England Expects That Every Man Will Do His Duty

There’s a Sorkinism that goes “It seems to me that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less of each other.”

Jesus expects one very simple thing from us: “Be perfect as my Heavenly Father is perfect.”

As Fr Robert Barron puts it, this is “the Catholic thing.” The Church’s rules are incredibly demanding. In practice we can never follow them. What is the answer? Mercy, and forgiveness–and the grace of the Holy Spirit, which equips us for sainthood. The Church’s job is to make saints. But we will never be saints if we do not expect holiness of each other. Yes, we always fall short, and that is why we need mercy and charity and sympathy with each other, but the expectation should always remain. This is the Catholic thing. This is the Gospel thing. Jesus sets up incredibly demanding moral rules. And he offers unbounded mercy. What that means isn’t that not living up to them is okay. The answer to people not being able to live up to the rules is not to soften the rules. It’s mercy, and charity, and love. And the rules aren’t there to be followed for their own sake, they’re there as signposts on the road to the Heavenly Jerusalem. We do not follow the rules because they’re the rules or, worse, because we get reward if we do and punishment if we don’t. We follow the rules because God loves us and we love Him and we trust in Him for our flourishing.

If somebody slaps you, turn the other cheek. If somebody presses you into service for a mile, walk another mile. Give all your money to the poor. Curse your family if it separates you from God. Die for your friends. Die! That wasn’t hyperbole. Francis of Assisi didn’t think so. Ignatius of Antioch didn’t think so. Oh, but that’s not for me, they were saints. Well, you’re called to be a saint too. You can be just as holy as they are. Do you believe this? Do you? Do you have faith the size of a mustard seed? I don’t. But I look for it.

There’s a very important nuance there. Emphasize the rules too much, or see the rules as only the rules, and you become a Pharisee and a teacher of the law. There is always mercy, always forgiveness, always understanding. But the fact that the rules are impossible to follow doesn’t mean we should come up with reasons not to follow them, whether through economy or legalistic acrobatics, or whatever. We are called to be saints. We are called to love with all our being, all our heart, all our mind.

It seems to me that more and more we’ve come to expect less and less of each other.

Yeah, by all means, understand, sympathize, forgive when we fall short. But don’t stop expecting holiness.

Yeah, the Church is a field hospital for the broken. We’re all broken. But you know what it takes to staff a field hospital? #@$€ing badasses, that’s who. Can’t imagine a job that requires more talent, and nerve, and stick-to-it-iveness, and just sheer intestinal fortitude. We are all anointed as king, priest and prophet. David was a great sinner, but he was also a great King.

The Church is a field hospital, but it’s also an army, the Army of Christ. Tertullian picked the word sacramentum to translate the Greek mysterion, not just because “sacramentum” means “to make holy”; because the sacramentum was the oath that new soldiers in the Roman Legion swore. Once you are baptized, you are a soldier in the Army of Christ. We don’t like that image of the Army of Christ because it smells of the Inquisition and the Crusades. And yes, it’s an army of the broken, an army of beggars, an army of glorious losers, the “epic bums” of Leclerc’s 2ème DB.

What is the job of an army? It’s to make heroes. If the soldier is afraid to die, the army is dead. Finished. Is every soldier a hero? No, of course not. But the army expects heroism, and armies that make heroes are victorious.

“England expects that every man will do his duty.” On the scale of salvation history, Trafalgar is about as significant as a fly getting squished. Whatever happened to Napoleon’s Empire, Jesus will still return to judge the living and the dead and his reign will be without end, and every tear will be wiped from every eye and every lip will proclaim that Jesus is Lord. And yet England expected that every man would do his duty. It didn’t implore. It didn’t say, it would be a really good idea. It expected. And they did! And that duty involved, for many of them, dying.

Why is it that the Church no longer expects every man to do his duty? Do you not understand that there is a cosmic battle raging? There are armies of demons innumerable, of powers unimaginable, whose every waking thought is dedicated to wrecking God’s good creation and turning our immortal souls away from the living water they need to flourish. Every day, beyond time, armies of angels sing “Holy, Holy, Holy”, the God of Israel, the God of Light, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sing his glory, vibrating in inexpressible joy. Every day, beyond time, the communion of saints prays and watches and intercedes, rooting for you, helping you. This is the glorious symphony that is our battle drum. Can you hear it? Be a hero! Be a saint! Love! Love to the end of the Earth. Give everything.

We will never be saints until we start expecting holiness of each other. Yes, always in charity and mercy. But expecting sainthood of each other. Paul said nothing else when he wrote to the churches, already wracked by division and pettiness. It is not normal if a priest is not a saint. It is not normal if a bishop is not a saint. It is not normal if I am not a saint, and I am not. It is not normal if you are not a saint. Nothing is normal. Normal is nothing. Look at the broken, bloodied, tumid face of this slave hanging from a Cross, barely breathing a pathetic wheeze. It is the face of love. It is your face.


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  • It occurs to me that there are no Knights of Columbus councils in France as of yet.

    • Nope. As the name suggests, they’re an American organization.

      • Actually, they haven’t been a US Organization for several years now. The first extra-US Councils were in Mexico in the 1920s and 1930s (during the Christero war on which Knights fought on the side of Christ the King, of course), Canadian councils have existed since the 1920s, Philippine councils have existed since the 1950s, there’s a Cuban council now, and since the 1990s and Saint John Paul II’s support of the Knights, there are now several councils in Poland.

  • Yonah

    I object in the highest and strongest fashion to your maligning Pharisees and teachers of the law. The negative allusions to such in the NT were born of specific strife of first century friction between the Church and mainstream Judaism which it departed from. Both sides slung mud.

    Now, that the tradition retains memory of Jesus criticism of Pharisaic leadership is not something that should be doubted, but cast in its proper historical context. In fact, Jesus was of the Pharasaic theological/religious community…not of the leadership…but of the rank and file in reception of Pharasaic teaching…which Jesus strove to model on a more authentic basis…as was the concern of his whole cultural background and alliances in Galilee and the Jordan Valley.

    Originally, the Pharisees were a the Protestant Reform movement of the people…and the political Democrats of their day…as opposed to the upper class “catholic” priestly class of the Sadducees. When Jesus criticized “the Pharisees”…that was none other than him doing a Michael Moore criticizing Obama.

    A teacher of the law…an authentic teacher authentically teaching authentic law is a very good thing.

    Senator Bernie Sanders follows the law. Do you wish to denigrate him and all such Jews who perform mighty acts of justice according to the law they have been taught?

    You ought to repent of this anti-semitism. Your Lord was fully Jew.

    • Hi there,

      This is a very complex topic. You are certainly right that Jesus was a Jew, and fully a Jew, indeed influenced by the Pharisee movement. Furthermore, classical Christianity views as heretical any tendency which seeks to deny or even obscure Jesus’ Jewishness (the heresy of Marcionism), and I stand fully and proudly in that Tradition. My Lord is indeed fully Jew.

      The Gospels–and the Jesus of the Gospels, which Christians must view as authoritative–portray an archetype of the “Pharisees” which doesn’t really depend on the historical Pharisees. It is as this that Christians sometimes use the term. This is not a judgement on the historical Pharisees or rabbinical Judaism.

      I will leave alone your comparisons to contemporary political figures and movements.

      • Yonah

        That you do not qualify your allusions regarding Pharisees in the original comment and that you choose to leave alone the contemporary is a large problem. In the former, the non-qualification is the orignal matrix of historical anti-semitism which resulted in genocide…from the Church fathers to Luther to the Holocaust. Morally, how do you presuppose a right to just “carry on” with the unspoken archetype (which I don’t agree with you on, but that’s beside the point) as if the Holocaust never happened? As to the latter, why does it not, apparently, matter to you what Jewish children “hear” and feel when they hear the unqualified condemnation of their people and existence. What? You really have the moral right to “leave alone” the self-understanding of rabbinic Judaiam…of Jews today…that they are the Pharasaic movement of 2014?

        The modern equivalent would be to denigrate Catholics on account of the sexual abuse scandal. But as it really is, I was impressed with the defense of another Catholic blogger recently who challenged such an injust denigration with actual mathematical facts of percentages, and comparatively so, of accused individuals. And beyond, that is the question of whether any movement can clean up, rebuild in its teshuvah. In the case of the sexual abuse scandal, I personally have no doubt that the Catholic Church has indeed performed the necessary corrections, and things are indeed much better…and that it would be absolutely wrong to deny that and to go into any kind of branding thing.

        Peace was achieved in Northern Ireland. On that model, the hope still burns for the same in Israel & Palestine.

        So, WHY must you treat scripture like a branding iron on Jews? You were not even quoting directly…in which case you and any have the responsibility of interpreting with competency. But, in the mode of common discourse, you just sling out the unqualifed “Pharisee” with the assumption you have the right to do so, and apparently, with the assumpton that EVERYONE is on the same page with you…or should be.

        I am the son of a Catholic…a Catholic descended from Conversos. I NEVER heard my father allude to biblical points with the fundamentalist Protestant sounding “authority” riff. He taught me that yes, the Bible is authoritative, but in his Catholic upbringing he was made to understand that bibilical authority is guided by the Church magisterium…which goes to competent and moral interpretation of the Scriptures…

        ….so that actual GOOD comes out it.

      • Yonah

        I continue my lecture after seeing CNN coverage of the Pope’s visit to Israel.

        What is holy today in that is the utter solid will of Francis to achieve good. God is our God. Things are fixable. Conversation between Netanyahu and Francis began on the Wall. Netanyahu expressed hope it could come down some day if terrorism ceased (a stock Netanyahu response which he is covenantly bound by his base to express whether or not he has higher hopes). Wisely….uncommonly wisely…Francis did not respond, but reportedly immediately asked for the media to leave so that he could talk to Netanyahu privately.

        The pregancy of that move is absolutely holy. It regresses to no previous point, and holds open the hope of tomorrow.

        I wonder.

        I wonder if peace can ideed be achieved in-house among the three Abrahamic faiths under leadership of Francis…rather than through American/western political figures. If so, we ought to talk about each other better.