Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spiritual Warfare and Catholicism Under Attack.

I want to share with you a presentation I gave recently to the Christian Men's Breakfast Meeting Group at the Cathedral of Sts Peter and Paul in Providence RI:

Good morning. I want to begin our discussion about the attacks on our faith with some examples from my own experiences. As some of you know, I have written quite a few letters over the last few years to state, and federal leaders and to the news media on topics such as gay marriage, abortion, and in defense of our Bishop. What you may not be aware of is the disturbing reactions and backlash I have gotten from these letters. Many times people have written back to the Providence Journal and left comments on their website viciously attacking our faith and me personally. I have been called a hater, bigoted, sexist, racist, a closet homosexual, and a dangerous fanatic. I have also been accused several times of brainwashing and psychologically abusing my children because I dare to teach them the truths of our faith such as homosexual behavior is disordered and abortion is murder. Even my wife has been harassed. Several months ago, during the time that the civil unions bill was being rammed through the state house, my wife was driving home from work when another driver started yelling and cursing at her. Why? Because she dared to have a bumper sticker on her car that displayed our support for traditional marriage.

I could go on, but all this pales in comparison to the way other Catholics, our Church and even Bishop Tobin have been attacked for preaching the truth. It goes far beyond just a disagreement or a difference of opinions. There is a feeling of darkness and evil behind the open hostility shown toward Catholics and even Christians in secular world and especially in the media. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Catholic writer in Massachusetts who writes for the Diocese of Worcester’s newspaper, wrote an article on her own website about how she was not comfortable taking her young children to a local park because of the open display of affection she had seen there between two gay men. Being a devout Catholic mother, she only wanted to protect her children from inappropriate behavior. She ignited a firestorm of hatred from athiests and gay advocates because of this article. She and her family were viciously attacked on-line when gay advocates found her article and spread it to other gay friendly websites. They somehow found her street address and phone number and actually posted it online and encouraged people to contact her at home and harass her. It got to the point where she actually received a death treat and finally contacted the police. The police investigated the matter but as you would guess, they never classified it as a hate crime. As in the norm in our society, hate crimes don’t matter when they are against Catholics because it seems this is an acceptable form of bigotry.
Some of you here were present at the National Organization of Marriage rally that happened in Providence back in 2010 that was stormed and physically disrupted by gay marriage zealots. Since then there were also peaceful pro-traditional marriage sidewalk demonstrations in Providence, Warwick, and Newport by a group men called Students for Tradition, Family, and Property. They are part of a Catholic Marian movement called America Needs Fatima. In each of these cities, the young men were harassed and physically attacked by gay marriage supporters. They were spit on, had their signs ripped from their hands and even had glass bottles thrown at them. In Providence, a large group of Brown University Students tried to disrupt the rally. The Brown student’s behavior was so bad that police escorted the men from TFP back to their vehicles for their own safety. No charges were ever filed, no one was charged with hate crimes or anti-religious bullying. The media also ignored each of these ugly incidents.

I could on and on with more examples like these. It would be easy to dismiss these incidents by just saying that these were due to some misguided individuals and it is not indicative of any larger problems or trends in our society. However, this argument fails when we look at the fact that our own state and federal governments, and especially the current President’s administration, have also been openly hostile towards our faith. I have here a letter from Governor Chafee I received last week. It is his response to a letter I wrote to him regarding the recent civil unions bill. Our Bishop, the National Organization for Marriage, and most traditional marriage supporters felt that the religious exemptions under the current law are weak and severely lacking. Our Governor, however, states in his letter that he feels that they go too far, stating that they are of a "dismaying scope”. In other words he feels that religious affiliated organizations such as catholic schools and hospitals should be forced to treat civil unions as equal to marriage even if it violates their religious beliefs. I contacted the Governor and told him that because of this, I will work to ensure that he is only a one term governor.

I also want to present to you the letter written by the Archbishop of New York and the president of the USCCB, Archbishop Timothy Dolan. This letter was written in response to recent actions by the Obama Administration that are putting it on a collision course with the Catholic Church and our religious freedoms.  The following is a quote from Archbishop Dolan:
“This basic right, in its many and varied applications for Christians and people of faith, is now increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America. This is most particularly so in an increasing number of federal government programs or policies that would infringe upon the right of conscience of people of faith or otherwise harm the foundational principle of religious liberty. As shepherds of over 70 million U.S. citizens we share a common and compelling responsibility to proclaim the truth of religious freedom for all, and so to protect our people from this assault which now appears to grow at an ever accelerating pace in ways most of us could never have imagined.”
The Archbishop had actually tried to contact the Obama Administration directly to discuss these issues. However, in another act of disrespect towards our Church, the Obama Administration ignored the Archbishop and obviously does not want to meet with the spiritual leaders of over 70 million US Catholics. Archbishop Dolan then decided to send this letter to his brother Bishops announcing the creation of the USCCB Ad-Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty.  To quote the Bishop’s letter:
“The Ad Hoc Committee will work closely with national organizations, charities, ecumenical and interreligious partners and scholars to form a united and forceful front in defense of religious freedom in our nation.”

“The establishment of the Ad Hoc Committee is one element of what I expect to be a new moment in the history of our Conference. Never before have we faced this kind of challenge to our ability to engage in the public square as people of faith and as a service provider. If we do not act now, the consequence will be grave.”
The letter also details the most recent examples of threats to religious freedoms by the President:
  • The federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans. There is an exception for certain religious employers, but, to borrow from Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, President of The Catholic Health Association, it would cover only the ―parish housekeeper. And the exception does nothing to protect insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to the mandate.
  • The federal Department of Justice has ratcheted up its attack on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as an act of bigotry. As you know, in March, the Department stopped defending DOMA against constitutional challenges, and the Conference spoke out against that decision. But in July, the Department started filing briefs actively attacking DOMA’s constitutionality, claiming that supporters of the law could only have been motivated by bias and prejudice. If the label of ―bigot sticks to us—especially in court—because of our teaching on marriage, we’ll have church-state conflicts for years to come as a result.
  • ·The New York legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law redefining marriage, with only a very narrow religious exemption. Already, county clerks face legal action for refusing to participate in same-sex unions, and gay rights advocates are publicly emphasizing how little religious freedom protection people and groups will enjoy under the new law.
  • HHS is also requiring that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive services” to trafficking victims and unaccompanied minors in its cooperative agreements and government contracts —and we all know what that means. This is exactly the position urged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the ongoing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of MRS’s contracts as, ironically, a violation of religious liberty.
  • Catholic Relief Services is also concerned that USAID, under the Department of State, is increasingly requiring comprehensive HIV prevention activities (for example, condom distribution), as well as full integration of reproductive health activities including provision of artificial contraception, within a range of international relief and development programs. Under the direction of the board, CRS is following up on these concerns.
  • The Justice Department has also disappointed us in the critically important “ministerial exception” case now pending before the Supreme Court. The Department could have taken the position that the ―ministerial exception, though generally providing a strong protection of the right of religious groups to choose their ministers without government interference, just didn’t apply in the case before the court. Instead, the Department attacked the very existence of the exception as well.
I would encourage everyone to read Archbishop Dolan's letter and become familiar with these issues. Despite how bad all this sounds, it does give me hope to know that our Bishops are recognizing that our faith is under attack and are doing something about it. As recently as a few days ago on October 8, Bishop Samuel Aquila of FargoNorth Dakota said the following to EWTN about the growing hostility towards our Church:
“We could see the possibility of it within the United States where we are no longer free to preach the truth from the pulpit or to present Catholic teaching. It will then become important for us to take a very strong stand, as we have done with human life and the unborn child, to continue to speak the truth and to speak it clearly and with charity.”
“It’s very, very important for us to realize that we are in a very real clash between the culture of death and a culture of life,” said Bishop Aquila, summing up the former culture as one where “rights are eroded and where lies are being presented as truth.”
Bishop Aquila said he doesn’t know how the present stand-off between Church and state will be resolved, but he is certain that Catholics “will have to stand for the truth” and “speak clearly to the truth no matter what the cost.” He doesn’t rule out the possibility of civil disobedience.
There is also hope in the fact that organizations affiliated to the Church such as the Knights of Columbus are also stepping into this battle to defend our faith. However, the Church needs us as lay Catholics to join in this battle as well, as we can no longer afford to be complacent. I once heard a Catholic speaker say that the only reason we appear to be losing this war is through forfeit. In other words, too many Catholics are not even showing up for the fight. But there are also many asking what can we do in this war? Where do we even start?

Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote a powerful essay back in January 2011 titled “The Winning Strategy” where he discusses the steps need to win this war. Dr. Kreeft is a Catholic theologian and professor at Boston College. He is an author and highly sought after speaker as well as a very orthodox and deeply spiritual man. In his essay, Dr. Kreeft states the following about the three steps in this winning strategy:
To win any war, the three most necessary things to know are: (1) that you are at war, (2) who your enemy is, and (3) what weapons or strategies can defeat him.
I want to share with you now some of Dr. Kreeft’s words detailing these three steps:
1) Know that you are at war:  Where is the culture of death coming from? Here. America is the center of the culture of death. America is the world’s one and only cultural superpower.
If I haven’t shocked you yet, I will now. Do you know what Muslims call us? They call us “The Great Satan.” And do you know what I call them? I call them right.
But America has the most just, and moral, and wise, and biblical historical and constitutional foundation in all the world. America is one of the most religious countries in the world. The Church is big and rich and free in America.
Yes. Just like ancient Israel. And if God still loves his Church in America, he will soon make it small and poor and persecuted, as he did to ancient Israel, so that he can keep it alive. If he loves us, he will prune us, and we will bleed, and the blood of the martyrs will be the seed of the Church again, and a second spring will come—but not without blood. It never happens without blood, sacrifice, and suffering. The continuation of Christ’s work—if it is really Christ’s work and not a comfortable counterfeit—can never happen without the Cross.
I don’t mean merely that Western civilization will die. That’s a piece of trivia. I mean eternal souls will die. Billions of Ramons and Vladamirs and Janes and Tiffanies will go to Hell. That’s what’s at stake in this war: not just whether America will become a banana republic, or whether we’ll forget Shakespeare, or even whether some nuclear terrorist will incinerate half of humanity, but whether our children and our children’s children will see God forever. That’s what’s at stake in “Hollywood versus America.” That’s why we must wake up and smell the rotting souls. Knowing we are at war is the first requirement for winning
2) Our Enemy  Who is our enemy?
Not Protestants. Not Jews. Not Muslims. The same is true of the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Quakers.
Our enemies are not “the liberals.” For one thing, the term is almost meaninglessly flexible. For another, it’s a political term, not a religious one. Whatever is good or bad about political liberalism, it’s neither the cause nor the cure of our present spiritual decay. Spiritual wars are not decided by whether welfare checks increase or decrease.
Our enemies are not anti-Catholic bigots who want to crucify us. They are the ones we’re trying to save. They are our patients, not our disease. Our word for them is Christ’s: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We say this of the Chinese communist totalitarians who imprison and persecute Catholics, and to the Sudanese Muslim terrorists who enslave and murder Catholics. They are not our enemies, they are our patients. We are Christ’s nurses. The patients think the nurses are their enemies, but the nurses know better.
Our enemies are not even the media of the culture of death, not even Ted Turner or Larry Flynt or Howard Stern or Disney or Time-Warner. They too are victims, patients, though on a rampage against the hospital, poisoning other patients. But the poisoners are our patients too. So are homosexual activists, feminist witches, and abortionists. We go into gutters and pick up the spiritually dying and kiss those who spit at us, if we are cells in our Lord’s Body. If we do not physically go into gutters, we go into spiritual gutters, for we go where the need is.
Our enemies are not heretics within the Church, “cafeteria Catholics,” “Kennedy Catholics,” “I Did It My Way” Catholics. They are also our patients, though they are Quislings. They are the victims of our enemy, not our enemy.
Our enemies are not theologians in so-called Catholic theology departments who have sold their souls for thirty pieces of scholarship and prefer the plaudits of their peers to the praise of God. They are also our patients.
Our enemy is not even the few really bad priests and bishops, candidates for Christ’s Millstone of the Month Award, the modern Pharisees. They too are victims, in need of healing.
Who, then, is our enemy?
There are two answers. Yet they are not well known. In fact, the first answer is almost never mentioned today. Not once in my life have I ever heard a homily on it, or a lecture by a Catholic theologian.
Our enemies are demons. Fallen angels. Evil spirits.
So said Pope Leo the XIII, who received a vision of the 20th century that history has proved terrifyingly true. He saw Satan, at the beginning of time, allowed one century in which to do his worst work, and he chose the 20th. This pope with the name and heart of a lion was so overcome by the terror of this vision that he fell into a trance. When he awoke, he composed a prayer for the whole Church to use to get it through the 20th century. The prayer was widely known and prayed after every Mass—until the ’60s: exactly when the Church was struck with that incomparably swift disaster that we have not yet named (but which future historians will), the disaster that has destroyed a third of our priests, two-thirds of our nuns, and nine-tenths of our children’s theological knowledge; the disaster that has turned the faith of our fathers into the doubts of our dissenters, the wine of the Gospel into the water of psychobabble.
The restoration of the Church, and thus the world, might well begin with the restoration of the Lion’s prayer and the Lion’s vision, because this is the vision of all the popes and all the saints and our Lord himself: the vision of a real Hell, a real Satan, and real spiritual warfare.
I said there were two enemies. The second is even more terrifying than the first. There is one nightmare even more terrible than being chased and caught and tortured by the Devil. That is the nightmare of becoming a devil. The horror outside your soul is terrible enough; how can you bear to face the horror inside your soul?
What is the horror inside your soul? Sin. All sin is the Devil’s work, though he usually uses the flesh and the world as his instruments. Sin means inviting the Devil in. And we do it. That’s the only reason why he can do his awful work; God won’t let him do it without our free consent. And that’s why the Church is weak and the world is dying: because we are not saints.
3. The Weapon  And thus we have our third Necessary Thing: the weapon that will win the war and defeat our enemy.
All it takes is saints.
Can you imagine what twelve more Mother Teresas would do for the world? Can you imagine what would happen if just twelve readers of this article offered Christ 100% of their hearts and held back nothing, absolutely nothing?
No, you can’t imagine it, any more than anyone could imagine how twelve nice Jewish boys could conquer the Roman Empire. You can’t imagine it, but you can do it. You can become a saint. Absolutely no one and nothing can stop you. It is your free choice. Here is one of the truest and most terrifying sentences I have ever read (from William Law’s Serious Call): “If you will look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be.”
That insight is terrifying because it is an indictment. But it is also thrillingly hopeful because it is an offer, an open door. Each of us can become a saint. We really can.
What holds us back? Fear of paying the price.
What is the price? The answer is simple. T.S. Eliot defines the Christian life as: “A condition of complete simplicity/Costing not less than/Everything.” The price is everything: 100%. A worse martyrdom than the quick noose or stake: the martyrdom of dying daily, dying to all your desires and plans, including your plans about how to become a saint. A blank check to God. Complete submission, “islam,” “fiat”—Mary’s thing. Look what that simple Mary-thing did 2000 years ago: It brought God down and saved the world.
It was meant to continue.
If we do that Mary-thing—and only if we do that—then all our apostolates will “work”: our missioning and catechizing and fathering and mothering and teaching and studying and nursing and businessing and priesting and bishoping—everything.
A bishop asked one of the priests of his diocese for recommendations on ways to increase vocations. The priest replied: The best way to attract men in this diocese to the priesthood, Your Excellency, would be your canonization.
Why not yours?
Thank your for your time and I would like to thank Dr. Kreeft for his truly eye opening essay. I want to end with the Prayer to St. Michael:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen.

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