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Ride Out

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October 2017

“Read the book?” “No, but I saw the movie.” Reading is a gift of God; it stirs the imagination in such wonderful ways. But some stories just beg to be seen. That is so true of Catholic author J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale of good and evil, Lord of the Rings. A wizard, four hobbits, two men, an elf, and a dwarf, join in fellowship to destroy the ring of power before Sauron, the master of evil, seizes it. Sauron has but one goal: to conquer the world and destroy whatever good is in it. For the fellowship, their quest is uncertain and harrowing. It doesn’t take long before they get separated.

Along the way, part of the fellowship arrives at the kingdom of Rohan. Sauron has marked Rohan for destruction.   Greatly weakened, Rohan’s king has lost his will to fight. With the fellowship’s help, the king regains his strength but sees the enormity of what he faces. He orders a retreat of his soldiers and subjects to his mountain fortress, a place he thinks impregnable. But Sauron has built an army of Orcs, hideous creatures hell-bent on killing every man, woman and child in their paths. The king’s army consists of greatly outnumbered soldiers, those old men and young boys able to wield swords, and a small cadre of elves. They have little chance, and even less hope, of withstanding the attack.

For a time, the valiant group holds off the Orcs, but eventually they penetrate the fortress walls. As the fight rages on, the king is forced to call retreat after retreat. With nowhere else to go, the king and the fellowship become trapped inside a room. The Orcs take a battering ram to the door—the only thing separating the group from death. Their cause seems hopeless, and the king despairs. But then Aragorn, the fellowship’s heart and soul, softly speaks to him: “Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them.” They do. And when they do, they find that reinforcements have joined the fight with them. The tide turns, and victory is theirs. They live to fight another day, and the quest continues.

Like a great story, history is a great teacher. In the 1930s, England and France thought they could appease Hitler, the personification of evil, by feeding him Czechoslovakia. It didn’t work, and in September 1939, Hitler launched a massive nighttime invasion of neighboring Poland. No one came to Poland’s aide, but the Poles refused to go down without a fight. The Nazis swarmed Poland with planes and tanks; the Poles rode out to meet them on horseback. From the very start, it wasn’t a fair fight, but the Poles fought nonetheless. In the process, they focused world attention on Hitler’s evil and taught the world a lesson in courage.

Ultimately the Allies won, but it merely shifted the Poles’ captivity from the Nazis to the Soviet Communists and their state-mandated atheism. Poland’s faithful would not allow them to remain. In 1957, with the help of Karol Wojtyla, the Poles gained permission to build a church. They built a huge cross—the Nowa Huta Cross—to mark the site. When Communist officials, fearful of the spread of faith, decided to rip it down, 3-4,000 Poles risked death and injury in its defense. The cross remained standing. Two decades later, Wojtyla, now Pope John Paul II, returned to Poland to remind the people of their dignity. “We want God, we want God. . .!” they responded. The Pope’s presence emboldened the Solidarity movement, which led to the downfall of Communism. It was a lesson about faith in action—and another in courage.

Evil is ever-present. It constantly seeks to spread. Quite simply, evil needs to feed.   That has been true through the human experience, and it is true now. And it is best seen in the advance of abortion. Always an unspeakable evil, in 1973 abortion became legalized. It gave evil more on which to feed. Almost 60 million humans have been killed in the U.S. alone; by comparison, Poland has 38 million people. As Church, we are called to confront this evil, to ride out against it. Jesus’ last words to His apostles were to go out, for He intends for us to be a Church that publicly proclaims. A Church that rides out.

For a while, the Church in America did. But over the years, the Church has become more and more complacent on the subject of abortion. We hear pro-life messages from the Pope but virtually nothing from American cardinals and bishops. Last year, when Catholics for Choice ran full-page ads in Chicago newspapers supporting legal abortion, Illinois’ prelates responded through a Catholic website that few people know about, much less read. On the parish level, homilies on the unborn are pretty much things of the past. Some deacons are told not to preach on the subject. In some places, it appears that the goal is to avoid controversy. Pro-life curricula for grammar and high schools are little used, if at all. Every act of silence becomes another retreat. And as we retreat, evil fills the vacated space.

There is an obvious problem with retreating. Eventually, there is nowhere else to retreat. Rather than being a mighty fortress, the Church becomes a self-created trap. It’s happening right now. Catholic universities have sponsored Planned Parenthood internships. Catholic medical personnel are being ordered by law to give referrals for abortions even if it violates their conscience. At least 17 states mandate taxpayer funding of abortions. Recently, U.S. senators challenged a Catholic law professor about her fitness to be a federal judge because of her faithful Catholic beliefs. One senator—Richard Durbin of Illinois—is a Catholic himself! It’s happening because the Church is unwilling to publicly confront this evil. It’s happening because the Church has not instilled in enough of its clergy and laity a willingness to stand up and resist. Pope John Paul II once warned American bishops that America is in danger of losing its soul. The Church in America should be as concerned about itself.

At the start of his pontificate, now St. John Paul II told the Church’s faithful, “Be not afraid!” He traveled the world spreading the message. They were Christ’s words to us. We are called to ride out. Evil will not be defeated just by wishing it so.

 

Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2017. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com/ and on Facebook.

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