Father Rick Heilman wants to challenge Catholics to a boot camp in 2013 — a Church Militant boot camp.
His use of military imagery to promote a strong devotional life has a purpose: to unite Catholics as spiritual warriors under the supernatural power of God.
This is precisely his reason for developing ChurchMilitant.com, along with a book of the same name and other tools that promise to assist in reawakening faith, battling evil and rescuing souls.
"In the U.S. Army, the first goal is to get everyone working and functioning as a team, so they can accomplish the goals and training before them," says Father Heilman. "That draws from St. John the Baptist, who said he [God] must increase, while I must decrease. That is what military training really is all about: that nobody is trying to stand out, but they work together as a fighting force of warriors — but as warrior saints."
Father Heilman founded the Knights of Divine Mercy men’s apostolate in his parish, St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Pine Bluff, Wis., in the Diocese of Madison. It is now a growing grassroots movement, with a national office, chapters in Wisconsin and in several other states. Father Heilman is also a guest spiritual director on Relevant Radio’s The Inner Life.
The Church Militant campaign, written for men and women, is organized under a threefold mission: individual readiness; reliance on one’s alliance, or communion of saints; and special-ops rescue, requiring prayer for one another. Its contents are nothing new, but made up of the age-old devout practices that are lost on many of today’s Catholics. The regiment involves daily habitual prayer from the Morning Offering to the Angelus and evening prayer, Scripture reading, Rosary and Mass — plus regular confession, Eucharistic adoration, Stations of the Cross, novenas, fasting and other devotions. Tools include a field journal to track one’s daily spiritual journey, a pocket prayer book, a 26-part In the Trenches video series and even a World War II military-issue Rosary.
The purpose is to restore or strengthen people’s faith lives. "We’ve gone through this period in our Church where (many) people don’t think you need to pray the Rosary anymore or go to Mass anymore — that casual Catholicism that lulled a lot of people to sleep, and the forces of evil grew strong during that time," says Father Heilman. "We need courageous Catholicism, to stand for what is good and right and holy. People’s hearts will be set ablaze if they know that they’re part of a cause."
Recalling Mary’s last words in the Bible — "Do whatever he tells you" — the priest reminds Catholics that when they are obedient to what Mother Church wants them to do, then they open up a torrent of God-given grace in their lives.
Father Heilman is leading his parish through the Church Militant program this Lent, a time when Catholics are in a 40-day "boot camp" of extra prayers, fasting and almsgiving.
Parishioner Hussein Zoroufy went through the book with his wife and five children, age 7 to 19. "It was very powerful for them, understanding that we’re all part of a greater Church, the communion of saints. We’re not just called to be alone out there, but a spiritually unifying force," he says. "Structure was the main thing that it added to my prayer life — and the idea of, literally, centuries-old, time-tested techniques. It gave me a lot of confidence that I was embarking on something authentic that has been proven already."
Tim Virnig, the national director of the Knights of Divine Mercy, says there has been a real hunger among men for masculine spirituality, such as that of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier who had a conversion and then used his training to conquer the world for Catholicism, including starting the Jesuits: "When you call out men to be spiritual leaders of their families and their communities, they will answer that call; they’re willing to stand up. That’s how God created us to be: strong leaders. Making Mass a priority or a half hour of mental prayer and devotional reading, leading the family in the Rosary — there are lots of things men can do if they understand that it’s important for keeping their own spiritual lives solid and their families’ too."
"It’s been life changing for me. I think it’s a tool that will re-inspire anybody to go the extra step to strengthen his or her faith," says Virnig. "In the Year of Faith, what better time to do that? And because of what’s happening in our country, we have to be ready as Catholics. If we’re not trained and ready, both in our devotional life and the sacraments, we’ll get trampled (by cultural forces)."
Adds Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison: "Here in our diocese and throughout the country, we are seeing a return to popular piety and both private and public devotions among young and old, in families, in parishes, small groups and on college campuses. Father Heilman’s great endeavors couldn’t be timed much better. Our culture, our country and our world need these types of good spiritual campaigns."
Barb Ernster writes from