One of the most intense film scenes I've ever watched occurs at the beginning of "Saving Private Ryan," as the landing craft hatch is lowered and total mayhem follows. The chaos and carnage are horrific both in their intensity and in their duration. This was no quick gun fight. It was an exhausting and grueling battle. It's been quite a while since I've seen the movie, but I remember later in the movie, you are taken back to the beachhead. It has been transformed into an orderly camp. The beachhead had been taken and secured. Later waves of troops would arrive on that beach with a much quieter welcome. They too would fight battles, but much farther up the road. They would be an advancing force upon a retreating enemy.
I sometimes joke with recently ordained priests that when I was in seminary and when I was recently ordained, I was in the first wave. Pope John Paul II had called for the New Evangelization: a new and fuller proclamation of the Gospel, a more intensified devotion to the Eucharist, a greater seriousness about the Sacraments and the offering of the Mass, a more robust defense of the Church's teachings on moral issues, and a fearless confidence that this New Evangelization would bring about a new springtime in the life of the Church. Then, the landing craft door opened!
The beachfront was most definitely heavily defended and time had been on the side of those positioned against any such New Evangelization. Each step forward brought with it costly sacrifices. Certain things would draw particularly heavy fire: Promoting Confession, Adoration, Benediction, a Liturgy without gimmicks, vocations to the priesthood, the Church's teachings on marriage, contraception, and abortion. Reading and promoting documents of the Magisterium was a sure and certain way to draw enemy fire. As hard as it is to believe now, there were many who were either squeamish or outright opposed to such staples of the Catholic life. Good intentioned but incorrect, were those who thought that the best way to attract people to the Church was to act, speak, and look less like the Church.
We heard the Pope yell "Charge!" and enthusiastically stormed the beach. Admittedly, we were young, fresh out of boot camp, and not seasoned by previous battle when we leaped into the fray. Perhaps, we could have used our ammunition more prudently, avoided certain skirmishes, and still accomplished the same results. But, the beach was nonetheless secured. And, although there are always more battles to fight, it is so clear that a base has been established, the boots are on the ground, and the New Evangelization is advancing.
I see this as I look back over my shoulder and see seminarians arriving who grew up with the experience of daily adoration, frequent confession, and authentic Catholic teaching. As I look down on the beach, I see solid Catholic Colleges that have sprung up and are forming young Catholics who want to serve the Church in religious education and youth ministry. I see it in new priests who arrive at parishes and simply want to offer the Mass as it has been handed down to them. I see it in the lives of so many Catholic families whose faith has been reawakened by hearing the full Gospel. I see it as faithful lay people who have been formed according to the mind of the Church are assuming positions of authority in parishes and in dioceses. I see it in seminaries where loyalty to the Pope and to the Magisterium are considered positive qualities.
Such was not always the case! But, Blessed John Paul II did not mislead us. He led those who would follow into a joyful and determined battle. It was not fought with denunciations, political maneuvering, or viciousness. No, it was fought by offering opportunities to adore the Eucharist, confess sins, learn what the Church teaches and why, preaching and teaching the full Gospel, and offering the Mass with seriousness. These weapons were a sure defense. If battles were fought based upon personalities, opinions, ideologies, or prideful careerism, there would be no success. Instead, the Pope led the Church to depend solely upon those things that she has been given by Christ.
Those who have subsequently landed on the beach are in an admirable position. They are not only entrusted with the New Evanagelization, but they have been formed by it. They have studied it, assimilated it, and have learned the effective tools for implementing it. In many ways, those of us who were privates jumping into the fray had more enthusiasm than we did strategy!
There is no doubt that there are still great battles that loom ahead. Radical Secularism seems to be the next enemy on the map. The good news is that we are not fighting these battles while attempting to land on the beach. A foothold has been established in parishes, chanceries, and seminaries. There are certainly some who are trying to weaken that foothold and undermine the rest of us, but I think the foothold will stand firm. I'd be happier if our infrastructure and supply lines were a bit more secure and weathered, but at least we're more ready for the battle than we were 20 years ago. And, those of us who are still young enough to fight the good fight can encourage those who are just joining in the battle. We can testify that the New Evangelization--even if sometimes heavily opposed--is effective. The joyful and faithful preaching of the Gospel, the building up of the communion of the Church, and the joyful, generous, and obedient providing of the Sacraments is an unstoppable combination. What do we do next? St. Paul tells us:
"Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:10-17).