And there are many honest men and women who are working with their hands to shore up the Faith. God will always raise up saints to rebuild his crumbling Church, and in dark times, extraordinary saints. In fact, the Church is not, and cannot, be in crisis. We must maintain our serene faith in God. We are David standing before Goliath, sure that the victory will be the Lord’s. “Scandals there will always be” the Lord told us, and in his mysterious providence God works through them. It was through the betrayal of Judas, and the faithless desertion of every apostle but one, that the world was saved. It was through the execution of her Lord, and from his bleeding side, that the Church was born. Christ was sold to the Romans by his own priests, both by his own apostle Judas and by the temple priests of his own faith. There has never been a time when the Church has not been attacked both from without and from within. But be quite sure that the Church’s deposit of faith remains unchanged and unchangeable.
We are probably seeing the most serious crisis of faith in the Church’s history, brought about by the pervasive trivialization of the Holy Mass. But the Sacred Liturgy itself remains untouched. We are celebrating it today, here in Monterey, in our own poor way, but faithfully. While in normal times the faithful depend on their bishops, a Catholic community, as Bishop Athanasius Schneider points out, can survive for some time without bishops, as it did during the Soviet era, and as it is becoming likely in China today. In Japan the faith survived for 200 years even without priests and the Holy Eucharist. God normally comes to us through the sacraments, but He is not bound by them.
Credo Ecclesiam: an act of hope
The Church Militant will always be at war. A friend of mine, a faithful and educated Catholic, had a dream some years ago. His guardian angel led him to a broad and raging river, on the other side of which lay heaven. Church leaders were frantically building a bridge, and multitudes began crossing over it, but his guardian angel told him not to step on the bridge. Within a short time the bridge collapsed and multitudes fell into the abyss, swept away by the raging waters. His guardian angel then carried him over the chasm, explaining that “no human effort can get a man over this river, but only grace.” In other words, God does not always grant success or visible progress in the Church. Many days we work hard but see no fruit. We see only apathy. We have our holy hour, we have the Holy Mass, the rosary, our spiritual reading. We can pray and fast and do penance.
My friend’s dream continued: “On other side of the river we came into heaven, and I saw the hosts of God, myriads upon myriads of angels and saints. But they were not seated, nor even standing. They were on the move. The hosts of heaven are on the march.”
The Church Militant must keep marching too, with the hosts of heaven. In the third secret of Fatima, Our Lady showed Lucia a devasted city. In her words:
We saw … a Bishop dressed in White ... Other Bishops, Priests, men and women Religious going up a steep mountain, at the top of which there was a big Cross … before reaching there the Holy Father passed through a big city half in ruins; half trembling with halting step, afflicted with pain and sorrow, he prayed for the souls of the corpses he met on his way….
Until the pervasive corruption of Church leaders began to be revealed in recent years, most of us would assume the ruined city littered with corpses represented external attacks on the Church, by her enemies. Now we begin to see that a good many corpses are actually suicides, and the ruined city depicts a hierarchy that is destroying itself. The Church today is littered with corpses of priests like Judas, who hanged himself, or the unfaithful Maccabean soldiers, on whose corpses were found idols sacred to the false gods of Jamnia.
Bishop Schneider quotes Pope Pius XII’s address to Americans in the depths of the Cold War: “Revive your sense of the invisible world, which is all around us … have a certain familiarity with the angels, who are forever solicitous of your salvation…” (CV, 297). We must strengthen, we must exercise, the virtue of hope. Hope is a constant battle, requiring continual vigilance, the virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven. We must consider everything sub specie aeternitatis, and as Bishop Schneider says again, “more than other people, a priest has to live principally for these two aims: for truth and for eternity” (CV 242).
Hope finds its deepest source in the Holy Eucharist. When all hope seemed lost for those two on the road to Emmaus, Our Lord gave them the Holy Eucharist, and their hearts, burning already with the Word of God, then “saw” what they hoped for. Sunday Mass, however, is no longer enough. Those who possibly can should attend daily Mass. Occasional holy are no longer enough. Those who possibly can should spend at least one hour before the Blessed Sacrament every week. Two women in my parish spend every night, all night, in prayer before the monstrance, the holy women of San Francisco. If God gives them the grace to pray “day and night in the temple,” he will provide graces for us, proper to our states in life, to be apostles of hope in a dark time.
Communio sanctorum means both “communion in the holy things”—the sacraments, most especially the Holy Eucharist—but also “communion with holy people.” Time spent with the saints makes us saints. St. John Vianney, the very model of the Catholic priesthood, kept the lives of the saints always on his night table. Reading the lives of the saints, cultivating holy friendships, making pilgrimage to the shrines of saints, praying to them daily, and calling upon their intercession will greatly help us.
Credo in unum Deum; credo ecclesiam. Bishop Schneider quotes Hilary of Poitiers—the “Athanasius of the West”—that the Church is unique among all human institutions in that “she triumphs when she is defeated, that she is better understood when she is attacked, that she rises up when her unfaithful members desert her.” The Church today is persecuted, vilified, mocked, and undermined both by her enemies and by her own shepherds. It has ever been thus, but it has always also been the devil’s ploy to convince us that evil has gained the upper hand within the Body of Christ. “Pray, hope, and do not worry” said St. Pio of Pietrelcina. Do not let the evil one trip you—“scandalize” you—into losing your peace. Where sin abounds, St. Paul wrote, grace abounds all the more. This is the time of great saints. I will conclude where St. John concludes the bible, from the book of the Apocalypse:
After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! … I saw a great multitude which no man could number … standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice … “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”