comfortable Catholicism is over.” If anything, the legalization of abortion in Ireland should wake us from our slumber and complacency. The lands of Christendom have crumbled and now lie in ruins in the wake of secularism.
How do we fight?
The war begins in our own homes and families. Are we actively pursuing holiness and helping our children towards heaven? Are we as spouses living out this vocation faithfully? Are our priests living lives of deep prayer and heroic virtue? I think all of us can honestly answer that we fail repeatedly in our vocation. That isn’t the issue. We are going to fail and need to continue to rise again with Christ’s help. If we are actively trying, then we are on the path to holiness. We must truly desire to be a saint first and then we can begin on the journey.
The problem is in those Catholic homes where we view our faith journey as a one hour on Sunday obligation and that’s it. Our lives look no different from our neighbor’s. If asked, many people probably wouldn’t even realize we are Catholic.
We need to ask ourselves: How are we different? How are we living with Christ as the center of our lives? Are we a beacon of hope to the people around us who are trapped in the lies of secularism and all of the deadly philosophies that have ensnared them? People should be able to tell we are Catholic by the way we live our lives.
The Mass is the center.
The Mass is the center of our lives. According to Vatican II it is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” It is through the Mass that we are given the strength and grace we need to live our vocations and go out into the world to bring others to Christ. Moral therapeutic deism—the idea that we have to only be a “good” person—does not lead people to evangelize. It leads to apathy and complacency because everyone gets to heaven for being their own version of “good.”
Moral therapeutic deism has infected the Church and it is harming our evangelical mission. The Church still teaches that Christ is the only way even if she does not fully know who is considered inside of the Church by God at an individual’s death. That’s up to Him to decide. It’s up to us to draw people to Christ and to the Sacraments. The Church does not teach an individualistic carte blanche approach to religion.
Consider, each Sunday and at daily Mass we get to partake of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The God of the universe who made us in His image and likeness out of a gratuitous act of love condescends to our altars in order to be our spiritual food. How could we not want to share that gift with ever single person we meet? God wants to feed everyone through the Holy Eucharist. He wants all peoples to come to the sacrifice and banquet of the Mass which is a foretaste of heaven.
We have this tremendous gift and we aren’t sharing it. Far too many of us don’t even see it because we are so focused on our daily duties and responsibilities. The Mass must be the starting point for all that we do. It is where we are prepared for battle.
Fighting the war.
A war requires heroic virtue and it requires summoning all we can into our reserves. That means holding fast to the Sacraments and receiving them frequently. It means being people of prayer and Sacred Scripture. It means actively asking God to make us saints and to be willing to endure what will be required of us. Not a single saint was made in comfort. Not one. The Cross is where saints are made. Pray and be ready.
The Enemy is cunning, vastly superior intellectually to ourselves, and hates us. He is actively trying to pull each one of us away from Christ. The one billion babies who have been murdered worldwide through abortion are the casualties of being “civilized” and being a “good” person. It is the smiling face of the demonic. Souls are being lost around us and we ourselves have often fallen into acedia or sloth. Sloth isn’t laziness. It is apathy or indifference to the spiritual. It is to seek the world over Christ. We all fall into it at times, but we need to recognize it when it strikes.
Acedia is often hidden by our desire for comfort. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI saw this danger when he proclaimed: “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” What does he mean by “greatness”? He does not mean worldly prestige or glory. He is not talking about power and wealth. He is talking about holiness. We aren’t made for comfort because we are called to be saints. We are called to the radical life of holiness, which means giving every single aspect of our lives to Christ in His service. Everything! Our children, spouses, friends, family, house, cars, all the goods we own, our job, our gifts and talents, our sexuality, our bodies, and our souls. We cannot hold anything back from Him, if we do, He will use trials to help free us of our attachments. It’s the only way we can become the beautiful, truly good, and holy person He created us to be.
Why am I writing about holiness in the wake of the Irish vote? I am writing about it because we possess the answer to all of the sufferings, woes, immorality, darkness, weakness, stupidity, and horrors of this world. We have Christ crucified and Risen from the dead. We have the answer that dwells in the depths of even the most hardened of souls. Holiness is how we transform the world and bring it to Christ. Those who hate us the most have often been hurt the most by the wickedness of those of us within the Church, including our priests and bishops. Those people need Christ just as much as we do.
We must always look to Christ in hope, even as we lose countless battles here on earth. One of my favorite quotes for times like these is from one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s letters: “Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255).
We ourselves will fall daily and need to get back up. Battles are about small victories that lead to the ultimate victory. There is great evil in the world and it will largely maintain the upper hand, but the ultimate victory has already been won. Our job is to fight and in so doing attain our Crown of Glory along with countless other souls who persevered to the end.