In the past four years, six Anglican bishops have entered into the Catholic Church. This revives a trend that was particularly strong during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, when 13 Anglican bishops came into the Church from 2007-2012. The most recent convert, Richard Pain, the former Anglican bishop of Monmouth, was received into the Church just a few weeks ago.
Of course, this is wonderful news, but if you look on social media you’ll see a lot of comments—from Catholics—wondering why these men converted. Their implication is clear: it’s not worth converting to Catholicism due to the current state of the Church.
I remember well the excitement in Catholic circles that followed the waves of converts in the 1990’s (including my own excitement when I was one of those converts). It seemed that every year there was a new high-profile convert—typically a Protestant pastor—swimming the Tiber. Today, however, such conversions elicit little enthusiasm—and perhaps more than a little suspicion. Why is that?
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Unfortunately, the scandals and confusion that have become part of our daily bread in the Church in this century have led many Catholics to see only the human elements of the Church and ignore the divine. With a cacophony of problems surrounding us, it’s difficult to hear the beautiful symphony the Holy Spirit is still conducting in the Church.
Like Our Lord, the Church is both human and divine. But there’s a big difference between Christ and the Church in this regard. Our Lord’s human nature was perfect and sinless. While he faced temptations, he never succumbed to them. The Church, however, is made up of countless human members who are sinful and corrupted. So while Christ’s human nature reflected perfectly his divine nature, the Church’s human side often mars and covers up her divine aspects.
Two factors in particular work to conceal the divine elements in today’s Church. First, the Church is clearly going through one of the worst crises in her history. It’s silly to debate whether today is The Worst crisis or the second-worst or third-worst or whatever; what’s unquestionable is that an age that’s seen millions of souls leave the Church is one of the worst times in Catholic history. The human failings of Catholics are on prominent display during such a time of severe crisis.
A second factor that magnifies the fallen human elements of the Church is social media. I know most people are tired of complaints about social media, but the reality is by its nature it amplifies bad news and diminishes good news. Anyone who has even a few followers on Twitter knows that “negative” comments typically generate far more traffic than “positive” ones. Scandal is more popular than good news. There’s a reason we call scrolling through social media “doomscrolling,” after all.
So when you combine a terrible crisis with ubiquitous tools to magnify the noise of that crisis, you have a recipe for seeing only the human failings of the Church and missing its divine elements. When you combine a terrible crisis with ubiquitous tools to magnify the noise of that crisis, you have a recipe for seeing only the human failings of the Church and missing its divine elements.Tweet This
The divine elements are still there, but as we see in the “still, small voice” of the Lord that Elijah heard, God does not shout His good works. We have to be silent to hear them. What are some of these works?
First, the conversion of these Anglican bishops, often under the influence of the Ordinariate, is clearly a work of God. While many Catholic leaders seek to emulate the Anglican Church in its uncritical acceptance of modernity, these men were led to see in the Catholic Church the rock on which they could base their faith.
Another significant good work—and one that was a bit “louder” than most—was the discovery of the incorruptible body of St. Wilhelmina Lancaster, an African American traditional nun who passed away a few years ago. Thousands of Catholics flocked to the American heartland to venerate this future saint—a beautiful witness that God still does perform miracles, and still raises up saints.
We also find good works in the actions of some bishops. When a Bishop Joseph Strickland or a Bishop Athanasius Schneider clearly speak out against the confusion coming from the highest levels of the Church, it is a work of the divine combatting the fallen human elements of the Church.
Perhaps the most important good works are those that never make the news. They include the many unseen young people who have embraced more traditional forms of Catholicism and are living it out in their lives by marrying and raising faithful children or entering the religious life. They include the men who struggle with pornography addiction but find a way, through God’s grace, to overcome it. They include those who struggle with same-sex attraction but offer their disordered inclinations to the Lord and live chaste lives. They include stay-at-home moms who quietly sacrifice their lives to raise their children in the way of the Lord. They include the many priests who are faithful to their vocations and bring the sacraments, day-in and day-out, to the faithful. They include the grandparents who pray every single day for their children and grandchildren who have fallen away from the Catholic Faith.
Every marriage, every baptism, every profession, every conversion, every act of sacrifice is an act of God in the world, the divine element of the Church being lived out for us to hear if we have the ears to listen.
Our Lord tells us that the Kingdom of heaven (i.e., the Church) can be compared to the field with both good seeds and weeds (cf. Matthew 13:24-30)—with both divine and human elements. The weeds are clearly overgrowing right now, and most of the news is focused on them. We have to be aware of those weeds so we know how they are choking the life of the good seeds. Yet there are still many good seeds growing in the Church, even today.
When we hear good news in the Church, we should rejoice—to do so doesn’t mean we are minimizing or ignoring the bad news. It doesn’t mean we can’t get angry at what our Church leaders are doing to sully our beautiful mother the Church. It just means we recognize the good seeds and want them to grow, all the while fighting back the growth of the weeds that surround us.
[Photo: Former Anglican Bishop Richard Pain (Credit: Church of Wales)]