TRULY, if one does not understand the days we live in, the recent firestorm over the Pope’s condom remarks could leave the faith of many shaken. But I believe it’s part of God’s plan today, part of His divine action in the purification of His Church and eventually the whole world:
For it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God… (1 Peter 4:17)
BINDING THE SHEPHERD’S MOUTHS
In Scripture, God generally purifies His people in two ways: by making them leaderless and/or handing them over to their enemies. St. Gregory the Great, speaking of the Shepherds of the Church, wrote:
I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence, while often injurious to himself, will always harm his flock. —St. Gregory the Great, Homily, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol IV, p. 368 (cf. webcast Laborers are Few)
Since Vatican II, the Church by and large has suffered a leadership crisis on the local level. The sheep have widely ceased to be fed with the bread of truth. In some cases, such as what happened in Canada after the release of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, the sheep were led to false pastures where they became sick upon the weeds of error (see O Canada… Where Are You?).
But this is Christ’s Church, and thus, we have to recognize the hand of Our Lord upon this difficult moment, that God Himself is directing His Bride’s destiny. Pondering on St. Gregory’s word should give every Catholic pause to ask the question: “Am I in unity with Christ and His Church or not?” By this I mean, if Christ is the “truth“, am I in unity with truth? The question is not a small one:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him. (John 3:36)
Jesus died to set us free from sin saying, “the truth will set you free.” As I wrote in Living the Book of Revelation, the battle between the “woman” and the “dragon” begins as a battle over truth that culminates, for a brief time, in the reign of anti-truth—the reign of the beast. If we are living in the proximity of those days, then the slavery of mankind will be achieved by leading them into falsehood. Or rather, those who reject the teachings of the Faith revealed by Christ and transmitted through Apostolic succession will find themselves serving another god.
Therefore, God is sending them a deceiving power so that they may believe the lie, that all who have not believed the truth but have approved wrongdoing may be condemned. (2 Thess 2:11-12)
A GREAT SIFTING
Jesus said that, at the end of the age, there would be a great sifting of the weeds from the wheat (Matt 13:27-30). How would we be sifted?
Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household. (Matt 10:34-36)
What is the sword? It is the truth.
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
And so we see this sword is indeed double-edged. On the one hand, it has been used to strike many shepherds:
Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered. (Zec 13:7)
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost… (Ezekiel 34:1-11)
On the other hand, the sheep have often followed their own desires, ignoring the truth engraved on their consciences, and following after idols. And thus, God has permitted the sheep to go hungry in many places:
Yes, days are coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send famine upon the land: Not a famine of bread, or thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the LORD. (Amos 8:11)
THE POPE AND THE CONDOM STORM
What does all this have to do with the Pope and his spontaneous remarks about the use of condoms?
First, Pope Benedict said nothing antithetical to Church teaching in the casual interview printed in a new book, Light of the World. He made a technical point that a male prostitute using a condom, so as to prevent infection, is making “a first step in the direction of a moralization.” Think of an evil executioner choosing to use the guillotine instead of lethal torture to reduce the pain of his victim. The execution is still immoral, but represents “a first step in the direction of a moralization.” Benedict’s remarks are not an approval of the use of contraception but a commentary on the progression of morality in a dulled conscience.
The outcome of his remarks, printed prematurely without permission and proper context by the Vatican’s own newspaper, was foreseeable: it has been used to justify the use of condoms as contraception. A simple search of the main story reveals a potpourri of nonsensical misinterpretations of the actual truth. One person commented in a newspaper how happy she was that the pope has now allowed condoms for people with HIV and unwanted pregnancies. Still, the Vatican’s spokesman seemed to open the speculative door further adding that the use of a condom by a male or female prostitute or a transvestite is again a first step to ward morality.
The Holy Father’s words are no doubt controversial and ‘risky.’ The result has been mass confusion. But his remarks are also (whether intended or not) serving to “penetrate even between soul and spirit” exposing “the reflections and thoughts of the heart.” Of course, what the Pope said was not the Word of God much less an authoritative statement. It was his personal viewpoint—a theologian theologizing. But the response to his words are revealing much about the “thoughts of the heart” of both sheep and their shepherds, not to mention the wolves. We are seeing a further sifting in the Church…
So the real story here is not the theological speculation of a pontiff, but the response rebounding throughout the world. Will some simply bail on the Holy Father for what is said to be yet another public relations gaffe? Will others use this as an excuse to uses condoms particularly for contraception, ignoring the official teaching of the Church? Will the media use this to sow lies and confusion to further discredit the Holy Father? And will yet others remain on the Rock of Truth, despite the pounding waves of mockery and misunderstanding?
That is the question: who will run from the “Garden” and who will remain with the Lord? For the days of sifting are growing more intense and the choice for or against the truth is becoming more defined by the hour until, some day, it will be definitive—and then the Church will be handed over to her enemies as was Christ, her Head.
The tragedy is that few even realize we are in The Great Purification.
- When we used contraception: An Intimate Testimony