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One of my favorite things to do is listen to Venerable Archbishop Sheen. I’ve always been impressed by his eloquence, knowledge, and insight. Perhaps what has always inspired me most, however, is his passion. This is especially palpable when he speaks about love: love of God and love of neighbor. And the greatest enemy and hindrance to genuine love of God and neighbor is not hatred—it’s indifference. He is most passionate about this when he speaks about concern and love for the Church throughout the world, especially when speaking about those who hold the apostolic office, but strongly applying to all who bear the name of Christ. In a sermon on “The Law of Love” he points out that we will know we love genuinely when we can be a “sin-bearer” of another; when we, like our Blessed Lord, can take on the iniquity and suffering of another as our own. When the sufferings of another become our sufferings, then we can say that our love is true and pure.
We can certainly think of examples of this from every day experience. Once a parent becomes aware of the suffering or difficulty of a child, he/she takes up that burden of suffering. When someone we know is going through a difficult time, we think about them, pray for them, and go out of our way to “do” for them. This is even the case when it is about people we don’t know. How many times, for example, does Facebook light up with special “frames” whenever something important happens anywhere in the country or the world? Whether it’s a frame with the colors of a nation’s flag (symbolizing our solidarity with those of that nation) or colors representing a special concern (breast cancer, autism, or whatever the case may be), our “wearing those colors” reminds us and those who see them that we stand with the afflicted—we make ourselves “sin-bearers” and take on the suffering of another. For love. Not getting “involved”, remaining silent, doing nothing, and remaining indifferent shows a lack of love. A complete lack of love. And the truth is…:THAT is precisely what each and every one of us will be judged on (St. John of the Cross).
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the vision of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). This is the best and most concise definition of “personal” faith. But when we speak of “the faith”, we mean the deposit (collection) of unseen things proposed for us to hope for and substantially hold. For us Catholics, we believe that these things proposed for us are the very things that were proposed to the Apostles by the Lord Himself; the very things they handed on to their successors; the very things that we have today (two millennia later) through the Magisterium (teaching office) of the Church. In this 21st century, however, many who are and claim to be part of the body of believers of the Church, sadly, do not publicly submit to her beliefs and teachings and thus (it can be safely assumed) do not personally hold what the Church holds to be true nor personally have the faith in God praised by the writer to the Hebrews which is necessary for our salvation. This tragic reality should be of the greatest concern to those entrusted with the care of souls as it is a matter of eternal life and death. They are the Guardians of the Faith and the Shepherds entrusted with God’s fold (Jer 23:1-6). This is, essentially, the mission of the Church: to make disciples of all nations and, as the Bark of Peter, to bring them safely, across the turbulent waters of this world and life, to the safe harbor of salvation. All efforts must flow from and lead to this mission.
On Friday, July 16, 2021, Pope Francis—the Vicar of Christ on Earth and Successor of St. Peter—issued an Apostolic Letter, Motu Propio (from his own motives) Traditionis Custodes, repealing the concessions made by his predecessors Benedict XVI and Pope St. John Paul II for those members of the faithful for whom the ancient Liturgy and Rites (existing relatively constant for over a millennium prior to the post-Vatican Council II reforms) held great spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and overall holistic benefit. I am speaking here, not from a “theological” or “intellectual” point of view, but as a personal beneficiary of these blessings and as a dispenser and pastor of souls who seek and (dare I say) need these benefits. Understandably, the Holy Father’s Motu Propio and its accompanying letter (the language and tone, the extent if its reach, and the clearly stated immediate and long-term intentions) left countless numbers of faithful (those attached to the TLM and others) baffled. Especially since such a harsh and draconian move is coming from one who could be described by the world as the “Face of Mercy” and the “Champion of the Marginalized” in memorable pontificates. What further muddles things is that the marginalizing measures proposed and the overall decision is done in the name of “unity” and the role of the Supreme Pontiff to safeguard this precious trait of God’s Church.
One definition of “unity” is: “the state of being joined together or in agreement.” In other words, as a “state”, it is something that comes as a byproduct of other conditions: commonalities and harmony of diverse parts that make the whole, common purposes and interests, etc. It is not something that can be decreed or dictated ipso facto. Something has to organically and naturally bring the diverse parts together. This is especially the case with regard to the unity of the Church. She has a Divine guarantee of unity as intrinsic to her existence. But the practical experience of this is another thing. As a body made up of members “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev 7:9-10), the Church has the challenge of unity cut out for her. So how does she go about bringing this state into visible being? Can it simply be demanded or decreed? Is it a matter of authoritarian dictatorship?…”The beatings will continue until unity is achieved!”…”It becomes united or it gets the hose!”…”Be united, or else, damn it!”…highly doubtful. So…how? By faith and charity. The Church will only be visibly and really united by the gifts of faith and charity. No amount of clever programs or strategies; no amount of decrees and dictates; and no amount of superficial lingo or picturesque gatherings will do it.
If the Church is to be united, she must be so by the bonds of faith and charity. What do we believe?…and do we really believe it?…Can all of those who claim to be Catholic submit with obedience of intellect and will to what the Church proposes for us to believe; what she herself has always professed to be true?…Can we honestly say that this is the case when a substantial number of bishops of a national conference are advocating to “bless” that which goes completely against what Divine Revelation has given us as true from the beginning of history?…Can we claim this when, even in our own country the episcopal conference (and not unanimously, mind you) sees it necessary to clarify what the Church has undoubtedly held since her beginning about the “source and summit of the Christian life”?…Can we delude ourselves into thinking that we are united when, on any given Sunday, the average Catholic is bound to hear some degree of heterodoxy and witness any one variety of heteropraxis in his or her parish church? Unity is not the case when a substantial number of the faithful respond to the ideas of the world with “I feel/believe…” and what follows is an amalgamation of ideas influenced by everything but Christ and His Gospel. This is not faith. This is not unitive.
And then…there’s charity. A priest I knew in the seminary always said “There’s no ‘mean’ like ‘church mean’!” Some of the biggest wounds on the faithful are inflicted, not from the outside (the world) but from the inside (the members and hierarchy of the Church). The last two decades have rocked the Church with the scandals against charity: abuse perpetrated by those called “Father” and “Most Reverend.” And I guarantee you that there are more scandals to come, most likely about finances and how they have not been used for the love of God and neighbor. Then there’s the greatest enemy of love: indifference. Last year, the arteries of grace in the Mystical Body—the Sacraments—were cut off from the members of the Church throughout the world for months, in the interest of physical health. The interest of physical health is laudable…but what about spiritual health?! How many souls went for months without being able to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments (especially when the harsh regulations weren’t coming from the civil governments but from the ecclesiastical ones!)?! Meanwhile, a lot of her pastors were comfortable in their rectories and residences not doing a thing! Or, if they were, it was very little to nothing. Yes…there were heroic few who provided and rose to the challenges of the times like the saints of old. It was a time for truly pastoral leaders to be creative and resourceful in how they were going to get to their people. But, for the most part, there was vast indifference to the spiritual needs of the faithful.
We have been hearing in the last week about the situations in a country just 90 miles from us. This happens to be my home country, so I have some more information than do most. People are starving. There is no medicine. I have older relatives in “homes” for the elderly where there are infestations of the mange and there are not even the most basic medications available to treat and cure it. The mange!…dogs get that! Where is the outcry from the Church in solidarity with these suffering members?! Many members of the hierarchy were quick to jump on the politically-correct social justice wagon last year in solidarity with the many supposedly oppressed (as someone who came from a truly oppressed country, I struggle to believe anyone in this country today to be truly oppressed). Where is the outcry for the starving and oppressed neighbors just a stone-throw’s away?!…none. Total silence from the members of the Church. Total indifference. Total lack of charity.
Lastly, I would point to the recent Motu Propio and the response of most Catholics whose lives will not be effected by this. Already we have heard of many Traditional Mass communities throughout the world that are being effectively evicted from their spiritual homes. In one Diocese in the northeast, nine communities were informed Sunday that that would be their last Sunday there…NINE!…IN ONE DIOCESE!!! The Bishop in a neighboring Diocese disbanded three communities all together right away. As did a “recently made” Bishop in Louisiana who hails from our neck of the woods. Pastoral charity and solicitude?…Please! If I went into a parish and, without warning, consideration, or pastoral provision, disbanded (whether completely within my rights as pastor or not) any group in the parish, the outcry from different parishioners would be unheard of. And rightly so! Good, faithful, devout Catholic people (ranging from newborns to those almost born to eternal life) are losing what they hold nearest and dearest about their experience of the faith and too many Catholics are completely indifferent. “It’s not my problem. I don’t attend the Latin Mass. This doesn’t effect me.” That is not charity. That is not unitive. That truly wounds the Mystical Body of Christ.
My point is this: the only thing that will bring about greater and visible unity in the Church is a renewal of faith and an outpouring of love. Absolutely nothing else. This renewal and outpouring will create saints. And saints are the perennials of the Church. This cannot be mandated. It cannot be decreed. It cannot be created.
Pray for the Holy Father that “when he has been converted, he may strengthen the faith of the brethren” (Luke 22:32). Pray for the Bishops that they may remember that “to whom much has been given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48). Pray for priests, that we may always realize that we are “dispensers of the Mysteries” (1Corinthians 4:1). Let us pray for one another, they we may remember that “we are all children of one Father and disciples of one Master” (Matthew 23:8-11).
Oremus pro invicem.