Updated: Nov 25, 2019
What is Acies all about?
You might have already asked this question yourself. If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you have some idea of the answer now, but given the frequency with which we hear questions like “What is Acies for?” and “What does Acies do?” it’s evident that we need to make a clear statement on that score. Perhaps just as important, is the answer to the less frequently asked, but always subtly implied, question “Why should I even consider joining? What does Acies have to offer to me?” Below, I’ll briefly outline Acies’ purposes and how we achieve them, then at the end, I’ll answer the question why you should or should not join.
Acies has three ends which, although lofty and difficult, are very straightforward: Sanctification, Formation and Catholic Action. Together, these comprise the development of the whole person. Let’s take a look at each of the ends individually, and how we are going about achieving them.
Sanctification is clearly our most important function and is the driving force behind Acies. Everything we do in life must be directed toward closer union with God or it is quite simply a waste of time. This is especially true of explicitly Catholic organizations, which is why the first and most important focus of Acies is the interior life. Pope Pius X teaches us in his encyclical E Supremi that any lay group dedicated to Catholic Action must have a devout spiritual life, under the direction of the clergy, at its very core. Dom Chautard, one of the greatest apostolic workers of the last century, tell us in The Soul of the Apostolate that our apostolate should be nothing more than the natural overflowing of our interior life into our active life.
So how do we put these ideas into practice? To begin with, all the engaged members of Acies commit to doing certain very basic spiritual duties, namely, daily meditation, daily examination of conscience, daily rosary with an additional decade for the intentions of Acies and its members, and regularly consulting a spiritual director. These practices form the foundation of the individual’s spiritual formation. These are supplemented with monthly recollections. These form the baseline of a person’s spiritual formation as an Acies member. In addition, we have recollections on the first Saturday of every month. These are short 45-minute conferences or meditations on a topic important to the spiritual life, given by a priest, and followed by a group rosary in the chapel with silent meditation until Compline. Recollections are an indispensable part of the spiritual life, and give us a chance to reset and reconsider our priorities.
The second end of Acies, the formation of the members, focuses on intellectual and social development. We can probably all agree that in today’s world, we suffer from a pretty severe lack of social and intellectual formation. And while this deprivation seems more severe (in my experience) among non-Catholics (who don’t have the advantage of at least the baseline provided by Catholic education) it is still very much a problem in our own community. Let’s look at the social and the intellectual dimensions separately.
So what are we talking about when we say, “social formation”? Well, we know from reason and from Faith that man is a social and political animal. This means that his nature is to live in organized groups with hierarchies and social norms. So part of becoming an adult, or a “whole person,” is to learn how properly to interact with the rest of society. We modern people are extremely efficient in posturing, creating a carefully curated “personal brand” and manipulating others, but we are woefully inept at creating real relationships of friendship and trust, which are necessary for us to navigate through life. The reason is simple: we were all brought up in a society that was founded on the principles of Enlightenment, Individualism and Protestant rebellion, and that society has now decayed to the point that it has lost, fifty years ago, the fragile veneer of natural virtue that it once possessed. As a result, the modern person grows up with no respect for anything whatsoever outside of himself, and his ability to form real connections with other people is severely hampered.
Now, you might object, “But we weren’t raised that way! We were raised in Catholic families, taught to honor our parents, respect authority and treat others with respect. Also, many of us went to Catholic schools where we received a Catholic social formation. Doesn’t that count for something?” Yes, it does, which is why I mentioned that we have a significant advantage. However, we very often neglect to account for the profound influence that the society at large has upon us. It was not for nothing that Pius XII said that the salvation of the majority of men is dependent upon the political and social order. Even though we live in the St. Mary’s bubble, we are not exempt from this influence. In fact, we may actually be more vulnerable to it, since it can affect us unaware.
How then should we go about addressing this problem, and what does Acies have to do with it? It’s actually quite simple. Acies provides a place where young Catholic lay people who are serious about their Faith can interact with others of a similar disposition. By cooperating in meaningful and essentially Catholic activities, in an atmosphere animated by supernatural intentions, they can unlearn the worldly habits of selfishness and manipulation and learn instead the Catholic social virtues. Those of us tinged with worldliness and pagan ideas are edified by the example of those more spiritually advanced, and those who have less social exposure can learn the niceties of human interaction in an atmosphere where they will not be judged or shunned for not being “cool” by the standards of the world. Worldly standards of social status are un-Catholic, unhealthy, and make everyone who internalizes them deeply unhappy. We need to completely abandon such standards, and learn to have interactions based on common values and charity. Ultimately, the goal of our social formation is to make all of us more Catholic, and to support each other in rejecting the encroachment of a worldly spirit.
We hope that the recent reorganization of Acies into smaller teams, with corresponding tasks, will help the members to develop a stronger connection and a greater sense of ownership and belonging. We are also working to create a structure that will help members develop those now vanishingly rare virtues of commitment and responsibility. With this structure and the type of activities we do, we hope gradually to inculcate in our members a sense of Catholic culture, a love for Truth, Goodness and Beauty, and the realization of how beautiful a truly Catholic society could be. The conversion of our minds and hearts back to thinking of our relations to others in a thoroughly Catholic light will certainly be the work of generations, but it starts here and now. It starts not only with the sacraments and with Catholic schools, but with lay organizations like Acies, which will form the building blocks of a new society that can grow out of the ruins of the current moral and cultural dystopia.
The second part of our formation is intellectual. Now, you might say, “Most of us went to Catholic school, or even college and we try to continue studying the Faith in our spare time as much as we can. Isn't that enough?” In ordinary times, yes. But we do not live in ordinary times. The world that we live in is full of subtle errors in very attractive and alluring packaging, and we have to be vigilant in pointing them out and exposing them for what they are. There are also a lot of topics that come up in the modern world that don’t have a perfectly scripted response out of the catechism or the Summa, and we need to learn how to discuss them properly with non-Catholics. This is a work that is beyond the capacity of the individual. It requires the guidance of authority, and the intellectual help of other Catholics. When we try to figure everything out on our own, we fall into error.
To this end, Acies provides some resources for intellectual development to its members and friends, and anyone else who is interested.
Firstly, we have the recollections, which, although primarily on spiritual topics, also help to relieve us of our worldly attitudes which are the breeding ground for errors.
Secondly, we have monthly discussion groups where we look at controversies or errors that are likely to come up in conversations with others. Some topics we’ve talked about are: the position of the SSPX in the Church; the inversion of the ends of marriage; the legality of abortion; feminism; authority and obedience. These discussions are led by an authority figure, usually a priest, but focus on getting the members to debate about and think through the topic on their own, like they will have to if presented with such a topic in real time. This kind of exercise is especially important for topics where modern Catholics are likely to be affected by secular errors, such as the ideas of Americanism, Feminism, and modern attitudes toward authority.
A third resource is the informal bi-weekly apologetics meeting. This is an optional meeting held every other Sunday evening specifically to talk about how to have discussions with non-Catholics, and focuses on the presenting the Catholic position in the most credible and persuasive way we can. As such, it is not catechetical and focuses more on persuasion. We’ve covered such topics as proving the existence of God, arguing for absolute morality, showing the errors of Protestantism, and explaining the crisis in the Church to non-Catholics. Most of us Catholics struggle quite a bit with explaining ourselves to non-Catholics, so this kind of exercise lets us get used to dealing with objections in a productive way and being able to understand how other people might think.
The fourth means of intellectual formation is a very informal monthly book club meeting. This is normally held in the morning on the first Saturday of every month. Those who choose to come discuss the book that the club read that month. We try to keep the books relatively short. Although sometimes challenging for us moderns, this kind of literary exercise can help a lot in enriching our minds. It’s a breath of fresh air in a world of screens and artificial stimuli.
Now we’ve looked at sanctification and formation, but what about Catholic action? After all, isn’t that what we’re all about? The answer is “yes, absolutely,” but with the important qualification that we need to bear in mind the first principle that Catholic action is nothing more than acting Catholic. Our exterior apostolate is simply the external result of an interior disposition of supernatural charity. However, we are all modern people, and Americans, and so we’re predisposed to the error of activism. It is very easy to fall into the industrial attitude of considering only external activity to be “productive.” We should be wary of our inclination to value the external works of the apostolate over the much more important functions of the interior life, since our external actions are completely useless without the proper interior spirit. However, if we are practicing an interior life and try to keep as pure an intention as we can, our external apostolate can and will be very fruitful, even if we do not see it.
With that said, Acies is certainly focused on Catholic Action, and we intend to increase our activities in that regard. Currently, we hold the annual pro-life rosary every January, we periodically protest abortion clinics, and we’ve been a couple times to a homeless shelter in Kansas City to feed the residents and hand out sacramentals and pamphlets about the Faith. On a more local level, we hosted a flag football tournament that raised funds for the improvement of the city park, with the intention of creating a greater sense of unity, or at least détente, between the SSPX faithful and the secular society around us.
As to the future, we are planning to do a lot more apologetical work over the next few months. We would like to start doing an apostolate on local college campuses where we talk to students about matters of faith and morals to try to see where they stand and to explain the Church’s teaching on those topics. Right now it’s a matter of determining what kind of platform makes sense both logistically and prudentially. It’s also important to prepare the members for these missions, and that’s why we’re having apologetics talks and discussion groups. We could also really use a lot more manpower. Our hope is that as we grow and become more organized and our members advance in their formation, we can do more and more external works, both apologetical, as well as corporal works of mercy.
In summary, Acies has three purposes: the sanctification of the members, the formation of the members, and Catholic Action. We’re taking concrete steps to achieve all of these.
So, with all of this said, why should a young man or woman consider joining Acies? There are two reasons.
The first reason: because we personally need these kinds of helps in order to commit to being fully Catholic. And we should do that or just stop kidding ourselves that we are Catholic at all. We need the commitment to spiritual duties, the recollections, the prayers of the other members, the intellectual and social formation. This is all rather unpleasant for us to hear, because we’re all very staunch individualists. We think: “I can be a perfectly good Catholic all on my own.” But that is simply not true, and comes from a Protestant and worldly spirit, totally contrary to the spirit of the Church.
The second reason is that we are obliged in justice to give back to society, to contribute to the restoration of all things in Christ. If you’re not already doing that by pursuing a priestly or religious vocation or by raising a family, then Acies is the best means for fulfilling that obligation. Realistically, if you’re single and your day job isn’t so overwhelming as to exclude additional activity, then there really shouldn’t be any question.
We can already hear the objections: “But I’m restoring Christendom in my own way just fine!” Interesting. As it turns out, the Church has always taught that actions we do on our own are far less meritorious and effective than actions taken under obedience and as part of a community.
But we hear another objection: “I don’t have enough time!” Extremely unlikely. If you’re not working 60 hours a week or perhaps caring for a dependent relative, you almost certainly have enough time to volunteer for at least two or three events per month. If you really feel like you don't have enough time, you should probably check your social media, Netflix, and internet browsing time. It might surprise you how much time you really have.
“Okay then,” you reply, “I have time, but Acies really isn’t my crowd.” And now we’re down to the real reason. It’s uncomfortable. This is a very understandable reason, but it has two obvious answers. The first is that being uncomfortable is how we learn, and one of the most important things we can learn is how to interact with people who are different than we are, and how to have relationships based on common values and charity rather than on “coolness.” The second is that if you think that Acies isn’t yet where it needs to be, maybe that’s because people like you haven’t joined. After all, we’re only as good as our members. We’re in the early growing stage, so if you don’t like how things are, chances are you can change it if you try. If you don’t like the crowd, bring your own crowd. All of your friends should be coming anyway, if they are trying to be Catholics. (If not, maybe they shouldn’t be your friends.) If we are to have a successful apostolate, we will need people of varying personalities and backgrounds.
To clarify, Acies may not necessarily be the best thing for every single young person, for some unique personal reasons, but it is the right thing to do for a vastly greater number of young people than are currently doing it. In a parish of nearly 4,000 souls, it is embarrassing that our Catholic Action group is 40 strong on its best day. It betrays a shameful lack of generosity on the part of the youth.
It’s Lent now, and that’s a great opportunity for us to examine our lives and to make or renew resolutions. Are we committed to being Catholic? Are we committed to rejecting the standards of the world? Are we contributing to the restoration of all things in Christ? Or are we just barely pretending to do those things while actually being mostly devoted to entertaining ourselves? Most of us single people have a way of turning self-maintenance into a full-time job, our own little apostolate to ourselves. I know I have. Maybe you have too. In any case, it’s time to reconsider our priorities.