“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.”
The Church Militant has long been a favorite subject of meditation for pious men and women and sage intellectuals. We have often heard it said that, at the very moment Our Lord ascended into heaven, the end times began. And from the moment of its inception, the Church has always been plagued from all sides by forces that threaten to destroy or subvert her, supernatural or otherwise. We must not delude ourselves; crises such as the one we face today have also appeared in the past, and in many ways, the Church has never recovered from much of those effects. Daniel Mitsui of 'The Lion and the Cardinal' fame elegantly and eloquently crystallizes these thoughts in his essay, Permanent Scars. It is defintely a must read, given Mr. Mitsui's superb erudition and sober approach to the Catholic Faith.
"And the patristic-medieval Latin Orthodoxy that I desire Roman Catholicism to become, and to which I will devote the efforts of my entire life: he is smart enough to ruin that too. This is what needs to be remembered by those who seek a refuge from modernism in Traditional Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or in their own historicist fantasies of either of them. There is no refuge in the Church Militant. If a Church appears to have withstood modernism, it merely means that Satan is waiting to afflict it with some other error as soon as he is able. The ancient Churches are vulnerable and they have always been vulnerable."
I think one of the main problems with the Church today is that we see the struggle between good and evil as sort of a movie, with a predictable and definite outcome-- that, of course, being the triumph of good over the forces of darkness. But it is an infintely more complex situation in real life. In life, the forces of good are often the ones who are defeated again and again. The good guys are always a minority, an infinitessimally insignifcant factor, even. While we may admire such stories of the hero rising up to meet his task and saving the world in the end, we simplify things too much to the point that we lose sight of the big picture. Make no mistake; the Devil is smart, and he is not afraid to wait. He has been planning his attacks on the Church from time immemorial; he knows his time is short, and so he does everyhing in his power to seduce 'even the elect' from the rightful glory they should possess.
Our Lord defeated the Devil through His cross, that is true. And while all of his works have been rendered to futility by the redemption won for us by Christ, the Devil remains to this day an infinitely powerful being. If we are to believe the pious old legends handed down to us by our ancestors, the angel Lucifer had twelve pairs of wings, twice the number of an ordinary seraphim. In him was reflected the primeval splendor of God, until his pride caused him to be thrown from 'the heights of heaven to the depths of hell.' The archangel Gabriel, after all, greeted Mary with the words ne timeas-- fear not. What more of Lucifer, who was the greatest of them all?
"There is no refuge in the Church Militant ... a Church that is not permanently scarred is not the Body of Christ. "
For me, these were the most salient points in Mr. Mitsui's essay. It is a haunting reminder that being Catholic also means being target practice for the Devil and his minions. When you are a member of the Church, you are not immune from his diabolical schemes; on the contrary, you are a bigger priority, a bigger and better catch for the infernal legions than a charismaticist, touchy-feely Protestant. Perhaps this is why Evangelicals seem to have life so much easier; they pose no threat to him. It is us that he wants. It is us he wants to share in his eternal misery.
The Devil too is always one step ahead of us. Nowadays, he is far more subtle in his attempts to seduce the faithful. He manifests himself in the moral and doctrinal laxity of 'liberal Catholics' as well as the ultra-rigorist spirituality of Traditionalits. He shows himself in the depravity of modern society, as well as in the attempts of rigorists to 'turn back the clock', as it were, and delude us into a mad nostalgia. He plays both extremes, from the leftmost end of the spectrum to the furthest right. And he does this all thorugh subtle and cunning means, biding his time, allowing decay to seep into our strongholds. And when the City of God has been surrendered to decadence and depravity, he makes his move.
Our Lord promised us ultimate victory in the end, but that is just it-- ultimate victory. We are not promised every victory, and as history shows us, this is almost always the case. As Scripture itself ascertains, 'When the Son of Man comes, think you, shall He find faith on earth?' As Mr. Mitsui so eloquently put it, 'There is no refuge in the Church Militant'. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that, just because we are being 'traditional', we are free from the Devil's wiles. We have deluded ourselves for far too long, and it is a sobering thought to consider that the Devil may have had his greatest victory in hijacking our veneration for Tradition and turning it into an wanton worship of the past. That we have allowed ourselves to think that we are somehow 'chosen' and free from his influence is perhaps the greatest delusion of all, and it is something that the Father of Lies is exceptionally good at.
A porta inferii, erue nos, Domine!
Domine exaudi orationem meam, at clamor meus ad te veniat!