Have you ever been to St. John Lateran? It is a magnificent church, immense but usually quite empty except on special occasions. Most parishes in Rome are empty these days, with only a few isolated people scattered among the rows of empty pews for Sunday Mass. I suppose today’s successful organizations (consider Facebook, Google and Uber here in the Bay Area, which employ thousands of the brightest and best) would consider the Catholic Church a dying entity. Considering her client base and revenue, we would have to agree.
And yet the pastors of St. John Lateran’s Parish in Rome have never given up. They have remained open through the barbarian invasions, Europe’s various civil wars, the current secularization. These men have given up expecting full churches, but they have not given up offering the Holy Sacrifice. They have had to redefine what “success” means in a post-Christian age. A successful pastor is a faithful pastor. He may or may not have lots of people at Mass, but he will continue to offer the Mass prayerfully and consistently, even if he is the only one at the altar. He will become a soul before God, and he will return every morning to the conviction that God Alone Suffices.
Those of you who have children know how discouraging it can be to see them casually toss Jesus away. Almost every faithful Catholic family I know has seen their children or grandchildren cave into practical atheism. Know this: the Domestic Church will suffer the same failures as the Parish Church. And the Parish Church suffers the same disappointments as the Mother Church in Rome. Most of our children will sell their birthrights for a bowl of porridge; they will suffer the bitter disappointments of life without God. We must do what we can to deliver Jesus, and then become a soul alone with God, heedless of success or failure. Our children are not our own; we are stewards, not owners, even of those we love the most.
The Lateran Basilica, a big empty Church in Rome, is our Mother and Head. We hope it will one day again ring with the joy of a thousand voices every Sunday. But in our time she is a Sorrowful Mother who has been abandoned by her children. She does not love them any less for it, nor love God any less.