Friday is the day on which we traditionally meditate on the Dolorous or Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Although I’ve written elsewhere about these as a discussion of addiction – including sexual addiction – I have been struggling with these in light of the Troubles, as we might call them. They are on-going: the Late Unpleasantness might seem a tad dismissive since it’s not late. Yet, if you know the history of the American South to realize that I’m referring in that phrase to a massively huge social disruption costing many souls and much sadness. The parallel is apt.Very apt. The Dolorous Mysteries lead us on the way to something… we know not what. Yes: they point towards hope, in a way; still, as a story arc, they are self contained. And they end in death.
Praying in the Garden
This is the Church now. Yes, there are those fools who are ignoring the possibilities, and there are those who are gleefully jumping up and down, but the Church is just now praying, “If this cup might pass… but still not my will, but Thine.” We might pray that that might not be needed. We might beg God that it not come…
But we must submit to God’s will in the end. If God wants a spotless bride, he will have one.
I’m of the opinion that, among his many mercies, God let the Soviet scourge fall upon the Church because she was corrupt. There are stories that back this up: if nothing, she was so wed to the Czarist structures that she even allowed the Czar to take away the Patriarchate… which was restored only under the Bolsheviks. So she let the Czar destroy the power of the Church… and then let the Soviets restore it – as if she had to have the state standing with her to do anything. The Church was corrupt. God used the state to purge her. From the book, Everyday Saints comes this story of a Monastery in a small town:
It was said that its monks were all idlers and drunkards. During the Civil War [in Russia] the Bolsheviks arrived in the town that was closest to the monastery. They gathered together its inhabitants in the market square, and then they dragged the monastery’s monks out in a convoy.
The commissar loudly yelled at the people as he pointed to those men in black:
“Citizens! Townsfolk! You know these drunkards, gluttons, and idlers better than I do! Now their power has come to an end. But so that you will understand more fully how these vagabonds have fooled the workers and peasants for centuries, we will throw their cross and their Scriptures into the dust before them. Now, before your very eyes, you will see how each of them will stamp upon these tools of deceit and enslavement of the people! And then we will let them go, and let the four winds scatter them!”
The crowd roared. And as the people cheered, up walked the monastery’s Abbot, a stout man with a meaty face and a nose all red from drinking. And he said as he turned to his fellow monks: “Well, my brothers, we have lived like pigs, but let us at least die like Christians!”
And not a single one of those monks budged. That very day all their heads were chopped off by the sabers of the Bolsheviks.
I would rather see the Church pick up her cross and walk than to have it laid upon her. Read up on the South African Truth and Reconciliation process. This would be the Church coming clean on her own. It’s ok if there has to be justice done after… but if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive them. We can confess our sins before they ever come out. This will be carrying the cross rather than having it laid on our shoulders.
But this process has to go deeper than just public confession of our sins: we have to tear down the entire structure that made this possible. The failure to preach the Gospel for fear of losing one’s Parochial Financial Powerhouses, one’s artists, ones friends… this must stop. Everywhere a don’t ask don’t tell stands athwart some Church teaching – no matter what it is – has to be seen as a place where we are avoiding our cross. And while coming clean on our own may avoid civil asset forfeiture, this final cross of truth may, in fact, result in closure and loss as well.
The Crucifixion and Death
The words of Joseph Ratzinger (as he then was) have made the rounds recently. I first read them in La Stampa, although I’m sure they are in other places. He was writing in the 60s, but 60 years later they seem prophetic:
Today’s Church could be faced with a similar situation, undermined, according to Ratzinger, by the temptation to reduce priests to “social workers” and it and all its work reduced to a mere political presence. “From today’s crisis, will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he affirmed.
“It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church,” at which point humans will realise that they live in a world of “indescribable solitude” and having lost sight of God “they will perceive the horror of their poverty.”
Then and only then, Ratzinger concluded, will they see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new: they will see it as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.
And the prophecy of Tolkien (may his Memory be a blessing), at the last council have also been making the rounds. It comes from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, with Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1981).
You speak of ‘sagging faith’, however. That is quite another matter. In the last resort faith is an act of will, inspired by love. Our love may be chilled and our will eroded by the spectacle of the shortcomings, folly, and even sins of the Church and its ministers, but I do not think that one who has once had faith goes back over the line for these reasons (least of all anyone with any historical knowledge). ‘Scandal’ at most is an occasion of temptation – as indecency is to lust, which it does not make but arouses. It is convenient because it tends to turn our eyes away from ourselves and our own faults to find a scapegoat. But the act of will of faith is not a single moment of final decision: it is a permanent indefinitely repeated act or state which must go on – so we pray for ‘final perseverance’. The temptation to ‘unbelief’ (which really means rejection of Our Lord and His claims) is always there within us. Part of us longs to find an excuse for it outside us. The stronger the inner temptation the more readily and severely shall we be ‘scandalized’ by others.
We are all – as the Memes have warned us – in danger of leaving Jesus because of Judas. That is exactly what Satan wants. Stay with the Church for she is Christ on Earth. She is the Visible inbreaking of the Kingdom of God – even as she has sinners in her midst who are doing just what humans have always done: trying to be a replica of God’s kingdom on their own terms. The Church must struggle and even be purged, but we – ourselves – must stand with the Church, must bear the scourging, must wear the crown of thorns, must carry the cross. Dying because of the sins of others is what the Church, the Body of Christ, is born to do. These are not my sins, yes, but when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When one of us sins, we have all sinned. In the end, Christ will have a bride who is as pure and spotless as he is.
I pray that I will be part of that bride, that you will be part of that bride. Tolkien’s answer, and mine for I know no other even though I am an “evil liver” and a “miserable sinner” as the Prayer Book sayeth: Go to Mass. Go to Mass. Go to Mass. A thousand times go to Mass.
The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals. Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a Mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people (it could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the 5000 – after which [Our] Lord propounding feeding that was to come.)
I myself am convinced by the Petrine claims, nor looking around the world does there seem much doubt which (if Christianity is true) is the True Church, the temple of the Spirit dying but living, corrupt but holy, self-reforming and a rearising. But for me that Church of which the Pope is the acknowledged head on earth has as chief claim that it is the one that has (and still does) ever defended the Blessed Sacrament, and given it most honor, and put it (as Christ plainly intended) in the prime place. ‘Feed my sheep’ was his last charge to St. Peter; and since his words are always first to be understood literally, I suppose them to refer primarily to the Bread of Life. It was against this that the W. European revolt (or Reformation) was really launched – the ‘blasphemous fable of the Mass’ – and faith/works a mere red herring. I suppose the greatest reform of our time was that carried out by St. Pius X: surpassing anything, however needed, that the Council will achieve. I wonder what state the church would now be but for it.
Say a rosary. Say fifty. I find them best said walking. Pray for the Church that like her Groom whose body she is, she may die and rise again. Go to Mass and pure and spotless let her be.