Below is a speech I gave to some fathers and sons at a campout in Texas.
We are all men here. Boys are men in training. So yes, even you boys are men, in training. You don’t have much authority yet; you have some responsibility and perhaps some authority. But you are on the way. There is no sooner time to start training than now. Why?
Because the world needs you. Because the Church needs you.
There are some who say that men are not needed these days. Tough guys are not needed. Those who stand up for the truth are not needed. Those who defend the defenseless are not needed. Why would someone say that? Perhaps they think all is well in the world; everything is ok; nothing is harmful; no bad guys need to be put in place and shown a lesson.
You see this in some early children’s books. The sharks don’t actually eat little fish; they talk “nicely” to them. Wolves don’t actually eat lambs; they take care of them. These pictures and fuzzy feelings are nice, perhaps, for very little children. But once we wake up to reality, we know they are false. And those who keep telling these tales to older people are lying, pulling the wool over our eyes.
So let’s get back to our topic: Why does the world need you? Because it needs good men, who love the Lord God, the Father of Jesus, above all creatures and especially above self. It needs men who love the Lord with all their hearts and at all times, 24/7. It needs strong men who can make a change in the world on the basis of that love. Strength is needed because there are very strong, very numerous, and very smart enemies out there.
What kind of enemies? Four kinds. Some enemies are enemies of the country, our beloved homeland. Some enemies are enemies of the Church, our true Mother on earth, whom we esteem and obey, even before country. As St. Thomas More said, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.” So, that’s two basic kinds of enemy. But each home, our homeland and our Mother the Church, has two kinds of enemies, those who are on the outside and those who are on the inside.
It’s easy to understand enemies outside. These are armies, for example, that would love to bomb America, or they are atheists and pagans who would love to see the Catholic Church destroyed. Popes have been warning us for over three centuries about various groups that want to destroy the Catholic Church. They hold secret meetings and think out how they can accomplish this. Outside enemies are easy to understand.
Harder to understand is that there are inside enemies also. An inside enemy is one who pretends to be a loyal citizen of the homeland but really is plotting treachery against all that is dear, against the homeland. These enemies have to be secret for a long time, working to change people’s minds about the homeland. There comes a time when they no longer have to be so secret. When is that? It is when no one really understands what the homeland is about. In the 1950’s, there were enemies of our homeland that had to be secret. They supported the communists. In case you don’t know, communists want to destroy all private property. For instance, they want to take your Dad’s own home and car so they no longer belong to him. Say you have a nerf gun you bought with money you made by raking leaves. The communists would say that you can’t own that gun. No one can own it. In the end, what this means is that a few people who control everything own it, and they give it to whomever they please. It would be like your Dad just taking your gun from you and never giving it back, not because you did anything wrong, not because you misused it, not because you were being annoying, not because you didn’t do your chores, but just because nothing can be yours – even after hard work.
In the 1950’s Russia – which then was called the Soviet Union – was run by communists. No private property. Yet, they expected people to do work anyway.
Well think: Would you do your chores if you could never get anything by doing them? Nothing whatsoever? Not even movie night? Not even a smile or a thank you from your Mom? I’m only giving an example here. Chores are, in fact our duty. None of us Dads gets paid for playing ball with you, for feeding you when you are little, for raking the leaves. Some things, indeed, we have to do without reward. On the other hand, rewards are helpful. If your Dad didn’t get paid, you would not eat. But he loves you and wants to feed you. Think: Would he work very hard at his job if he didn’t get paid? Not likely. Well, back in the 1950’s there were secret communists in our government. They were plotting against the very things our homeland values. They were using their office to overthrow the homeland.
Similar things can happen even in the Church. There can be Catholics who don’t really believe the whole faith. Maybe they believe part of it. Rather than confessing their sins to a priest and working to believe the whole faith, they try to change the Church to suit their own ideas. They think, for instance, that it is too crazy to say that God became man. No way. Not possible. Why would Almighty God want to become so lowly as us, who can die, who get thirsty and hungry, tired and sick, who sometimes stink and sweat – especially at camp! Rather than trusting Jesus and what he said and the Church he set up to spread over the whole world – the Catholic Church – they decide to make Jesus into their own image and likeness. If he said hard things, about loving your neighbor, they want to change them, water them down. If he said that the road is wide and easy that leads to everlasting hell, they want to change what he said and say salvation is pretty easy and just about everybody gets saved. If he said that he alone is the way to salvation, they say, “No, he is just one way; there are plenty of other ways.” If he said that we – his disciples – should spread the good news about him everywhere and patiently / lovingly hope and work so that others may accept him fully and become Catholic, they say that we should not do that but just let Muslims be Muslims and pagans be pagans and not ever speak to them, respectfully, about Jesus. Open heretics just leave the Church and set up their own. But the secret heretics don’t leave; they try to change the Church from within.
Now, Jesus did promise us that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. But let’s think about this for one moment. He said the gates of hell would not prevail. He did not say they would not attack. And note, the “gates” signify the kingdom. What Jesus is saying in his clever way is that the kingdom of hell will march very close to the Church and try to enter her very borders in order to overthrow her. In short, he did not promise a rosy picture. All the saints knew this. He promised that the Church would endure. He also foretold that many would become traitors. He keeps his promise, but he allows what he foresees.
So, what should we do? Give up? Run away? Boys, if we run away because things get difficult, we’ll never be men. We’ll never be happy. In fact, men were meant to fight and do battle, to get strong so as to protect the weak. There is real honor in this, and also real happiness. That’s probably why you all own nerf guns and nerf swords. Because you want to do battle.
Well, let me close on a story about a great saint who did battle. His name was Athanasius. He lived in the 300’s. When he was still fairly young, he wrote a book defending our faith, defending the divinity of Jesus, true God and true man. About two years after he wrote that book, another man, a member of the Church but an enemy, an inside enemy, began to write about Jesus as well. He also wrote cool songs that people liked to sing. And in these songs and books, he said things like, “Jesus is not God” and “There was a time when there was no Son of God”. The songs were so cool that many people began singing them, all over the place. Soon, priests and bishops were also singing them. In other words, Christians were losing the faith. Catholics, lay men, priests, and even bishops, were singing things that are blasphemous, that break the second commandment. This was heresy. The man was a heretic. His name was Arius. Many of these people were powerful. There were also soldiers and military people who were on the side of this heretic.
What did Athanasius do? He helped the good bishops when they called a general meeting to straighten things out. Such a meeting is an Ecumenical Council. Many bishops gathered. They clearly taught that Arius’s idea was a heresy. They totally rejected it. They said that Jesus the Son of God is “consubstantial with the Father” which means he is true God just as the Father is true God. If you pay attention at Mass, you’ll hear the words “Consubstantial with the Father”. That’s where they come from.
Well, you’d think that after a council such as this, Arius and his followers would either leave the faith all together or else change their ways. Instead, they kept on preaching their heresy. They won over more bishops and priests and lay people. In other words, things got worse because they totally ignored the dogma that was just taught.
Thankfully, Athanasius became bishop in Egypt in a city called Alexandria. As bishop, Athanasius defended the true faith and the dogma of the council. But many people didn’t like him. They wanted him to “get along and go along” with all these cool songs and cool heretics. He stayed firm. So the people got political leaders to kick him out of the city. This happened twice. Twice he came back to the city and was restored as bishop. He was getting old. But he did not get soft. He did not cave in. He did not surrender. He loved Jesus too much. He would rather die than ever betray the One who gave him life, whose flesh he received at the Altar of Holy Mass.
His fidelity helped save the Church. How? He fought so fiercely and with such love, that many bishops began to see how awful a heresy was Arius’s idea. Meanwhile, Arius had begun to gain the emperor’s favor. When questioned by the emperor as to his beliefs, Arius swore that he accepted the Church’s faith. The emperor and his cohort then wanted Arius to be able to receive communion the next day. The local bishop, Alexander, insisted that more testing was needed. Alexander thought that Arius was lying as to his real beliefs so he could secretly foster his heresy in the Church. Well, it looked as though the emperor would pressure Alexander to give the Eucharist to Arius. What did the good bishop do? He prayed to God that God take the life of Arius, so that Arius not receive unworthily and a sacrilege not be committed. And what happened that very night? Arius got deadly sick and died.
Now I come to the saddest part of the story. If you think poor Athanasius had suffered enough, not so. Later on, the very pope himself was pressured by the emperor to do things to please the Arians. For the Arian heresy was still alive and kicking thirty years later. Well, the pope did things to please the emperor. Among the worst things he did was to depose Athanasius as bishop. Of course, the pope had the power to do this. But we can also ask whether it was the right thing to do. Rather than go soft on the Arians, Athanasius stood firm and thus lost his bishopric. He did so because he loved Jesus and his Church, even more than he loved to please men. Well, after his death, the popes recognized that Athanasius was a good and holy bishop. He is now honored as a saint and Doctor of the Church. He defended the true good of the Church in a time of great crisis. He lost everything for this. In fact, he was ultimately deposed four times. He did not lose his love for his brothers, even a love for Arius. He kept it and maintained at the same time a steadfast zeal for God and a great love for his Church and for her dogmatic teachings.
Each of us will have his own difficulties. We will each have some battle to fight, in fact many battles to fight. We must do so with great love and gentleness, but also with firmness and steadfastness. We must not cave in, go with the “cool things” just to be cool. We must honor God above all, be loyal to his Church and her dogmas even in the face of Catholics who reject them, love our homeland, our families, and every neighbor God puts next to us. We will do it. You will do it. With God’s help, we’ll do it.