I have been asked by several people now, Protestants and sedevacantists alike, how it is that I can remain so loyal to a Church that is run by corrupt and malicious men, by hirelings and wolves, who devour the flock as they pursue their own good instead of the good of all the Holy Church. It is certainly difficult living in such a time. I know as well as any that we can expect little support from our pastors as we fight for truth in the world, or that sending letters to one’s bishop with one’s concerns typically yields either no response or an occasional acknowledgement of receipt. It is very difficult to have any sort of dialogue with those in positions of authority, for any number of reasons, whether in the Church or out of it. It may be the case that the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, but it is not the case that the shepherds hear the voice of the sheep.
As a result, we experience persecution, if I may call it that, in a variety of forms: restrictions on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Mass, separation from the Sacraments during a “plague,” or the banning of Communion on the tongue. Add to this the confusion caused by the lack of clarity on the part of clerics, the scandal caused by the lack of chastity among the same, or the heresy flowing freely from Germany, the Jesuits, and so forth. Need I recall the Pachamama? I could go on at great length.
Needless to say, the Church on earth is not looking very much like the spotless Bride of Christ. This may be one of those cases in which a sheep finds himself looking over the fence into the Protestant, Orthodox, or sedevacantist field and sees what appears to be greener grass. To some, the barren wilderness of “nonery” may even look attractive. We are certainly living in the midst of a crisis, and we have been for some time.
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But let it be known that a moment of crisis is a critical moment. It is a moment when we are given the opportunity to make a choice, to ask ourselves why we are Catholic? Why am I in this seemingly brown and decaying field when my neighbors seem to be munching on yummy green grass? Am I here because I believe the pope to be the pythonic oracle and I must cling to his every word? Am I here because I was raised Catholic and have been too hesitant to make my own decision? Am I here because it is where I feel welcome and have found a safe space? Or am I here because I have been enraptured by the Beauty of Christ?
My response to those who inquire into my loyalty to the Church is quite simple. My faith is not in the princes of the Church, the pope, the hierarchical structures, or a particular form of worship or expression of the truth. My faith is in Truth Himself, in Jesus Christ, in whose Cross there is salvation and in whose Resurrection there is hope. “Do not put your trust in princes,” says the psalmist, “in mortals, in whom there is no help…. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God” (Psalm 146:3, 5).
It makes little difference what Pope Francis, or Fr. James Martin, or Cardinal Kasper are doing, but it makes all the difference what Christ has done and continues to do in and through His Church. We already know the end of the story: Christ returns, vanquishes His enemies and casts them into the eternal fire, and draws His Bride to Himself for an eternity of joyous feasting.
My task in this critical moment is not to fret about the filth that bespots the Bride’s garments, nor to spend my time publicly criticizing those who defile her, but to become spotless in the Bride. My task is to follow Christ.
“But what about Pope Francis?” you may say. “What about Fr. So-and-so, or Bishop What’s-his-name? What about them?” Recall Jesus’ response to Peter: “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me!” (John 21:22) Unless you are in a position of authority, or if they are actually within your sphere of influence, these should not concern you; what should concern you is your own soul and the souls of your family. Where will you be for eternity? In the fire or at the feast? “Follow thou me!”
What this means practically should be of great concern for us as we approach the Lenten season. Recall more of Christ’s words: “If any one will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). To follow Christ is to imitate Him, even unto death. As we approach Lent, our first duty is to embrace humbly the crosses that are given to us in our daily circumstances and to bear them with Christ in self-denial.
This includes the “persecutions” I listed above, the burdens of faithless shepherds, the cross of being abandoned. Only after we have embraced the daily cross should we add extraordinary penances and mortifications. Naturally, this does not mean you should not do acts of penance and mortification, since you are obliged to do so by the divine and natural law, but that we must accept faithfully the cross that Christ has given us before we choose our own.
Now, I’ve heard many ask, “Why should we endure these false shepherds? Why should we submit to bad laws?” Did not Christ endure false shepherds and submit to bad laws? Was He not obedient unto death? Christ obeyed both religious and secular laws in all things but sin; he acknowledged that even civil authority exercised unjustly is given by God (John 19:11). Like Christ, we ought to strive for “perfect obedience, which obeys in all things lawful” (Summa Theologiae II-II.104.5.ad3). Indeed, it appears foolish to do so, “for the message of the cross,” says the apostle, “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…. But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23–24).
Meditation on the wisdom of Thomas à Kempis may also be of use here. In The Imitation of Christ, he writes: “Listen closely. Everything is founded on the cross, and everything consists in dying on it, and there is no other road to life and to true inner peace than the road of the holy cross and of our daily dying to ourselves…. Christ’s entire life was a cross and a martyrdom, and will you look for rest and happiness? You are deluded if you look for anything other than affliction, for our entire mortal life is surrounded by crosses” (Book 2, chapter 12). The chapter goes on and is filled with great wisdom; I would encourage all to meditate on it at length, particularly during Lent.
One final thing to remember when faced with suffering or persecution, when facing the cross, is that we are members of the Body of Christ. What the Head endured, so must the Body endure. In Baptism we did not come to share only in Christ’s Resurrection but in His death; we are now to live out our Baptism accordingly. We are to live as He died so that we may also rejoice in His Resurrection. “‘It is shameful,’ says St. Bernard, ‘that we appear as delicate members, shrinking at the least smart of pain, under a Head that is crowned with thorns’” (Adolphe Tanquerey, The Spiritual Life, n. 761).
Thus, my decision in this critical moment is to put my faith in Christ, to take up my cross and follow Him, so that by participating in His death I may participate in His perfections and so make the Bride, in some little way, spotless.
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