by Cabrini Pak, Ph.D.
Archangel Michael Hurls the Rebellious Angels into the Abyss, Luca Giordana, circa 1666
Our Catholic world has found itself in a troubling liminal space, “betwixt and between” an old regime of silence and suppression and something yet to be realized in the Church: a new order? Liminal spaces can be ambiguous, ambivalent places of uncertainty in our lives where we may be tempted to abandon our beliefs or practices. It is there that we, as individuals and as part of a mystical body, may find ourselves plunged into a fierce spiritual battle for our faith, our way of life, our very being as Christians. We see human beings who have committed great evil in the Church and seemingly remain untouched by the justice due them. We also see the wreckage they caused in the lives of their victims and the scandal they caused among the faithful. The sheep have scattered. Our minds and hearts are torn with conflict, especially among Catholics who have been faithful to a 2,000-year-old tradition, who trusted in the shepherds and bishops to guide us Home. Instead, many shepherds and not a few bishops appear to have paved the road to Hell. Many, but not all. The battle begins.
Ven. Bruno Lanteri was no stranger to tumultuous times in the Church. He lived in a time when sovereigns around the world were hostile to Rome, and religious orders and monasteries were suppressed to weaken their influence on the people. For much of his adult life, he lived under the occupation of a foreign power that sought to destroy the Church’s influence in his country. He was placed under house arrest for years after being caught helping the imprisoned Pope Pius VII to reach out to the faithful and inform them that Napoleon’s unilateral actions in the Church were invalid.
About five or six years before Napoleon invaded Italy, Ven. Bruno, then between 30 and 32 years old, wrote down some fruits of a retreat. The fruits of these reflections would have well-prepared him for spiritual combat in the years that followed, and given that they survived intact after his death, they were likely lessons he revisited regularly. The structure of his brief reflection seems almost to mirror a tactic found in the fourteenth rule of discernment in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius:
"The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal, and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm."
In his 1789 – 1791 notes, which took up a single sheet of paper on both sides, he noted his own defects and their remedies. His defects, he says, include “negligence in the things of God, done therefore in a superficial way and with no real commitment; hardness, roughness with my neighbor; little charity and concern for the body and soul; over-concern for temporal matters, too much attachment to materials things; fear of making an effort when it costs me to do so.” The first item on his list of remedies is scripturally grounded: “Verify in myself often throughout the day, that is, with frequent exams, whether truly: I love God above all things. I love my neighbor as myself.” All of his remedies mentioned after that directly addressed each defect that he noticed about himself. He summed up the efforts towards a particular disposition: “freedom of spirit, built upon the desire to die to myself, to please God.” 
We can learn three things from Ven. Bruno’s example about spiritual combat in the liminal spaces. First, in times of peace, become well-acquainted with one’s own weaknesses in virtue and work with the Lord to strengthen those virtues with the development of good habits. Second, stay grounded in scripture when meditating on antidotes to one’s vices. Third, when we enter the liminal space, listen. Acknowledge. Then act. Ven. Bruno did all three of these things throughout his life, especially in the liminal spaces of his time.
“Listen. Acknowledge. Then Act.”
What I mean by the trio, listen, acknowledge, then act, is this: listen with a critical ear to what is happening around you. Don’t take mental shortcuts or get sucked into a mob mentality of panic or rage. Process that information carefully. Acknowledge or name the troubling phenomena contributing to the flux in the liminal space. Then act to address the problem. When acting, as Ven. Bruno did, remember that one does not have to do it alone. For example, Ven. Bruno collaborated with members of Catholic secret networks, among them the Amicizia Cristiana, to get needed work done for the imprisoned pope even in the chaos of war.
There are good shepherds and bishops who, while the sheep scatter from scandal or injury, work tirelessly to help get them back to safety and strive to protect them from predators and evildoers. You will not often see them in the spotlight of TV shows or news agencies. Instead, most are quietly working in the background, continuing to make the sacraments available to the faithful, going to visit the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and the elderly, and celebrating Mass with a prayer for the people in their midst. They will be offering spiritual direction and retreats for the weary. They too, will be in the midst of the spiritual battle, ready to walk with those in need of a battle buddy.
Prayer is one way to take action. Asking for the intercession of the living and the dead, including the saints, is a powerful, scripturally grounded practice that also supports those engaged in spiritual battle. Having a prayer partner is another way of being accompanied in spiritual battle. As Ven. Bruno's spiritual sons, the Oblates of the Virgin Mary help to form their own seminarians and other men and women as prayer partners through the Lanteri Center in Denver and the Prayer Partnering Program in Boston. For more information, please see the newsletter, pg. 5.
1. Puhl, SJ, Louis J. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Based on the Studies in the Language of the Autograph. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1951.
2. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary. The Spiritual Writings of Venerable Pio Bruno Lanteri: A Selection. Boston: Oblates of the Virgin Mary, 2001.