As a priest, I have come to view the Book of Blessings as a banal collection of lukewarm sentiments that could have been written by a greeting card company. The point of each blessing is blessing the person or blessing the person who uses whatever is being used. It is all a blessing to do good. Benign. Lifeless. To look at the Book of Blessing one would think we are in a time of peace and all we need is that little extra oomph to be better at being good.
It reflected a worrisome trend that followed after the Second Vatican Council although it was not called for by the council. The trend is simple: we regulated the demonic and Satanic to almost the same level of danger of teddy bears. They got regulated to mythological status bearing no more danger to the soul than puppies. Our mention of evil, for the few times it comes up, almost seems embarrassingly brief. It is regulated to three hastily asked question before the profession of faith during baptism. It is not as if we are inducting these newly baptized into the Church Militant, it is more like a benign ceremony inducting them into a country club. The Dies Irae became Happy Happy Joy Joy.
That certainly flowed into art and architecture. It is rare that churches are built and appointed to the extent that one gets a feeling of a connection to the power of the Church Triumphant, into the Heavenly Court populated by towers of faith, the angelic choirs, and the full power of God. No, we now enter rather largish theaters with all the transcendence of a doctor's office waiting room. Catholic art devolved into either highly disjunctive figurines that one has to try to believe was a human or angelic form, or subjected to milquetoast renditions of candy glass skinned dainty figurines. Our churches went from training grounds for the Church Militant to buffet lines for the Church Inoffensive. As in our prayers and rituals, so in our art and architecture, we dropped our guard. We willfully forgot that we are at war with an enemy whose only option is our eternal destruction.
Sooner or later, that would find its way into preaching and teaching. We now make friends with our sins. We don't fight the demonic anymore. We invite it, give a glass of sweet tea, and tell it to put its feet up! How can we not look at the current state of the Church and see anything less?! Once again, our Church is rocked with scandal. Sin was given a home in too many clerics' hearts and souls. The silence on moral issues was a warning sign that having made nice with their own demons, some clergy, even bishops, expected us to place nice with our demons. Furthermore, they chastised anyone who called the demonic what it was. Shame on us for our intolerance! Personal sin and the preaching of it fell away to the much more comfortable corporate sin. So, the sin of Sodom was unnatural sex, oh no, it was being inhospitable ...the people of Sodom were...you know...not nice. Dropping your guard against evil leads to an unbelievable inability to see truth.
We dropped our guard in every possible way against an insatiable enemy. The Devil and his minions have run over the Church with almost no effort to respond. He will continue to run rampant until we understand who we are, who he is, and who God is.
That we are at war with the devil has to find its way back into our common vocabulary and consciousness. In the old blessing prayers, there were exorcisms. We chased the demonic out of what was being blessed before handing it into the hands a soldier for Christ. It needs to find its way into our art and architecture. We should visually understand the army of angels and saints who fight right by our sides in this struggle. We should find in it our music. We are too busy singing commercial jingles about ourselves and how nice we can be to get who God is and who we are before God. In our worship and preaching we must re-establish that understanding that the Church asked for, especially of the laity: You are an holy army fighting against evil as light invades and overcomes darkness!
We can establish all the protocols and rules we want (and in many cases should), but we must be realistic about who we are up against. The Church Inoffensive would have you believe we are merely up against unjust structures and inequality...something that can be dismissed with protocols and procedures. That has all the brilliance of saying I am up against these pock marks on my skin and not a virus that makes those pock marks appear. We are up against the hellish, the demonic, against the father of lies himself. He doesn't come in the form of the hellish creatures that populate horror films and juvenile caricatures splashed across your average death metal album cover. He comes as an angel of light, dressed up in all your worldly hopes and dreams. He seems all so nice. He seems so reasonable.
As a Church, we dropped our guard against the demonic. We rid ourselves of the offensive military jargon and became the Church Inoffensive. From that time on, we have seen the Church in the West be decimated. Our Confession lines disappear, our Masses empty out, our seminaries empty out, our religious orders die, our parishes struggle, too many of our clergy become demonic in action themselves, and we double down on the same exact recipe for failure. We are being laid waste because we drop our guard in exchange for worldly baubles and kitsch hoping the tenets of Universalism are true and we all go to heaven anyway.
As we lay among the wounded on the battlefield looking for someone to blame, perhaps instead of blaming God, we should blame our adversary the devil. God didn't point us in this direction. The smoke of Satan has entered the Church through the doors and windows we opened for him to enter through. If we don't like the resulting destruction, then perhaps, we need to start fighting back. We need to be building ramparts against evil instead of accommodating it.
How do we fight back? Use the armaments St Paul talks about in Ephesians 6:11-12. Pick up the weapons of abstinence, fasting, mortifications, and alms-giving with the same valor that a star athlete embraces exercise and training in order to be more effective on the field. Unite yourself to the champions that have gone before us, especially the Blessed Mother. Pick up the Rosary as a warrior would pick up a mace to drive back the demonic. Our fight isn't against flesh and blood, it is against the demonic and satanic. These tools detach us from the candy coated poisonous temptations that the devil offers us. They drive him back.
Finally we must start calling the truth truth again. We dropped our guard when we allowed in artificial birth control, abortion, every deviation of sexuality we could imagine, cohabitation, pornography, fraud, and whole litany of evil. These are every bit effective as Oijia Boards and other occult accoutrements for inviting the devil into a place in our life. Truth will lead us to humility. Humility will allow us to pursue reconciliation (especially sacramentally) and regain our strength to get back on the field of battle. This, by the way, is why the devil tempts us so on not going to Mass and Confession. The enemy hardly wants us to find the field hospital.
We are at war. We will be until Christ come again. The Church in the west had better come to grips with that soon and very soon before the Church in the west becomes so ineffectual that it dies altogether. You want strong priests and vocations? Start encouraging the courage needed. We are training soldiers in a theater of war, not concession stand attendants in a theater of song and dance.