A Militant Reform
Fasting, penance, and prayer are our weapons
Pope Benedict XVI once famously remarked that the Church of the future “will become small.” Rather than exercising some prophetic gift, the Pope was simply exercising an awareness of history. Each time the Church becomes comfortable, it falls into decline and dwindles to a remnant through which it will be reborn. The pattern is this: the Church Comfortable replaces the Church Militant. Once the defenses are down, the Church Comfortable becomes the Church Compromising. The Church Compromising, offering nothing that the world doesn’t already have, loses relevance and members along with it. How long this lasts depends on how quickly the militancy returns. Only the Church Militant can lead the charge of reform.
When Modernism flooded the Church at the turn of the 20th Century, it brought with it the spirit of compromise. A saintly pope, Pius X, identified it but was unable to stamp it out completely. It re-emerged in the Second Vatican Council under the guise of the Church Pastoral. The Church Pastoral is willing to compromise any teaching so as to avoid being offensive (in both senses of the word). This helps to explain the sweeping changes in disciplines of the Church that followed on the heels of Vatican II. Militant exercises such as fasting, abstinence, forty hours devotion, and Ember Days all fell by the wayside.
Shedding light on our historical moment helps us to identify who is serious about reform and who is more interested in revolt. The reformer uses fasting and penance as weapons, the revolutionary weaponizes ambiguity. The reformer knows the true enemy is “not of flesh and blood,” while the revolutionary identifies the enemy as “conservatives” or “liberals.” The reformer knows order comes from disciplined men; the revolutionary, in true Hegelian fashion, creates disorder so that he can impose order.
The Church appears to be in the hands of the revolutionaries. There is a shortage of faithful men and women with the discipline needed to be part of reform. If we are not fasting and doing penance regularly, it is time to start. If we are not connected to the disciplines of the past, disciplines like Friday fasting and Ember Days, then it is time to re-engage. If we are not joining faithful prelates in efforts against the tactics of the revolutionaries — such as misguided synods — then now is the time to engage. If we are not charitably uncompromising in the face of lies and ambiguity, then it is time to become rigid. When the Church becomes soft, we must all tighten to become solid. All of us have an active role to play in the reform of the Church. There are no accidental remnants.
The Holy Spirit may protect the Church from total ruin, but that doesn’t mean we won’t come close. The message of Our Lady of Fatima is both dire and hopeful. Our Lady, when promising the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart, also promised a glorious age for the Church. But before we get there, the Church needs reform — a reformation that will happen only through sacrifice and penance. We must leave comfort and compromise behind and embrace the militaristic aspects of our faith.