The troubles of the modern Church are causing many to doubt and to be scandalized. You may be among those who are scandalized or who feel their faith is shaken from time to time. I write this exhortation for you.
When Catholics see how divided their brothers and sisters are, how their Bishops seem to be more concerned with committee meetings and bureaucratic processes than authentic shepherding, how their liturgy is abused, how many of their brethren are lukewarm, how traditions are attacked, and how their Pope seems to either be ambiguous or downright erroneous in some of his comments, it is no surprise that faithful Catholics become frustrated and doubtful. Even worse, this causes some to lose faith or to apostatize.
Converts are especially at risk of being hurt the most by the scandals and struggles in the Church today. They convert to Catholicism full of idealism and of notions that the Church is far better off than whatever they are coming from. Some convert because they feel the Church has a greater claim to history and tradition. Others convert because they see the miracles of the Church and find that to be proof enough. Still others convert because Catholicism offers meaning and salvation, and they believe it will fill that God shaped hole in their soul. Whatever the reasons for their conversion, a convert usually expects circumstances to improve upon their entrance into the One True Church that Christ Himself established. Unfortunately, the convert is then met with the harsh reality. There is a point where they realize that the Church is not only imperfect, but full of problems and full of, frankly, evil people. For some, this reality is immediately recognized. For others, it takes years.
I have seen this happen to converts on more than one occasion. They join the Church and are doing great, but then the Pope makes the news for some silly or contradictory remark, or some sex abuse case surfaces, or some video circulates showing a downright awful liturgy. This hurts them deeply because it feels like a betrayal. And it is!
Some are able to recover from this betrayal. Others are shaken to the core and after even more assaults, they fall into schism, become non-practicing, or apostatize altogether. This is far more common than you may think. I have seen it with my own eyes, and it truly pains me.
I am a convert myself. I feel a special connection to fellow converts because we share a truly profound experience. In one sense I am lucky because my primary introduction to Catholicism was through history, so I was exposed to the ugliness from the beginning. Moreover, I spent roughly two years online around other Catholics and saw the division and the scandal frequently, so I was never surprised by it both during and after my confirmation process. Others are not so lucky, and I want to say right now that I do not blame those who fall away. I know some people are especially harsh on converts who fall away, and while some simply did not convert for the right reasons, others converted sincerely but were met with so much hate, division, contradiction, ambiguity, and downright evil that they were pushed away from the faith.
This realization of imperfection and evil is not restricted only to converts, however. Some cradle Catholics also have a more idealistic outlook on things which is then shattered by some controversy or great scandal. Or they grow up and they see the division, the hatred, the ambiguity, the false teaching, the contradictions, and the evil, and they rightly question how this could be Christ’s Church.
Make no mistake, this is the Devil at work.
Our Church, and I mean this very sincerely, has very bad people in it. And they aren’t just in the pews, oh no, they’re behind the altars. They wear the clerical suit, they wear the mitre, they carry the staff. They preach, they hear confessions, they write their letters and go to their committees. Yes, I tell you, the ones of the Enemy are all around us, and every day they seek the complete and total destruction of the Church. They are sometimes very obvious and sometimes very subtle. Sometimes they make big public pronouncements, or issue some “pastoral letter.” Other times they work in the shadows and commit their evil in the dark. This is abundantly clear considering the number of priestly abuse cases that have been covered up and then discovered. This is evil and the clergy who do such things are not of God.
Some find this talk to be offensive. They wag their finger and say that you mustn’t say such things about priests or bishops or insinuate that anyone has bad intentions. “You must be charitable and assume the best!” they say. This is clericalism. We are called to obedience, yes, and to respect our superiors. We should never rush to assume the worst or distort the words of others. This is calumny and dishonesty. But we are also called to proclaim the truth and to be witnesses to the Gospel, and this may mean opposing those who are above us. If you disagree, I ask you to take it up with St. Thomas, considering he said that “It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly” Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 45. The Angelic Doctor also writes that “Augustine says in his Rule: ‘Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.’ But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected” Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4, Sed Contra.
When a priest or a Bishop or, dare I say, a pope, says or does something that is clearly out of line and wrong, does the laity not have the right to object and to cry out? When the wolf is attempting to eat us, the sheep, should we not declare that there is a dangerous wolf and oppose it? There are sinners and there is the enemy. The sinner knows he is a sinner and, while imperfect, wishes to do better. When someone makes a mistake, we should be quick to forgive them. The enemy, on the other hand, attacks. The enemy divides. The enemy contradicts, degrades, and sows seeds of doubt. The enemy urges departure from sound doctrine. The Church is full of sinners. But the Church is also full of enemies, make no mistake.
Jesus teaches us to beware of false prophets and antichrists. He teaches that there are those among us who are of the Enemy. Consider the Parable of the Tares in Matthew Chapter 13. It reads:
24 Another parable he put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” 36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; 38 the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. 41 The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42 and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
Jesus also says this about false prophets and wolves:
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. 18 A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.
St. Paul also speaks on false teachers and deceivers, saying in 1 Timothy 6:
Teach and urge these duties. 3 If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, 4 he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Dare I say that there are many today who are “puffed up with conceit” and spread teachings that do not agree with the sound words of our Lord.
Paul also says this in 1 Timothy Chapter 1, and while it is directed towards Timothy, we should all take this as being directed towards us:
18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among them Hymenae′us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
This charge that Paul commits to Timothy is committed to all of the faithful. We are all called to wage the good warfare, to be soldiers of Christ in the Church militant, and to hold the line.
The Church has always been full of those who are of the enemy. One of the Twelve betrayed Christ into the hands of the Jewish authorities. Another one of the Twelve denied Jesus multiple times. All but one ran away. Some, after Pentecost, asserted that Christians ought to follow the Old Law, these were called Judaizers. There was a controversy over circumcision (Acts 15). St. Peter was rebuked by St. Paul for an act of hypocrisy (Galatians 2). Believers began to brag about who baptized them (1 Corinthians 10-17). Heresies were already spreading in the infant Church.
It is easy to look around the Church today and feel discouraged, or even to feel as if it is in a worse position than ever before. While it is true that the Church today faces many unique challenges and that it suffers, we should not believe that it has not suffered before. Consider how many martyrs there were in the first few centuries, how Arianism was the dominant view for some time despite being a heresy and despite being condemned at an Ecumenical Council, how the East and West split, how often kings and popes fought for power, how there were popes so corrupted that their reign has been termed the ‘pornocracy’, how the Reformation threw Europe into turmoil and Holy War, and how the Enlightenment caused revolutions and political upheaval which saw the Church lose ground both literally and figuratively. Yes, it is true that the Pope, that the bishops, and that the priests make many mistakes. Some may even be downright awful people. But this is not new, nor can it be avoided.
We live in a fallen and broken world and the Church is in no way immune. Satan is also known as the Great Deceiver, and it makes perfect sense that he would want to attack the Church and sow doubt and lead people astray.
Having said this, the question is then what to do about it? How is the faithful Christian called to live? How can we continue to have faith, trust, and hope in the Church? St. Paul tells us. In 1 Timothy Chapter 2 he says:
1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. 3 This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
St. Paul also says in the last chapter of the letter to the Philippians:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. 6 Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.
Finally, he says in Romans Chapter 12:
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[c] never be conceited. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it[d] to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, we must not faulter. Scandal will happen. Evil will spread. Error will rear its ugly head. Priests, bishops, and popes will make mistakes or bad judgements. They may even commit evil acts. It is our job, as soldiers of Christ and as members of the Body, to hate what is evil, to love what is good, to pray, to fast, to hold on to the traditions that have been passed down to us, to trust that the Holy Spirit will not allow the Church or the Pope to formally teach heresy, that the gates of Hell will not prevail, and to seek to live in harmony with one another and avoid vain arguments and divisions. Remove also those things which cause you to stumble, whether that be social media or news or groups of people in your life who sow doubt.
Continue to trust in God, to hold the faith close, and to hope for eternal life. He will not abandon you or the Church. I will leave you with one more passage from Scripture. When you read it, think about how it relates to what I have said. Think about how the wind and waves represent the scandal and the troubles within the Church and who Peter is and represents.
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
(All pieces of Scripture are from the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition at BibleGateway.)
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