This past weekend I attended a Men’s Eucharistic Procession in downtown Cincinnati with about 800 men (including almost 100 priests and seminarians). I first attended this annual event seven years ago, when about 200 men processed through the streets of Cincinnati. The 300% increase in attendance during that time is encouraging, to say the least.
I’m under no illusions, of course, that the Church is growing right now. In fact, over the past few years here in Cincinnati the Archdiocese has been implementing a radical reduction in the number of parishes due to falling numbers of priests and laity. And Cincinnati’s shrinking is not the anomaly; it is the norm. The Catholic Church, at least in the Western world, is in an era of steep decline.
Yet I see little signs of growth, like the local men’s procession. I don’t think this growth is primarily about numbers, however, but instead about a growth in faith and a growth in a desire to more radically follow our Lord by those remaining in the Church. Alongside the increased attendance at the procession, I also see it in the increase in faithful bishops willing to speak out for our faith. I see it in the flocking of many Catholics to more reverent Masses, particularly the traditional Latin Mass.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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This mustard seed growth is happening in the midst of massive apostasy within the Church—an apostasy that is not just happening under the noses of our Church leaders who are busy meeting about meetings, but is often encouraged and promoted by those leaders.
How do we make sense of these contrary signs of both growth and apostasy?
I would argue that we are witnessing a Great Sifting. Things are becoming clearer now. For a long time modernism has infiltrated the Church, and one of the hallmarks of modernism is that it hides in the shadows. It speaks with an orthodox vocabulary, all while quietly but systematically undermining orthodox doctrine. This allows heresy to fester and grow in the Church with little opposition, for whenever someone tries to call out the heresy, there’s an orthodox useful idiot whiteboarding how what was said can actually be interpreted in an orthodox manner. Meanwhile, more and more souls leave the Church and are lost.
But in the past few years the mask has been lifted and people are starting to be clear as to what they mean. Bishops want to rewrite the Catechism regarding homosexuality. Priests speak out against “homophobia” while ignoring (or denying) the sinfulness of homosexual acts. And last week at the Synod German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck stated that “clinging to habits and traditionalism…have no priority in the hierarchy of truth;” it keeps us from putting Jesus at the center of faith according to Overbeck. Vatican reporter Diane Montagna then asked him to clarify if he meant Apostolic Tradition when he condemned “traditionalism.” Yes, he responded, that is what he meant.
For decades the apostates within the hierarchy have demeaned Catholic tradition in their efforts to remake the Church, but when cornered would always claim they just want to “develop” past teaching, not jettison it. Now that charade is no longer necessary: it’s now acceptable to simply reject Apostolic Tradition and recraft Catholicism however one wants. It’s as easy as editing the Catechism!
Obviously this rejection of Catholicism by those who are charged by our Lord to defend it is horrific and tragic. Yet it can serve a good purpose: it makes clear what had been muddled for so long. Instead of pretending everything is awesome while souls are lost, many Catholics—including many bishops and priests—now see with clarity that we are in an open battle for the Church and one has to choose sides.
I’m not under any illusions that we will see a widespread revival in the Catholic Church, with millions returning to the faith. Yet I do think that many of those who might have been content to practice their faith lackadaisically now recognize that’s no longer an option. One must either embrace the faith with enthusiasm and boldness, or allow the apostates to take over.
Souls are being sifted. Through this great apostasy that is all around us, some are standing up and responding to our Lord’s call to faithfulness and orthodoxy. Will you be one of them?