This past weekend my colleague Lisa Johnston and I went out on our first video shoot for the 2014 ACA video. The first location we shot was outside of Planned Parenthood, where we were capturing the Rosary-laced fingers of those who stand outside of that horrible establishment praying for a change of heart for those who are considering the destruction of their children, for the conversion of those whose livelihood is funded by the annihilation of human life, and for the souls of those poor innocents whose lives are about to be lost.
As we were shooting Saturday morning, the prayerful silence of those who were pacing the sidewalk was broken by the voice of a driver who screamed “get a life!”, then by the car horn of a woman who removed one of her hands from her steering wheel long enough to offer a foul hand gesture to anyone who looked her way, and then by a few more rude comments yelled from another passing car.
Before I came to work for the Church nearly nine years ago, I understood the idea of “spiritual warfare” as something that existed, but not as something that took place on a daily basis for average people. It was for saints who were tossed around the odd room, Satan relentlessly pursuing Christ in the desert, “good” vs. “bad” in the world, et cetera. In short, I had a very juvenile conception of spiritual warfare as it actually exists in the world. After spending the last years in my work for the Church, I have a very deep, personal, adult understanding of spiritual warfare as something that not only exists, but as something that takes place every second of every day, from which none of us are spared, and as something that is often ignored. Spiritual warfare is real and we who are the members of the Body of Christ, as members of the one true Church He established on earth, are dead center in the sight of the Evil One at all times.
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12)
Several years ago, Raymond Cardinal Burke, when he was archbishop of St. Louis, told someone who had just professed disbelief in the existence of anti-Catholicism in this day and age, “Just because you don’t believe in it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” I was shocked that anyone who is Catholic and who was even slightly paying attention wouldn’t be aware of the spiritual warfare in which the Church and Her members are engaged.
If you are Catholic, people hate you. They hate you because you are Catholic. One of my heroes, the Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once said, “There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.” I don’t know that that is entirely true anymore. I think that there are now many people who truly hate the Catholic Church simply for the fact that it is the Catholic Church.
Nowhere is this hatred seen more easily than what you can currently find on social media.
Twitter seems to have become the Mecca of atheists. If you are on Twitter and openly Catholic, you are a target for a particularly hateful group of taunting, harassing, nasty atheists. If you engage these atheists, you are treated as a pathetic, mindless, idiot sheep following the crusade-loving-stake-burning-woman-hating-pedophile-protecting-anti-gay-anti-jew-anti-freedom-bigoted herd that is the rest of the Catholic Church…or so they would say…and have…to me.
Beyond just spiritual warfare, physical warfare is taking place. On the pages of Facebook over the last couple of weeks, images from bombed out areas of Egypt including Coptic churches, schools, convents, stories of those who have been killed, nuns who are being paraded through the streets like war criminals, and streets literally running red with the blood of these martyrs are everywhere. The country where the infant Lord himself sought refuge is now a place where Christians are being persecuted and killed.
So why are we hated?
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. (John 15:18)
There are many reasons the Catholic Church is hated and, to a certain degree, Archbishop Sheen was correct in his statement that much of the hatred is based on misconceptions and falsehoods. I believe we are hated simply because we must be.
When Christ established our church, He knew what He was doing. He knew what the Church would face. He knew what Her followers would face. He knew how her followers would respond. We, the faithful, are in active opposition to all that the Evil One despises, or, at least, we should be.
Prayer, faithful participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, public witness to our beliefs, frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession, blessing our homes, blessing ourselves with Holy Water, Baptism of our infants—all of this drives the Devil insane and to seek our ruination.
All that the Catholic Church does on a daily basis, by every member of Her body, in every corner of the globe, every minute of the day is an attack against evil.
So, how does the Devil retaliate? The thinly-veiled cracks about your faith by a friend or neighbor that are hidden in a “joke”; the stripping away of freedoms from unjust laws passed by your government; an obscene gesture from a woman as you prayerfully show your opposition to abortion; frustration from failing equipment before a video shoot about vocations; a phone call that goes just long enough for you to miss daily Mass; feeling embarrassed about praying before a meal in public. And the list goes on. The difference is in how we respond to these retaliations.
So how do we face this combat?
The things for which we Catholics are often made fun of for all serve a purpose—wearing a crucifix, using Holy Water, crossing yourself when you drive by a Church, writing the blessing on your house with blessed chalk, praying the Rosary, enrollment in a scapular, penance, fasting, abstinence—these are all ways to spiritually gird your loins. We have gotten out of the habit of some of these practices, which is not only sad, but dangerous, quite frankly.
St. Padre Pio said, “In the face of such strong attacks by the enemies of the Church of God, are we to remain inactive? Is that all we can do, complain and cry? NO! Every one of us has a holy obligation to build a trench and personally hurl back the assaults of the enemy.
What does that mean? Are we not supposed to turn the other cheek, forgive those who trespass against us, love one another? Yes, we are supposed to forgive and love our enemies; however, that does not mean that we do not come to the defense of the Church or our own souls.
As a matter of fact, when it comes to the defense of the Church, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, with regard to the sacrament of Confirmation: it gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross. (CCC 1303)
So, when the insults, the jabs, the infringements, and the humiliations come, what should we do? We know what the Church expects us to do—spread the faith, defend the faith, and never be ashamed. What would Satan like us to do? He would love to see nothing more than for us to abandon our faith, mock our faith, let others mock our faith, and have us give in to his lies and empty promises. What do I, your poor, wretched blogger suggest, gentle reader? I would offer the one thing we must do is pray—hard.
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Regardless of what contemporary culture would have you believe, the fact of the matter is that evil, Hell, and Satan exist.
Father Gabrielle Amorth, Chief Exorcist of the Vatican once said, “When I am asked how many demons there are, I answer with the words that the demon himself spoke through a demonic: ‘We are so many that, if we were visible, we would darken the sun’.”
We must be ever mindful of the fact that Satan exists and that he was brazen enough to engage in spiritual warfare with Christ—the Son of God. He certainly, therefore, has no qualms about engaging us in this battle.
If we let our prayer life suffer, when we allow a mockery to be made of our faith, when we ourselves mock certain aspects of our faith, when we shrink back for fear of humiliation, we allow ourselves to lose the battles in this ongoing spiritual warfare.
In Ephesians 6:10-18 we are told: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
God is with us. We needn’t be afraid, but we must be vigilant. We have our spiritual armor: prayer, the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Confession…but armor must be worn to be effective.