January 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Here is a letter I received from a lifelong Catholic in “anguish” over the state of the Church. The letter is followed by my response. I sense that many people find themselves in the same situation, feeling the same confusion and betrayal. The pain and the shock Catholics are experiencing today is understandable. What's most important, however, is that we not lose heart.
We don’t know each other, but I have read your work in Latin Mass magazine, and see that you are an intelligent and faithful traditional Catholic. That is why I feel moved to write to you.
I can’t begin to put into this message the anguish I feel over the state of the Church, but I am hoping and praying you might have some insight for me. I am 62 years old, a lifelong Catholic who discovered the traditional Latin Mass about 5 years ago. This began a journey that led to the realization that for 50+ years, under the reign of the “spirit of Vatican II,” I have been lied to or at least misled about the authentic teachings of the Church.
I am trying to make sense of this crisis, and in particular, trying to find out “who,” so to speak, I should align myself with: a good local Novus Ordo priest who also offers the Latin Mass? The FSSP? The SSPX? Sedevacantists? The list goes on and on.
What frustrates me even more is that I beg God for clarity. “Lord, who should I align myself with? Who speaks your truth? Please, I am your son begging you for help. Please.” But I don’t seem to receive any answer to my prayer. How can He allow this to happen to His Church? Is this really the worst crisis ever in the history of the Church? (That’s a real question I would like an answer to.) Why do I have to live during this time?
The greatest lie of the last 50 years, in my opinion—that God is all merciful, while nothing is said about His right to our faith and adoration, and the demands of His justice; every funeral is a canonization; there are no consequences to sin—has negatively affected my own life, as I strayed this way and that, due to lack of instruction and guidance.
Can you offer me any direction? Thank you so much.
A Demoralized Catholic
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Dear Brother in Christ:
I understand the pain and the shock of these realizations. Although I am younger, I too grew up with the fashionable postconciliar “Catholicism,” and had to find my way out of it, by dint of study, experience, and miraculous good luck—or what looked like good luck, since it was really the providence of a merciful God. The Lord has been gracious to me, and to you, by showing us the beauty and depth of Catholic tradition. Whether this discovery comes early in our lives, or much later, or even at the very end, we should bless the Lord for rescuing us from sin, error, ignorance, mediocrity, and sloth. Remember the parable about the servants who are hired every hour throughout the day, and all receive the same reward for their labor.
Many others are also going through what you are going through. Thanks be to God an ever-growing number of our fellow Catholics are coming around to seeing things in the Church as they really are. There is both sobriety and hope in that knowledge. When we ask “Why has all this happened?,” we receive from Scripture the one answer that is always true of every age: the Lord permits false prophets in order to test the love of His own (cf. Deut 13:1–3). Those whom He loves, He chastens (cf. Heb 12:6). He purifies us as gold in the furnace (Prov 17:3). “I will turn My hand against you; I will thoroughly purge your dross; I will remove all your impurities” (Is 1:25). Without some kind of systematic purification, whether here or hereafter, we would not be prepared for eternal life. The Lord therefore uses even our sins, when we repent of them, to bring about this purgation of self-love and disordered attachments.
You mention the abuse of the fair name of God’s mercy. Sadly, this is true. What many fail to see is that it is inherent in God’s mercy to call us to conversion, daily repentance, taking up our cross and following in His footsteps.
Sometimes our particular prayers are not answered in the way we are hoping or expecting, because we do not get a “customized” response, so to speak; it seems God is ignoring us, or is remaining sealed up in His distant silence. But this is not true. The first and most important belief of Christians—I would go so far as to say it is the belief that makes us Christians—is expressed incomparably well by St. John of the Cross: “In giving us His Son, His only Word (for He possesses no other), the Father spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and He has no more to say . . . because what He spoke before to the prophets in parts, He has now spoken all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son.” Every prayer we make receives its definitive answer in Jesus Christ Himself. He is God’s yes to us (2 Cor 1:20).
This is why we put the crucifix everywhere: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). The traditional liturgy brings forcefully to the eyes of our heart this “faith in the Son of God,” and His sacrifice for me.
Christ is the crucified and glorified Savior, and His Church, being His bride who shares intimately in His life, will also have both a crucified and a glorified appearance during her history. Sometimes she is asked to go through deep suffering, as in the age of martyrs in ancient Roman times, or the age of unbelief today; sometimes she is permitted to radiate with glory as the transfigured Christ upon Mount Tabor, as in the Middle Ages, or, on a much smaller but no less real scale, in faithful monasteries and convents where the holiness of Christ is reproduced in earnest.
As a philosopher, I am professionally inclined to skepticism towards extreme statements or positions, and I am always looking for strong arguments. This is why sedevacantism is a non-starter for me (see here). Moreover, I admire much about Archbishop Lefebvre, do not consider the SSPX to be in a state of formal schism, and applaud the obvious good works they are doing (for example, how many dioceses are building thoroughly Catholic retirement homes and communities, as the SSPX are doing?); but I remain concerned about some of the theological writing I have read from their authors, and fear that some of them have a mentality that is materially schismatic. In short, their situation is irregular and problematic, no matter how one looks at it. We should always be grateful that the ancient tradition lives on within the Catholic Church in communities like the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.
I do believe we are in the worst crisis in Church history, but it is not the first time that all looked bleak. Reading the Roman Martyrology, or John Henry Newman on the Arian crisis of the fourth century, is enough to make one’s hair stand on end. The Lord has always delivered His Church from her external and internal persecutors. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt Our Lord’s words that He is with us always, even to the end of time, and that the Church He founded will not be overcome by the gates of hell (cf. Mt 28:20; Mt 16:18), nor St. John’s testimony that the faithful are anointed with the knowledge of the truth (1 Jn 2:20). I do not doubt for a moment that the Faith as taught in all the traditional Catechisms, and above all at the Council of Trent, is the true Faith, and that no one, not even Pope Francis, can alter this adamantine fact. For that reason, I am at peace remaining in the Catholic Church, worshiping with her traditional rites, adhering to her time-honored doctrine, working out my salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil 2:12), and praying for the conversion of her hierarchy—or for their replacement with better shepherds, as the Lord may will it.
We do not choose when we enter this world, nor are we authorized to choose when we shall leave it; the Lord alone is the ruler of life and death. Knowing all things to the last detail, He willed that we should live at just this time. He has done us the honor, one might say, of summoning us into His service at a critical moment in the fortunes of His kingdom on earth, and He will equip us with every grace we need to serve Him faithfully in our station, however humble and insignificant it may seem. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble” (Lk 1:52).
Do not lose heart. Christ has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33), and His grace is still available to us in the Church for our salvation, and always will be.
Yours in Christ,