The Shaking of the Church

 

FOR two weeks after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, a warning continually rose in my heart that the Church was now entering into “dangerous days” and a time of “great confusion.” [1]Cf. How Do You Hide a Tree Those words greatly impacted how I would approach this writing apostolate, knowing that it would be necessary to prepare you, my readers, for the Storm winds that were coming.

And what has been coming? The Passion of the Church when she must pass…

…through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers… The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675, 677

Today, the same confusion and pain that hung in the Upper Room at the Last Supper also pervades the Church at this hour. The Apostles were shaken by the words that Jesus must suffer and die; shaken that His entrance into Jerusalem was not the triumph they were anticipating; shaken to find that one among them would betray their Master.

Then Jesus said to them, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed’… (Matthew 26:31)

On this eve of the Church’s Passion, so too, we are being shaken and in much the same way: through the striking of the shepherd, that is, the hierarchy.

 

THE ASS

The sexual scandals that continue to surface have struck the priesthood so deeply that, in many places, the Church has lost her credibility altogether. It’s as though she too now rides an “ass of humiliation” into Jerusalem.

As a result, the faith as such becomes unbelievable, and the Church can no longer present herself credibly as the herald of the Lord. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Light of the World, The Pope, the Church, and the Signs of the Times: A Conversation With Peter Seewald, p. 25

At the same time, Pope Francis has, in often very strong language, challenged the priesthood to embrace a state of life in closer imitation of Our Lord’s humility: to greater simplicity, transparency, and availability.

Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass… (Matt 20:5)

The shunning of everything from the standard papal headquarters, to limousines, and even papal dress has caught the attention of the world. They too have cried out a kind of “Hosanna” as they perceive something admirable appearing.

…when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken…

But just as the people’s perception of Jesus was misguided—seeing Him still as a mere prophet of their false messianic hopes—so too, the message of mercy of Pope Francis has been misunderstood by many as somehow permission to remain in sin.

“Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

 

THE BETRAYALS

The shaking did not end with Christ’s entrance, but continued to reverberate in the Upper Room when He announced that one of them would betray Him.

Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” (Matthew 26:22)

One thing is certain of the pontificate of Francis: it is leading to a great sifting at this hour, one in which the “faith” of each of us is being tested to one degree or another.

…as Christ told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,” today “we are once more painfully aware that Satan has been permitted to sift the disciples before the whole world.” —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 21st, 2011

The spontaneous style and unfamiliar ambiguity of this pope has led to not only sharp differences in interpreting papal documents, but to various camps claiming that they are the ones who are most faithful to the Gospels. 

Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.” (Matthew 26:33)

In the end, it was not only Judas, but Peter who betrayed Christ. Judas, because he rejected Truth; Peter, because he was ashamed of It.

 

JUDAS AMONG US

What we are witnessing today is something akin to the Last Supper where Judases are now emerging. Bishops and priests who had been somewhat in the shadows are now, like Judas, feeling emboldened by the program of Pope Francis, playing upon the ambiguities that his leadership style has brought about. Rather than interpret these ambiguities as they should—through the lens of Sacred Tradition—they have risen from the Table of Christ and sold the Truth for “thirty pieces of silver” (that is, hollow and empty hopes). Why should this surprise us? If it was in the context of the Holy Mass that Judas would rise to betray the Lord, so too, it will be those who share the Divine Banquet with us who will also rise to betray the Lord in the hour of our Passion. 

And how are they betraying the Body of Christ?

There came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?” (Luke 22:47-48)

Yes, these men have arisen to “kiss” the Body of Christ with a false and Anti-Mercy, the casuistry of words that appear as “love”, “mercy”, and “light” but are darkness in reality. They do not lead to that truth which alone sets us free—to Authentic Mercy. Whether it is entire bishop’s conferences twisting Tradition, Catholic universities giving platforms to heretics, Catholic politicians selling out, or Catholic schools teaching explicit sex education… we are seeing a deep betrayal of He who is Truth on nearly every level of society.

In fact, many Catholics feel abandoned most especially by Pope Francis for seemingly ignoring the apparent crisis. Questions remain for some as to why he has gathered many of these “liberal” men around him; why he permits these Judases to operate freely; or why he does not explicitly answer the Cardinals’ “dubia”—their request for clarification on matters of marriage and objective sin. I believe one answer is that these things must happen as the hour of the Church’s Passion has come. It is Christ, ultimately, who is permitting this since it is He—not the Pope—who is “building” His Church. [2]Cf. Matt 16:18

Meanwhile, while Judas was betraying Him and the Apostles were drawing swords to stop all the nonsense, Jesus was preoccupied with showing mercy to the very last minute—even to those who would arrest Him:

Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51)

 

PETER’S DENIAL

Sadly—perhaps even more sadly than Judas’ inevitable betrayal—are the Peters among us. I have been deeply struck this past week by the words of St. Paul:

Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12)

It is not the heretical priests or progressive bishops rising into the night that have surprised me; it is those whom have turned against the Church with the same anger and denial that Peter unleashed on that sorrowful night. Recall when Peter first objected to the notion that Jesus would “suffer and die”:

Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matt 16:22-23)

This is symbolic of those who cannot accept a Church not made in their own image. They are disgruntled with the confusion of this present pontificate, the impoverished post-Vatican II liturgy, and general lack of reverence (all of which is true). But rather than remain with Christ in this Gethsemane, they are fleeing the Church. They are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do. For they do not perceive that the Church must undergo her own Passion as well. They cannot see that this present distress is actually a test to see if their faith is in Jesus Christ… or in the past glory of an institution. They are ashamed, as Peter was of Jesus, to see the Body of Christ in such poor estate.

At that he began to curse and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately a cock crowed. (Matthew 26:74)

We too find it hard to accept that he bound himself to the limitations of his Church and her ministers. We too do not want to accept that he is powerless in this world. We too find excuses when being his disciples starts becoming too costly, too dangerous. All of us need the conversion which enables us to accept Jesus in his reality as God and man. We need the humility of the disciple who follows the will of his Master. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 21st, 2011

Yes, I love chant, candles, cassocks, icons, incense, high altars, statues, and stained-glass windows as much as any sedevacantist. But I also believe that Jesus will strip us completely of these in order to bring us again to the center of our Faith, which is the Cross (and our duty to proclaim it with our lives). The fact, however, is that many would rather celebrate the Mass in Latin than they would preserve the unity of the Body of Christ.

And His Body is being broken all over again.

 

JOHN’S FIAT

For us, the empty places at the table of the Lord’s wedding feast… invitations refused, lack of interest in him and his closeness… whether excusable or not, are no longer a parable but a reality, in those very countries to which he had revealed his closeness in a special way. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Mass of the Lord’s Supper, April 21st, 2011

Brothers and sisters, I say these things on this somber evening, not to accuse, but to awaken us to the hour in which we are living. For, like the Apostles in Gethsemane, many have fallen asleep…

It’s our very sleepiness to the presence of God that renders us insensitive to evil: we don’t hear God because we don’t want to be disturbed, and so we remain indifferent to evil… the sleepiness’ is ours, of those of us who do not want to see the full force of evil and do not want to enter into his Passion. —POPE BENEDICT XVI, Catholic News Agency, Vatican City, Apr 20, 2011, General Audience

“Surely it is not I, Lord?”…. “Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.”

According to the Gospels, when the time of sifting came, all the Apostles fled the garden. And so, we might be tempted to despair saying, “Will I too, Lord, betray you? It must be inevitable!”

Yet, there was one disciple who did not ultimately abandon Jesus: St. John. And here is why. At the Last Supper, we read:

One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus. (John 13:23)

Even though John fled the Garden, he returned to the foot of the Cross. Why? Because he had been lying close to the breast of Jesus. John listened to the heartbeats of God, the voice of the Shepherd that repeated over and over again, “I am mercy. I am mercy. I am mercy… trust in Me.” John would later write, “Perfect loves drives out fear…” [3]1 John 4:18 It was the echo of those heartbeats that guided John to the Cross. The song of love from the Savior’s Sacred Heart drowned out the voice of fear.

What I am saying is that the antidote to apostasy in these times is not a mere strict adherence to Sacred Tradition. Indeed, it was the legalists who arrested Jesus and the Pharisees who demanded His crucifixion. Rather, it is the one who comes to Him like a little child, not only obeying everything He has revealed, but more than anything laying their head upon His breast in a constant communion of prayer. By this I do not mean simply rote words, but prayer from the heart. It is not just to pray to God, but to have a relationship with Him… a close sharing between “friends.” All this takes place, not just in the head, but most especially in the heart.

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live… the heart is the place “to which I withdraw”… It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant…. Christian prayer is a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ. It is the action of God and of man, springing forth from both the Holy Spirit and ourselves, wholly directed to the Father, in union with the human will of the Son of God made man… prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit. The grace of the Kingdom is “the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity… with the whole human spirit.” Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him.Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2563-2565

As we enter now into the Easter Triduum, I leave you with Our Lord’s own alleged words regarding the “passion, death, and resurrection” of the Church, given on Pentecost Monday of May, 1975 in St. Peter’s Square in the presence of Pope Paul VI:

Because I love you, I want to show you what I am doing in the world today. I want to prepare you for what is to come. Days of darkness are coming on the world, days of tribulation… Buildings that are now standing will not be standing. Supports that are there for my people now will not be there. I want you to be prepared, my people, to know only me and to cleave to me and to have me in a way deeper than ever before. I will lead you into the desert… I will strip you of everything that you are depending on now, so you depend just on me. A time of darkness is coming on the world, but a time of glory is coming for my Church, a time of glory is coming for my people. I will pour out on you all the gifts of my Spirit. I will prepare you for spiritual combat; I will prepare you for a time of evangelism that the world has never seen…. And when you have nothing but me, you will have everything: land, fields, homes, and brothers and sisters and love and joy and peace more than ever before. Be ready, my people, I want to prepare you… —given to Ralph Martin at a gathering with the Pope and the Charismatic Renewal Movement

 

RELATED READING

Francis, and the Coming Passion of the Church

The Dipping Dish

When the Weeds Begin to Head

Will I Run Too?

Hanging By a Thread

On the Eve

 

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1. Cf. How Do You Hide a Tree
2. Cf. Matt 16:18
3. 1 John 4:18
Posted in HOME, THE GREAT TRIALS.