BE ON GUARD, PRAY CONSTANTLY, AND STAND SECURE.  From early ages, it was the custom for the general of an army to encourage his troops so as to ready them for fighting the coming battle. Not the least of Caesar’s successes in time of war was due to his mastery of the word; this practice was continued by General Eisenhower with no less fervent ardor, if with less display of eloquence, on the eve of the great battle of Normandy in June 1944. The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel have something of the same character, though serving a much higher and more universal cause. The message our Lord conveys in light of the conflict in which his followers are about to be engaged is intended to alert and inspire his disciples with the courage of confidence in their leader and his cause.


Today, the last day of this liturgical year, his words are addressed to us who are enlisted in his service. We too are to expect a major conflict with the forces aligned against his Church and to meet the enemy with confident trust in the glorified Christ, who is our true Leader. A thoughtful reading of Church history discloses the various guises that enmity of the world to the person and teaching of our Lord assumed as times unfolded and as the faith spread into diverse countries. Even here in our State of New York, the preaching of the Gospel proved to be a dangerous confrontation with pagan forces with the result that its most effective, dedicated witnesses were persecuted and put to death. The shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs remains an active center of pilgrimage a few hours drive from us here.


In our times there are a variety of forces that attack the Church in her faithful. Some of these are open and explicit in declaring themselves opposed to the Church, such as the Muslim extremists who have either killed or forced into exile large numbers of faithful in Iraq among other countries where the faith has existed for more than a thousand years. More insidious are those who remain Catholic in name but who witness against some of the more fundamental teachings of the faith, such as the real presence in the Eucharist, the sacredness of life from the time of conception, and the infallibility of the Pope. Increasingly in our country there is an anti-Catholic bias that has characterized certain parties expresses itself in the media and in the courts, becoming more of an obstacle to the faith as it contributes to a secularist spirit that accompanies the growth of materialism.


That such threats to faith in Jesus as the Savior who remains active at the heart of the Church and even outside its visible forms represent modern expressions of the resistance to faith that Jesus foresaw and against which he warns us in today’s Gospel. Under different forms as the various political systems and cultures encountered the teachings of our Lord, these attacks have never been lacking. In the fourth century, for example, when seven of the eight most honored doctors of the Church were active in spreading the faith and developing the Catholic tradition, opposition was virulent and widespread. Yet witness to holiness at the heart of the Church has rarely been equaled, as the lives and deaths of such ministers of the faith as Saints Augustine in the West and John Chrysostom in the East attest.        


As we end this liturgical year with this Eucharist let us recall the many graces we have received through the fidelity of such witnesses to our faith and give thanks to God for their holy lives of dedication to our Lord and his teaching. May the Lord continue to bless his Church with leaders and ministers who carry on the mission entrusted to the whole church. As we make this prayer today, at the threshold of the new Liturgical year, we place our faith and trust in Jesus, our Savior, who comes among us even now in his words of encouragement and in the sacrament of this Eucharist. &  

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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