Twenty years goes by quickly. This past week, my sisters and I met up with other members of our high school youth group for a reunion. The youth group had been a saving grace for all of us during those turbulent high school years. We supported each other, learned about the saints together, went on crazy trips together, and most of all, prayed together. One hot night in July, our pastor dreamt of all of us meeting up again in twenty years. My sister wrote the date down, and despite having entered the convent in the meantime, never forgot the fact that we were supposed to reunite in July of 2016.
Father used to tell us saint stories in the candle-lit church, and we feasted on the remarkable stories of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Bl. Miguel Pro, and other martyrs. We learned about Divine Mercy and the writings of Faustina, and knew that under the pontificate of John Paul II, we were living in historic times. We talked about Karol Wojtyla’s early years and pictured ourselves preserving Catholic culture in an underground group as he did. We all read a popular Catholic novel at the time that spoke of tribulations and dramatic conversions, and we talked about being the remnant in a culture that was turning away from the Truth. We imagined the worst and pictured ourselves holding fast in the grand drama that would play out. We thought we were ready for persecutions. We were ready for “the battle”.
As we sat and talked the other night, twenty years later, our conversation began light, mostly catching up on each other’s lives. A few of the members are now ordained priests, several of the girls are in active religious orders, and one is in a cloistered convent. But the majority are married with families, so naturally, the conversation moved into things like Honda Odysseys, schools, and vacations.
Eventually the topic turned to raising holy and chaste children in this social-media-crazed world that is full of temptation and intemperance. It wasn’t an uplifting conversation, and as the night wore on, I think we all had to resist the urge to despair. It’s not a nice world out there. And we didn’t even have a chance to talk about gender-identity, the crisis in marriage, or a host of other troubling trends in our culture!
After we wrapped up our conversation, one of our members, now a priest in Nebraska, gave us a blessing, just as our pastor used to do twenty years earlier. We sang “Non Nobis, Domine” from Henry V, just as we used to do twenty years earlier. And we went our separate ways, returning home to children and nieces and nephews.
I couldn’t help but think on the way home about our view in 1996 of the battle and our view now. We had visions of remnants and spectacular persecutions. We had thoughts of needing secret hiding places and making dramatic, public professions of faith. What would we have said if we could have seen the future? Would we have recognized “the battle”, without the spectacles we were expecting? Do we even recognize it now, as we are fighting it?
The battle isn’t spectacular or dramatic. It is quiet and commonplace. It is found not in public professions of faith with our arms outstretched in front of the firing squad. It is found in the quiet defiance of parental peer pressure that says our kids have to go to certain movies or have certain gadgets. It is not found in secret hiding places. It is found in monitoring the social media use of your sons and daughters, using things like Covenant Eyes to help them be chaste, and being an example to them by your own behavior.
We used to talk about the battle. But we never dreamed it would look so ordinary. Perhaps it would be easier if it were more dramatic. Maybe we would feel like we were doing something if it was spectacular. Instead we feel weighed down by the mundane, like our trivial daily tasks are meaningless. Or we feel helpless like Sisyphus against the rock that is the secularization of culture.
We had grand dreams of heroism. But now, in the midst of Honda Odysseys, school lunches, commutes, and coworkers, do we recognize that we are being heroic?
Maybe someday, the battle will be what we pictured. When we hear stories of martyrdoms in France or in Africa, perhaps our vision of an underground Church is not far off. But for now, for those of us raising children, ministering to parishioners, or working in the world, we are called to save the world in much more ordinary ways. The battle is not out there, in some grand last stand. It is in here- in your home, your school, and your workplace. It is fought by raising children who know the love of God because they’ve witnessed it from you. It is fought by resisting the cultural confusion over gender identity and the brainwashing of our minds about the meaning of marriage, family life, and even love. It is fought by persevering in holiness, even when society tells you it’s not worth it because the future is too bleak.
Perhaps our conversation wasn’t uplifting that night. But I can’t help but have hope. Our little youth group is fighting the battle. The priests in their parish, the sisters in their schools, the nuns in their convents, the parents in their homes. The battle is not what we expected. But it is here, and we are fighting. One small sacrifice at a time. One “trivial” task at a time. One soul at a time.