Yesterday I met with an engaged couple that is scrambling to find a church for their wedding on August 15th, since churches in San Francisco remain closed. “After we are allowed to move about normally…” he said. I had to say that I didn’t think we would ever be able to move about as freely as we did before. This is not a conspiracy, but a consensus, which is much worse. Most of us have chosen “safety” over freedom. Most of us have too easily given up freedom of worship and the Sacraments. Most churches in San Francisco have been closed since March, and do we think Catholic life and worship will resume? Most Catholics will not return to the sacraments, because for five months we have been told that the Eucharist is not essential. 75% of Catholics did not attend Sunday Mass before Covid; I expect only five or ten percent of the total Catholic population will attend Mass after Covid. And five percent is just about what we have here at Mass this morning. But God can save the world with very small numbers.
Five Percent: “Some” Seed
In Christ’s parable only a fraction of the seed puts down roots and bears fruit—most of the seed dies. But the seed that survives yields fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold. A friend of mine grows wheat, and he tells me that it’s hard to increase even four-fold from year to year—four times the amount of wheat from the previous year. The highest anyone has ever increased his wheat yield, with every modern technology, is forty-fold. But Christ promises a hundred-fold. How is that possible? Can San Francisco’s million inhabitants be saved from the violence and lawlessness of atheism with only 48 people at our four Masses this morning? Yes. The battle, and the victory, is the Lord’s, not ours. This city is His. Our job is simply to be faithful, few as we are.
The Chastisement that makes us whole
First we have to acknowledge that we are slaves, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8: He describes all creation in “bondage to decay,” in slavery to corruption. All that you see around you will rot. This body of mine, in 50 years, will be food for worms. Google and Facebook will probably be long gone, and perhaps even this great nation will have been dissolved. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” the Lord assures us, “but my words will not pass away.” Or, in St. Paul’s words, “Creation was made subject to futility—"nothingness”—in hope that when it fails us, the children of God will be revealed. Covid is the Great Revealer: how strong is our Christian faith when we face opposition? We must be revealed as the children of God, not the children of this age. We must put our hope and trust not in politics, or technology, or economic security, or physical health, but in God. “The sufferings of this present time,” Paul writes, “are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed … the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
In the years of social disintegration leading up to the Great War of 1914, GK Chesterton wrote an exquisite hymn, O God of earth and altar. It calls upon God’s chastisement, which is our only hope of regaining our freedom.
O God of earth and altar,/ bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,/ our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,/ the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,/ but take away our pride.
Only God can purge our individual and national perverse willfulness. Gold—economic prosperity—entombs the human spirit, and scorn divides us, so, God, “take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.”
Tie in a living tether/ the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,/ smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation/ aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,/ a single sword to thee.
“Smite us and save us:” he afflicts us only to strengthen us, he wounds only to heal. Only God can lift up “a living nation, a single sword to thee.” We must be that united sword of the Spirit, witnesses of fidelity to Christ in a godless age. May God keep us faithful to Him, especially in these gloriously difficult times. May we be revealed as the “children of God” in this time of struggle.