No one but a Desert Father buried in the wilderness can have missed the exponential increase in the number and variety of assaults on Catholic Christianity in recent years. All too much of this campaign is fueled by ignorance: an ignorance that mindlessly receives the “wisdom” enshrined in old black legends and then has its childish fun adjusting it to suit modern issues; an ignorance that helps to maintain an anachronistic belief in a powerful Catholic Church with fearsome influence over states and societies. On the other hand, at least some of the more conscious soldiers in the current battle of the perennial War against the Word must be aware of what Catholic Christianity is really all about. They simply use the general ignorance of the population to their own strategic advantage. And such warriors recognize that the contemporary “Beast of Rome” is a Paper Tiger—self-defanged, self-demoralized, and dangerous to no one except herself; an institution that exhibits all the characteristics of a harmless fraternal “club” rather than what she really is: the Mystical Body of Christ.
What the first kind of hostility illustrates is the vulgar reaction of the unthinking mob to anything that disturbs its daily routine and rocks its materialist boat. What the second signifies is something that is much more chilling. It indicates that there are enemies of the Faith who are ready to intensify their hammer blows even against an emasculated Church that can no longer cause them practical harm. It reveals their sense that the time has come to silence even the mere expression of life-changing Christian thoughts once and for all. It therefore betrays an intellectual and visceral hatred of Christ for hatred’s sake.
Who can be surprised when believers with blood in their veins want desperately not just to lament these increased assaults upon the Word and His Church but also to find a way to fight openly against them? What they long for is to find some way to join in that work which the Papacy in modern times has labeled “Catholic Action.” I briefly touched upon the genesis, chief concerns, and problems of this crucial and pre-eminently lay apostolate in my previous two articles for The Angelus. Allow me to expand upon certain aspects of that discussion in the following paragraphs with respect to the question of practical defense against an enemy who is generally ignorant and whose ignorance is very often manipulated by the consciously vicious. My point can be expressed in a quite simplistic manner—that the answer to Christophobia is a Catholic Action solidly based upon Christophilia.
Christophilia is the sole efficacious response to Christophobia because it is only through a true and complete love for Christ and His mission on earth that all the knowledge that we need for success in battling our foes comes to us. Access to the knowledge that comes from passionate acceptance of Christ as King of our minds, hearts, and souls gives us the means definitively to entice from the enemy lines those whose understanding of Christ is a tragic caricature of the truth. Furthermore, it also offers the most powerful, practical, strategic guidance to winning a truly substantive victory over opponents consciously and stubbornly attached to anti-Catholic errors.
I use the words definitively and substantive to serious purpose, because the history of Catholic Action is replete with what have amounted to ephemeral and hollow “victories.” Although these apparent victories have involved truly laudable individual and group heroism satisfying the demand for manly as opposed to flabby responses to evil, they nevertheless have also proved to be empty triumphs. They have ignored the fact that as the cavalry for Christ has charged unhesitatingly forward the enemy was pouring in on its undefended flanks, infiltrating the Catholic Army with Fifth Columnists and transforming its generals and rank and file into servants of the Christophobia they all thought that they were contesting and defeating. This could only have happened because in the passion to “get things done” the soldiers of God had rejected that basic training through total immersion in Christophilia that would have pointed out to them the potent dangers threatening from the barbed wire ahead, the enemy behind, and his Fifth Columnists and often quite unwitting fellow travelers within.
Without a doubt, “getting things done” is always the main goal of such basic training, but it has to be a “getting things done” for the Whole Christ and not simply partial marred action for action’s sake. Knowledge that comes from the basic training provided by total immersion in Christophilia reveals two truths of special relevance to this crucial distinction. The first is that even though the Incarnation confirms the value of all the varied aspects of God’s Creation, it also teaches that nature is flawed through sin, and that the love of Christ demands the correction and transformation of every single part of it, in its entirety. The second is that resistance to such correction and transformation is immense. Moreover, the study of the history of the Mystical Body of Christ that is mandated by a serious love of the Savior and His work in time demonstrates that Catholics themselves have often helped to offer this stiff resistance. They have all too repeatedly seduced themselves into believing that one or the other particularly beloved natural idea, institution, or behavioral pattern was somehow exempt from supernatural “boat rocking.” Such an attitude has regularly provided them with an excuse to ignore their own most cherished flaws and even to bless them as positively sacred, while condemning troublesome Church teachings and the activists who dared to preach them as though they were the enemies of the Faith. This, in turn, has frequently allowed them to sally forth under the banner of Christ to fight one clear wrong while perpetrating another perhaps equally or more dangerous evil. And the damage they have done, which is bad under any circumstances, has been all the worse when the Church herself has not fulfilled her duty to preach, in season and out of season, the unchanging truth that Christ is King of the entire universe and to tell them that they were in error.
Let us now apply these observations to our own situation in the United States of America in 2012. Anti-Catholicism—the very summit of Christophobia—has always been strong on these shores, and it is indeed more effectively virulent today than it was fifty years ago. The evil that it represents is not going to go away on its own steam. All of us should therefore encourage militant laymen and laywomen desiring actively to fight it with all our heart and soul and mind.
Sad to say, however, American Catholic basic training in Christophilia has—at least until now—been sorely deficient. It has not involved a total immersion in Christ and Christ’s mission in history. The consequence is that when earnestly militant Catholics in this country march out to “get things done” against Christophobia they generally do so under two banners: that of Catholicism and that of its enemies. They are not unique in this. Following earlier examples from many other countries at many other times in Church History, they want to exempt certain ideas, institutions, and behavioral patterns from correction and transformation in Christ; like them, they even condemn Church teachings and preachers who point out flaws in “the American Way” as though these critics were the true foes of God. And tragically, as has often happened before, the damage is all the greater because contemporary American militants are attempting to “get things done” while the Church is acting more like a “clubhouse” rather than the authoritative Mystical Body of Christ. It does not fully tell them what is right and what is wrong. It is too afraid of the Zeitgeist to do so.
Allow me to offer what is perhaps the prime instance of what I mean by deficient American basic training in Christophilia. While seriously and admirably fighting against sexual promiscuity, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia out of love for Christ most American Catholic militants regularly do so while simultaneously espousing ideas and institutions that cannot help but encourage Christophobic behavior in many other realms—and even, ultimately, on the Right to Life Front as well. They do so by insisting not only upon exempting from correction and transformation in Christ the Founding Fathers, the political philosophy of John Locke and other “moderate” Enlightenment thinkers that these Founders endorsed, the definition of individual freedom that such a philosophy entailed, the “pluralist” spirit that it imparted to American government and social life, and the patina of totally emasculated Christian belief that this permitted and to a certain degree still allows, but also positively baptizing such forces and ideas as naturally and supernaturally blessings at home and throughout the globe; as the last, best hope of mankind.
The result is that as the good Right to Life fight continues, the support of bad ideas and institutional flaws that shape the kind of grasping, materialist, Lockean, pluralist individualists who will never really understand what it is that is wrong with promiscuity, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia proceeds alongside it. Dysfunctional Catholics emerge from the one-dimensional, unnatural, dysfunctional society that these uncorrected Founding Fathers created. Those dysfunctional Catholics move on to support the destruction of what remains of Christian social life elsewhere in the believing world and unjust wars and policies beyond it. Their support for a return to the supposedly conservative roots of this individualist, materialist, Enlightenment society merely indulges the hope for a Second Childhood. That Second Childhood would do nothing other than work to create the kind of “clubhouse” Pluralist Church that will not trouble anyone, with all the added damages done when an eighty-year-old tries to behave like a kindergartner. In short, they fight for a perilous Christophobic System as though it will help them achieve their laudable (but partial) militant Christophilic goals, and as though acting in this schizophrenic manner were “the only game in town.”
Something has to give if the required efficacious militancy is to be attained. Somehow, our deficient basic training for Catholic Action has to be perfected, and that, I admit, is a tall, tall order. The best that I can suggest in this regard at the moment is an inner spiritual change; a massive effort to recapture the apostolic spirit of being “in” but not “of” our dysfunctional Christophobic system. The New Testament authors, the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists, and the Church Fathers were very much aware that they were physically still “in” the Roman Empire, and had no intention whatsoever of violating laws or acts of authority intended by it for a recognizable common good. On the other hand, they also knew that they were not “of” the system any longer. They were part of a new commonwealth, the Christophilic Kingdom of God, and they quickly learned that their spiritual declaration of independence meant a great deal indeed, earning them the deep loathing of the defenders of the established order, whether from among the elite or among the masses. As they obeyed where obedience was possible and failed to obey where it was not, they were preparing for substantive regime change, laying the groundwork for a better socio-political body into which they could transplant any and all organs of the Roman system still worth saving. It is for this reason that the theoretical writings of men like Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and John Chrysostom bear upon everything from education to economics, the military, and daily problems of life in an urban society. It is for this reason that they worked militantly against—and would have been appalled by praising a return to the “Original Intent” of—what was Christophobic in their system as though this were “the last, best hope of mankind.” The argument from “Original Intent” that our purified basic training should instill is one that exalts the will of Christ, not the will of the Founders: the will of A.D. 33, not the will of 1776 and 1787.
As I turn away from this article to preparation for tomorrow’s lectures at St. John’s University in New York City, allow me to entertain a long distance hope of what might emerge from a purified basic training of American Catholic militants. Let me dream that I may someday travel to my job at its Staten Island Campus on a ferry across a harbor that passes a little island adorned with a magnificent national votive church—one called Santa Maria Sopra Liberty. And as I make one last call for a definitive, successful militancy based on total immersion in Christophilia let me do so with the words of Ernst Jünger from On the Marble Cliffs that I cited on the opening page of my new book.
“Now battle had to be joined, and therefore men were needed to restore a new order, and new theologians as well, to whom the evil was manifest from its outward phenomena down to its most subtle roots; then the time would come for the first stroke of the consecrated sword, piercing the darkness like a lightning flash. For this reason individuals had the duty of living in alliance with others, gathering the treasure of a new rule of law. But the alliance had to be stronger than before, and they more conscious of it.” (Ernst Jünger, Auf den Marmorklippen)