“The Church must be militant in order to thrive and flourish.”
So said Rod Pead (editor of Christian Order magazine) in a speech he gave thirteen years ago, but which could have been given yesterday. His words ring loud and true. The time has obviously come when Catholics need to be true Catholics. Persecution is practically upon us, and we need to fight for our faith as we have never fought before.
Of course, one reason for our current situation is that the Church hasn’t been militant for decades now. The Church has become sick as we have grown cold and lax in our duty to learn and teach the faith. As Rod Pead said in his 13-year-old speech, we’ve been under the “liberal illusion that we can defend Christ and Catholic truth without conflict and the unpleasantness of raised voices and pointed fingers”.
Sadly, it is in the ranks of our bishops that we see much of this desire to defend the truth without conflict. That attitude filters down to priests, and then down to the laity. And so, we must correct what is wrong in the Church by starting with the bishops.
Does that mean “bishop-bashing”? No; certainly we must show respect for the episcopal office. I’m talking about insisting that our bishops speak the truth boldly and forcefully, without concern for political correctness and “offending” someone. For too many years, we’ve seen bishops teaching wrongly, or failing to stand up for the truth, or simply being “wishy-washy” on Church doctrine when confronted with media pressure.
The Church does, after all, make demands of a bishop – standards that are not easy to achieve, but are still required. For instance, Canon Law describes the bishop’s duty to:
…teach and illustrate to the faithful the truths of faith which are to be believed and applied to morals…so that the whole of Christian teaching is transmitted to all. (Canon 386 ß1)
…defend the integrity and unity of the faith to be believed. However, he is to acknowledge a just freedom in the further investigation of truths. (Canon 386 ß2)
…give an example of holiness, charity, humility and simplicity of life…to seek in every way to promote the holiness of Christ\’s faithful…to strive constantly that Christ\’s faithful entrusted to his care may grow in grace through the celebration of the sacraments… Can. 387
Of course, bishops don’t always do these things perfectly: they are human, after all! Still, there are some bishops who are not even coming close to the standards, and by commission or omission, they are misleading the people. They are causing scandal by allowing people to think, for instance, that it must be okay for Catholics to disagree with the Church on abortion, contraception, and homosexual marriage because Catholic politicians do so and go uncorrected.
When a bishop does speak the truth boldly, it makes news. Pead notes:
A prelate stands up to condemn sodomy or abortion – the minimum one might expect of a Catholic bishop – and we go weak at the knees and lose all sense of proportion in our rush to congratulate him.
Indeed! I’ve been told many times that I should focus on the good things some bishops are doing, rather than the goof-ups and missteps. And I’ve tried to give credit where credit is due. But Pead makes a good point: our standards for our bishops have sunk so low that we think it a wonder when one of them has the courage to preach the Gospel.
That doesn’t really help our bishops, either, no matter how charitable it might seem. The real act of charity might lie in challenging a bishop on his wrong teaching. Pead again (my emphases):
Episcopal salvation is, to say the very least, problematic. \”Many priests are lost and few bishops are saved,\” said St. John Chrysostom, himself a bishop… So we have to stop pandering to duplicitous Shepherds and start fearing – for them, since they appear to have lost all fear of God themselves, and fearing for our complicity in their negligence.
If a bishop does not preach the truth (and live it and talk it and publicize it in the mainstream media), but instead subverts Church teaching and directly violates Canon Law, then he leads his flock astray. Period.
And if he leads his flock astray, what is to become of him? Scripture has a straightforward answer:
[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. (Luke 17:1-2; see also Matthew 18:6)
If I were a bishop, I’d be trembling in fear at those words.
And so, sometimes, the laity must speak up, even according to Canon Law (my emphases):
Canon 212 §3 According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, [the faithful] have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful…
Of course, praying for our prelates is imperative. Rod Pead challenges us to consider whether we have really done that. He notes that we often wring our hands and say “there is only so much we can do”, but he adds:
But have we done even that much? Have we prayed and fasted and done penance and really begged God on our knees to convert the hearts and minds of the bishops? Have we consistently pleaded with Him to take the hirelings who will not respond to His grace to their early reward, and send us real Catholic Shepherds in their stead?
We, the lay infantry of the Church Militant, must do our part as well. We fight against the forces of darkness through our prayer and fasting and penance. We must use those weapons and apply the merits to our shepherds, because we can’t make it without them…and they can’t make it without us.
And the world can’t make it without the Church.
So the Church Militant has its marching orders: we must heal our own wounds first before we can heal the world. Rod Pead sums it up nicely:
[The Catholic mind sees] that everything, every debate on whatever issue returns to Catholic moral and doctrinal realities and, therefore, that a healthy, unified Catholic Church precedes and gives rise to a healthy, unified and coherent State. And he sees all about him the catastrophic consequences for society of the Modernist heresy destroying the Western Church. Thus, he doesn\’t put the cart before the horse; he doesn\’t fool himself into accepting that a sick Church can heal a sick world; he knows that we have to heal the Church and unite ourselves – Catholics of the Latin Rite – before trying to heal the world and unite divided Christianity.