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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