When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Going

Just as Mr. Darcy’s aunt, the overbearing Lady Catherine De Bourgh, held that if she’d ever been taught music she would have been a great proficient, I’ve sometimes had the chumpaciousness to think that if I’d ever learned to draw I’d have been a good cartoonist. These inflated thoughts generally occur when I’ve got a picture in my mind of a cartoon that would encapsulate a certain absurd idea prevalent in the world we live in…. As a matter of fact, I have a cartoon in my head right now, which would illustrate an idea that is pretty popular today among some Catholics.

The idea is that the game’s up. We’ve lost. Christian culture is a thing of the distant past, and we live in a world in which our private convictions about morality have no place in public. For better or worse Christian morality no longer informs our society’s taboos and conventions, as it did in Grandma and Grandpa’s time. It’s wonderful, they say, if you want to live your own life according to the teachings of the Catholic Church. But what you need to understand is that other folks come from different backgrounds. Some people really don’t feel like they’re doing anything wrong when they kill their babies or their parents. Some folks are really incapable of understanding your reservations about all sorts of oddly assorted couples tying the knot. So, with all the delicate courtesy of a hostess of the old school, we ought to put up a magnificent pretense of there being nothing amiss, lest embarrassment arise amidst the company. Oh, you can keep your Christian convictions—but keep them quietly, peacefully, and lovingly; in other words, keep them like a shameful secret, so nobody would ever know you had them. It is time for us Christians and Conservatives to accept that things have changed, and to stop trying to fight a losing battle.

The cartoon I envision to illustrate this kind of thinking is one that shows infantry riflemen on the front line. The picture is done in pen-and-ink, with quick cross-strokes to shade in the curve of their helmets and the shadow of their scruffy chins—imagine G.I.s somewhat in the style of Bill Mauldin.

They’re hunkered down in a sheltered position. Ahead of them a few puffs of smoke and some “bang-bangs” indicate the position of the enemy. One of our guys is bringing up his rifle—but the Lieutenant is twisting his head to look at the kid with an incredulous, outraged expression. The caption for this picture reads: “Hold your fire, Private Doe! You’ll make ‘em mad!”

In the next they’ve set up the radio, and our Lieutenant is breathing into it, with bug eyes and two or three heavy dark lines across his forehead. “Hello, hello? Sir, we’ve encountered the enemy. They show no signs of surrendering.”

There’s a puff of smoke labeled “boom!”  way off to the left of them, and the guy hunches so much he almost disappears inside his helmet, like a turtle. “Sir,” he says into the radio, “the enemy continues to advance. Our position is untenable.”

He gets off the radio and issues his orders. “Alright, men, fall back—easy does it! I mean it, Doe; hold your fire or I’ll see you court-martialed.”

The last picture shows our side crawling cautiously away on their bellies with their heads well down, leaving the enemy in command of the field.

That’s not how our soldiers stormed the beaches of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. I know, because since my early childhood I’ve listened to Grandpa’s stories while he sits with a glass of fortissimo at the kitchen table. I know too what Grandpa would say if I asked his opinion about accepting the defeat of basic morality and common decency. First he’d look at me like I just fell out of a tree on my head. Then he’d say the same thing as John Wayne when he drawls in any given western, “That’ll be the day.”

It’s not that Grandpa has a problem with recognizing the reality of the situation, because if you want to know how bad things are he’ll give you an earful. Sure, the world has changed. A terrifyingly high percentage of the population are indeed in that sad case of which St. Thomas Aquinas speaks, in which the secondary precepts of the natural law are “blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions…or by vicious customs and corrupt habits, as among some men, theft, and even unnatural vices, as the Apostle states, were not esteemed sinful.”  The situation is grim indeed, and there is no reason to think that it will not get worse. In a few short years we have gone from contraception, to abortion, to infanticide being considered as a possibility. Who knows where it will end? I would hazard a guess, given the HHS Mandate, (to say nothing of China’s one child policy) that it will not end with your average Catholic being allowed to go quietly about his business, with his wife as a fruitful vine in the recesses of the home and his children as olive plants around his table.

If Grandpa’s unwillingness to accept defeat so easily is not because he doesn’t know how bad things are, then maybe it’s because he comes from a generation that was made of sterner stuff—a generation who understood the sort of thing that Winston Churchill was talking about when he said:

 If you will not fight for the right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.

Another important point, of course, is that we would not be in the present state of crisis if Catholics had previously held the line on divorce, or contraception, or chastity, or abortion, or you name it. Indeed, when one considers all the cowardice and compromise that has led us to where we are it is laughable to say that Christian morality has been “defeated.” G. K. Chesterton summarized the point nicely in his well-known quip that, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Yes, the situation is dire. The difference is that to some people that means it’s time to get up and gird up one’s loins for battle like a Christian, while to others it means that it’s time to sit down and give up like a fatalist. The latter are those who come up with reasons for voting for pro-abortion candidates (“not because we agree with them on abortion… But social issues, you know…”), who rather wonder if it might not be alright to have homosexual unions legally recognized (“at least we know it’s not the same thing as marriage, but you can’t expect to hold non-Catholics to Church teaching”), who don’t see the big problem with the HHS mandating free contraceptives and abortifacients (“well, it’s not like we’re paying for them directly”) and so on, and so on.

I must admit that I’m amazed at the apparent complacency with which such people assert that their fellow men don’t know the difference between right and wrong. The situation is that we live in a society gone mad with lust, side by side with men wounded and degraded by the systematic destruction of innocence, men who no longer recognize themselves because of the damage done to their very souls—men of whom the French writer Georges Bernanos exclaimed in pity and horror, “Oh, if we could view with angelic sight these maimed human beings!” And in this society they propose to live quietly and peacefully, going along with everything that they can “in conscience” and keeping their religion to themselves in exchange for being allowed to practice it! I’m not sure exactly how they plan to keep holding on to their faith in a society that is so expressly in opposition to every basic tenet of that faith. Perhaps they’re prepared to be instant martyrs when they are finally faced with something they can’t possibly square with their convictions—or maybe they intend to maintain such flexibility of conscience as never to be caught by any such ultimatum.

“Fall back!” the cry goes up on every side. “The enemy continues to advance!” Yes, the enemy has a way of doing that when one steadily retreats before them while trailing one’s rifle uselessly on the ground. I’m not saying it’s time to start acting like heroes or martyrs, but I do think it’s about time somebody suggested that amidst all this talk about of defeat and acceptance the average Catholic might remark with considerably more truth than John Paul Jones, “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!”

Truly, we are still the freest people in the world. We are Americans. We have the legal right, as well as the moral duty, to speak the truth—so there is no reason in the world for us to stop talking. Why allow the liberals and post-modern pagans to define the terms? Why should we stop opposing the frightful mockery of marriage that’s being proposed all over the country? And while we’re at it, what about praying the Holy Rosary? And Eucharistic Adoration? And Eucharistic Processions—yes, in public? And maybe even some good old-fashioned, honest-to-goodness fasting?

Oh, there’s no doubt it will be a fierce battle….

“But the good news is—”

“What, Grandpa? Is there any?”

“I already read the end of The Book, and I know who wins when it’s all over.”

And then he’ll smile at you, a smile to warm the heart, and pass the fortissimo.

Bernadette O'Brien


Bernadette O'Brien writes from Western Kentucky's farm country. She graduated from Thomas Aquinas College in 2009.

  • tom

    Renouncing the Democratic Party wouldn’t be a bad step, either; yet, half of Catholic Americans cling to this poisonous coven. A step further? When the Catholic bishops of Germany excommunicated any “Catholic” who supported the Nazis. That took courage and for some the promise of martyrdom. Now, where do I buy that fortissimo?

    • Unfortunately, few are the bishops who will excommunicate “Catholic” politicians who support immoral laws. Actions speak much louder than just word.

    • Micha_Elyi

      Bad news for Bernadette O’Brien, Grandpa’s generation built the pro-divorce, pro-abortion culture and its Big Government enforcer.

  • lifeknight

    Nice article! Thanks for the quotes from noteworthy sources.
    The fight must go on, and writing about our challenges and how we must approach them is part of that war.

  • Lynrask

    Thank you for your thoughtful article and the call to arms in the continuing culture war we are all living. It’s hard to be critical of an article I admire and which quotes Churchill, Chesterton, and Bernanos all in the same article. But I do take exception on one point. I’m planning to forward your article to a Jewish friend with a comment along the following lines.
    In the antediluvian world I come from (educated mid-20th Century and later), and especially in the world of Franciscans I was blessed to be educated in, the term Catholic was of course frequently used, but the term Christian by itself, as far as I can remember, was rare. What was most frequently used, as the good Friars explained the rich heritage of Western History, Art, Music, Philosophy, Literature, (but not theology of course) were terms such as Judeo-Christian heritage, Judeo-Christian values, Judeo-Christian thinking. I was struck by your use of the term Christian alone, and to my ear it suggested, wrongly I think, some kind of exclusion of our Jewish brethren. I don’t think that way and neither do a lot of Catholics, I hope. There are plenty of Jews who are not Democrat, atheist, pro-abortion, etc., even if it’s easier to make the case that the preponderance of them may be. When did “Catholic” become “Christian”? Should I feel closer to a Calvinist or Unitarian than I do to my Jewish brothers and sisters? Maybe it’s just a personal disposition I have, but I don’t like the hint. Also, dear Catholic brethren, the enemy is not entirely out front and across a battlefield, to continue your analogy. The self-defined “faithful” Catholics are in our midst, the Biden-Sibelius-Pelosi-Durbin-etc.etc.etc. types are all around us. The lines have already been breached, a situation that needs urgent and radical attention from our commanding generals.

    • tom

      I don’t see any of our prelates to compare to Catholic generals like Thomas Meagher of the “Irish Brigade” or the great cavalry officer, Gen.Philip Sheridan. I’d settle for Fr. William Corby, later the President of Notre Dame, who was a chaplain at the Battle of Gettysburg. We got nothing. Not even Notre Dame, anymore.

    • Clement_W

      The exception you have highlighted the Catholic and Christian – Have you noticed that the christians in the so-called main-stream Protestant churches are having schisms as a result of their keeping up with the Joneses? Catholic and Christian were always synonymous until the protesters, understandably, against the very human sins of the the very human leaders of the Catholic church during the late dark ages into the middle ages. But, in protesting, they ended up throwing the ‘Baby out with the bath water’. Our Jewish Brethren, the Orthodox kind are with us in NOT keeping up with the Joneses, but, the urban ‘enlightened’ Jewish brethren have joined our Protestant brethren in succumbing to the blandishments of the spirit of the world. The Judeo-Christian values and thinking are alive and resurgent because they are not the mushy and touchy-feely things which we have come to think is true Love for God and each other.

    • Theorist

      Are you Jewish? Did I miss something? If not, then why would any Catholic feel close to our “Jewish brothers” (?) What does Judeo-Christian even mean besides being a pedantic acknowledgement that yes, Christianity stemmed from Judaism -one might as well call human nature Neandero-humanity. Seriously, I’m not even mad, I’m just confused.

      • patricia m.

        From Wikipedia:

        Promoting the concept of America as a Judeo-Christian nation became a political program in the 1920s, in response to the growth of anti-Semitism in America. The rise of Hitler in the 1930s led concerned Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to take active steps to increase understanding and tolerance.[29]

        In this effort, precursors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews created teams consisting of a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, to run programs across the country, and fashion a more pluralistic America, no longer defined as a Christian land, but “one nurtured by three ennobling traditions: Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.”[30] “The phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ entered the contemporary lexicon as the standard liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews.”[30]


        I personally do not agree with the whole judeo christian concept.

  • Facile1

    Thank you for a great article. And thank your Grandfather for me, for finding the courage that helped win the war against the Japanese. My country, the Philippines (a largely Catholic country), is free today because of the many American heroes like him.

  • publiusnj

    Good article. I too think of WWII when I think of the bizarre turns our American Culture is taking. I always wonder what the soldiers on the landing ships on the Southern English Coast would have done if Ike Eisenhower had told them just before they took off for Normandy in Early June 1944: “Boys, you are fighting for the American way of life. Adolf Hitler wants to take that away from you, but if we prevail, you will have the right to have sexual relations with anyone you want. If the object of your affection happens to be the boy in the next foxhole, we will be with you all the way. And if it happens to be a woman, the American Way of Life will allow you to abort any children conceived by her. For that is the American way of life and that is why we fight. So, tomorrow morning just remember that you are fighting for the ‘Land of the Free to Abort and the Home of the Gay.’ Go get ’em, boys.”

    And yet, that is what we are now being told IS the American Way of lIfe. Of course, Eisenhower mentioned nothing about those two deviant forms of “liberty.” Rather, he told the troops that they were engaged on a Great Crusade. And when Roosevelt talked to the American people after the invasion commenced, he didn’t alk about gay rights or choice rights. He instead asked teh American people to join him in a prayer that began: “Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty
    endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization and to set free a suffering humanity”

    One quibble: Ms. O’Brien wrote: “we would not be in the present state of crisis if Catholics had previously held the line on divorce, or contraception, or chastity, or abortion, or you name it….” Actually, the Catholic Church led the opposition to liberalized divorce, abortion etc. However, Catholics are at best 25% of the American Electorate and the Protestant majority and their churches were in the vanguard of the effort to abandon Christian Morality. That, of course, is no excuse for not doing what Ms. O”Brien proposes.

    • Bono95

      I think Ms. O’Brien was referring to cafeteria Catholics there.

    • Theorist

      So true. And of course, this gets to the very heart of the problem that Americanism is incoherent. That’s why the past leaders had to dress it in the fig-leaf of “Almighty God” “Great Crusades” and “our religion”. In what way, anyways, were the Germans any different in religion, than the Americans? “I mean, say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, Dude. At least it’s an ethos.”-(Big Lebowski).

      • publiusnj

        If “Americanism is incoherent” and had to be lied about and dressed up with “fig-leaves” to accommodate it to the inherited culture (back when that mattered), it is hardly a basis for enforcing “rights” that are so in contrast to the inherited culture which at least works.

        • Theorist

          You mean, of course, that the inhereted culture is what works and ought to be put ahead of “rights”?

          • publiusnj

            No. That is a reductio ad absurdum; I said nothing about the culture being put ahead of REAL rights. You have excused the inconsistency of gay rights with our history on the ground that “Americanism is incoherent” and on that quicksand would erect a group of rights inconsistent with the inherited culture and mentioned nowhere in the Constitution or its legislative history. You would stretch the Constitution and the Reconstruction Amendments to read in “sexual orientation minorities” despite the fact that they nowhere mention any such things. The short answer to that fabrication is that those provisions were written in the context of the inherited culture and did not have to say that “efforts a hundred years out or more to reinterpret these provisions to allow for ‘Gay Marriage’ will not be consistent with our real intent.”

            • Theorist

              I’m don’t know what you mean.

              Define “inherited culture” “real rights” and “rights”.

              As you may not know, I was just saying that the very principles of American life are contradictory in that to have a right to be free, must mean to have a right to do anything since lack of freedom in one thing means a logical denial of the whole principle. I don’t think that Americans in 1776, had any real knowledge just what “freedom” meant, but agreed with the idea simply because all power is freedom and freedom is power and since everyone wants power they likewise wanted freedom. The meaning of “freedom” is hopelessly vague and if one comes up with a coherent notion of the term, one realizes that it applies to monarchies just as well as republics and yet we are to believe that our form of state is uniquely free? That’s what I was expressing.

  • Clement_W

    Thank you, Bernadette O’Brien for this very beautiful article. The Church Militant is alive and well in the Farm Country and ‘Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have drawn a defence against your foes'(Ps.8 NAB) putting the nay-sayers from the centers of iniquity in NYC, Washington D.C., L.A., Chicago etc. to shame!

  • cestusdei

    If WWII happened today we would lose.

    • Micha_Elyi

      We are in WWIII, Civilization versus Islam. If it were WWII, the year would be 1938. Our Chamberlain types still insist on appeasement. Future generations will look back at our leaders, both religious and political, and say as Winston Churchill once did, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.”

  • Semper

    Bernadette, the old man is so pleased with you. You write from the heart to inspire. Your writing helps us all step up to everyday that the Good Lord gives us.

  • UltraMontane

    “When women dress immodestly, and men despise religion, it is the beginning of the end” – Seneca

  • hombre111

    Let’s see, grandpa’s world, era WWII and following. Firebombs over Germany and Tokyo kill hundreds of thousands of non-combatants. Nuclear bombs kill hundreds of thousands more. Segregation. Birth of consumer society. Nuclear tests in the open atmosphere. Wholesale pollution of air and water. Cold War begins, which will kill millions of innocents before “we win.” Support for dictators. Development of hundreds and hundreds of nuclear weapons. Korean War. Vietnam War. These were an accepted and unquestioned part of grandpa’s world. There has been moral progress, Bernadette. You take for granted hard won victories of women’s rights. If you place yourself within the larger context of an interconnected world, you have made your own compromises with moral relativity.

    • Bono95

      Could you be more specific about what you mean by “women’s rights” here? You hear those words in a lot of places, and they can mean many very different things, some of which are not rights or empowering.

      • tom

        Mostly, they mean the “right” to murder another human being….55,000,000 and counting just in the good old USA.

        • Bono95

          And not counting the forever unknown number of US children killed or “prevented” by contraception.

      • hombre111

        I do not mean the right to an abortion. But during grandpa’s day, women had few choices about their future. Some careers were simply closed to them. They could not add their income to the income of their spouses if they were trying to buy a house. Rape and other forms of sex abuse were mostly ignored. Etc..

        • risibus

          I’m not sure if the present state of affairs could constitute a palpable ‘advancement’ of women’s rights. In the 1940’s women could vote, buy/sell property, and have careers, etc. Perhaps you mean to indicate that the older generations compromised on moral values? That crimes went unreported is inexcusable ~and their compromise has given us a good deal of the moral mess we find ourselves in today. Not only are many crimes unreported, they are now legal. But in that former time, men and women also made decisions to cling to the good, true, and beautiful in the face of the evils you describe. And that is an example worth emulating.

        • Bono95

          Rape and sex abuse were not ignored in “grandpa’s day”, they were simply much, much rarer. And some careers, like any that involve excessive hard labor and possible exposure to dangerous situations, really aren’t great places for women to be working, and most women in that day didn’t want to work outside the home anyway, at least not after marriage.

          I’m not saying that women cannot necessarily work as hard or do as good of a job as men, but the wider career paths open to women now have been decidedly mixed blessings. Sometimes women get so caught up in their “empowering”careers that they neglect or even forcibly limit their families. Grandpa’s day was not at all perfect, but in many ways it was better than today.

        • Vaultec

          “They could not add their income to the income of their spouses if they were trying to buy a house.”

          For the most part, women didn’t need to work when it came to buying a house. However, now that women have entered the work force en-mass, they compete with men and lower wages for everyone. The end result is that it’s very, very difficult to buy a house unless your wife is working, because one wage isn’t enough anymore.

          Most women would probably prefer a family to a career, but now they face social AND economic pressure to work. Feminism doesn’t care about what makes women happy and fulfilled, only about what makes them “equal” to men, even if that means forcing women to work instead of raise their families.

  • tedseeber

    Tolerance is only a virtue as long as what you are tolerating is clearly a sin. After that it becomes enabling, and enabling is evil.

  • Excellent article. You nailed it.

  • JM

    Bravo! Correct on all points as far as I know. The only problem is that the folks who need to think about this point of view are not reading Crisis Magazine. Bernadette O’Brien, you should run for office. (By the way, love that word, “chumpaciousness”!)

  • Bono95

    Wonderful article, Ms. O’Brien, and fantastic insights. Funny that our side has to retreat and retreat and retreat without ever voicing its beliefs while it’s totally OK for the forces of evil to advance and advance and advance while screaming its agenda at the top of its lungs. Fellow Catholics and Christians, get out your bibles, guns, and megaphones, and let’s make some music! We’ll sing and chant our psalms and beliefs and keep time with our artillery fire.

    • tom

      Now, we’re talking. Onward Christian soldiers?

      • Bono95

        Thank You, and yes, ONWARD!

  • musicacre

    Wonderful article! Thank you for your insights and the great cartoon scenario! It does a heart good to remember we are nothing more ( and nothing less), than the Church Militant! We have a wonderful Captain and His name is Jesus!

  • patricia m.

    Great article indeed!

  • Such wisdom and encouragement! Bless your heart for speaking the Truth! Onward, Christian soldier!

  • Justin

    Good piece though I think the challenge is far deeper than just speaking to a society gone mad with lust. This is the end game begun by the “turn to the self,” that philosophical revolution of subjectivity that told man right and wrong simply have no meaning. I have yet to see an “argument” that persuades a person that believes there’s no such thing as a right opinion.

  • Laura P.

    This is such a beautiful article. I don’t often finish articles online anymore, but I had to finish this one. It’s inspiring and encouraging to say the least. Thank you.

  • risibus

    What a wonderful and uplifting read! Thanks for the shot of courage; but where is that fortissimo?
    PS Any chance you could post the comic strip?

  • montanajack1948

    Re: “Oh, you can keep your Christian convictions—but keep them quietly, peacefully, and lovingly; in other words, keep them like a shameful secret, so nobody would ever know you had them.”

    I don’t believe this accurately represents anyone’s position. I think people would more likely say, “You’re entitled to your Christian convictions and you’re free to discuss them and offer them as part of public dialogue, but you’re not entitled to force them, by legislative action or otherwise, on people (including millions of other Christians) who disagree with you. No one will force you to ‘gay marry’ or to recognize (as a religious matter) gay marriage, no one will force you to have an abortion, and no one will force you to use contraceptives; please have the decency not to force others to follow your conscience rather than their own.”

    Now, I realize that won’t be satisfactory to you either, and I’m aware of possible rebuttals you could make; but it seems only fair for you to respond to actual statements and not to fictitious ones about keeping your convictions “like a shameful secret”.

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  • SoCalChick

    Happy to see that strong Irish women are still out there kicking up the dust. Complacency indeed does lead to slavery. There are several fronts in the current battle and we must pick one and join the fight. Pray for ‘fortitude’ – a gift of the Holy Spirit – when the hatred of the world starts wearing you down. Never give up. Be Bold. Be informed. Evangelize those in your circle to follow you into this multi-front battle.

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  • Jack Tollers

    And always remember Newman: he says that during the fight, the good soldier hasn’t a clue about how the battle is going…