“No Surrender” Mentality: “And if he should fall, he will fight on his knees”
Et si fellitur de genu pugnat : this motto of the Roman legionary can be seen in the lives of so many heroic priests through the centuries.
Throughout history, generals, realizing the importance to their motherland of the outcome of a battle, gave the order: “There will be no retreat. We fight to the end.” Such is the spirit of the saints in spiritual warfare; such for instance was young Saint Dominic Savio: “Death rather than mortal sin!” or Cardinal Newman: “To commit to love God with all your heart means to be willing to die before committing any mortal sin.”
This implies constant war-readiness whereby the priest the day of his ordination determines that he will battle the Master of Lies until his life’s end. As in ancient Rome, where the doors of the Temple of Janus in the Roman Forum were rarely closed because the Senate had decreed that they would be shut only in time of peace. If in the “U.S. Soldier’s Creed”, the soldier states “I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself” should not the priest maintain his arms: prayer, self-conquest, steadfast regular reception of confession?
By engaging in self-conquest with constancy and method through daily mental prayer, you may falter, but you are unlikely to fall. The priest who continues to fuel your initial enthusiasm by the formation of habits of enduring courage (fortitude), wise-decision making (prudence), self-control (temperance) and justice you will retain the enthusiasm of youth (matured of course like fine wine) within the hardiness of the mature priest. Even when he’s bone-tired, exhausted after countless confessions, spiritual directions, sermons, lectures, directing youth, will still rise to his duty. You will have that type of spirit that has characterized countless great priests through the ages and that amazed armies during the World Wars of the last century. And like the legendary Father Brown in the G.K.Chesterton mystery stories, you will be a priest who “goes stumping with his stout umbrella through life, liking most of the people in it; accepting the world as his companion but never as his judge.”
In the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica there are huge niches for statues of saints- but some of them are empty and I have sometimes wondered about those “saints-who-never-were”: the priest who had as many talents as Francis Xavier and thought about going to Asia …but never did; the hundred other pastors who could have been other John Vianneys…but never were; the priest who thought about starting what Father Michael McGivney did ( the foundation the Knights of Columbus)…but gave up. Perhaps Purgatory for some of us will consist in soul-searing regret when we are allowed to see what we could have been and done while on earth…but never were and never did. All because enduring courage was absent.
So let us fight while there is light! Let us walk while it is day! Let us speak of Christ while we have voice left! Let us die standing up! Let us not worry too much about overdoing it: hard work is not one of the most frequent sources of death among men in the Western hemisphere so we don’t need to be excessively worried! Idleness however could cause our death: premature aging of spirit and “the second death”. As the priest-psychiatrist Fr.Narciso Irala once remarked : “Idleness and the lack of an ideal produce more neurotics than work ever does”. Let us remember that “burn-out” can often be traced back to a loss of motivation and conviction about the truths of the Faith and the identity of the priest – another reason for emphasizing the need for that vaccine against burn-out: daily meditation.
“The reason for the unhappiness of so many people”, wrote that acidic-tongued Irishman, George Bernard Shaw, “ is that they have the time to ask themselves if they are happy or if they are not happy.” Elsewhere he noted: “Use your health, even to the point of wearing it out. That is what it is for. Spend all you have before you die; and do not outlive yourself.” For as Montaigne remarked: “The value of life lies not in the length of days, but in the use we make of them; a man may live long yet live very little”. Hopefully each one of us will have the happiness of being able to repeat what the great 19th century architect Augustus W.N.Pugin said on his death-bed at 40 years of age, that he had “ crammed a hundred years work in forty”.
Let us make our own the restless words of King David :“I will not enter the house where I live nor go to the bed where I rest. I will give no sleep to my eyes, to my eyelids I will give no slumber till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Strong One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132)
Let us live like St.Paul and the other saints: “I most gladly will spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15). With a sense of urgency for “the grace of the Holy Spirit does not know either hesitation or delay” (St. Ambrose). The saints remain enterprising up to the last second of life: they reverse the aging process and live in an ever-deepening springtime. That is the explanation for St.Thomas Aquinas on his death-bed writing a commentary on the Song of Songs; St.Martin of Tours, a soldier to the end, travelling to restore peace in part of his diocese, St.Alphonsus at ninty-two, crippled, still working; that hurricane of enterprise, St.Vincent de Paul, who at the end of a life without pause or truce remarking wistfully: “I think I could have done with one hour less sleep at night”; Saint John Vianney who as he approached the end of the journey murmured: “I hope I have fulfilled my duties as a priest” even though he was spending his last days as he had once said he hoped to:“What a beautiful way for a priest of die-fulfilling his priestly duties”
Ignatians by vocation must never kneel to the world. Even in the face of historical defeats, regardless of whether or not they meet with success on the battlefield, they continue to campaign for the ultimate peace of mankind which is only to be found in the Truth of Christ, Prince of Peace.
Thus, comforted with this promise, we must oppose the Revolution with our incessant refutation of its errors. We must reject the temptation of keeping quiet because there is no reason to disturb the peace when there is no human possibility of success.39 Peace is disturbed only by falsehood. When Truth wages war, it is to restore peace.
“Let us imagine the worst; let us grant that the flood of irreligion has all the strength it boasts of, and that this strength can sweep us away. Well, then, it will sweep us away! It is of no importance, provided that it does not sweep away the Truth. We will be swept away, but we will leave the Truth behind us, as those who were swept away before us left it….Either the world still has a future, or it has not. If we are arriving at the end of time, we are building only for our eternity. But if still long centuries must unfold, by building for eternity we are building also for our time. Whether confronted by the sword or by contempt, we must be the strong witnesses of the Truth of God. Our testimony will survive. There are plants that grow invincibly under the hand of the Heavenly Father. There where the seed is planted, a tree takes root. There where the martyr’s bones lie, a church rises. Thus are formed the obstacles that divide and stop the floods.” (Louis Veuillot)
Therefore we must “hold our ground” on the battlefield of the soul in order to hold our ground on the battlefields of the culture wars – for all that we “hold dear on this good earth”:
Hold your ground!
Hold your ground!
Men of Gondor!
I see in your eyes the same fear
That would take the heart of me!
A day may come
When the courage of men fails
When we forsake our friends
And break all bonds of fellowship
But it is not this day!
A day of woes and shattered shields
When the age of men comes crashing down!
But it is not this day!
This day we fight!
By all that you hold dear on this good earth
I bid you: Stand! Men of the West! (Aragorn at the Black Gate)