In the film Full Metal Jacket, which is set during the Vietnam War, there is a scene where a platoon of American soldiers is pinned down by a sniper. Two soldiers have already been hit. They writhe in pain, and perhaps death throes, out in the open.
The newly christened platoon leader, “Cowboy,” tells his men not to try to save the wounded men. Instead, they must hunker down behind rubble. He says, “We cannot refuse to accept the situation.”
For many years, I took his admonition—not refusing to accept the situation—as a clear-eyed call to know what is really happening. This was a lesson for us in our troubled times. Recently, however, I watched the movie again, as if with new eyes. I see now that Cowboy tells his men that they must hunker down and accept the hunkering down, that the wounded men cannot be saved, and the sniper was in charge. The key word in his admonition is to “accept.”
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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This comes into sharp relief when Animal Mother—strapped with ammo, slinging a massive machine gun—rejects this admonition and leaps over the rubble and charges the sniper, trying to save his brothers. He runs into the open, fully exposed to the sniper, and unloads a murderous burst from his machine gun. Animal Mother refused to accept the situation.
We live under snipers. They are everywhere, and they are gunning for us, our families, our children, our Church.
Who are the snipers? Sexual revolutionaries who want to force us to accept their view of the human person. The unborn child is no more than a wad of tissue, and even if she is human, we can kill her. A boy can be a girl; if you disagree, we will get you fired from your job. You must accept the notion that gay is best, and gay can never be changed. If you disagree—canceled. The snipers occupy the heights of cultural, political, corporate, and even judicial power. It is like a new state religion, and we are the heretics.
There are various responses to life under snipers. One could live in fear and, through fear, become frozen, unable to move. There is also nostalgia. Some call it Golden Age Thinking: dreaming of olden times, better times. I call this “if-only thinking.” There is also self-defeatism: the belief that we cannot win through our own efforts, so let’s not even try. Finally, there is distraction—spending time watching television, following sports, playing golf, shopping.
All of these responses turn us away from the mission given to us by God Almighty. He knows what He is about. He sent us here, you and me, to face the cultural snipers, to defend His creation at a time of maximum danger. I often joke that He sent the measly likes of us because He wants all the credit. Face it, we are hardly the A-Team. The snipers certainly know this. Have you ever noticed how they mock us?
You may think my message is despair. Nothing is further from the truth. I say there has never been a finer time to be a faithful Catholic—and not despite life under snipers, but precisely because of it. The proper response to this time and our mission is a joyful fighting spirit.
Do not forget that we live in a time of great saints and martyrs: Padre Pio, Mother Teresa, Gianna Molla, Josemaría Escrivá, Maximilian Kolbe, Miguel Pro… priests in France slain by jihadis as they celebrate the Mass… hundreds of men with throats cut by Islamists on that Egyptian beach—a true cloud of witness.
We live in a time when faithful lay Catholics are forced to make their Faith their own and forced to take over the public square. Who leads the fight for the unborn? Catholics. Who led the fight for marriage? Catholics.
There is an explosion of Catholic media: Catholic radio stations, television networks, book publishers, magazines, and other apostolates.
Catholic education is improving. See the orthodox education one can get at the University of Dallas, Belmont Abbey, Steubenville, Christendom, Benedictine, Wyoming Catholic. Even the Catholic University of America is rallying to the orthodox cause, and this was no easy feat.
See the great converts from Evangelicalism. Have you noticed that we tend to get their most catechized, and they get our least? Think of Scott Hahn, Frank Beckwith, Casey Chalk, Thomas Howard, Marcus Grodi, Patrick Madrid, Mark Galli, Matthew Schmitz and dozens—hundreds—thousands more.
The proper response to life under snipers is joy and a fighting spirit, which you will find everywhere.
We live in a time when the whole world is obsessed with the Catholic Church. I will glance briefly at six events that happened one after another that demonstrate the power of the Church to captivate the world.
Start with the Long Lent of 2002, when it became known that sexually aberrant priests had been assaulting young men for decades, and their enabling bishops had hidden and protected them. It was painful, but their exposure was good. Those crimes needed sunlight. But notice how the world watched so closely, and so much of the world watched like carrion birds. They certainly don’t watch the Methodist church as closely, despite abundant evidence that Protestant ministers are more likely to prey on children than Catholic priests.
But even as that awful thing unspooled before our eyes, do you remember what happened? On Ash Wednesday 2004, The Passion of the Christ opened in theaters all over the world. I was in a New York hotel room that night, and every single pundit was talking about that movie. This Catholic movie obsessed the world. Whole audiences wept. It moved criminals to confess crimes committed years before. It became one of the top grossing films of that year.
And at the same time, a dissident Catholic took the Democratic nomination for the presidency, and what became our national focus? The duty of the Catholic voter. But more than that, what drew global attention was the proper reception of the Holy Eucharist. Nothing like this has ever happened, and we saw it.
And before we could catch our breath came the final sickness and death of Pope John Paul II. The whole world seemed to stand in front of the Gemelli Hospital, and the entire world followed him home and waited under his window. Do you remember when he tried to speak that Easter Sunday, and he couldn’t? Where were you when he passed on April 2? The whole world waited for that final word. And millions traveled to Rome with no place to stay, no place to sleep, but came for one purpose: to give praise and thanks for that great man.
And then everyone stayed around to see who the next Pope would be. The resignation of Benedict XVI shook the world. And we see the stray airplane comments of Pope Francis making headline news all over the world.
In the present day, we see yet another dissident Catholic who may occupy the White House. He is an enemy of the Church’s moral teaching, but so significant is our Church that he feels it necessary to sling around his rosary.
What all this shows and what you must not forget is that we are living through one of the most significant epochs the Church has ever known. Do not miss it.
Cowboy wanted his men to hunker down behind rubble. He wanted his men to accept the situation. Animal Mother rejected the situation and charged the sniper’s nest. With an Ave on our lips and a joyful fighting spirit, God wants us to charge the sniper’s nest. We must refuse to accept the situation, and may God have mercy on our souls.
[Image: The Capitulation of Granada by Francisco Pradilla Ortiz]