The Apostle Paul exhorts us to give thanks in all circumstances (cf. 1 Thess. 5:18). I confess some difficulty in meeting this exhortation, however, when it comes to the circumstances of our first and final community in the order of love and being: The Church. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that St. Paul’s exhortation either applies here and now, to these circumstances, or not at all.
If we take St. Paul’s exhortation literally, it means discovering the wherewithal to be thankful in our present circumstances, not despite them.
There is eternal life in her. She is our Mother. We love her. She is His bride. She must be spotless. He will not have her any other way, “having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26-27). The fire by which He makes her — makes us — perfect, is quenched by His mercy, which is also the fire, and to us sinners often appears under an aspect not less terrible than His wrath.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit? [If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss: O Lord, who may abide it?]
Iudex ergo cum sedebit, quidquid latet apparebit: nil inultum remanebit. [For now before the Judge severe all hidden things must plain appear; no crime can pass unpunished here.]
What can we do, but bear the affliction patiently, and defend our Mother — the House of God — as though our souls’ life depends on it?
In all this, however, there is temptation.
For some of us, the temptation is to flee and abandon the Church. For others of us, the temptation is to take up our pitchforks and torches. Sometimes, our temptation is to stand off and watch the whole thing burn down.
Every one of those temptations is eminently understandable, even reasonable and expected — there should be cause for alarm were it otherwise — and each of them is one with which each of us wrestles. Nevertheless, we must resist temptation. We must never abandon Our Mother.
Why this is happening is wrapped in the great mysterium tremens. What Providence has in store for us is beyond our ken. It may be too late to stave off the destruction of the Church in the United States, in temporal terms. The table for Belshazzar’s feast is set, the guests arrived and seated. If the laity are to be anything but accomplices in her destruction, our duty lies two ways: Prayer and obedience.
Prayer to the Lord and obedience to Him.
The bishops will tell us we must obey them, and indeed we must, for Christ’s sake, in all those things — and only those things — over which Christ has given them authority. Bishops are our teachers, our sanctifiers, our governors: for Christ’s sake, let them teach us the Faith; let them, for Christ’s sake, sanctify us; let them govern the Church, for Christ’s sake.
If they insist on exercising their power for any other than Christ’s sake, then they make themselves tyrants.
At all times, Christ Our Lord commands us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, visit the imprisoned, care for the sick, and bury the dead. For none of those tasks — upon which our souls’ salvation certainly depends — have we absolute need of clerics. Only for the last is a cleric expressly salutary.
Let us be about the work in earnest, and let us not ask leave of any cleric, high or low, before we are about it.
Christ Our Lord commands us to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, console the sorrowful, forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead.
Let us undertake these works: there is abundant need of them before us, here and now. Christ Our Lord commands us to take the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, starting with our little ones.
In all this, we shall have need of the Sacraments: for them, alone, do we have need of priests. We shall find them along the way: them, as do in charity, for duty’s sake (God bless them); and them, as do for fear of hell (God save them); and them, as do for their own portion (God reward them).
Above all, let us heed the command St. Paul gives us before he exhorts us to gratitude: “Pray without ceasing.” If our clerical and hierarchical leadership believe it falls to the laity to “Pray, pay, and obey,” then let us offer them such prayer as moves heaven, such generosity of time and treasure as confesses Christ to all the world — and so, with their help, if they will give it, but without their leave or direction, of which we have no need — and such obedience as shames them, even if they will not be convicted, and converted.
If we are perfectly honest with ourselves, we will discover these tasks are given to us in Baptism, and are not the result of circumstance. Let us be about this work, in earnest, too — and let us be grateful to heaven, that we are called to it, even here and now.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16-18). Amen.
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