“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
“We must no longer
be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by
people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the
truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into
Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament
with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the
body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:1-4, 14-16)
The nature of God is unity. At the Last Supper, Jesus entreated the Father, “That they may be one as you are in me and I am I you.” (Jn 17:21) Unity is neither trivial nor optional. It was a last request of Jesus to the Father witnessed by the apostles at the Last Supper. We may not understand all that is going on in the Church, but this prayer is very clear. We are called to unity.
God’s holy Church has undergone trials in every age, attacks from outside and from within. Today, the attacks on it from outside the Church are escalating in an unprecedented manner. So too are the attacks from within. The cunning enemy of the Church has released a weapon that is aimed directly at “good Catholics”. It is the temptation to schism. I don’t often read comment boxes on Catholic websites, but when I do, I am shocked at the vitriol being spewed against the Holy Father by people who consider themselves good, faithful Catholics. I have learned from personal examination that self-righteousness is a form of pride the devil reserves for good people. Humility is the only way to defeat evil.
Jesus gave a structure to his Church to protect us, and to which we owe the greatest respect. We know that all the clergy have human failings as we all do, but let us remember the story of St. Francis where he was brought to confront a priest who was living in a scandalous relationship with a woman. St. Francis “fell to his knees, took the priest’s hands into his own stigmatized hands, kissed them and said, ‘All I know and all I want to know is that these hands give me Jesus.’” It is said the priest converted after that.
Our job is not to judge the clergy, and especially not the Holy Father, but to respect their office, pray unceasingly for them, and support them in any way we can. St. Francis told his brothers: “If you will be sons of peace, you will win the clergy and the people for the Lord, and the Lord judges this more acceptable than to win the people but scandalize the clergy. Hide their lapses, supply for their many defects; and when you have done this, be even more humble.” (Celano, Second Life #146)
Whenever we have trials, it is prudent to ask ourselves if we are being tested, and to ponder how we can best demonstrate our love and trust in the Lord. God is cleaning house and he is starting with His own. To paraphrase Fr. Altier, when Jesus cleared the temple, he cleaned like a man, moving only the big stuff. But now His Mother is doing the cleaning, and she cleans like a woman, getting in all the corners. God is purifying his Bride. What is happening now is painful, but so necessary!
As Saint John Paul II said so prophetically during the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia:
“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously.”
More than ever we are called to pull together and let God work his mighty work through his unified Church, imperfect as it may be. Archbishop Chaput said during a recent Synod: “We also need to thank God for the gift of this present, difficult moment. Because conflict always does two things: It purifies the church, and it clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.”
It brings to mind what Simeon said at the Presentation of the Lord: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed…” (Lk 10:34-35)
This bears pondering. What I am noticing is that as the world becomes more polarized, the inner thoughts of people are being revealed. Think of all the polarizing figures in the world today, people who are challenging our assumptions and provoking often heated discussion: Pope Francis, President Trump, Prime Minister Trudeau, as well as countless other world leaders, factions, and movements. Our inner thoughts are being revealed and almost no one is holding back.
Let us keep in mind the messages of Our Lady, that the only appropriate response to all this turmoil is prayer, penance, humility, and trust in God. This is still God’s Church no matter how things appear; her Immaculate Heart WILL triumph. I like this quote from Andrew van der Bijl, founder of Open Doors: “Prayer is not preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle.” If we’re doing more talking than praying, we’re fighting for the enemy, not against. Let our words be few and measured. Remember what Jesus told the disciples: “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Mt 10:14) There is a time to every purpose under heaven—a time to argue, and a time to quit arguing and fall to your knees. May God grant us wisdom!
We must remember always to trust in God, believe in his promises, and be faithful to our mission—that is, OUR mission and not someone else’s. It is tempting to act as armchair cardinals when there is so much to talk about and everyone has a soapbox literally at their fingertips, but it can be a huge distraction. Our main task in this world, and especially as penitents in it, is and always has been to become holy and to fulfill the mission entrusted to us. If we have expectations that are not being met by the Pope or the Church as a whole, consider that at any given point in the history of the people of God, people’s expectations have not been met. That is how God operates. If he was predictable, he would not be God.
It is so easy to be dragged down by the negative voices in the world. Here are a few more quotes to give us hope and a reason to remain firmly planted on deck in the Barque of Peter, faithfully manning our stations.
The first three quotes I took from Mark Mallett’s excellent blog post titled, On Criticizing the Clergy.
Cardinal Sarah: “We must help the Pope. We must stand with him just as we would stand with our own father.” —May 16th, 2016, Letters from the Journal of Robert Moynihan
Cardinal Raymond Burke: “Absolutely not. I will never leave the Catholic Church. No matter what happens I intend to die a Roman Catholic. I will never be part of a schism. I’ll just keep the faith as I know it and respond in the best way possible. That’s what the Lord expects of me. But I can assure you this: You won’t find me as part of any schismatic movement or, God forbid, leading people to break away from the Catholic Church. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the church of our Lord Jesus Christ and the pope is his vicar on earth and I’m not going to be separated from that.” — LifeSiteNews, August 22nd, 2016
Cardinal Gerhard Müller: “There is a front of traditionalist groups, just as there is with the progressivists, that would like to see me as head of a movement against the Pope. But I will never do this…. I believe in the unity of the Church and I will not allow anyone to exploit my negative experiences of these last few months. Church authorities, on the other hand, need to listen to those who have serious questions or justified complaints; not ignoring them, or worse, humiliating them. Otherwise, without desiring it, there can be an increase of the risk of a slow separation that might result in the schism of a part of the Catholic world, disorientated and disillusioned.” —Corriere della Sera, Nov. 26, 2017; quote from the Moynihan Letters, #64, Nov. 27th, 2017
From Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“The revelation of Fatima is a reminder that we live in a moral universe, that evil is self-defeating, that good is self-preserving; that the basic trouble of the world are not in politics or economics but in our hearts and our souls, and that spiritual regeneration is the condition of social amelioration.”
And from Scripture:
Psalm 46:7 “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
Psalm 37: 10-11 “Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity. “
Come Divine Will! Come to reign upon the
earth! May your kingdom come and come quickly.