Have Confidence!

In the film For Greater Glory, there is a dialogue between Mexico’s Freemasonic head of state, Plutarco Calles and the American Ambassador, Dwight Morrow. Morrow is diplomatically attempting to convince Calles of the wisdom of ending the persecution of the Church in Mexico, expressing the idea that the Cristeros, who are causing Calles such problems, must be extremists who cannot possibly represent the Catholic majority in Mexico.

Calles’ response is significant:

In my experience as a revolutionary, a small group of determined men can bring down a government, and that is why every Catholic aggression must be responded to immediately, forcefully, and without hesitation.

How true to history that dialogue is I cannot say, but it does contain a very important truth, namely, that revolutions are carried out, not by large uprisings of “the people,” but by “a small group of determined men,” usually wealthy oligarchs whose hatred for Christian order is an ideology. It is almost never the “common man” who makes the revolution happen. (On the other hand, uprisings to restore Christian order — e.g., those of the Vendeans, the Cristeros, the Chouans — are often truly movements “of the people.”)

Catholicism in America is something of a sleeping giant. If America is to be saved, we cannot count on numbers, even if ours are formidable. Given the widespread infidelity to Catholic dogma and praxis, decades of shabby catechesis, pandemic liturgical anthropocentrism, etc., most Catholics would not seem up to the task. We need small groups of determined men and women who will work and pray for a Catholic America.

And in spite of our smallness, and in spite of the opposition we will have from the large numbers of our fellow Catholics, clerical and lay, these small groups must have confidence. Discouragement, despair, and defeatism are contraceptive of the good that needs to be accomplished.

Below are some thoughts on the confidence we must have in order to proceed rightly.

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For Saint Thomas Aquinas, confidence is a moral virtue by which we aspire to things worthy of great honor. He says that it is the same as “magnanimity” (a virtue that I wrote about in “To Honour and Be Honoured.”) Notably, he says that “by confidence which here is accounted a part of fortitude, man hopes in himself, yet under God withal.” This might strike us as “proud,” but let us not be taken away by a false humility; it is excessive self-confidence that opposes humility. If someone is an excellent mathematician and knows it, he should be confident in his knowledge and aptitude at math. Even here, we have confidence in the ability that God gave us, so such confidence is not pride. Saint Thomas distinguishes this moral virtue of confidence from the theological virtue of hope, which is a confidence that God will grant us the helps to eternal salvation here in this life, and finally beatitude itself in the next.

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The basis of our confidence must be entirely supernatural. Its motive force must be God’s goodness, His mercy, and the divine promises. The object of our personal confidence must above all be the fulfillment of the duties of our own state in life and our actual achievement of holiness in this life and salvation in the next. Its object for the Church, and the different institutions within the Church, must be the fulfillment of the Church’s mission on earth: to render glory to God and to save souls. If our confidence, personal and corporate, is not ordered to these ends, then it is disordered.

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Here are just a few of Our Lord’s words — including some specific promises — that will help stir up our Christian confidence:

“In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” —John 16:33

“Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a kingdom.” —Luke 12:32

“If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” —John 14:23

“And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” —Matthew 28:18-20

And let us not forget the sublime promises implicit in the Beatitudes.

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Our confidence must be properly directed. “Put not your trust in princes” (Ps. 145:2), says the Holy Ghost. This applies as well to elected officials, appointed Supreme Court Justices, and all others in authority. Aside from the obvious lesson that we must put our trust first in God, one way to read this passage is that such officials, even if they are good, do not absolve members of the societies they govern from the obligation of being good. We are mistaken, for instance, if we assume that enough pro-life justices on the Supreme Court would actually end abortion in the land. The overturning of Roe v. Wade, as much as we ardently desire it, would not overturn state laws for abortion. Moreover, even if abortion were appropriately criminalized in all fifty states in the present circumstances (an unlikely occurrence), abortion will most certainly continue. The pro-aborts have a point when they say that criminalizing abortion would bring those who want to kill their babies into the “back alleys” for an illegal abortion. Of course it will, for when people engage in illicit sex and have failed to commit effective onanism to prevent it, infanticide is for them the contraception of last recourse. In other words, evil people will do evil, and those who govern men cannot stop them entirely. Conversion of hearts and minds is necessary. And that is the mission of the Church.

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We must be confident regardless of our external circumstances. “If only” statements about the great things we will achieve for the Catholic cause must be abandoned. If only the Holy Father did such-and-such. If only we didn’t have opposition from Cardinal or Bishop so-and-so. If only this-or-that political reality did not prevail. These lamentations, tempting as they are, are poor excuses for our own spiritual sloth, human respect, fearfulness, and laziness.

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We must begin by “seek[ing] the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1), as the Apostle enjoins us to do. This was Saint Benedict’s purpose. Christian culture and Christian order in European society arose in the atmosphere cultivated by Saint Benedict and his disciples. Why? Because these men were “seeking God,” as Saint Benedict directs the monk to do in his Rule. And when enough men and women were truly seeking God, they made life on this earth better, better because more directed to life in Heaven. The Church has a social teaching, and it is good that she does. But that social teaching has a purpose that is part of her larger mission of glorifying the Blessed Trinity and saving souls. The social teaching is to make life on this earth more properly directed to achieving that twofold ultimate purpose.

Saint Benedict did not set out to build Christendom after the ravages of the decline and fall of the Western Empire. He set out to give glory to God and to show others how to seek God and serve Him, giving the Almighty His due by way of divine praise and a life totally consecrated to Him. Let us recall the Benedictine motto, from Chapter 57 of the Rule: Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus (that God may be glorified in all things). Christendom and its sublime culture were glorious byproducts of this essentially supernatural monastic endeavor.

Like Saint Benedict, our confidence should be in this quest of seeking and serving God. All other things will be given to us — and that is a divine promise: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:31).

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Those of us who wish to build a Catholic America must be wary of being mere enthusiasts for the external vestiges of other times and places. While studying and truly loving the historical and cultural monuments of Christendom, we must acknowledge that it is silly to confine ourselves to being wide-eyed romantics singing the panegyrics of bygone eras. The great builders and restorers of Christendom did not do that. They worked for the Kingdom of God in their own day, and did so by first rendering to God His due, for God’s rights come first. Had Saint Benedict merely pined away for the good old days (which ones?), he would not have been Saint Benedict, but some obscure dreamer we never heard of. True, Benedict and the other greats were cognizant of receiving and passing on a tradition which they loved and lived. What I am inveighing against is not tradition (far be it from me!) or studying and loving the glories of Christendom, but a sort of obsessive antiquarianism that would reduce the would be apostle to a spiritual Walter Mitty.

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Those dedicated to the Catholic cause must take risks. We must risk loss of reputation, the scorn of friends and family, and the hatred of this world and its power brokers. Taking such risks in the face of pandemic effeminacy and cruelty, we will have much to suffer, but suffering for the Church, with the Church and yes, sometimes, by the Church is a sacrifice that will be most pleasing to God. Let us consecrate ourselves to Mary, the Mother of the Church, and She will protect us from spiritual harm, which is, after all, the only harm that counts. She is that “throne of grace,” we can approach “with confidence” (Heb. 4:16, cf. the Introit for the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Aug. 22).

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We must have courage in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary that our dedication to a Catholic America and a new Christendom will be blessed and will bear fruit. Aside from the promises we also have a command of Our Lord to fulfill: “I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). Let us confidently pray with Saint AugustineGive what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt!