The spiritual life is often called a battleground, a war between temptations and evil against freedom and grace. The anger and confusions we face as a Church are being felt by many as a war between who we are and who we are called to be as the people of God.
The faithful are calling for, demanding actually, that we face our sins of sexual abuse, cover ups and episcopal cowardice with honesty, integrity and action. If the spiritual life is similar to warfare then it could do us well to take a look at one of the most famous battles in one of the most devastating wars known to man.
On June 6, 1944 over 160,00 troops were sent to the shores of Normandy, France to accomplish one mission: take control of the beach. The Allies needed a more efficient route to end Hitler’s reign of terror and Normandy was the best option. Countless hours were spent on preparing and strategizing for this epic invasion. The sacrifices and effects of this day echo throughout all of history. It was important because it was difficult. Their “impossible” victory was brought about through unimaginable trial.
The Allies knew for months that they were going to invade this stretch of beach in France. However, the Nazis and the Axis Powers knew this was prized territory. The Germans had mastered their creation of these inventive machine guns that were fed bullets up to six inches in length. These treacherous weapons could fire twenty bullets a second. The Nazis strategically placed these guns on the coastline and pointed them towards the water. The Axis Powers would have the high ground if any enemy desired to come inland.
The Americans and Allies knew this was the case as they planned for this risky attempt to gain an advantage in the Great World War. They decided to utilize these unique ships called Higgins boats. These were small vessels with high walls that had no tops to them. Soldiers would stand in one direction towards the door which was really like a gate that would fold down to enable the quickest flux of men off the boat in the shortest amount of time.
Once the soldiers were close enough to shore the door would drop into the ocean and each of the men would jump as quickly as humanly possible into the water and attempt to make their way on to the beach and into cover before the German machine guns could pick them off. Massive machine guns with bullets the size of their hands were all going to be aimed at them. What is remarkable is that the soldiers knew what they were heading into. Their lives were placed in the balance; the balance was definitely tilted that day.
When the Generals drew up the plan for the battle and they received the intelligence about what they were facing they were probably moved to give up, but they went forward with the plans anyway. When the troops entered the boats on that morning in 1944 they must have been scared to death, but they went anyway. When those men jumped into those waters on the coast of France and were forced to dodge those bullets they must have thought about only one thing: I must storm the beach; we must win this battle. The price to pay would be huge, but the victory would be even more tremendous.
The challenges they faced on all sides was what defined their greatness. Everyone involved stared down the obstacles and guns in their way and went anyway. The troops stormed the beaches that day and thousands lost their lives. Their blood was not shed in vain. Most scholars agree that taking the beach that day changed the outcome of the war and in many ways lead to the defeat of Germany. We have our freedoms today because thousands of men would not let trials and hardships define them or their future.
Facing difficult moments in life should scare us. Heroes are not those who blindly go into battle; heroes are those who stare down the gunfire, they stare down their beach, and they storm it anyway.
The challenges we face in our Church and in our time are ones that will change the course of history. The odds we are up against may seem tilted, but the victory is for our taking.
A house divided against itself cannot stand. How we respond to the contemporary crisis as a Church and as individual Christians must reflect D-Day characteristics. Our generals the bishops should be determined to confront the large and daunting enemies of cowardly leadership, McCarrick’s rise and influence, and clerical abuse head on with full awareness of what the costs might be if these sins are not acknowledged. To admit and to reform does not mean we lose, to ignore and move on would mean we never even thought the battle was worth it. We can’t defeat evil without getting into the boat and we can’t expect true changes without reflecting deeply and truthfully on where we are today as a Church.
We can act with great confidence because Christ knows that the stormy beaches may be ahead of us, but he also knows that if we face them with honest and humble hearts we will always be victorious. Let us run towards the conflict filled beaches of sexual harassment, neglect by leadership and the needs for clerical and episcopal reform.
These are the arenas of the heroes, the holy ones of our faith. These are the shores that Christ calls each and everyone of us to storm. Let us enter the waters and make our way to the sand. Let us run towards the challenges of our times with the deep rooted surety that Christ surrounds us with the impenetrable armor of his cross and resurrection.
The victory is won by passing through Calvary and it is woven with stormy beaches. To all bishops, to all priests, to all Catholics and Christians: let us get into the boats, let us take the beach.