The Catholic Thing
Who Dares, Wins Print E-mail
By Joseph Wood   
Saturday, 28 April 2012

Before John Wayne put the Green Berets into the American psyche and before the Navy SEALs captivated America with their exploits, Great Britain had its own elite special operations force, the Special Air Service, or SAS. Dating back to 1941, the SAS motto is simply, “Who Dares, Wins.”

That’s true. We sometimes think of daring as a human virtue (or a somehow admirable vice, as in “daredevil”), opposed in some way to the more supernatural virtue of prudence, now usually thought of as caution. 

But daring rightly understood is really courage in action, steered by prudence, as the latter guides all the virtues. And anyone who believes that the daring of our special operations forces is not guided by a stringent prudence has never witnessed the careful training and meticulous preparation that go into any mission.

As Catholics, we need to think about daring in every age and place. There are intimations and examples of daring throughout the Bible: Abraham strikes out on his adventure, Jacob challenged the Lord to a wrestling match, the Apostles defied authority to speak the truth.  

Not all dares work out well, of course: Adam and Eve found that out when they ate the forbidden fruit. There is a vital and all-important distinction between dares informed by love of God and prudence, which entail self-giving, and those inspired by pride and selfishness of one form or another.

But the saints have talked about daring throughout Church history; their lives inevitably show daring of some sort. The Church looks for evidence of heroic virtue when considering a candidate for beatification. Heroism and daring go hand in hand.

In his Universal Prayer, Pope Clement XI petitions, “Make me prudent in planning, courageous in taking risks.” Blessed John Henry Newman tells us, “Therein lies the nobility of the faith, that we have the heart to dare something.”

Daring takes many forms, not all involving physical courage. I was struck by this truth while reading The Catholic Thing this week. Hadley Arkes celebrated his second anniversary in the Church with a column about his retreat with a group of young priests.

Hadley’s decision to enter the Church was, of course, a daring act. But I think here less of his Jewish roots, in many ways a “natural” and essential basis for Catholic belief, than of the reaction I imagine among his fellow Amherst faculty members. 

And the young priests whom Hadley describes, those who will ensure “that the Church, in this coming generation, will be vibrant and manly and joyous,” are off on a real dare, to defy the conventions of the moment and devote their lives to serving others. 

Entering the Church, or re-entering after time away (see Francis Beckwith’s column yesterday), can be a real moment of daring, especially if that means changing a deep seated habit of thought, or that family or friends will object. So can taking a step towards reconciling with an estranged friend or relative. 

Marriage and having children, indeed all acts of self-giving, are daring and daunting – we put ourselves on the line, unsure of what the consequences will be. In our materially abundant age, the story of the rich young man, who turned away from the dare rather than give up his possessions, takes on greater urgency. 

The disciples, who had given up family and worldly occupations when called by Christ, sometimes wondered what they would get in return – whether the dare was worth it. 

And sometimes prayer is a daring act. At Mass in the Communion Rite, the priest introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say. . .” For those who have never prayed or are in a desert of spiritual dryness, just looking up without despair can demand daring.

In all times and places, the Church is dared to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. But different ages have their own special forms of daring that the faithful are called upon to undertake.

The current, and likely future, moment in America will require Catholics to dare to speak the truths of the Magisterium. In some cases, this will involve reminding the nation of the (mostly non-Catholic) Founders’ reliance on natural law and belief in God as essential to ordered liberty without license. It will demand discussions of the duties that precede legitimate rights.

In other cases, it will require the steady assertion of the truths of the culture of life: on abortion, unbridled medical research, transhumanism, the broad dangers of the bureaucratic-administrative modern state, and other threats to the human person and the opportunity to choose a genuinely good life.

The daring will come in facing what will likely be an increasingly shrill and intimidating reaction, couched as “tolerance.” The reaction may eventually exceed mere verbal reprimands or legal threats (though for now there are plenty of people, Catholic or not, ready to help).

While this is new in the American context, the Church has been here before. In many places around the world today, speaking the truth in word or deed requires real courage and risk-taking. 

Blessed Pope John Paul II, who dared to oppose perhaps the most comprehensive and fearsome totalitarian machine in history, famously explained how to proceed: “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is well, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” A consistent theme of his pontificate was, “Be not afraid.”

Who dares, wins.

Joseph R. Wood is a former White House official who worked on foreign policy, including Vatican affairs.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Jacob R, April 28, 2012
The smaller the Church gets the stronger it gets.
That makes it so hard to have faith for me personally but I think that the Church has been up against much greater odds than this and come out of it alright!
I always struggle with faith, even despite all the historical proof of the Church's resilience.
written by Scotty Ellis, April 28, 2012
A call to remember the "militant" part of the Church militant.

I do think that secularism presents a profoundly different sort of challenge to Christianity than have the majority of past adversaries, most of which were constituted of different conceptions of God and His will. Secularism challenges the viability of religion as such as a political structure.

To some extent, I think this has been a useful corrective to the politicization of the Church that operated from about the fourth century even through the late nineteenth (though in greatly weakened form); the Church seemed to forget that Christ's kingdom was "not of this world." Secularization challenges the notion that religious truths should be enforced with the coercive power of the state, the natural result of which is that the Church will experience a loss of power and privilege as it loses political backing (a phenomenon now in play).

The proper response to this call to action is in reaffirming the Church's relevance - and, honestly, I don't think a natural law approach will be helpful in this matter. There needs to be a new synthesis, like the aging synthesis which St. Thomas Aquinas developed but more relevant to the current climate.
written by will manley, April 28, 2012
Mr. Wood, well done! You are correct. It takes courage to proclaim the truth to a godless world, but in these pre-apocalytic days we have no other choice. It is our duty as Catholics.
written by Al Kerns, April 28, 2012
And the SAS murdered innocents suspected of being connected to the IRA withont apology or remorse.
written by Darren O., April 28, 2012
"Who dares, wins." is a motto founded upon audacity uttered by those given over to a lust for power, who's hearts are harden with a disregard for consequences because their souls are seduced by the glamour of evil. The relationship with the with Our Lord is lost. One may safely say that the author's of the motto in question had very little regard for the economy of salvation when they penned it.

Therefore: "Who loves, dares."
written by Marius, April 28, 2012
The unofficial version of the SAS motto was "Who cares who wins" - this seems to be the prevailing attitude of many a "Catholic in the pew" today. They don't even know who the real enemy is. Has anyone ever run a Catholic retreat on the "Pogo" comic strip theme ""We have met the enemy and he is us"? If not, someone definitely should.
written by JARay, April 29, 2012
Al Kerns might like to know...or even explain...why the police in Northern Ireland, today 29th April 2012, have just defused a 300kg bomb which the IRA just happened to leave behind in Newry.
When dealing with terrorists they don't usually wear uniforms or stand out in the street saying to all, "I'm IRA and I'm going to blow you up". I don't recall Osama bin Laden wearing a uniform either. How many innocent people were "kneecapped" by the IRA to enforce their silence? Sometimes they were kneecapped in the head to ensure their silence.
As they say in war, "Collateral damage happens, unfortunately". Is collateral damage murder, or just a very unfortunate circumstance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
written by Scott W., April 29, 2012
Please tell me there is someone here willing to interact with the content of Wood's entry rather than this rabbit trail about how naughty the SAS is. For instance, when he says "And sometimes prayer is a daring act. At Mass in the Communion Rite, the priest introduces the Lord’s Prayer with the words, “At the Savior’s command and formed by divine teaching, we dare to say. . " Is there someone here who has a problem with that? Anything else?
written by Judy Joyce - Editor, April 30, 2012
I once listened to a wise priest who spoke of the Noonday Devil. He advised that those who identify something as evil (in this case secularism run amuck) have already won the battle. They will call upon the grace of God, God will respond, and good will win out. It is the Noonday Devil that is to be feared. The Noonday Devil stands bold face in front of us and we accept and perhaps embrace what the culture has soothed us into overlooking as it seduces us into accepting sin. We who "dare" to speak out against the threat to our faith and to our Church are among those who remain silent or turn away from all those places in our everyday lives where we can have an immediate effect if we dare to do so.

I am speaking here of those who wince at and reprimand their daughters for tawdry attire or profane word while ignoring the immodesty of our sons and accepting the "boys will be boys" mentality. Is it any wonder our Secret Service conducts itself in a way that could bring true tragedy upon our nation? Do not think so far into the culture that the Noonday Devil walks among us with approval. Work first in the fields we can dare to effect..the family and the home.
written by Gian, April 30, 2012
Scotty Ellis,"
religious truths should be enforced with the coercive power of the state"

You would, perhaps, agree that the state should enforce Natural Law truths.
Now the existence of a God is itself a Natural Law truth and thus State is justified in imposing disabilities on atheists or practices such as voodoo or witchcraft.

Now the City is not an arbitrary group of man. It has an individuality and history of its own. A City has right to
fight for its existence and personality against foreign incursions such as those brought by foreign and alien religions.
Thus State would be justified in restricting religious practices that are simply too alien.
written by A Pilgrim, May 01, 2012
The founder of the Special Air Service Regiment was a Scots Catholic, David Stirling

David Sterling

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