Last week, a priest wrote to me. He said that as he surveyed the difficulties facing the Church, he was starting to wonder if it had been a mistake to convert to Catholicism.
I felt terrible. At Catholic News Agency, we report on the difficulties the Church faces. We report on controversies, conflicts, and mistakes. We balance that coverage, I hope, by reporting on the good news about the Church in the world today--about holy men and women doing beautiful and courageous things for the Lord.
But I was discouraged to think that our reporting might lead anyone to be dispirited about the faith, or to wonder whether they belong in the Church.
This is not a time for believers to be discouraged. This is not a time for despair. This is an exciting time to be a Catholic. And this is a great time to become a saint.
The Church is facing real and serious difficulties. Bishops and theologians have serious disagreements about the meaning of the Gospel; about what is true, and what is not. Some Catholic institutions seem to be faltering in their sacred mission, or even willfully betraying it. Leaders of the Church must answer serious questions about their approach to sexual abuse, about the Church’s relations with atheistic states, and about their commitment to the Church’s unchanging doctrinal teachings. And beyond all that, faith itself is faltering in the west, and once-Christian societies seem to have come under the ever-stronger grasp of relativism’s dictatorship.
Difficulty begets confusion, and confusion can beget despair.
At CNA, we report on the Church’s trials and struggles, and on the Church’s victories and graces, because the Lord calls us, and all Catholic media apostolates, to a prophetic mission. Our call is to tell the truth, as best as we can. We hope to dispel confusion by revealing the truth, even when that truth is difficult to face. And we hope that knowing the truth will be a source of encouragement, and an inspiration for believers to know that holiness really matters.
The Church has always faced grave difficulties. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that “the whole course of Christianity from the first, when we come to examine it, is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing, and lingers on in weakness...Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of Truth dim, its adherents scattered.”
As they travelled with Jesus, the apostles jockeyed for position and favor. Paul and Barnabas suffered a great rift. The Church has endured schisms, heresies, and leaders without virtue.
Struggle and difficulty are the ordinary vocation of the Church. We imagine that things were better in some bygone era, but in truth, they weren’t. Though the problems may have been different, they were no less real, and no less grave.
The Church faces difficulties because sin is real. But the Church endures difficulties because grace is real.
The difficulties the Church has endured are a sign that Lord sustains her. Any human institution would have crumbled long ago. But the Church endures because of the Lord’s presence.
“Much of comfort do we gain from what has been hitherto,” Newman wrote. “Not to despond, not to be dismayed, not to be anxious, at the troubles which encompass us. They have ever been; they ever shall be; they are our portion. ‘The floods are risen, the floods have lift up their voice, the floods lift up their waves. The waves of the sea are mighty, and rage horribly; but yet the Lord, who dwelleth on high, is mightier.’”
Christ is mightier than any storm the Church might face, more powerful than any crisis she must weather. He is present in the Church, and because of that, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Christ has brought us through great difficulties already. And through the Church, Christ has made great saints.
The saints remind us that we can trust in the sacraments. That we can trust in the teachings of the Church. That we can trust in the Lord’s love, his mercy, and his promises.
The saints remind us that through the Church, we can become holy, as he is holy.
Holiness brings renewal, clarity, and peace.
Today, the Church needs our holiness. The Church needs us to be missionaries, to be disciples, to be prophets, to be mystics. The Church needs us to be signs of the Lord’s promise. The Church needs us to hope when others have despaired.
In difficult moments, the call of every believer is to pray for the Church, and to work for truth, and fidelity, and justice. The call of every believer is to bring the light of Christ into darkness. To transform the world, through holiness. Our call is to become saints.
We should not despair because sin is real. Instead, we can rejoice, because the grace of God is real. Grace will sustain us, perfect us, and sanctify us, through the sacrament of salvation, the Church.