Is the Church losing?

-by Monica Doumit

“In the past five years or so, Australia has seen the redefinition of marriage, abortion up until birth permitted, as well as the prohibition of any pro-life witness—even silent prayer—around abortion facilities, euthanasia and assisted suicide made lawful in every state, legal protections for the confessional seal removed, the onslaught of gender ideology, and the most egregious attacks on religious liberty potentially seen in the Western world. In my role as the director of public affairs and engagement for the Archdiocese of Sydney, I have been directly involved in each of these socio-political battles . . . and have lost each time. I don’t want to brag, but if losing at the culture wars were an Olympic sport, I would be a gold medalist.

It’s quite likely that the years ahead will not see any ground regained. Our politics is broken and our society largely secularized; often we know that even before a proposed anti-Catholic law is debated, the politicians have enough votes and public support to pass them. Most likely, we’ll sustain further losses.

Given this, I tend to wonder whether it is worth engaging in the fight at all.

On the one hand, I know that Catholics must resist these bad laws whenever they are presented. On the other, these campaigns are costly. They cost the time of those involved in opposing the laws; they come at a financial cost to the diocese and other donors; and well-mounted campaigns often provide false hope to Catholics and others of goodwill that we might prevail. The disappointment of those who are fighting for the good is also a cost of defeat.

As someone with a say in the Catholic response on a high level, whether and to what extent we should risk incurring these costs is a question that causes me many sleepless nights.

I recall some advice I received from a good and holy bishop on this point. He quoted The Art of War, in which Sun Tzu exhorts leaders against fighting if it will not result in victory. The bishop told me we should focus our resources on those battles we can win and withdraw from the others.

I take his point, but with all respect, I disagree. Instead, I take the approach of American playwright James Goldman, who wrote the screenplay for the 1968 film the Lion in Winter. It centers on the story of King Henry II and his three sons, King John, Richard the Lionheart, and Geoffrey II, Duke of Brittany.

Henry determines that he wants none of his three sons to succeed him. He imprisons them with the intention of having them executed so that he can bear a new son with a new wife. At one point, Richard the Lionheart believes he can hear Henry approaching to kill them and boldly announces, “He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.” Geoffrey scoffs, “Why, you chivalric fool—as if the way one fell mattered.”

Richard replies, “When the fall is all there is, it matters.”

That is the posture toward losing battles that I think we need as Catholics: “When the fall is all there is, it matters.”

We need to fight every battle, even if we know we will not be successful. Because while there might be such a thing as a losing battle, there is no such thing as a futile one.

Battles aren’t futile, because all battles make us stronger. And if we allow ourselves to learn from them, they also make us smarter. Every loss is an opportunity to assess our strategies and to grow.

Battles also bring unity. Recent cultural battles have united Catholics, other faith groups, and faith-based operators. Each time these issues arise, people who have not previously worked together become teammates overnight. Theological differences and distrust are cast aside, and collaboration reigns. As a dear friend of mine often tells me, unity is a sign of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Another reason to fight losing battles is that it’s very good for the faithful to see their shepherds stand for truth, and to lead them in ways that they can contribute to the fight as well. Our bishops might think losing a battle fought publicly will diminish their credibility in the eyes of the faithful, but that’s not the case at all. We love hearing our bishops courageously speak the truth.

It is in the Church’s nature to fight injustice and to speak up for the vulnerable. Even if our voices aren’t heard now, alongside the story of every human rights abuse must also be the record of the Church speaking out.

The fight also sets an example for future generations, to form them and remind them that there is a fight to be had. We might not see the fruits, but we cannot expect the next generation to continue the battle if we haven’t told them one exists.

Because resistance is formative.

One of my heroes, Blessed Clemens von Galen, used sermons in 1941 to preach against the Nazi regime. In one of them, he spoke of the indoctrination that was occurring in the schools. Using the analogy of a hammer and an anvil, Bishop von Galen said that the anti-Catholic influences on our kids were the hammer; the family was the anvil. He explained that a piece of metal gets molded not only by the blows inflicted by the hammer, but also by the firmness and immovability of the anvil. In absorbing and resisting the pressure of the hammer, the anvil is equally formative. We have to remember that our resistance has the ability to teach and to form.

We also have to model hope and model faith that we will be successful. We are not excused from hope, nor from trust in a God Who moves mountains. My self-identification as a professional loser must be attended to by a professional hoping. It is a different type of hope—and, possibly, a little purer, because it is only rarely met with consolations. Engaging in battles that are sure to be losers removes attachment to the outcome and stops the need to see the fruit of our labors. We fight them only because they are the right thing to do, and not because we expect to see any rewards in this life. (Ed. easier said than done.)

If you want to build virtue, put on your armor for a losing battle.

I think there is no better recent example of this than the pro-life movement in the United States, because it is a reminder that the battle for a civilization of life and love is the work of generations.

When Nellie Gray organized that first March for Life in 1974, it wasn’t supposed to be an annual event. The expectation was that Congress would see the obvious flaws in Roe v. Wade and legislate to correct the error.

With each year of no legislative action, Nellie and others kept marching. When they saw no measurable or meaningful social, political, or judicial progress—for decades—they kept marching. They marched through the literal and figurative winter of the stranglehold of the culture of death.

Nellie died ten years before the Dobbs decision was handed down, and so she never got to see the fruits of her efforts this side of heaven, but she taught us to persevere through a decades-long winter of hostility and indifference from the public and the politicians and keep fighting.

Just as my namesake, St. Monica, was told the son of so many tears would not perish, the prayerful remembrance and tears were fruitful in working toward the realization of a civilization of life and love.

Here in Australia, where we so often experience drought, we have a saying that every day of drought we endure is one day closer to rain. As Christians, we know that each day of Lent is one day closer to Easter. And each day these terrible anti-life and anti-family and anti-reason laws are in place is one day closer to them being overturned.

Just as we have the certainty that God has already won the victory, we also know that we are not fighting losing battles at all because ultimately, the culture of life wins. The culture of death is self-defeating because it is inherently sterile. The culture of death produces no offspring; it leaves no progeny; it will itself wither and die.

And we will win.

We will outlive, outbreed, outlove, outpray, outserve, outsmart, and outvocation all those outside and inside the Church who oppose a civilization of life and love. I am more confident of this now than I have ever been. It’s a great time to be Catholic. Thanks be to God.”

Love, & “Now there remain these three: faith, hope, and love.” 1 Cor 13:13

“Better a weak faith, than a strong heresy.” – St Thomas More

“Make Christianity Weird Again!” – Tom Holland