“I come not to bring peace, but the sword.” Could these really be the words of the Jesus we Generation X-ers grew up with?
What happened to the Jesus we learned about in our second-grade catechism, the one dominated by pictures of butterflies? Where was the Jesus we talked about in our tender “sharing sessions”?
For whatever reason, we were introduced to two distinctly different Jesuses. But my generation was also lucky enough to be the first wave of the John Paul II generation. Without advocating a warped, jingoistic faith, the Holy Father and many other Church leaders have actively explored and communicated what it means to be part of the Church militant.
Our call to the militant life started long before the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Every saint has lived it. There's no other way to get to heaven.
In the past few weeks we've heard a great deal about evil. But a lot of the discussion has been very abstract, conceptual, as if evil were something looming far of in the distance, something well outside of us. Yet the Church, in her wisdom, teaches us that the battle against evil is something very concrete. It involves each one of us. The sacrament of confirmation ratifies our individual vocation to a truly militant life. It is called the robur ad pugnam. The strength for the battle.
In fact, there was a time when the newly confirmed received the bishop's blessing only with a reminder of the battle they were taking up: a slap on the cheek. Sure, baptism makes us children of God. But we still have to fight the good fight. St. Paul explains: “[W]e are ... heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
Look at the saints. They suffered in vastly different ways; they fought diverse battles. But they all won. The path St. Thérèse of Lisieux followed was vastly different from St. Ignatius’. Both were soldiers for the Church militant. They fulfilled the required provision to become true heirs to the kingdom.
What motivated them and every other saint? What motivates terminally ill patients who offer up their every suffering? What motivates the brave soldier like Joan of Arc? What motivates the loving parents who remember that every diaper changed, every bag of groceries purchased, every sleep-deprived night can bring them one step closer to victory? What motivated the rescue workers who ran into a disintegrating building on Sept. 11? What motivates all those people who keep going, even when it seems that there's too much to do? What motivates people who simply remember to smile at strangers on the street for no real reason at all but kindness?
Our ammunition, and our nourishment, is love. Love makes the lover do crazy things. The child, the friend and the lover are all confident in their expressions and endeavors because they love. Once we've been baptized, confirmation further binds us to the Church by giving us “a special strength of the Holy Spirit.” This makes us “true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed.”
The bishop tells the candidate for confirmation: “Accipe signaculum doni Spiritus Sancti.” Take and accept the sign of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Take and accept the gifts which will make us each confident to face God like a child, a friend, a lover.
Take the gifts which will make us love more because when we love more, we end up wanting to do two things. We want to improve ourselves, do our best, look our best. We also gain the courage to be willing to reveal ourselves more completely. No more hiding in the garden — if we're willing to accept the gifts, if we're willing to love.
Despite the horrors of Sept. 11, we witnessed many brave soldiers of the Church militant, not least of whom was Franciscan Father Mychael Judge, who was carried away from the wreckage of the World Trade Center, where he had been administering the last rites. Perhaps what he did seems crazy.
If we don't look outside ourselves, at the big picture, then, yes, it's crazy and even stupid to do such things. But we are called to live the tradition of the “folly of the cross.” We're not supposed to feel too comfortable on earth. Hence, Jesus says he “came not to bring peace, but the sword.”
America's response to Sept. 11 has been singular. Sure there are a few stories of blind hate or stupidity. But, overall, Americans have opened their arms to victims at home and abroad. The Church militant will never put down her weapons in this life. As one battle is won, we are prepared to wage the next. The American response is a sign that we are getting somewhere, that we're winning. We're taking up the sword in our personal lives. We're accepting the gift of love itself.
Regardless of how Sept. 11 plays out in military reprisals, stock markets and economies, we Gen-X Catholics — the future advance guard of the Church militant — know that we truly are in the springtime of the Church. And getting stronger.
Pia de Solenni, a moral theologian living in Washington, D.C., welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.