Much to my surprise, “A Closing Comment on the Synod” became one of the highest viewed posts on Opus Publicum since I reset the blog last year, though it received far fewer comments than other posts related to, say, Catholic/Orthodox relations or liturgical reform. Perhaps people are tired of reading and talking about the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod on the Family. I know I am. Several worst-case-scenarios were proposed by observers over the past year; none of them, thankfully, came to pass. As I pointed out previously, however, that is no cause for comfort. Pope Francis, who has already revolutionized the annulment process, can still set loose more doctrinal and moral confusion within the Church with his pending Apostolic Exhortation. Liberal bishops, priests, and laity, despite their alleged defeat at the Synod, now appear emboldened to continue turning a blind eye to mortal sin in the name of “mercy.” As for the conservatives and traditionalists, the immediate future looks bleak. Those Synod participants who refused to get on board with the liberal reforms championed by the Continental prelates and backed by the Pope are now exposed. No, Francis cannot lay the hammer down on all of them, but he can continue to play musical chairs with the seats of power at the Vatican to help ensure that the orthodox hierarchy won’t get in his way in the future.
Pointing this out is not tantamount to saying that the gates of hell are about to prevail over the Church. Never. There is no use, though, in ignoring the reality that the Church is in the midst of a profound crisis that began over 50 years ago. Barring a miracle (which we can never discount or cease praying for), things will continue to get worse before they get better. And by “better” I do not mean that the Church will strike a friendly bargain with the Zeitgeist in order to allow her members to live comfortable, bourgeois lifestyles while expecting to pass through the pearly gates on the Last Day judgment free. The Church will be better when she reclaims fully her divine mandate to preach the Gospel to all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That means no more religious indifferentism; no more moral relativism; and no more misleading souls to wide path which will take them straight to hell. Dare we hope for such better times?
If we do sincerely hope for the Church to overcome the present crisis and have faith that God will not abandon the Corpus Mysticum, then we must proceed with charity and without malice. It is difficult. There is no getting around that. Those who truly love Christ and His Church cannot help but suffer when they witness those charged with shepherding the Lord’s flock letting wolves through the front gate. More distressingly, sometimes the shepherds are the wolves. Must we let them run wild? Are we not allowed to resist? No. As faithful Catholics who became soldiers of Jesus Christ at our Chrismation, we must fight, and always with the loving desire of converting those who have lost their way. Some, sadly, will not be converted. Their hearts have been hardened by worldliness and their souls deadened by sin. In the end only God can judge them; but that does not mean we ought to follow them.
This will be a hard road to follow. However, it is not without recent precedent. For most of the 20th Century the Russian Orthodox Church was bereft of spiritual leaders in the homeland. Beholden to the godless Soviets, numerous priests and bishops sold out the Orthodox faithful and compromised their church in order to win favor with state authorities. And yet Russian Christianity persevered underground and still continues to shine forth despite the corruption that still roams free within the Moscow Patriarchate.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which at one time was the largest persecuted religious body in the world, survived half-a-century of state-sponsored oppression without bishops (and sometimes even priests) to openly lead her. It was the laity who remained loyal to Catholicism in the face of temptations to abandon their ancestral faith for either atheism or a Soviet puppet church. They held on to what had been passed down to them by Christ, through the Apostles, and preserved by the holy Fathers of the Church. Although the Greek Catholics primarily faced an external enemy rather than internal threats to the Faith, their example of patient endurance and unwavering faith can still serve as an example for us today.
In an October 2012 sermon I keep going back to, Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, reminded his flock that they have no right to fear. The very God who knows the number of hairs on our head and allows not a raindrop to fall without His permission will see us through these dark times if we keep the Faith. The tragedy befalling the Church is a great and terrible mystery, one which none of us living today are likely to fully comprehend before we go hence and be no more. All that we can do in the time that remains is continue struggling to save our souls and, in so doing, serve as witnesses to the Truth for our children, friends, strangers, and fellow Christians clouded in error so that they too may take up their crosses and follow Christ, the Light of the world and King of all nations.