Two things struck me with special force today.
Today I said the traditional Mass in the Duomo of Florence at the altar of St. Joseph, Patron of the Church, who protects the Church now just as he protected the Holy Family in its time of mortal peril. I read the reading for the Mass for St. Callistus, Pope and martyr:
… He said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Then Jesus answered and said, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father in heaven. And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. …
Today I spotted in a comment in the queue including this:
“At a time when the very rock upon which the Church is built is turning to sand…”
No! In renaming Simon as Rock, Peter, Christ shared his mission and authority with him in a special way. Peter can only be Rock because Christ is The Rock. The Rock upon which the Church is ultimately built is Christ Himself. Nevertheless, it is Christ’s will that the Rocky Ministry, the Petrine Ministry, not Sandy Ministry, be a necessary part of His Church. Just as Christ crowns His own merits in us whenever we do something worthy and beautiful, so to Peter’s rocky solidity is rocky because Christ rocks it. This cannot change until the Doom falls and He returns in glory to take all things to Himself, submits them to the Father, and God is all in all.
So many Catholics today are hurt, disoriented, frustrated. If they are paying attention to the news, they see all manner of stories about the doings of Popes and Prelates which leave them perplexed, pained and thoroughly pissed off. I join their ranks for entire minutes at a time, especially on days like today when I saw Pope Francis with a statue of Martin Luther.
Such a gesture means – simultaneously – absolutely nothing and yet not quite nothing. My visceral reaction was “blech”. Luther? Really? Then I calmed down and my reaction was still “blech”. But the second “blech” was tempered by the fact that – as a Roman says with that trademark shrug “Meh… Popes come and go. Big deal.”
If you are getting worked up these days, pay less attention to news about bishops and popes. Believe me… it helps.
Being in Rome also helps you to gain perspective.
Although I write this from Florence, being back in Rome for a few days refreshed my ecclesial sobriety. “Being in Rome” is, by the way, more than just flying to FCO and taking a taxi into the centro. I’m a convert from Lutheran heresy. I am thoroughly “in Rome”. It was a blessing and a curse to have spent all the years literally in Rome that I did. They gave me scars and antibodies and corrective lenses for my presbyter-opia. We have to maintain a Roman perspective on Popes and Prelates. Sure, what they do is important… for about 10 minutes, blah blah blah. Sure, they can be pretty strange or pretty great, for a while, sigh. In the end…
… Holy Catholic Church is indefectible.
What do we mean by “indefectible”, one of the Four Marks of the Church, “indefectibility”?
Christ meant His Church to endure to the end of the world. It is, therefore, indefectible, that is, indestructible.
Would the Savior found something on His Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, something rooted in the agony and bloody Sacrifice of Calvary, that was so weak that men like me, some dopey cleric, could erode it? Is that how we see the Church? Able to be eroded by us? Even by a Pope? Peter, after all, betrayed the Lord. One twelfth of the Apostles sold the Lord. The first act of the first conference of bishops was to abandon the Lord. And yet, here we all are… in this together.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you hermeneutic of rupture types are sniveling, as your heads spin around and you float above your beds, “You aren’t in this with us! We are for real change and spirit-filled dynamism of blue skying together! We know that the spirit will guide us beyond as we church together. She will open the doors and windows and bring perpetual revolution and ‘Catholic Spring’ and with … and…. and people like you… yooouuuuu…. will finally be BEHIND BARBED WIRE WHERE YOU BELONG! Because… because… you …hate Vatican II! Which didn’t go nearly far enough! Hans Küng says so! Because of people like YOOOOUUUU. GAH! Uglúk u bagronk sha pushdug….”
Meanwhile, I say…
The Savior knew that we in our times would need the Church just as much as the men and women in the age of martyrs needed her. Therefore, the same Church endures and cannot be turned to sand no matter what we do to it.
Christ said to Peter in Matthew that the “gates of hell” would not prevail. Attacks of the Enemy from within and from without, through false teachings or immorality or violence cannot shake the foundation of the Church. He did not guarantee that the Church would survive with the comfortable elements we know it in, say, 21st century Madison, WI or … wherever. The visible Church in her members will grow and shrink like a living thing, but she will never be overcome. History has borne out the Lord’s promise.
Christ said to the Apostles before his Ascension: “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). Since the Apostles were mortal men who passed, he was talking through them to us, through the ages to our own day and beyond. They understood this and passed this true teaching down. It has been a faithful teaching that cannot be other than as true now as it was true when it came from Christ’s own lips.
C’mon! Where’s your faith? This is Christ’s promise we are talking about here, right?
As seeds germinate and grow they go through many stages, but they remain what they were in the beginning: tomato or mustard. Tomato seeds don’t grow to be mustard trees. The newly conceived human being cannot grow into a giraffe or sea urchin. The Church, having stages and changes and growth and decline and illness and recovery and strength and activity and rest and lassitude and energy remains precisely what Christ meant her to be: His Body on Himself the Rock with its clear constituent elements that we can perceive and which tell us which is His Church and which is not. St. Ambrose uses the analogy of the Moon: it wanes and waxes, it is dark then bright, it can even be eclipsed, but, it’s always there and it is always the Moon.
Not only did our Lord says that He would be with us, but He sent the Holy Spirit to give life to the Church as the soul does to the Body.
How can that be inconstant and false? WE can be inconstant and false. Christ cannot be. I believe Him. The Catholic Church is so great, so strong and true that not even men like me – or any of the ridiculous clerics and prelates out there – can break her or do anything to undermine her in any fundamental way. We – they – I – can hurt some souls – we can hurt each other – and woe to those who do, but we cannot change the Church’s very nature.
If you are irritated about something going on right now, something manifestly stupid, wicked or just ill-conceived, a well-intentioned misstep in judgment, examine your own consciences and …
… GO TO CONFESSION.
That’s what I do.