What Will You Do When the Persecution Comes?

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I know there are plenty of Catholics who are, in one way or another, looking forward to the relentless institutional persecution that is coming our way unless we surrender the One Thing Needful to the secular left, and that is the family-destroying and state-feeding beast called the Sexual Revolution, with its seven heads and ten horns and the harlot squatting atop it. As I see it, these Catholics belong to four groups.

The Persecutor
First are the Persecutors. These people hate the Church, and that is why they remain ostensible members of it. They desire from within to punish the Church for what they perceive to be her sins, which these days have nothing to do with her teachings on the Trinity or the nature of Christ, but with sex—so tawdry are our heresies. O Arius, Arius, would that we had such as you for our enemy! The Persecutor has unbridled contempt for Pope John Paul II, the too-lenient father whom the Persecutor, like a spoiled brat, portrays as a tyrant, and for Benedict XVI, whose broad-ranging and penetrating intellect makes the Persecutor feel puny by comparison.

In all conflicts between the State and the Church, the Persecutor will not only side with the State; he will be glad to lead the charge. He will, to give one recent example from Connecticut, push a bill designed to subject the governance of Catholic parishes to state oversight. He will, to give a current example from New York, attempt to compel Catholic crisis pregnancy centers to refer women to the nearest abortorium. He will be eager to threaten Catholic schools with loss of government funds if they remain Catholic—if, for instance, they think it is not a good idea to sponsor groups committed to Sodom, and let them massage the minds of children. But why do I use the generic masculine pronoun here? Sheshe will want to compel Catholic interns to assist in abortions, or even to perform one; she will want to compel Catholic parishes to allow their grounds and their halls to be used for the celebration of pseudogamy. Religious freedom? The Persecutor respects neither God nor the conscience of man.

The Quisling
Second, the Quislings. The Quisling does not hate the Church, but he does not love her, either. He is a worldling and craves the approval of the world. He believes in “the future,” and that means he is easy prey for the peddlers of ideological fads: a field mouse against the Great Horned Owl. He is embarrassed by tradition. He is seldom brave enough to express formal heresy, just as he is seldom brave enough to defend the Church with any clarity or confidence. He seems pleasant enough, is perfectly lamb-like when it comes to wining and dining with the powerful, but will turn with a pent-up frustration against the ordinary churchgoer who dares to question his prudence. If he is a bishop, he is secretly happy to close churches and sell off their property, comforting himself with the thought that he is doing what is only necessary in hard times, and blaming the parishioners themselves for failing to bring up their children in the faith—when in point of fact he and the chancery have given them no help at all in doing so, and have usually checked them at every pass.

The Quisling wants the state to bring the Church into “the modern world,” whatever that may be; it depends upon the times and the place. Oh, he does not want the compulsion to be violent, and he can intone pontifically about the sanctity of individual conscience; so long as the individual with the tender conscience keeps it to himself, where it will remain ineffectual and inert, like a seed on concrete. The Quisling, with a sad and knowing shake of his head, pleases himself by meditating upon the many sins of his Holy Mother the Church, and will magnify them, or even invent sins that she never committed, the better to prove to himself how open-minded and pious he is.

The Avenger
Then comes the Avenger. He has tried to live in accord with the Church, and has received mainly contempt from her, or neglect, or persecution. That has curdled him within, and he now hates the Church such as she is more than he loves her as the bride of Christ. He sees that the Church has compromised herself by taking Caesar’s coin, even when Caesar offered it at first with the most innocent of intentions, and so he looks forward to the time when Holy Mother will have to do without that money. It occurs to him that that will kill an untold number of Catholic schools and colleges, but he says that they deserve to die; and he does not clearly consider how many souls will be lost. To him, it is better that there should be no Catholic school at all, than that there should be a school struggling to remain Catholic in a bad time—struggling, and often failing, but struggling for all that.

The Avenger makes conversion more difficult, not less, for people who still wish to believe in Christ but who have bought, usually without much thought, the confusions of our time. The Avenger enjoys rejection, enjoys loss, because that gives him a fine opportunity to meditate upon his courage. Sometimes the Avenger is a traditionalist. Sometimes he is a hater of the traditionalist. Whether he is one or the other, he does not aim his rifle at the terrible enemies of the Church from without: he does not fight the materialist, the sexual revolutionary, the radical secularist, the globalist, the corrupter of children, or the hawker of filth. He aims his rifle at Catholics, and many of them will be good Catholics who disagree with him about strategy. The Avenger will not go forth to war unless he approves the strategy in all its details, which of course will never happen. He prefers to be an armchair general rather than to be a private slogging in the trenches.

The Soldier
Last we have the Soldier. The Soldier complains about his superiors not because they give him bad orders, but because they give him no orders at all. He wants to do battle, and is willing to be led. He knows that war is hell, but that he and the Church have not sought the war. The war and the demons who lead it have sought the Church, to adulterate her or to kill her. The Soldier would prefer peace: he would prefer that his country might return to at least a worldly sanity, and grant the Church the liberty that she is owed and that redounds to the great benefit of the state itself.

The Soldier does not say, “I will fight, but my generals must be perfectly wise.” Generals are never perfectly wise or perfectly anything else. The Soldier does not say, “I will fight, but only if I do not have to share the field with these others,” which others may be traditionalists, the ecumenically minded, Protestants friendly to the Catholic Church, or Catholics who disagree with him on some political point. The Soldier is grateful for his brothers in arms, and if their uniforms are a little different from his, he figures that the Lord of Hosts will sort the matter out in the end.

The Soldier does not make light of the desperate situation. His name is not Pollyanna. But he remembers the words of Jesus: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.” The Soldier will not refuse a hearty meal, but he will not grumble if he has to fast. The Soldier is filled with thymos: his eyes narrow and look to the horizon; his nostrils flare and his heart beats with excitement; he sings Rise Up, O Men of God; he craves honor, most of all the honor of the Church; he does not care who calls him a fool. He is immensely attractive and wins the respect even of his enemies. He brings both men and women into the Church without that being his principal aim, because it is sweeter to spend one day in the field with the Soldier than a thousand in the halls of the wealthy, the powerful, the timid, the faithless, and the mad.

May God grant us the grace to be Soldiers—all of us, now. The war is here.

Anthony Esolen

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Professor Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. He is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

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