Continue to pray the Rosary in order to obtain an end of the war.
—Our Lady of Fatima, September 13, 1917
In her spiritual commentary on these words of Our Lady of Fatima, Sr. Lucia dos Santos, the eldest of the three seers at Fatima, states that war can only be brought to an end by prayer and sacrifice. Of, course the “war” Our Lady is speaking of is the First World War. However, Sr. Lucia’s ties the praying of the Rosary to the end of all war. Her reflection about “the end of the war” is a long disquisition on the existence of evil spirits and our combat with them. Salvation is a matter of spiritual combat. Its weapons and tactics are not those of this world. The prayer of the Rosary is, so to speak, the weapon of choice in the conflict at which our souls are at stake.
The Church Militant is the term used to identify the life of Christ’s followers on earth. It is a general term that situates us between heaven (the Church Triumphant) and purgatory (the Church Suffering) in a state of crisis and combat. St. Paul’s exhortation to put on the armor of God urges us to act like we are at war, to be aware of the “enmity” that exists between God and Satan and how that conflict is played out in our souls and in the history of men. St. Paul is clear about distinguishing this war from general human conflict:
For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places (Eph 6:12).
The Church Militant is not a subset of Christians, even if we qualify that set as the “faithful few.” It is true that many of Christ’s followers appear to have given up the fight, and that puts a greater burden upon those who are still on their feet. But the Church Militant does not consist of the “Real Catholics,” or “the Remnant”—those who pride themselves on wearing the Church Militant uniform. The Church is not the spiritual special forces. (I am reminded of Fr. Corapi showing up at conferences in combat fatigues.) Like it or not, the Church Militant consists of what Chesterton characterized as “the old recurring figures of religious history,” namely, “the saint, the hypocrite, the brawler, the weak brother.” The Church has never been a well-oiled military machine. It is a rag-tag motley crew of sinners, among whom a sorry few become the saints they have the potential to be. This is just a reality check.
Today the “us and them” dichotomy—the inevitable oversimplification of wartime—is used, not only to distinguish the godly from the ungodly, or even of the Christian from the non-Catholic, or even the Catholic from the Protestant. Today, there is also the “us and them” of the real Catholic and the false Catholic. We distinguish between the Church Militant and the Church Hesitant. Even among those committed to restoration, there are the “conciliarists” and the traditionalists or “the real Catholics” and “the Establishment.” Yes, there are true heretics and schismatics who have separated themselves in a more or less formal way. But that is not what I am talking about. Today “the saint, the hypocrite, the brawler, the weak brother” each use special arguments for the right to place the others on the outside looking in.
So far all this is just observation. The necessary spiritual warfare with our unseen enemy extends itself into our external world. There are those on the sight of light and those on the side of darkness. Battle lines form in the world and in the Church across every sphere of human life. This is not all bad and it is not all good. We know that the war will go on until the end of time. Even so Our Lady asks us to pray for an end to the war.
Not all war that is waged in the name of Christ and His Church is just and good simply for that reason. The Holy Father does not seem to be mowing down his enemies, nor does he appear to be encouraging others to do so. In fact, the contrary seems to be the case. St. Maximilian Kolbe, who named the enemies of the Church, in particular, the Freemasons, was not all that strident in his manner of responding to the danger. He corrected the Mason’s errors, prayed for their conversion, and hoped that one day they would be “brothers in arms.” Aside from the “principalities and powers,” these were among the real enemies of the Church. If St. Maximilian did not close the door to them, how much less should we demonize those who are fighting their way through the jungle of modernity as saints, hypocrites, brawlers and weak brethren.
Here is the problem. We cannot pretend we always agree. We cannot perpetuate the naive optimism and malaise o the last fifty years. Decisive action is a good thing and we cannot stand around wringing our hands because at every turn someone is offended. But that does not mean that we are without standards, or that we will only insist that they be applied to those with whom we disagree. For example, those in the blogosphere could be a great deal more civil, beginning with me. But no one should presume to enter into the controversies of the day and pride themselves as a kind of new crusader and then be thinned-skinned about disagreement. In particular, I think this applies to those who are inclined to defend their favorite internet personality, no matter what their hero says or does.
But if it is true that in the midst of our conflict with principalities and powers we find ourselves in scandalous conflicts with those of our own household, then we should remember that as Catholics we have a special appeal to unity. That appeal comes from the person who sits in the Chair of Peter. The Roman Catholic Church is not a police state. On a great many of topics there will always be a legitimate back and forth. But the principle of unity that rises above opinion and controversy, taste, background and temperament is the teaching of Peter.
For this reason, it is quite unfortunate that in his most recent homily Bishop Fellay of the SSPX characterized the spiritual combat proper to the priest as something particularly associated with the Society’s battle with Rome:
I would even say that, in comparison with this sublime reality, talking about whether or not to reach an agreement with Rome is something trivial. To defend the faith, to keep the faith, to die in the faith, this is the essential thing! We get the impression that the Roman authorities do not understand us, because they have not understood that we are ready to lose everything in order to keep this Catholic faith.
This very careful distinction between “the faith” and the teaching of Rome, or between “Eternal Rome,” and “Postconciliar Rome,” is just a bit too refined for its own good. It is a self-justifying conflict, or self-perpetuating feud with no possibility for resolution apart from the Pope submitting to the parallel magisterium of self-proclaimed “experts.”
Unfortunately, this is a rationalization and a distraction from the real work of salvation. The Pope and what he teaches, supports and sponsors, is not really the problem. We are losing the battle if we make the Pope the enemy. And we are loosing the battle if we have habituated our minds to demonizing priests and bishops who, like the rest of us, help to form that wonderful cohesion of saints, hypocrites, brawlers and weaklings. I have no problem that there are hypocrites and brawlers in the Church. I just don’t think they (we) should should get a free pass, just because they (we) claim that every one of their (our) personal fights is unquestionably on the side of the light.
The little militants of Fatima, Sr. Lucia, Blessed Francisco and Blessed Jacinta put things in perspective through their prayer and sacrifice, as much as the Fatima conspiracy theorists tend to put all the emphasis in the wrong place. The Rosary is not just a simple prayer, accessible to all. It is a lifeline to the heart and mind of the Blessed Virgin. That is where the war will end, because that is where the real war is fought. And there was war in heaven (Rev 12:7). This is not a flesh and blood war. Those who appeal to the preservation of “the faith,” ought to understand all that this implies. The Church will “win” when hearts and minds are taken up into the heart and mind of the Blessed Virgin. And this ought to focus our attention on the real problem that confronts us, our own worst enemy, ourselves.
The inevitable cost of war is the loss of life. But this war is unique, since our real enemies are principalities and powers. In fact, no one needs to “die” for us to win this war. And isn’t that the whole point of waging it? To save everyone? Let us pray the Rosary for the end of the war.