The outlook for the Church is not bleak. The world is not descending into a morass of darkness unlike anything we have seen before. Don’t listen to the prophets of doom.
There is a difference between prophets and prophets of doom, by the way. Prophets see things as they are. They decry the evils of the world fearlessly. They are willing to say hard things: There is a hell, sin leads there, and many have lost the sense of sin, imperiling their souls.Listen to the prophets. Don't listen to the prophets of doom.
The prophets of doom are those who say despairing things: The Church has failed irrevocably. Sin has the upper hand in the world. The defeat we have suffered is total and complete.
Each claim is wrong.
Has the Church failed irrevocably because so many of its members have gone astray? In a way, the Church has failed from the beginning. But Christ has always proved greater than our failure.
Our Church started with the crucifixion of our founder, who was betrayed, denied and abandoned by his chosen apostles. After that came a scattered, bickering Church whose astonishing, shameful sins are listed in the letters of St. Paul. Then the Church fell into a series of heresies whose scope and danger were such that the vast majority of Christians could not, technically, be called Christians, based on their beliefs about Christ.
After that, the Church was ripped in two amid mutual denunciations of bishops and patriarchs in the Great Schism, then descended into swaggering, corrupt, political overreaching, triggering another rending 500 years later.
Over the years, the Church saw various prominent members support or turn a blind eye to evils Church teaching denounced: oppressing the poor, profiteering off sacred things, slavery, the destruction of native peoples, and various other atrocities either dramatic or banal.
At almost any point in the Church’s history, one could point to the widescale failings of Catholics and make the case that the darkness was about to extinguish the light.
But the Church isn’t the sum of its sins. The Church is the sum of its sins plus grace, which is to say it is an institution always being brought from the edge of collapse to a new startling victory. In each era, the lives of the saints and the works of the faithful are the enduring story of the Church.
But doesn’t sin have the upper hand in the world?
It can seem to. Just like sin seemed to have the upper hand when Christians were thrown to the lions for sport, or when violent Ottoman invaders poured in to convert Europe with the sword, or when laborers suffered under feudalism or under the Industrial Revolution, or when women and minorities were denied their rights. In each case, the darkness seemed overwhelming, but the light was stronger.
But isn’t the defeat we have suffered — in politics, in the culture, in the schools — total and complete?
Defeat? What defeat?
Imagine your country was overrun by mad men who threw your neighbors into mass graves. Imagine these men silenced the Church’s greatest voices. Imagine that you had to rebuild your school, which had been reduced to rubble by bombs. Then, imagine that the murderers were defeated — only to be replaced by new leaders who stripped even more people of the right to life, denied the Christian roots of your nation, and turned your faith into an object of ridicule that no one takes seriously anymore.
That’s the defeat Pope Benedict XVI suffered in his native Germany. What did he learn from the experience?
“We can and must believe, with the late Pope John Paul II,” he told Americans in April, “that God is preparing a new springtime for Christianity.”
Let’s be clear. Sin is real, the danger is real, and the current predicament Catholics find themselves in is dire. We are in a spiritual battle, and if we don’t fight back, and fight hard, souls will be lost. Forever.
But we can win this. The devil has once again made the critical error he has been making for millennia. He stakes his whole project on principles that, once disproved, bring about a transformation.
He has convinced many that it’s okay to kill babies if you can’t see them. The problem for him: We now know more than ever about life in the womb and once we remember to care for the unborn, we learn to have faith in, hope for and love of the unseen. Those who convert to pro-life often convert completely.
The same goes for marriage. A sizeable number of people have been fooled into holding sodomy and procreation in the same regard. But that can’t last. And embracing the meaning of marriage opens us to the truth about self-giving love and sexuality.
We have already written about our plan to deliver powerful stories that readers can share with others to change their minds about the right to life and marriage. That effort is vital, but it’s insufficient. A spiritual battle demands a spiritual response. We need to change hearts as well as minds. We can’t do that. But Christ can, and we can help him.
By a creative, vigorous and wide-scale promotion of the fundamentals of Catholic life, we can bring more souls to him. That’s why this issue the Register offers you the first of four new, improved tools to help you promote Sunday Mass, confession, prayer and the basics of Christian living.
These basic practices are simple to explain, they are an easy sell for most people, and commitment to them almost effortlessly transforms lives.
We can win this — if we fight.