By Fr Edward Hopkins
The day after the election provided even more inspiration than what we read on Election Day. If Tuesday was about ‘standing up’, Wednesday’s Reading from the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, told us the way to fight.
The Honor to Fight
Judas Maccabeus took command of the resistance when his father Mattathias died:
All his brothers and all who had joined his father helped him; they gladly fought for Israel. He extended the glory of his people. Like a giant he put on his breastplate; he bound on his armor of war and waged battles, protecting the camp by his sword. He was like a lion in his deeds, like a lion’s cub roaring for prey. (1Mac.3:2-4)
The mark of a Christian is his joy. Judas’ brothers and their comrades “gladly fought” for their country. Rather than focus on the turmoil and evils of the day, the persecution and injustice (“Why should we live any longer?” 1Mac2:13), these men of God thought it a grace to fight for their God and country. And they fought with the deep joy of knowing that what they were doing was right.
Arm Yourselves for Battle
Scripture here paints the picture of a great warrior:
“Like a giant he put on his breastplate”. The breastplate was the largest piece of armor a warrior donned. It protected his vital organs, especially his heart and lungs. The fight today requires both great courage and great endurance. Many have fought hard for the cause of unborn life now more than 35 years. This is a civil rights battle that will demand more efforts, more creativity, more years. Discouragement is not an option. “Arm yourselves and be courageous!” (1Mac.3:58)
Similarly, St. Paul calls for a spiritual battle in his letter to the Ephesians:
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. (Eph.6:12-14)
In the same breath he calls for both the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. We must first stand in the truth, a truth guaranteed by Christ to his Church (“the gates of hell will not prevail” and “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…”). This truth frees us to live with righteousness. If we witness to truth by what we live, our words of truth become more credible.
Righteousness is to live the way of the Lord, holiness of life. St. Paul links it with faith, since righteousness comes through faith in Christ. (Rom.3) Our primary defense and weapons (2Cor.6:4-8) in this battle will be a holiness of life made possible by our faith. An active faith that hungers and thirsts for righteousness, that commits us to truth and the effective communication of truth will secure all our efforts. Assured are both success (fulfillment) and persecution. (Mt.5:6-10)
A Call to Renew the Temporal Order
The battle for the culture is all about righteousness. It is not about politics, nor media, nor ideologies. It is about God’s will, God’s plan, God’s Justice, God’s Kingdom. St. Paul is right, the battle is above all spiritual, but in this life we must breathe the spirit of holiness into our actions, our conversations and our culture.
The Church teaches that:
“Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel…. In both orders the layman, being simultaneously a believer and a citizen, should be continuously led by the same Christian conscience. “ (Apostolicam Actuositatem, Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity)
It is time to live Vatican II’s prophetic call pronounced nearly 45 years ago:
“Since, in our own times, new problems are arising and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself, this sacred synod earnestly exhorts laymen-each according to his own gifts of intelligence and learning-to be more diligent in doing what they can to explain, defend, and properly apply Christian principles to the problems of our era in accordance with the mind of the Church.” (Ibid)
“We Are Supposed to be Surrounded”
The greatest enemy to be feared, after mortal sin itself, is discouragement. We may now feel outnumbered, weakened and at a supreme disadvantage. But this is where God does his best work. Like Captain Winters in “The Band of Brothers” who replies to a beaten and retreating soldier anxiously warning that he will be surrounded: “We are paratroopers; we are supposed to be surrounded.”
Multiple stories in the Old Testament demonstrate how God prefers fighting and conquering for his helpless people against all odds. Judas Maccabeus soon faces this kind of battle. His men find their small company challenged by an entire army. They complain, as we are tempted to do in these times: “How can we, few as we are, fight against so great and so strong a multitude? And we are faint, for we have eaten nothing today.”
“It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. They come against us in great insolence and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; but we fight for our lives and our laws. He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them.” (1Mac.3:17-22)
We must do more than protect ourselves, we must go out and fight. We go on the offensive with “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God”. (Efs.6:17) We must know his Word (cfr. Oct. 08 Synod in Rome “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”). Prayer and meditation on his word will give us the power to focus our own thoughts and words on God’s Truth. We can then effectively communicate His truth with love and a purity of intention. The power of Scripture, not we alone, will open the hearts and minds of those who “just don’t understand”. “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb.4:12)
Our “strength comes from heaven”. Our task is to first look to heaven, to pray, “to cry aloud to heaven” (1Mac.3:50) and to then to fight. We fight yes, for our families, for our country and especially for our children. We fight for our lives and for theirs. We fight for God’s laws. If we have faith, can we doubt that he will fail to crush the enemy culture before us and he did for Judas Maccabeus and the Isrealites? He did even more in raising his Son from the dead. He will raise us.