There is no arguing that we are facing a crisis of immense proportions in the Church. We most likely wince at the daily headlines of scandal, accusations, cover-ups, doublespeak, and unfaithfulness to vows, teaching, and immorality within the hierarchy of the Church—all of which leave her vulnerable and disreputable at exactly the time when the world most desperately needs her moral leadership.
If you suspect that our enemy is employing a deliberate and tauntingly ironic strategy, you are correct.
But there is another crisis, too, perhaps more hidden but also dangerous. It is the crisis in souls who love their Mother, the Church, and who see a deepening chasm between what the Church is, and what she should be. Watching the beloved bride become more and more disfigured by the sin within, they may be understandably tempted to frustration, anxiety, and even outrage.
We must do something! A cry angrily rises up from somewhere within the chaos. It is a battle cry that gets attention and turns heads and that many take up, desperate and desiring to fight for what they love. But there is a fundamental problem: the cry often rises from the wrong side of the chasm. It is the cleverly disguised and deceptively cunning battle cry of the devil. He is pleased when we take up arms—because then he can manipulate us through our passions and he gains control of both sides of the war.
It is not a new cry, at least, not to those of us who have witnessed the fallout in the aftermath of Vatican II, when hundreds of thousands religious, priests, and lay faithful lost their faith (and many of their habits and collars) and followed a pseudo-militant church founded in the name of action and social justice.
On the surface, this now looks like a different war, but the danger of that time is the same one we face today. When reform and renewal are authentic and lasting and life-giving, they must be firmly grounded on the call of Christ, who rallies us first to the one thing necessary. Unum est necessarium, He says, with the living word that reverberates down to us today. It is the reminder that prayer must be primary and that folded hands are stronger than raised fists or linked arms.
It is the truth that putting ourselves in His presence—adoring, pleading, listening and uniting ourselves to Him and our anguish to His—is the primary means of healing the Church, i.e., from the inside out, drawing out from His Heart the grace which transforms what it touches (beginning with us) and moves us to cooperate meaningfully with the resurrection of His Ecclesial Body, orientating and animating our energy and wisdom for authentic and lasting reform. Should we stand up against error? Should we reveal truth and expose lies? Yes, and with abandon. But we must do it God’s way, and that means in His order.
We must be Mary first and Martha second, beginning with dedicated daily time listening to Him. Out of the depths of His presence, we will then and only then begin to discern the ways He is asking us to act on His behalf. Then, of course, it is really no longer we who act but He who acts in and through us. It is He who renews and restores and resurrects. Without Him, none of those things are possible—and any apparent victories are only illusory or temporal at best.
There is nothing “mere” about prayer. It is not a last resort or a white flag. It is not a retreat. It is the center of the battle and the kingdom which must be taken first—all other strongholds will topple once we reclaim the power of prayer and fasting. Those who pray and commune with God can do no less than act, but they act with His wisdom and power and peaceably await His results in His time.
Those who pray first rise from their knees equipped for a battle which ultimately is not against “flesh and blood” but “principalities and powers.” The real enemies of the Church are not in the headlines. They are spiritual beings whose subtle strategies against the Church—and against us, in our own thoughts and emotions—can be known and overcome. How? By being awake and aware and learning to distinguish between the good and the bad through prayerful discernment. We can learn this. To win the war, we must.
What comes to mind are the gripping final scenes of the movie The Mission, when two men, who have given their lives to God, both with noble intentions, fight to protect the native people from Portuguese slave traders, take vastly different approaches in the battle for the mission of San Carlos. One wields a sword; one a monstrance. Only one has lasting power. Only one will lead us to victory—even if it is the victory of martyrdom.
Mr. Burke’s new book Spiritual Warfare and
the Discernment of Spirits is available
now from Sophia Institute Press.