The Church Militant: Born to Struggle

by Christian Ohnimus                                                                         Wednesday, November 27

In writing on Hell and the contrasting views between Catholics Michael Voris and Fr. Robert Barron I received quite the response. Mostly, such responses centered on the issue of Hell itself and whether I was right or wrong regarding my views on Hell. While important, and an issue I want to continue to contemplate and discuss, I want to set the issue aside entirely for a moment and focus solely on what led me to write that article in the first place: namely, how we are supposed to confront disagreement both between fellow Catholics as well as between Catholics and non-Catholics. Also, while my criticisms are specified towards Mr. Voris and churchmilitant.tv my message is meant as a  general response to all who employ similar methods including notably anti-Voris types like Novus Ordo Watch. Furthermore, I want to make it crystal clear that by voicing my concerns it it not my intention to malign Mr. Voris. I don’t doubt his sincerity in the faith, question his Catholicism, or deny any good that has come from his work. However, while I make no judgement in regards to Voris’ intentions I do think his methods are erroneous and do possible damage to the very church which he so fervently seeks to defend.

My previous concern regarding Voris’ response on the issue of Hell was not that he states to positively know that souls have been damned there but his harsh criticism of any Catholic who hopes and prays for the salvation of all. Here and elsewhere Mr. Voris questions the very Catholicity of those who disagrees with him, calling them part of the “Church of Nice”, presumably in contrast with the Church Militant thereby implying that such Catholics who hope and pray for the salvation of all or who attend the Novus Ordo Mass operate outside the Catholic Church. Voris seems to possess one tool in his toolbox and when all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail, including your fellow Catholics. While there is such a thing as a Church Militant we are not meant to form a military and our objective is not to crush our enemies – especially if those “enemies” happen to be the neighboring Catholic also struggling to reach Heaven like you. While soldiers in the military may be a useful analogy at times, to Voris this seems to monopolize his entire ministry. Catholics are “born for combat”, his website is adorned with military camouflage, his symbol of choice is a sword, and of course there is his repeated use of condemnation and incendiary language with little or no pursuit of solidarity or understanding of others evident.

That is a mistake and not in the spirit of the Church Militant and here’s why. The Church Militant first must be understood as part of a whole. In addition to the Church Militant there is the Church Triumphant (those who are in Heaven) and the Church Suffering (those who are in Purgatory) and together, these three parts form the whole: the Communion of Saints.

The Latin word militans has a primary meaning of “serving as a soldier, military”, but it acquired a secondary meaning of “to struggle, to make an effort”, which is the intended sense in Church Militant. Christians on earth are still struggling against sin in order that, when we die, we may go to Heaven and be members of the Church Triumphant, those who have triumphed over sin. Therefore, what makes us “militant” is not that we are warriors “born for combat” but our struggle against sin and the effort to reach Heaven.

The Church Triumphant has found victory, not in razing enemies but in being raised to Heaven. We should look to the Church Triumphant as our model of what we should become or hope to gain while the Church Militant is what we are now, unfinished and imperfect. The Church Suffering is what we will endure for our struggles as the Church Militant as we are made perfect and whole again for Heaven.

The object of the Church is evangelization: to preach the gospel and convert everyone, both in and out of the Church, so that we may ultimately join the Church Triumphant. The goal is Heaven and the Church is the straightest path there. As such, I hope that we can all agree that anything within the Church that blocks that path is bad, anything that serves as an obstacle to the salvation or bars access to the gospel fails in its purpose. Conversely, that which furthers the message of the gospel and leads souls to salvation is good.

One tool in spreading the gospel is of course condemning that which is contrary to it. However, this is just one tool and must be used appropriately. I fear that people like Voris focus on the use of such “weapons” at the neglect of our ultimate mission and at charity’s expense. Before anyone accuses me of being a parishioner of the “Church of Nice” and misunderstanding charity as ooey-gooey feelings of “love” let me make it clear that I fully understand that real love means willing the good of the other and that seemingly harsh tactics may sometimes be justified under “tough love”. However, should such tactics fail we can respond in different ways. One response is to try to meet God’s fallen children where they are at, seeking to inform them of God’s justice by first exposing them to His love and mercy for them. Another response is, having removed any doubt that they may possess even a shred of ignorance to spare them of culpability, to condemn the sinner for not repenting as soon as their sins are announced to them, and then continue to list their sins. Voris seems to take the latter approach, repeating his condemnations without reprise, as he does battle against unrepentant sinners (or faithful Catholics unfortunate enough to possess a difference of opinion). That’s not tough love, but it is militaristic.

There is certainly a war going on and the church on Earth is indeed in crisis. However, it is always in crisis. That’s what makes it the Church Militant. However, Christ gives us hope and we know that the Church will never be annihilated. The continual crisis of the Church is not over her existence but over the salvation of souls. Our enemy is Satan; everyone else are casualties, casualties on our side. It is not against them whom we wage war; it is Satan we will conquer. As for the sinners, we must bring them into the fight to struggle beside us. Like a field hospital, the church heals those harmed by sin until they are in fighting condition and able the join our ranks. What greater blow can we land against the enemy (Satan) than to heal those he tempted into harm?

Reader and blogger Tyler Nethercott, at the end of a long response to my post on Hell mourns that the Catholic Church, for the last fifty years, has focused less on condemnation of errors, choosing instead to evangelize more through the emphasis of common ground. What matters is that we stay true to the gospel. As for the approach we take we must meet the people where they are at as charity demands. In the Middle Ages when the world was Christian and the Pope was as powerful as emperors, condemnation of error was a far more powerful tool in leading men to salvation. Today that is no longer the case and most people run away from such methods, never learning the fullness of God’s Truth, perhaps lost to Satan, our enemy, forever. Thus, in subjecting their methods to the ultimate end of salvation, the Church has wisely chosen to approach the world in a way that it can hear. To condemn this as abandoning the Church Militant for the “Church of Nice” represents prioritizing the tools in our toolbox over the ultimate object of our struggle for which such tools were designed. The point of the Church Militant is not to be perfect, the point is for our struggle to lead us to Heaven so that we may become perfect as the Church Triumphant. That is what people like Voris don’t seem to get and why I believe their approach hurts the Church. We need to stop making the struggle for Heaven a war of “us versus them”, no matter how well-intentioned, and instead meet people where they are at. Its uncomfortable, I know. We have to get dirty, deny ourselves and, yes, even be nice to people we don’t like but we do it so that we may share in Communion with God as Church Triumphant. If they’re not all perfect militants, well, that’s what Purgatory is for.

Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.

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