Lay activism: a modest proposal

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Sep 13, 2019

Although I was appalled by the Pope’s statement on the prospect of an American schism, one passage from that statement merits a bit more thought:

The schismatics always have one thing in common: they separate themselves from the people, from the faith of the people of God. And when there was a discussion in the Council of Ephesus regarding Mary’s divine maternity, the people – this is history – were at the entrance of the cathedral while the bishops entered to take part in the council. They were there with clubs. They made the bishops see them as they shouted, “Mother of God! Mother of God!” as if to say: if you do not do this, this is what you can expect.

Reading that passage, I was reminded of something my friend Bud said, many years ago, to explain his dissatisfaction with the lack of episcopal leadership in America. Bud wanted our bishops to be more forthright in confronting doctrinal error. He suggested that loyal Catholics should tell their bishops:

We’re just the spear-carriers. You’re the leaders. If you take the lead, we’ll be right behind you. But if you don’t take the lead… Just remember that we’re right behind you, and we’re carrying spears.

So if a bishop didn’t want to feel a sudden pang in his backside, by Bud’s logic he would take action. It’s a simple image, yet vivid and instructive.

We need our bishops to take action, to safeguard the unity of the Church and the integrity of her doctrine. We need to send that message. We’re just the spear-carriers, but we are carrying spears.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: JM4294870 - Sep. 17, 2019 4:37 PM ET USA

    Critically examining this further: History has born witness and even Jesus told the apostles to have a sword. Violence should always be a last resort, but it has even been used by canonized saints (Jeanne d'Arc). While scripture can be used to justify even extreme violence against heretics, Num 25:7-13, our Lord showed the way to use violence by driving corrupt workers from God’s temple, not killing them. I am sure Phil would argue for taking proportionate measures as did our Lord.

  • Posted by: JM4294870 - Sep. 17, 2019 4:21 PM ET USA

    For the sake of the literalists among us, Phil is not saying to actually spear a bishop! No sane person would willy-nilly stab a bishop.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 17, 2019 11:28 AM ET USA

    Fair enough. I misread. This is a truly challenging subject. @ Philopus: Church Miltant does not mean to go out and kill people to make your point. ...if anything it means standing up for right / Christ at the possible cost of your own life. That said, Christ doesn’t want anyone to needlessly be victimized without fighting back - defending oneself is perfectly legitimate.

  • Posted by: phil L - Sep. 16, 2019 9:10 AM ET USA

    I wasn't the one who applauded the wielding of clubs. That was Pope Francis.

  • Posted by: Philopus - Sep. 15, 2019 11:14 AM ET USA

    It is our responsibility to act in the physical world that we are called the "Church Militant."

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Sep. 15, 2019 8:52 AM ET USA

    You know Phil, the problem with threatening the use of weapons of any kind is you have to use them for the effect to be real. Just because they were carrying clubs do you really think it would have been ok if they used them on the Bishops? Is this what you are advocating - violence / beat the Bishops or the Pope into submission? I too am deeply concerned about the Pope's statements and our culture but is physical harm the correct Catholic response? What exactly are you saying?

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Sep. 14, 2019 4:43 AM ET USA

    "They were there with clubs." There's that cycle of violence again. Just think of the horror if they would have had guns. It would then not have been club violence, but gun violence. "If you do not do this, this is what you can expect." The threat of a death penalty for the bishops? Perhaps not so inadmissible as we have been led to believe? The whole affair suggests a good deal of orthodox rigidity to me. Seems as if the people were trying to convert the bishops to their own ideology.