War! The Most Real, The Most Terrible and The One with an Eternal Sequel
Catholics are born for combat because they are born into a world at war.
“The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, and it is at great cost to himself, and aided by God’s grace, that he succeeds in achieving his own inner integrity. (Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 37)
Tremendous indeed is physical warfare and grim are its consequences. Yet, as terrifying as it is, it is always merely the visible expression of an invisible and far bloodier struggle: the war on the battlefield of man’s soul.
The World Wars with their millions of graves, orphans and widows, Dachau and Auschwitz, rightly repells us. Communism with its “killing fields” from the gulags of the Soviet Union to Cambodia horrifies us. The “Culture War” of today that has resulted in a “Dictatorship of Relativism” wherein millions of children have been slaughtered in their mothers wombs and by whose edicts more and more states threaten the lives of the old, the weak, the sick and the handicapped, alarms us. But all of these cataclysmic events all ultimately began, developed and concluded in the human spirit where history is decided. It is in the depths of man’s spirit that history is decided. It is the outcome of the hidden warfare waged in the deepest levels of man’s soul that decides the course of events that marks the timeline of society.
Moreover, although the effects of physical warfare can be horrendous, eventually time often heals at least partly, or at least hides, its effects from memory. Spiritual warfare however is different since, at the hour of death, an hour heavily conditioned by how one has lived throughout most of one’s life, one either has a soul that has conquered the forces of moral evil or one that has opted to live with the corpse of its own conscience. For both outcomes there will be unchangable consequences during endless ages for either the secret victory or defeat during earthly existence.
Consequently, like the general Maximus, who, holding his sword in the air, shouted to the assembled army in the movie, The Gladiator, ‒ “Soldiers! What we do in life echoes in eternity!” ‒ the Church has likewise proclaimed to Catholics throughout the millennia. Never has she ceased to point beyond Time to Eternity as man’s final destination, whether in Heaven or Hell. Her elites, the saints, have always warned men to fear jeopardizing salvation from Hell by spiritual pacifism and compromise with sin. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed with great realism: “Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Death, from whom no one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin!”
Catholic Realism: Ever Present Danger from the “Axis of Evil”
Spiritual warfare therefore is a bloody reality: any “spirituality” that omits it is unreal and leaves its adherents defenseless before the Enemy. That’s what The Master who is The Way, the Truth, and the Life bluntly told us: “The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force”(Mt.11:12).
With realism, let us acknowledge that the “Axis of Evil” is at our frontiers, always has been, and always will be until the hour of death. It is the constant conspiracy, the age-old struggle against man made up of the ancient enemy (“the Sleepless Malice”), the “enemy-occupied territory” (the “World”), and the traitor within us ( our own tendency to warped and disordered use of our God-given capacities for pleasure).
This realism configures our awareness of what being a priest is all about. As Saint John Eudes stated:
“The end and purpose of this heavenly office [the priesthood] is to form Christ in the hearts of the faithful that He may reign there; to dispel the darkness of hell and illumine the light of heaven in men’s souls; to destroy sin and open the floodgates of grace; to destroy the tyranny of Satan on earth and re-establish the Kingdom of God.”