Sunday, August 23, 2020

Things Won’t Always Go Our Way

Sometimes, on social media, I’ll see Catholics complaining about how some things are going. They assume that everything shouldbe smooth sailing in the Church and—if it isn’t—somebody else is to blame for it. This is a strange attitude to take, given the whole of Church history where the sins of the world, the sins within the Church, or both combined would lead people to sei Deo Gratias when we didn’t have problems.

Whether we have external persecutions or internal dissentions; whether we have despicable sins within or hatred without, we will be involved in an endless battle working to carry out the Great Commission. We can’t ever think that all will be well if everybody else does their job. That’s actually a Pelagian attitude that forgets that all of us need Grace to stand. It is true that Sin happens when we don’t cooperate with that Grace. But all of us are sinners in need of salvation, and all of us are responsible in some ways for the evils within. Not all the same evils, and not all to the same degree. But what evils we are inclined to ignore or make excuses for; what actions we commit and then explain away—these do cause problems in the Church. 

Recognizing this and the obligation to forgive if we would seek forgiveness; recognizing the obligation to love those who hate us, we need to realize that what we want from an idealized Church is not the same thing as what we will get from a Church populated with sinners sent to evangelize a world populated with sinners.

That is not a call to be passive in the face of evil. We are called to correct the sinners after all. But if we’re assuming all would be well if others (namely: the bishops) did their part, stopped focusing on X, or focused more on Y, we’re missing the point. Our Lord pointed this out in the Gospel of Luke:

At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”(Luke 13:1–5)

We are not living in the worst of times. Moreover, those who do suffer in the various persecutions are not bigger sinners or living in worse times than the rest of us. St. Peter wasn’t failing to do his job when Nero began scapegoating the Church for his own crimes. Popes were not asleep at the switch at the rise of heresies. But these afflictions did not vanish just because Popes and bishops said, “Stop!” They won’t vanish even if Church leaders today do exactly as we demand.

Each one of us has to remember that we have an obligation to follow out of love for God and neighbor, regardless of what others do or fail to do. If we were to ask more in prayer about what we could do to serve God, rather than focus on our own partisan preferences and blame our woes on our perceptions of what others do, we might see that we are cooperating more with God’s grace… and perhaps we might see more things going the right way. Perhaps we should keep in mind the words of St. John Chrysostom here:

I am saying this because I see you spending all your time in temporal affairs, while you do not even partake of spiritual things in sleep. For this reason our life is ineffectual, and even while striving in behalf of truth, our efforts are not of much avail; we are a laughing-stock to the heathen, and to the Jews, and to the heretics.

If, while you were negligent with regard to other affairs, you showed the same slackness also in spiritual things, not even in that case would your conduct be deserving of excuse. But, as it is, each one is keener than a sword in temporal affairs—both those who pursue the arts and those who engage in political affairs. In essential and spiritual things, on the contrary, we are most sluggish of all, treating less important works as if essential, while considering as not even slightly important those works which we ought to rate as most important of all.

—John Chrysostom, Homily 30. Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist: Homilies 1–47, trans. Thomas Aquinas Goggin, vol. 33, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1957), 294–295.

Keep his words in mind.


Image from Toradora #9. The comic panel order reads right to left

(†) And they do indeed say “stop.” But more often than not, they get ignored and told to “stay out of politics” by those Catholics offended by the teaching.

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