Joy in holy Church at the time of her bitter crisis

“Just as in one man there is one soul and one body, yet many members; even so the Catholic Church is one body, having many members. The soul that quickens this body is the Holy Spirit; and therefore in the Creed after confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit, we are bid to believe in the Holy Catholic Church.”

St Thomas Aquinas

The upcoming Laetare Sunday marks the midpoint in Lent, and the joy it prefigures encourages us to persevere in our good efforts to the triumphant end. “Rejoice!” the epistle urges us. “Rejoice with joy!” the introit instructs. And the gradual confirms, “I rejoiced at the things that were said to me.” Indeed, our salvation is near and it is a good moment to review our Lenten resolutions — and, if necessary, strengthen the commitment to fulfil them with greater vigour in the time which lies ahead. 

What is a resolution? It is, by definition, “a conversion of one’s moral life, arrived at after due reflection and prayer”. It means being firmly determined to do some good for the greater glory of God. Ultimately, however, our good resolutions should also point to what we are determined to be — together as members of the same body.

Christ’s Body suffered greatly during His earthly life. Even if His physical sufferings were not comparable to those of His soul, He suffered in His Body more than anyone ever could. Indeed, only God could have suffered that much. Furthermore, having left His Body to us in the Blessed Sacrament, Christ promised us after His Resurrection to be with us all days “even to the consummation of the world”. Thus, as His Body remains in all the tabernacles to nourish the body of the Church — He continues to suffer the bitter sufferings of His Passion in the desecrations of the Holy Sacrament. And so it seems to follow that the body born of His suffering — the Church — of which we are members, must also suffer in her life.

Lent is an opportunity to pray and make sacrifices for the health of the body of the whole Church — an opportunity which must not be missed. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” the Apostle admonished us on the first Sunday of Lent, “in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labours, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the armour of justice on the right hand and on the left; By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastised, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as needy, yet enriching many; as having nothing, and possessing all things.” (2 Cor 6: 2–10)

Such is our programme, which will also heal the Church. The almost daily violations of Christian dignity demand reparation, which we can offer in the spirit of the words of St Paul. Outrages ought to ignite us with a spirit of reparation — whether for the “synodal way” which is bound to lead to ever-deepening chaos, or the “blessings” of homosexual couples which mock Christian matrimony, or blasphemous celebrations in our great cathedrals, or anything of which we may learn with sadness concerning the health of this or that part of the body of which we are the members. At times of strong leadership in the Church, any such sacrilege would have been met with public acts of penance — processions, Masses of reparation, etc. It is a matter of profound significance that, at a time when public penance ought to be multiplied, it is almost entirely absent. However, it is exactly at a time of such spiritual desolation in the Church that acts of sacrifice and personal reparation are most important.

The Church has many great needs today. But one of them is certainly the holiness of her members. The crisis of authority and leadership is a heavy cross to bear for those who genuinely long for order and justice, which alone can bring forth true peace. So a good resolution for the remainder of this Lent would be to pray for the leaders of the Church, and perhaps especially for the cardinals who will one day have to enter the conclave. That they prepare well, studying previous conclaves in history, and that a real Catholic spirit and love for the Church will animate all these men.

This is our duty because, in the end, we will not be tried for the errors of any flawed Church officials: we will not have to answer for what they did, but for the love we had. 

Indeed, concerning the same subject, Saint Thérèse said: 

“Meditating on the mystical Body of Holy Church, I could not recognise myself among any of its members as described by St Paul, or was it not rather that I wished to recognise myself in all? Charity provided me with the key to my vocation. I understood that since the Church is a body composed of different members, the noblest and most important of all the organs would not be wanting. I knew that the Church has a heart, that this heart burns with love, and that it is love alone which gives life to its members. I knew that if this love were extinguished, the Apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, and the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love embraces all vocations, that it is all things, and that it reaches out through all the ages, and to the uttermost limits of the earth, because it is eternal.”

Only pure and holy love for the Church can rejuvenate her entire body in today’s trial. 

Such is the reality of the body that as long as one member is wounded, the whole body is in pain. And only when none of its parts are sick is the body healthy. 

In a recent talk in St Patrick’s Cathedral, which was so violently desecrated shortly afterwards, Fr Chad Ripperger revealed that exorcisms now take around four years, while they used to take a few weeks. Why? It is due, he explained, to the lack of prayer and sacrifice in the Church as a body. Combatting demons depends on the holiness of the whole Church, not just one person. And the holiness of the Church depends on us. In that sense, a great deal depends on us. 

The Passion of the Church today reflects that of her Head. Those who were scandalised in Our Lord and abandoned Him on the way of the Cross — out of fear or contempt — probably wished, in hindsight, that they had not done that; that they had remained with Our Lady, Saint John, Magdalen and others. Let us not now distance ourselves from our suffering body, the Church, but remain with her in prayer and sacrifice, until we can sing, as one body restored to health, “Rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of consolation!”