What the Catholic Church Can Learn from General Washington

The following post is the conclusion to my short series on Catholic Men, manliness, and the loss of strong masculinity in Catholic life today. Having covered the importance of fathers and fatherhood, having suggested some websites that support men in living their Faith, and having shared some thoughts from an interview with a real-life Catholic man, now in the last post in this series I am going to look at the Man-Crisis in the Church from a military perspective. The question is, what did General Washington know that we modern-day Catholics ought to know? An essentially important thing, as you will see below.

What the Catholic Church Can Learn from General Washington

In the early summer of 1775, George Washington accepted the generalship of the Continental Army of the North American Colonies. He arrived for the first time at the army’s camp in Boston shortly after the battle of Lexington and Concord.  Although he was rather inexperienced by military standards for his new position, the newly-General Washington was shocked and appalled by what he found in Boston. Also, he was shocked by what he did not find.

The campsites where the soldiers lived, slept, and dined were disgustingly unclean.  When he examined the chain of command to learn about his officers, he found that said officers were completely disorganized: without uniforms or distinguishing marks of rank, they were unrecognizable and indistinguishable from the men underneath them. And worst of all, many of the officers provided no discipline whatsoever to their fellow soldiers. Having been elected to their ranks for their popularity with their men, they did not want to lose their popularity with their subordinates by giving or enforcing strict orders. Shocked as he was about all of this, General Washington clearly saw that it was his responsibility to clean things up and straighten everything out.

If he knew nothing else about forming an army, Washington was fully alive to the necessity of establishing a proper chain of command. He knew that an efficient corps of officers meant the difference between victory and defeat, an army without leadership and discipline is doomed.

  –Lt. Col. Joseph B. Mitchell, Discipline and Bayonets: The Armies and Leaders in the War of the American  Revolution

The horrifying state of affairs in the Continental Army lends itself nicely to a comparison with that of 90% of the Catholic parishes of the decadent West today. If we were to be granted a leader with the spirit and keenness of understanding of the commanding American general, he too would be shocked, as he found in our churches:

  • Spiritually unsanitary sites for worship and formation in the Catholic Faith. Our churches are ugly, and the liturgies celebrated within them are not faithful to the clear teaching and instruction provided by the Church. From Modernist architecture and art to shameful improvisation in the celebration of Holy Mass to errors in the catechesis of our young ones, parishes are infected with hosts of problems, and correspondingly they make us spiritually sick. We cannot grow strong in the truths of the Faith without spiritual wholeness and wholesomeness where we worship.
  • A completely disorganized chain of command. Quite often our pastors purposefully blur the distinction between the vocation of the priesthood and the role of laymen and women.  They do not wear their distinguishing clerical garments (their uniforms, as it were), and it is difficult to recognize a priest’s special dignity when he is dressed as we are. In the sanctuary, priests allow the non-ordained to do services that are not part of their calling to the lay state, but are part of his vocation as a priest. When the lay people cannot distinguish the unique role and authority of their leaders, they will be severely hampered in their ability to understand and then to carry out their work of living the Christian Faith.
  • Absence of discipline in the service of popularity. Well-known truths of the Catholic Faith are universally ignored in the pulpits. Priests refuse to talk about the doctrines of the Church that the world hates. These hard teachings are from God, yet His priests do not preach them to His faithful in the pews. Some, perhaps many people, would be angry if they were told to repent of certain choices they might be making. And then they might leave the parish. Or they might make trouble for the priests in the parishes. Forgetting that Our Lord was not popular with a great many people, priests who want to walk the broad road of false sweetness and light will let people persist in damaging errors, errors that by their nature lead not to Heaven but to Hell.

I hope that a Catholic leader would be as shocked by this state of affairs, as General Washington was with that of his new army.  A leader who remembers that we Catholics living on earth are the Church Militant, battling principalities and powers, should be astounded and appalled. How is Christ’s Church going to effectively combat its spiritual enemies under conditions that are so dire?

After his initial assessment, General Washington immediately got into action. He had almost no resources, but he did what he could, starting with the most important issue at hand: the officers.  He had to know who they were, but even more so, their men had to know them and recognize them. Officers are links in the chain of communication, direction, and authority that are essential to successful maneuvers and the achievement of victories. This was the number one issue the General had to solve, before he tackled any other.

There was no way to issue uniforms to the army, but he could get ribbons for his men, insignia for their hats and knots to put on their shoulders. In this way, a rudimentary yet distinctive system of denoting rank would make it clear to every soldier who each officer was and what his duties were. Clearly signaling their authority, the new devices worn by the officers ensured that the enlisted men would have no doubts as to whom they owed their service. Tightening up the chain of command, General Washington ensured with rank insignia that the troops could be organized, moved, and put properly to use in the great war ahead of them.  With extremely limited means, Washington was able to marshal his efforts where it counted.

Restoring the Catholic churches (and Catholic culture, by extension) in the West will require the same tactics. It begins with restoring the chain of command in the churches. Priests must be known to have authority and a special dignity. With Christ as Our Lord, our Commander-in-Chief, our pope and bishops must be generals as well as shepherds, and our pastors must be commanders and directive leaders obedient to them in God’s service. We are in a war. All Catholics are combatants. The stakes are high. Our leaders must keep us fighting in this war: the war for souls. The outcome of the war has infinite stakes: our own souls, and the souls of our loved ones.

If we laymen are to fight for souls in our vocations, we must be properly connected to the chain of command. To be effective, not to mention faithful, in their vocations, all of our ordained leaders must observe the rules and standards of the divinely founded organization of which they are “officers.” Properly oriented in their service to God and His holy Church, our clerics will focus on serving God instead of the idol of popularity, they will own the holiness and dignity of their priestly vocation to help make us into saints, and they will use their God-given authority to clean up the wicked errors and diabolical ugliness in our parishes.

May the Good Lord send us bishops and priests that see and discern like Washington. Meanwhile, we must vocally support faithful clerics wherever they are to be found. We must raise our children by teaching them the truth about the glory of the priesthood. And above all, we must pray without ceasing for all the men who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders. Let us pray that each one will receive the Lord’s ultimate commendation at his death, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church, pray for them.  

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2 thoughts on “What the Catholic Church Can Learn from General Washington

  1. Excellent! (said in the very best Mr. Burns voice.) When the laity does the priest’s job it doesn’t do its own, sort of like how eating sugar takes away the appetite for healthy food. And laymen can’t properly do the priest’s work. So the priest ends up being an administrator/bureaucrat and not, primarily, a shepherd and alter Christi. And what really makes me CRAZY are Communion services that appear to make the laity clergy and the clergy automated dispensers of The Sacrament.

  2. Pingback: What the Catholic Church Can Learn from General Washington | Daily Goodness

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