The movie Braveheart dramatizes the heroic struggle, led by the commoner William Wallace, for Scottish independence. In one scene, the Scottish nobles gather after some initial victories by William Wallace over the English. The nobles begin bickering over how best to negotiate with the English King, Edward Longshanks, for they fear losing their lands and moneys if they push Longshanks too hard. Disgusted, Wallace begins to walk out of the room when he is stopped and asked his plans:
Wallace: I will invade England and defeat the English on their own ground.
Lord Craig: Invade? That’s impossible.
Wallace: Why? Why is that impossible? You’re so concerned with squabbling for the scraps from Longshanks’ table that you’ve missed your God-given right to something better. There is a difference between us. You think the people of this country exist to provide you with possession. I think your possession exists to provide those people with freedom. And I go to make sure that they have it.
I’m often reminded of this scene when I see how Catholic leaders today – clerical or lay – act in relation to the world. Although the Catholic Church has been given the words of everlasting life, most Catholic leaders seem content to squabble over the scraps from the world’s table – working to make Catholicism palatable to polite society, simply satisfied with the continued existence of the Church and doing nothing to expand her footprint. When anyone suggests that perhaps we should “invade England,” i.e., resist the world’s lies completely and work for its total conversion to Catholicism, these same leaders are quick to say, “That’s impossible,” for all sorts of timid reasons – “No one will listen to us,” “We have to meet people where they are,” and “We can’t be triumphalistic.” But it is fear of rejection – and fear of losing their current comfortable positions – that is driving their timidity. All the while faithful Catholics are denied their God-given right to something better – a full and unadulterated proclamation and practice of Catholicism.
What would such a proclamation and practice look like? Here are some starters:
Full-throated defense of the Church’s moral teaching. No more tepid justifications for why we should go along with the death march that is our modern culture: “We must accompany people on their journey.” “We are just making a pastoral, not a doctrinal, change.” Instead we need a robust defense and explanation for why the Church’s moral teachings are the only sane ones in an insane world, and an exhortation to follow them, that we may find true joy and peace.
Condemnation of error and those that promote it. No more acting as if orthodoxy is an option, while souls are falling deeper and deeper into sin and error. Leaders need to treat theological error for the serious danger it is: something that can separate us from God for all eternity. Further, those who promote error need to be publicly and strongly resisted, not given tenured positions at “Catholic” universities (or promoted to Cardinalate dioceses).
A liturgy that reflects the grandeur of what it is celebrating. No more insipid, uninspiring liturgies that either would be more at home in a Gilbert & Sullivan show or reflect a deep-seated apathy toward the Faith. We need liturgical celebrations to be reverent, serious, and awe-inspiring. Did I mention reverent?
Proclamation of the superiority of Catholicism. No more acting as if every Tom, Dick and Martin Luther has more religious wisdom than Thomas Aquinas and Augustine put together. We need to start proclaiming that the Catholic Church is the Church founded by Jesus Christ, and that eternal salvation comes through her. Souls are depending on it.
A concern for the next life more than this life. No more treating recycling campaigns and government social programs as if they are more important than the eternal destination of souls. Our sights have been set so low over the past few decades that we forget that it is only the Church that has the means to solve the greatest problems in existence: sin and death. The guiding principle of every action of a Church leader must be “Will this help or hinder souls getting to Heaven?”
For far too long Church leaders – again, lay as well as clerical – have thought that their positions exist to provide them with prestige, invitations to dine with the Important People, and as a means to book deals, TV shows, and speaking engagements. In reality their positions exist to provide people with the path to eternal life. Only if they stop squabbling for the world’s scraps and instead “invade England” – i.e., confront the world head-on and work for its complete conversion – can the Church fulfill her mandate, given to her by Christ, to “make disciples of all nations” and thus conquer, instead of conform to, the world.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications.