"Been in the storm so long Children…." On the need to cultivate serenity in the midst of a culture war

There is little doubt that the that a kind of cultural war is being waged on many different fronts: abortion, euthanasia, the family, marriage, rampant divorce, cohabitation & fornication, homosexual activity, gay “marriage,” militant secularism and atheism, religious liberty, and so on.

While some may not like the image of war, the conflicts are so deep and intense, the tensions so live and the sides so clearly marked that we can little avoid the term.

In the midst of such a war however, we Christians and cultural warriors can too easily acquire an acerbic, hostile and cynical attitude, even with each other. We become too argumentative, debating every point, even when it is not necessary, and reasonable people may differ. Too easily we can insist on narrowly defining terms and priorities, and we become unnecessarily cynical if others embrace a broader (though still Catholic) set of concerns.

In some sense, many of us have “been in the storm so long children…..” that we ourselves become stormy and develop a kind of trigger finger, even among friends.

The Internet, with it is virtual (though impersonal) relationships does not help. Frankly it is just a lot easier to be nasty to people we have not personally met. Further we cannot always appreciate tones of voice, and other nuances in the written word, as well as we do in more personal interactions. Too easily we loose venom on the faceless people in the combox, with whom we might enjoy friendlier relations in a more personal setting.

In the fog of war, cultural war, we need to cultivate the serenity and joy that comes from knowing the Lord, rejoicing in the beauty of truth, and remembering that, though the battle is sometimes fierce, the final victory of the Lord and his Body, the Church, is assured, indeed, already won.

The paradox of winning this war, is discovering inner peace. Merely sharpening our apologetical weapons, (good and important thought that is), or taking our battle for liberty to the courts (necessary though that is), may win a certain debate or battle. But from a long-term, evangelical point of view, we will only win “the war” by a credible and paradoxical witness of serene peace that comes from having met the Lord. Otherwise, we too easily descend into the hostility that is unbecoming of Christians, and become more desirous of winning an argument than souls.

The words of the theologian Jacques Philippe come to mind, from his book, Searching for and Maintaining Peace

It is of the greatest importance that we strive to acquire and maintain an interior peace, the peace of our hearts. In order to understand this, we can use an image…. Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it.

The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us. On the other hand, if our soul is agitated and troubled, the grace of God is able to act only with much greater difficulty.

Philippe then goes on to articulate the need to cultivate this peace, this serenity, in prayer.

Acquiring and maintaining interior peace, which is impossible without prayer, should consequently be considered a priority for everybody….Otherwise, more often than not they would simply be communicating their own restlessness and distress. Often, we cause ourselves to become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us with His wisdom and power, which are infinitely superior to ours. For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15)….

He then clarifies that interior peace is not a mere quietism:

Interior peace has nothing to do with any type of impassivity, extinction of sensitivity, cold indifference or being wrapped up in oneself….Saint Vincent de Paul, the last person anyone would ever suspect of being lazy, used to say: “The good that God does is done by God Himself, almost without our being aware of it. It is necessary that we be more inactive than active.”….Only one who possesses this interior peace can efficaciously help his neighbor. How can I communicate this peace to others, if I myself do not have it?

Then comes the crux of the issue for us here, namely, that we should avoid fighting the wrong battle, and that inner peace is the paradoxical requirement for a true and effective Christian warrior, who battles not only a cultural war, but also his own inner war against temptation and sin:

The Christian life is a combat, a war, the scene of a constant and sometimes painful battle, which will not end until death — a struggle against evil, temptation and sin…. Saint Catherine of Siena says, “without war there is no peace”; without combat there is no victory.

But if the spiritual combat of a Christian is sometimes rough, it is by no means the hopeless struggle of somebody who battles in blindness and solitude, without any certitude as to the result of this confrontation. The victory is already won. The Christian fights, with a peaceful heart. It is exactly this interior peace which permits him to fight, not with his own strength, which would be quickly exhausted, but with the strength of God.

[Hence] interior peace is not only a condition for spiritual combat, but is quite often the goal itself. Very frequently, spiritual combat consists precisely in this: defending one’s peace of heart against the enemy who attempts to steal it from us.

Avoid fighting the wrong battle…., The first goal of spiritual combat, that toward which our efforts must above all else be directed, is not to always obtain a victory….it is to learn to maintain peace of heart under all circumstances, even in the case of defeat.

Perhaps a personal illustration will help. When I was a young priest, just 28 years old, I had the boldness that is not uncommon for a young man. I preached strong sermons and, even today, would not quibble with the content of those early sermons. I also tangled with some of my parishioners over certain liturgical abuses that were common at the time.

I took my concerns and frustrations about the liturgical abuses to my spiritual director who asked me if I loved my people. I was angry at his question. “Of course I love them!” “Nah…” he said, “Don’t give me the boilerplate answer, give me an honest answer.” I eventually admitted that, while I tolerated and served them, I probably couldn’t say I really loved them. “Alright,” he said, and then went on to say, in effect:

Now beg God for the grace to really love them, and you’re going to find a kind of serenity envelops you as your love for them grows. And you’ll correct the things you need to, and overlook, for now, the things that can wait, and you’ll know the difference. And when you do correct them you’ll be loving and serene. And as for your homilies, you’ll still be bold, but you’ll learn that there’s a big difference between speaking the truth in love, and just trying to win an argument. When people know you love them, you can tell them almost anything and they’ll listen. But they know the difference between someone who loves them and someone who’s merely trying to win an argument. And if you love them, you’ll preach with clarity,  but you’ll be patient, confident and serene. And believe me, people know and can tell the difference.

I pray I learned that lesson. And over the years, a kind of serene joy has come to fill me wen I preach and teach. Only rarely now, do I loose that serenity in pastoral settings.

Peace is the paradoxical requirement for the Christian warrior. Without that peace, too often we end up fighting the wrong battle. All of us do well to be alert to the “Been in the storm so long….” syndrome. It can happen to the best of us, and we turn on those we love and lose our peace, and see our love diminish. And how can we give what we no longer have? That same song gives an important solution to our inner struggle for peace: I’ve been in the storm so long Children…..Oh give me (a) little time to pray.

22 Replies to “"Been in the storm so long Children…." On the need to cultivate serenity in the midst of a culture war”

  1. there is a spiritual war raging; a secret unseen war waged by Satan and his legions to capture souls for eternal damnation; Christian values are weakening; most young adults are living in sin and worse still have no awareness of mortal sin; not attending mass or the sacraments; the TV and fashions are immodest. The story of Mgsr Pope is similar world wide of priests ranting and not showing love for the congregation who are just hanging on to life. As in Scott Pecks book the road less travelled a priest was sermonising to an old order of priests and he just ignored his prepared sermon as he saw the faces of misery on all the congregation; he realised they needed help hope encouragement and not to be put down by his brilliant but loveless oratory.As St Paul said “if I have faith to move mountains and I lack love then I have nothing”. christian love is service helping each other speaking kindly to each other and sharing our crosses and our bread.with each other.

  2. A very timely and much needed commentary here. Soldiers need to put down their stresses between engagements and truly relax so as to be well rested for the next and; to see the worth of a happy world which they are trying to make room and potential for. I suspect that combat fatique may be an illness experienced by those who don’t truly rest and “let go” of their aggressive between times of need.
    One of the first things I thought of, upon reading this, was of some of the humourous, and somewhat cynical or facetious, songs that soldiers have sung in defiance of the conflict’s fears that would otherwise drag them down.
    From; http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/52/a5360852.shtml “…Night after night my Mum would prepare a tray of sandwiches and a flask of cocoa to take down the shelter with us and Dad’s errand boy ‘Gogs’ who was staying with us. He played his mouth organ and we would sing songs like ‘We’re gonna hang out the washing on the Zeigfried line’, until the sound of the whistling bombs coming down and explosions that shook the ground got too much… ”
    So one can always, “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag – And smile, smile, smile. – Don’t let your joy and laughter hear the snag – Smile boys, that’s the style – What’s the use of worrying – It never was worth while – So, pack up your troubles in your old kit bag – And smile, smile, smile.”
    For some time now I’ve been waiting for someone to give me a rant on my Christian views so that I can thank them for helping me toward the blessing of the Eighth Beatitude, but no one has and, now that I’ve put it out the opportunity may never come. Maybe it’s better that way because my idea just may feed the conflict needlessly. I just don’t know so, I’ll deal with what is just today’s.

  3. There is indeed a spiritual war going on, but material things are influencing it. It’s spiritual in that it leads to the ruin of souls, but it’s material in that (to make one brief example) television stations (virtually all of them) are shoveling indecent behavior, homosexuality acceptance, fornication, etcetera down the throats of people day after day week after week year after year. Now if we were to shut down these stations here in the material world it would be a great help in the spiritual war would it not? What kills me when people start talking about spiritual warfare they almost use it as a cop out to actually doing anything to make a change. I personally think shutting down MTV permanently would be a supremely better “good work” than say volunteering at a homeless shelter. Am I wrong to believe like this? Am I totally missing the point?

  4. To everything there is a season. We now have a conservative Catholic vice presidential candidate in the political ring. I feel relatively certain that Catholic faith based issues now under assault can expect a broader, and more vicious public scourging with congressman Ryan at the whipping post. The secularist radicals are not one to miss an opportunity. It will be interesting to see how the bishops deal with this. Those Christ the King processions are looking more promising as the battle lines are drawn. The liberals may say that this is now a choice between two fundamentally different views of the direction this nation should go but Catholicism is right in the middle of their road and the radical reformist organizations will demonize it more fervently than ever. I saw on The Advent blog where a priest was at a Chick fil a, praying the rosary while the a group of same sex marriage supporters protested outside. The protesters became belligerent and surrounded him yelling insults. The police came and escorted the priest away. I hope they don’t suggest Catholics just be quiet, hide in their churches and homes and let the ACLU handle it.

  5. I’m mystified as to what victory in the so called “culture wars” would look like………

  6. I am a govt employee and i am also a strong Advocate of Family & Life and a Laity. Right now our Church is facing an head-on collision against the Aquino Govt relative to the pending Reproductive Health Bill in the Congress and in the Senate. I also uses the internet in sharing ProLife Videos or any Informative videos here and that of those coming from abroad. All Prolife groups inter-shares Video Clips most especially for the purpose of information and education. Recently, last sunday, Aug.12,2012, I shared a Video Clip on a US Senate hearing on Hilary Clinton, you Secretary of State. And I sent it to my fb politician friends. Which i normally do before. But this time One Congressman reacted very negatively and called me a Liar. But its true Father, if you were able to have an inner peace, one can take it light in the long run. I prayed before i answered him. I did not went down to his level but i did not tolerate him either. I corrected him and the Holy Spirit guided me on the kind of words i used. He apologizes on the manner he spoke but he did change his stand being a ProRH. But i also have to tell straight that i will tell my group about he sad and now we will not expect any positive stand at his end. I ended my reply, “Congressman, even it you are like that, we will still pray for your conversion. God bless you!” That was my last reply even if kept on making statements. I pity him.

  7. Monsignor, you spoke to my condition today. During my meditation this morning, I began to focus on all the horrible things that would happen if Obama were reelected. Then I realized that was not what that time was for. It’s a tricky thing to be able to do all we need to do as Christians without stressing out over it. One thing that helps me is my study of Church history. I imagine what a challenge it was for Christians to keep their faith when Nero was killing them, when Diocletian was trying to totally wipe them out, when the reign of terror was happening in France, when Henry the VIII was killing even his loyal friend Sir Thomas Moore. I especially recall how the apostles thought that all their hopes and dreams were lying cold and dead in the tomb. Thanks for reminding me that the battle is already won and that the sword that conquers is love.

  8. Dialectic is not debate. I recall a former professor enlightening our philosophy class thus (after one of his students reflexively blurted out an ill-informed opinion on a very nuanced issue) “While I am bound to respect your right to an opinion I am not bound to respect it.”

  9. Thank you, Monsignor, for another beautiful and poignant article. All too often I think we forget that the most effective weapon we have in any of our spiritual battles is prayer. Without it we are doomed, and what is true in the particular for the individual is also true for the whole. As St. Paul encouraged us, “Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil…With all prayer and supplication, pray at every oportunity in the Spirit.” (Eph 6:11-18). Furthermore, we cannot give what we do not have. If we do not have peace in our own hearts, how can we possibly bring it to the world?

  10. Was your spiritual director a diocesan priest of the DC Archdiocese or a religious order priest?

  11. Love, love is exactly the key.

    We have so little true love in this day and age. True love, fatherly love, does not permit one to allow his children to stray into danger even though the danger may be perceived as pleasure. Sure the father may even be berated for saying ‘no’ or even disciplining his child in love, but that is the price any good father must be willing to pay if he truly loves his children.

    The neat thing about the culture war is that our enemies here are massive. It’s David and Goliath times ten. In fact our enemies are powerful spirits of such intelligence and cunning that we hardly figure into the equation at all. However there is awesome peace in this type of littleness.

    God directs our small efforts at serving Him to His own ends. We must be willing to be little, even to suffer embarrassent and to be thought of as extremist so that we can carry out His will in love – love for Him and all his children, including and especially those who still don’t know His love.

    Peace dear Father Pope! And many thanks for your reflection.

  12. What about winning the culture war through loving our enemies? They won’t know what to do with it…

  13. That is a really good song, arrangement, and performance.

    “With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul”–St. Francis de Sales from Introduction to the Devout Life.

  14. Thank you for this wonderful post. The Jacques Philippe quotes and your own spiritual director’s wise words were just what I needed to read. Will certainly add this to my reflection book and refer back to it often. Grazie mille! Monsignor, may each step you take to and from His altar bring you closer to God and to His people you serve.

  15. I find this commentary..problematic..at best.

    Primarily, my concern comes down to this: How do people know when you love them?

    Far too many times in my lifetime, one group or another has insisted that we shouldn’t discuss this or that, or else shouldn’t discuss it in THAT way, primarily because that group or another does not wish to confront the whole of an issue, nor the real answers that revealed Truth would provide. Far too many times, clergy have simply failed to address a concern with a rather pointed voice because they feared they might “hurt” someone.

    I don’t have much confidence remaining in the idea that we’ll win a culture war with kind words and political maneuvering. I think if we intend to win our culture and our nation back, we’ll need to insist on speaking our Truths in public, risk arrest, and demonstrate our passion for our faith with good music and a refusal to back down.

    I find I’m pretty disgusted with many of our clergy these days. If I read a book, I see that John Paul II inspired a nation to effectively bring the Soviet Union to its knees without firing a shot. He did it by provoking his faithful to be fearless in their faith, to be willing to suffer trial, and insisting that objective Truth needed to be made available by any means possible.
    Just as importantly, he didn’t equivocate very much.
    Even without saying this or that directly, he made plain his views of what people should do as a result of their faith.

    I have seen little or none of this from our clergy here in America.

    1. time will prove where wisdom lies. In reading all the things you have into this post, it is likely you lack the serenity that can help seal the deal. You also seem to have screened out a good bit of the material, perhaps because when you were reading your mind went elsewhere, say, toward disgust. Perhaps a good re-read will help you understand that the concerns you raise here really don’t apply to what is said. Disgust is generally not a helpful disposition….

      Incidentally, I generally don’t think people have trouble knowing when you love them. At least in the real world apart from the virtual one. Perhaps your doubt of this says more about you than others? Your whole post here seems to bespeak one who has know little love. I hope you’ll find more of it and learn to both detect love and offer it, even to your enemies as the Jesus calls for in a very unequivocal way.

  16. Msgr. Pope,
    This is one of the most helpful,insightful posts I have read in a long time, and I am so grateful it was written by a member of the clergy! Just last night three of us defended our Catholic faith to the much-loved ,very atheist spouse of one of us.I pray we passed the “”Love Test”. You have “nailed” it! God bless you for this.I will send it to many.

    Having said that, I also feel the frustration in the post from John. I,too, have heard so many priests (including wonderful ,beloved Cardinal Dolan in a Wall Street Journal interview) express his fear of” offending” in taking a strong stand on certain sex-related issues. I thank God daily for the brave, VERY loving, strong example set by Cardinal Raymond Burke. All this has led me to set aside Mondays to pray and fast for the clergy. They need us and we owe it to them. Satan has made them his #1 target.
    Our great Pope Benedict said the Church will get smaller but stronger as the weak fall away. We are beginning to see this now.Again, thank you for taking time to share this post.I’ll add you to my Monday “priest list””.

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