Persecution, however, strengthens rather than eliminates Christianity. Roman governments tried to eliminate the Church over 300 years of bloody persecutions, but "the Roman Catholic Church" is still in Rome and the Caesars have long since gone. The Soviet government also tried direct persecution for 70 years, but that didn't work either. The current Chinese government’s attempts to suppress the Church through imprisonment and church demolition will also fail in the long run.
In the United States, Christians do not shed their blood, but certainly the Church faces both external and internal opposition. From without, those who cannot tolerate the Church’s influence in the public square seek to suppress her activity through the legal system. New Jersey recently expanded the statute of limitations for abuse cases … but only for the Catholic Church. The California State Attorney has just demanded full documentation on abuse cases … but only from the Catholic Church. The lawsuits that will come from government and private attorneys will drain parishes of their operating funds until, it is hoped, the Church simply gives up and goes away. But this will not work, because the enduring dynamism of the Catholic Church is not in buildings and endowments. It is in faith, which has far greater staying power than politics and money. The Church will be reduced to a remnant, I suppose, over the next fifty years, but in contracting it will grow more intensely focused. The Church of the catacombs glows white hot with faith, because faith is all it has left.
The Church is also undermined from within. Many weak and some malevolent clergy have diminished the Church’s influence by minimizing Catholic faith and practice. Catholics rarely hear clear homiletics on unpopular doctrines, and Catholic school students usually hear secular doctrines given equal weight to Church doctrine. How often have you heard clear preaching on artificial contraception or abortion? Homilies on tolerance, inclusion, social justice, and climate change are a lot more popular. Why is it that most Catholic school graduates cannot articulate the Church’s understanding of the human person? Most Catholics can easily parrot the party line on gender ideology but would be hard-pressed to explain Eucharistic theology or human anthropology.
Many weak and some malevolent clergy have minimized Catholic faith and practice. Catholics rarely hear clear homiletics on unpopular doctrines, and Catholic school students usually hear secular doctrines given equal weight to Church doctrine. Most Catholics can easily parrot the party line on gender ideology but would be hard-pressed to explain Eucharistic theology or Christian anthropology.
How can we strengthen our faith and rebuild the Church? This Thursday is Ascension Thursday, but most Catholics will not celebrate it or even think about this wonderful mystery, so fundamental to the Christian faith. The hierarchy has moved this mystery to Sunday, but most Catholics don't attend Mass even on Sundays, because the clergy has decided not to talk about missing Mass as a mortal sin.
How can we regain our crumbling faith? You can do what my mother did: properly celebrate the Great Catholic Feasts. The bishops had already stripped our Ascension Thursday altars when I was a boy, but that did not stop my mother. She piled us into the old station wagon for a trip to the mountains. She had us pray the Mass prayers and readings before sitting on blankets under the blue sky to eat and play games. Ascension Thursday shone in my boy's heart, despite episcopal malfeasance, because of my mother. Ascension’s promise, that one day I too will be taken up to heaven, sustains my adult faith to this day.