If you had told me a year ago that police with automatic weapons would be stationed at the intersections of our small town Fourth of July parade, I would never have believed you.
If you had told me that the “Dancing Grannies” troupe would march this year behind a “Remembering Our Fallen” banner, and that the fallen would refer to the grannies themselves, I would have questioned your sanity.
And if you had told me, even on the morning of July the Fourth, that a rooftop shooter would target an Illinois parade, I would have been stopped in my tracks.
And yet, all of this is true. And the fallen are regular, simple, civilians. Young and old. Killed while exercising the very freedoms we hold dear, celebrating life and the nation we love.
My younger sister recounts an incident from her college days a few years back. At the start of a new term, she noticed a young man next to her in French class who soon stopped attending. As the term progressed, he was habitually absent and only returned for the final exam. “Nice of you to show up,” my sister quipped. “Where have you been?”
“Saving your skin in Afghanistan.”
This young man had been on the front lines. He had been called up to active duty from his civilian life, and he had answered the call.
And yet, now, it seems we are all on call. At any time, in any place, for any reason, we are liable to take the incoming fire of those people who hate life, hate all we hold dear, and who want to hurt others.
It can happen in a fourth-grade classroom in Uvalde, Texas. It can happen at a Pentecost Sunday Mass in southwest Nigeria. It can happen on a crisp winter day at a Christmas parade, or on a sunny July the Fourth, in small town USA.
We are the front lines.
And why are we the front lines? How did we get to the front lines, and what battle are we fighting?
We are at the front lines of the battle between good and evil. Pure and simple. The good takes different forms: people pursuing life, liberty, and faith in their everyday actions. But the evil always takes the same form: a desire to destroy innocent, defenseless life.
On a recent trip to visit family, I found myself frequently travelling alone on public transportation. As a female, out of my usual surroundings, I always looked for the safest place to sit. Where might I be safe on this subway, in this train, on this bus? Is there anywhere safe anymore?
Over and again, I found myself seeking out the nearest mother with a child in a stroller in order to seat myself near them. Did that mother have a special forcefield around her? Why did I gravitate to the mother with the child as the safest haven? Because I realized that this mother had made a conscious decision to stand on the front lines.
In the decision it takes to choose life, to have a family, to venture out with a little one against the culture war, this mom was daily fighting her battle bravely. Against the tech, and the transgender, and the culture of death, our moms are on the front lines. Our dads are on the front lines. Our children are on the front lines.
We have to know we are in a battle, and that it is real. Have you ever seen the look of defeat and abandonment which flickers across a child’s face when you pull out your phone or device? Watch for it. They know how easy it is to lose you into the distracted blue-light world. They are battle-tested, street-wise little souls.
So, in this cultural, moral, and physical battle, this battle for the soul of humanity in which we are now engaged, can we turn to anyone in Scripture, or in the Lives of the Saints, for guidance?
Yes. Matthew tells us in his Gospel: “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’” (Matthew 2:13)
King Herod, in his many modern forms, is seeking the Christ-child yet today. And Mary and Joseph were told to flee into Egypt. Into a pagan land! How out of place Mary and Joseph must have felt as they walked past the temples of the gods in that dominating, demonic culture.
St. Anne Catherine Emmerich tells us in her memoirs that as the Holy Family walked past the temples on their entrance into Egypt, the pagan idols crashed to the ground. The presence of Christ has the final say, and His power crushes the darkness.
To the families of those slain in so many senseless acts of violence all around us, on so many recent occasions, what can we say? Words cannot begin to heal the loss, the wounds, the anguish. We can, and must, pray for the victims and their families, and entrust these holy souls to Our Lord’s loving embrace.
He knows the Holy Innocents who died for Him when He was a child on this earth. He knows the new Holy Innocents, dying again today at the hands of Herod in his many life-hating forms. Their mute witness cries out to Heaven.
On the new front lines, we must stand firmly with Christ, walking with the Holy Family, carrying Him with us. It may seem we are small, and outnumbered. We may be in danger every moment. But in the Lord is ultimate protection. His is the battle; His the justice; and His the ultimate crown of victory in Heaven.
*Image: The Guardian Angel Protecting a Child from the Empire of the Demon by Domenico Feti, c. 1615 [Louvre, Paris]
You may also enjoy:
David Warren’s Sacralizing Violence
Robert Reilly’s Causes of Rain and Sources of Violence in Nigeria