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Faith without a Hope?

Downtown Washington D.C., capital of the greatest nation on earth – arguably, the greatest in human history – is already boarded up, expecting what the media will doubtless call “mostly peaceful” demonstrations after tomorrow’s elections. In more than thirty years living here, I’ve never seen anything like it.

All that plywood is a strong sign that, whoever wins tomorrow – or, still worse, after days, weeks, or even months of wrangling – our immediate divisions and deeper problems will not be solved by politics.

If Biden wins, maybe there won’t be rioting. Despite media propaganda, we know it’s leftist groups that encourage looting and burning. Then again, rioters won’t be much bothered by the incoming administration. They may decide to take advantage of the situation. They don’t really care about “protest” or “reform.” They want regime change.

If Trump wins, more babies will survive in the womb, religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor will not be persecuted, and fewer institutions – including federal offices – will be forced to submit to wokeness. But many places in America will burn.

One Twitter commentator has published a list of Trump-supporting organizations with Washington addresses to be attacked if he’s re-elected. Several have mapped out targets in other cities. Almost needless to say, our digital masters at Twitter (or their algorithms) did not see fit to take down these open incitements to post-election violence.

Winning a democratic, constitutional election does not mean, for the moment, that “the people” have spoken and their decisions should be respected. At least for numbers of us.

So what is to be done? Vote, of course, and take seriously the obvious differences between the candidates and their parties. What can be done by politics must be done – “pre-eminently” defending human life “from conception to natural death.” Even Pope Francis, who normally chooses to give the culture war a wide berth, used that phrase last week when abortion activists and feminists attacked churches in Poland.

Poland!

Our media have been so obsessed with the presidential race that we’ve heard little about anti-Catholic violence abroad – in Chile (two churches burned to the ground), the recent murders and beheading in France by an Islamist, the persecutions and martyrs not only in China but in Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.

We’ve also heard almost nothing about the wave of anti-Catholic vandalism in America (and not only here), targeting statues of Jesus and Mary, saints and early missionaries, trashing churches and shrines, and much more.

It’s not only COVID-19 that’s a global pandemic. Repression and violence against Catholics – as well as against normal common sense – have emerged worldwide with little of the kind of outrage we see when a black or Hispanic or Muslim individual or institution suffers violence. Anti-Catholicism is “understandable” in our dominant culture.

Jesus said, “ If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.” (Jn. 15:18) Many Christians forgot that, and assumed that if the world hates us, it must, somehow, be our fault. It’s hard to continue to overlook the truth at present.

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So what to do, besides vote?

People ask me that all the time. It’s impossible to say in detail, other than that each of us will have to step up, get far more vigilant and active in defending Catholic things, and boldly, where possible, promoting them.

This will take various forms for no little time to come. Catholics have physically turned out to protect everything from the statue of St. Louis in Missouri to churches in Argentina and Poland. They have been willing to suffer underground for the faith in China, Cuba, and the Middle East, as well as openly even in our “developed” pluralistic societies. There will doubtless be much more of this in the very near future.

For many of us, it may not come to that – yet. But we’re all going to have to make many painful decisions going forward – in our personal lives, families, neighborhoods and places of work. We’re all on the frontlines now, and the sooner we recognize and accept it, the better.

I often think now about how St. Augustine in the early 5th Century together with other brilliant and holy Christians had built up a vibrant church in North Africa – only to have it threatened in 430 AD by invading Vandals. The Vandals were Arians – they believed Jesus was a great man, but not God, as do many people, Christians among them, today. But even they did not kill off the Faith. It was the armies of Islam who finally did that.

The most blood-chilling verses in the Gospels are Christ’s own words:  “And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him. . . .I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Lk. 18:7-8)

We aren’t guaranteed much in life: not a tranquil existence, not country or civilization, not even the survival of the Faith in circumstances like those of the present. The gates of Hell may not prevail, but things can still go very wrong in many ways for a long time.

Our task, however, is not to worry about any of that. It’s to understand that evil always threatens, palpably so now, and to do what we can anyway. The rest is God’s business.

And it’s a good moment to remember, yet again, the passage in Chesterton’s “Ballad of the White Horse,” where the Blessed Mother replies to King Alfred’s question about whether he will win the next battle with an unexpected question of her own:

. . .you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

 

He did. And he won.

 

*Image: Result of arson at the Mission Church of San Gabriel in California on July 12, 2020. [Associated Press photo]

Dr. Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing, president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., and currently serves as the St. John Henry Newman Visiting Chair in Catholic Studies at Thomas More College. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.