There’s a line from vintage Jazz songs that says, I’ve a got a girl, she’s long and tall, sleeps in the kitchen with her feet in the hall. You can see I have a adapted it for this blog post.
The “mom” I am talking about is Holy Mother Church. There is just something wonderfully universal, and catholic, about our mother. She sleeps in the kitchen because she is always feeding her children with the Holy Eucharist. She’s “long” in the sense that she stretches all the way back to the time of Jesus. She’s tall in that her numbers keep growing. Here in the West we lament the decline of the Church. But worldwide, the Church is growing and in many places is both vibrant and rich in vocations. We in the West need to remember this from time to time.
In his recent book The Light of the World, Pope Benedict and Peter Seewald have the following conversation regarding this matter:
Peter Seewald: According to the Annuario Pontificio, the almanac of the Catholic Church, you erected in the year 2009 alone nine episcopal sees, an apostolic prefecture, two new metropolitan sees, and three apostolic vicariates. The number of Catholics increased by seventeen million, as many as the population of Greece and Switzerland combined. In the almost 3,000 dioceses you appointed 169 new bishops. Then there are all the audiences, the homilies, the journeys, the great number of decisions—and besides all that you also wrote a major study on Jesus, the second volume of which will be published in the near future. You are now eighty-three years old: Where do you get your energy?
Pope Benedict: First I must say that the statistics you list are a sign of the Church’s vitality. Viewed exclusively from the European perspective, it appears that she is in decline. But that is only one part of the whole. In other parts of the world she is growing and thriving, she is quite dynamic. The number of new priests worldwide has increased in recent years, also the number of seminarians. We on the continent of Europe are experiencing only one particular side but not the great dynamic of a new beginning that is really present elsewhere and which I encounter again and again on my journeys and through the visits of the bishops.
Yes, despite things looking at times bleak from a Western perspective, things are vivid and vital elsewhere. The Church, after all, is a bride, not a widow. She reaches every land, every culture, and speaks every language.
She has a history and memory not only encompassing today’s diversity but also stretching back over 2000 thousand years. She has seen cultures rise and fall: The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, The British Empire, French, Portuguese, Spanish Empires and their vast networks of colonies. Both the Chinese and Japanese have had multiple dynasties and empires come and go, the Nazis rose and fell, the Soviet Union rose and fell, the Muslims too have waxed and waned in their power and scope and …..well….you get the point. The Church has stood while all this maelstrom, all this rising and falling took place.
Clearly the Church is a miracle and would not have lasted 20 minutes if she depended on human beings. As it is, the Holy Spirit indwells her and the promise of Christ that the gates of “Hell would not prevail” protects her. She may not always be numerous and popular in every region but she will continue, she will prevail by Christ’s promise.
The Western World, especially Western Europe, and to a lesser extent, America may insist on committing suicide. But to quote another old (and somewhat irreverent) Jazz line: One monkey don’t stop no show. The Church will teach and warn for she loves all her children, but if the West insists on suicide, the Church will still go on. God does not lie and his promise still holds, the gates of hell itself cannot prevail. Satan may try (spare us O Lord!) but he will always and ultimately loose.
We do well to keep our sights on the bigger picture. For the Church continues to thrive in many places, often despite all odds and against poverty and persecution. Yes, indeed, I’ve got a mom, she’s long and tall, sleeps in the kitchen, with her feet in the hall. Our mother’s reach is vast and wide and she is alive. She is bride, not a widow.