And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross…
– Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton
I have sympathy for the sentiment Emily expresses. I do. I know it’s a lament shared by many Catholics when they look at the state of the Church now. It’s important we acknowledge past sins of omission — personal, pastoral, institutional. It’s important that we get our history straight.
But why? So we can better shape the future.
I agree that we can’t win this fight for the culture on the legislative or legal fronts alone. But these are important fronts we cannot afford to abandon. Culture isn’t just shaped by personal conversations and conversions. It’s also shaped by foundational structures such as law and government. That’s why Catholics need to be active warriors in the public square. The fight for religious liberty, after all, is a battle to preserve the right to have those personal conversations and conversions.
Basically I’m arguing that we need two specific things: optimism and priorities. Optimism because the resources at our disposal are immense. In addition to our human potential, we have Christ. So ultimately, we win. But to avoid the cost and unnecessary suffering which would result from a domineering state denying our religious liberty: we have to win this critical battle first. It’s the most important priority, because everything the Church stands for in public and everything the Church safeguards concerning the common good is premised on the right of the Church to be free to do so.
There is a time for sackcloth and ashes — it’s after the battle has been won. But when the innocent are threatened and the one thing standing in the way of government tyranny is the Church and the right of Christians to believe in peace and live out the truth, now that’s a time for swords and shields.