The Rising of the Roses: A Reflection on How the Lord is Restoring His Church

It is often a fact that we have had to discuss difficult subjects on this blog. For, it is also a fact that our culture is in serious trouble.  But it is also a notable trend that God is renewing his Church. I am seeing increasing signs of a springtime for the Church, at least here in America.

As I walk past the rose bushes out front of the rectory I see the first red shoots emerging from the pruned stumps. Last October my rose bushes were over seven feet tall. In November they were pruned all the way back to one foot. But, the young red shoots are emerging.

And in this I see an image of the Church. The overall numbers in the Church still seem troubling, especially for those of who remember the days of packed Churches and waiting lists to get into Catholic Schools. In those days, the Church stood tall and proud. But the days of pruning came, as a cultural winter set in, and we have seen closings and very lean years. Yet, the young red shoots of a new season are appearing on this rosebush of the Church, if you ask me.

1. Vocations to the Priesthood in many areas are returning. Here in Washington we are preparing to open a new pre-theologate. Our ordination numbers are up and many superb men are presenting themselves for service of the Church. I am very impressed with our new priests of the last 15 years. They are solid men who love the Church, are obedient to the Magisterium and liturgical norms, and have zeal to proclaim Christ.

2. In my parish the convent became so full the Servant Sisters of the Lord had to seek larger quarters. 25 of them moved. Only four remain in our convent, but I expect the convent to fill again soon.  Many Religious orders that have retained their traditions such as the habit, communal life, and a focused apostolate are doing well, if not thriving. The Dominican Sisters in Nashville and those in Michigan are over-flowing with vocations.

3. One of my apostolates is the Traditional Latin Mass and I find an amazing number of young people who are attending. They are also meeting each other and marrying. More than half my weddings these days are from the Latin Mass community. They are solid couples, committed to the Church’s teaching on marriage. A good number of the couples I have wedded have gone on to have nice, large Catholic families.

4. The Catholic blogosphere has lit up with many outstanding, faithful and informative sites. Yes, there are some bad ones out there that feature dissent. But frankly, it is clear that the real energy is at the faithful sites. There is a graying of dissent and a thirst for the truth.

5. EWTN and Catholic Radio have a great presence and authentic voice throughout the world.

6. Great publishing houses like Ignatius PressOSV,  and fine Catholic Publications are available to the faithful in abundance.

7. There are many thriving movements in the Church that both reflect diversity and manifest great devotion for the Lord and the Church.

8. Better sense of the Battle – I think an increasing number of Catholics who remain, (remember only 25% go to Church), have an overall better sense that they are in a battle. They are, increasingly sober and serious about the state of the world and the necessity of being distinct from it. Too many Catholics of the past just wanted to fit in and get along. I think this attitude is beginning to diminish. This is certainly so among the younger clergy and religious and a growing fact among especially the younger faithful.

9. Many younger Catholics are more open to the Church’s teaching. They see the disastrous and often ruined lives of the generation that preceded them  and seem more open to admitting the errors of modernist tendencies.

10. There are many  new and flourishing Catholic Colleges and Universitiesthat have risen to replace many of the seemingly unreformable ones. Likewise, there are many good movements on College campuses such as Newman Centers, and groups like the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Groups like these give Catholics a fighting chance on many secular (and even some Catholic) campuses where the moral and academic setting is hostile and poisonous. Other groups such as the Cardinal Newman Society (CNS) keep an eye on Catholic Colleges and both praise the good ones and warn parents of the bad ones and bad trends.

11. Open Dissent and Liturgical Abuses seldom go unanswered now. Many Catholics now zelously step forward to set the record straight and demand on-going reform.

Yes, the red shoots are beginning to appear on the pruned rosebush of the Church. My list is just a quick one, anecdotal and incomplete. I would be grateful if you would add to this list. Where do YOU see signs of growth and spring?

Little by little the Lord is raising up men and women in the Church who, by his grace, are ushering in reform and purification. Who do you know like this and what do you see?

I realize that some of you will also want to differ with my view or add areas where we need further improvement (e.g. greater love for and direct service of the poor). Please do so. My picture is incomplete; the rose shoots are just now appearing.

I want to finish with a Scripture from last Saturday’s Mass that speaks with joy of the work of God to rebuild the ruins:

[L]ight shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.” (Is 58:9-14)

Photo Credit: Flickr (Right click on Photo for URL)

This video depicts the work of FOCUS, mentioned above. It illustrates well the kind of reform I see springing up in the Church. The Video is very inspiring.

45 Replies to “The Rising of the Roses: A Reflection on How the Lord is Restoring His Church”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. We all need to hear about the “Good News” happening on our Church. Eucharistic Adoration is on the rise. Bible Study groups are expanding. Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is becoming more widely known – as is Natural Family Planning. There are groups that highlight the joy of big families. “Theology on Tap” is drawing many young people to learn about their Faith. There are terrific websites for so many different groups – Moms, Dads, young people, women, professional groups like doctors, students, newly marrieds, etc. There are more educational offerings at Parishes to help people to better understand what the Church teaches and how it contributes to a happy life. There are some wonderful Catholic books these days, including novels by authors like Michael O’Brien and Brian Gail. There are conferences with speakers like Fr. John Corapi. There is the World Youth Day – I think more than a million young people will gather in Madrid this year. All in all, it is terrific to see such a surge of good things happening within our Church. The Holy Spirit is active indeed.

  2. I agree! This was such a hopeful thing to read, because it re-confirms my observations and my sense of prayers being answered, in the midst of the disaster that is our current society, and unfortunately, the remains of many of our once-solid Catholic universities and organizations that have slipped into the mire of mediocrity.
    God bless you and keep you strong!

  3. Thank you for your insight and committment to the Lord. Please do not stray from your appointed task!

    God Bless You.

  4. I know there is a spiritual awakening occurring because I see it in my family, friends, co-workers, and myself. After years of relationships with these people, I know none of us were previously very open with our faith to each other, or very focused on faith at all. Admittedly, my own faith was far down on my list of priorities…going to church periodically because I knew “I should”, but not living in Christ.

    Now, many of these different people I’ve known for years, as well as myself, seem awakened (many times independent of each other) to the fact that we want to transform our lives; to be filled with God’s purpose for us. God has given all of us this desire, this longing, independently, and almost simultaneously over the past few years. He has also unexpectedly dropped people from long-past friendships back into my life who also now happen to be similarly trying to live their lives as authentic Christians.

    These people around me are not only Catholic (though many are); they are also baptists, lutherans, and other protestant denominations as well. To see just the small group of people in my own sphere of the world, people I’ve known my whole life, starting to turn away from secular living and thinking, and recognizing my own desire to do so also, convinces me God is moving in big ways.

    Praise God! I am so grateful to have been roused….and with so many of the people in my life, too! Such loving care for all of us!

  5. Ref #8 – should also have included the increasing courage of our bishops to be charitably confrontational. We needed more “John the Baptists” in the Episcopacy, and we got them.

  6. Msgr. Charles Pope, so pleased to see that your parish is strong and growing stronger. Please understand that many believers would not feel at home in your setting, and please don’t disparage the journey they are on. As a retired sister who worked in disenfranchised schools and Catholic activist programs, to express the consecration of my life to Christ, I would hope the decisions I made over those decades with my religious sisters deserve respect from the church that received our vows. When Pope Benedict wrote on Fostering Vocations
    With you I will pray that his description will be experienced in your local church, “It is essential that every local Church become more sensitive and attentive to the pastoral care of vocations, helping children and young people in particular at every level of family, parish and associations – as Jesus did with his disciples – to grow into a genuine and affectionate friendship with the Lord, cultivated through personal and liturgical prayer; to grow in familiarity with the sacred Scriptures and thus to listen attentively and fruitfully to the word of God; to understand that entering into God’s will does not crush or destroy a person, but instead leads to the discovery of the deepest truth about ourselves; and finally to be generous and fraternal in relationships with others, since it is only in being open to the love of God that we discover true joy and the fulfilment of our aspirations.”

      1. Sr….

        I’m not sure what you are trying to say here, but if many people would not feel comfortable with a level of ‘orthodoxy’, then they probably won’t feel comfortable in heaven! The point here is that those who don’t feel comfortable w/ faithful parishes (ie, dissenters) are on their way out and faithfulness to Christ, his Church, and the Magisterium is where it’s at.

  7. Monsignor,

    Yours is a very positive outlook on the Church and its future and we can all celebrate it. But when one has roses, one also has weeds.

    Perhaps in a future essay you might offer a little help those of us who are still more upset by the decision of Bishop Hubbard to give the Holy Eucharist to Governor Cuomo and his live-in paramour than we are shocked by the new batch of priests in Philadelphia accused of sex abuse.

    The Philadelphia scandal is more understandable, albeit still deplored, since it is rooted in sins of the flesh. The action of Bishop Hubbard, however, is seemingly without justification in that it was driven by his mind and not passion. And to this day, I believe, he still says those of us without all the facts should not judge his action. Perhaps the lady with Governor Cuomo that day was his cook.

    1. I think that we have often explored the weeds. As for specifically the specific critique of a bishop I hope you will understand that I have limits. This Blog is sponsored by the Archdiocese and encourges a lively discussion of the issues but I don’t know if it is prudent for me, as a priest, and this Blog as a Diocesan blog to be too specific about the policy decisions of another bishop. Such critiques are more appropriate in other venues. I realize your concerns and that many faithful Catholics share them.

    2. Good points. Mothe . . .Bishop Hubbard will soon earn his reward for his scandals, as will Clark in Rochester. Their dioceses are clearly withering, in marked contrast to others around the country. Their deeds and the statistics of their wreckage are easily found on the internet. When that Mass occurred and Cuomo with his concubine in tow was given Holy Communion by the failed bishop, and after reading his so-called homily, I was shocked, disgusted, and appalled, particularly because no one seemed to care. Seek out the words he spoke that day and you’ll read that all the good to come and the hope for the state rested in a man, and not in God or His Son. That was most telling about this bishop and tells me he has lost the Faith.

      And my bishop here didn’t seem to mind, and still has not addressed this scandal, where the following Sunday my bulletin contained a letter of praise about the START treaty successes! of the good Obama, penned by the same Hubbard, instead of a letter from my bishop addressing the Albany scandal, as if it never happened and no one noticed, leading to more outrage in me. However, soon enough the voices of the lay faithful (like yours!) and some good priests were heard, and the real Catholic Magisterial positions were actually articulated in newspapers and blogs, and even in national publications, where I would have expected support for the abortion-approving and supportive, divorced, concubine-keeping governor. And this still gets revisited, long after Hubbard thought it would be forgotten (like now!) I take great hope in all that and I know that bishops like these will soon be sent to live quiet lives of penance, in public disgrace, and making way for real men of Faith, like priests we find here.

  8. Thank you for this wonderful report on a sort of counterweight which shows how the discouraging news we here is so well balanced in God’s perfect plan. Many of us know this but, without the kind reassurance given here it can become different to hang onto our committment.
    All I have to add to the list is outside organized religion. In the non denominational environment, where I have a (fading) contact I see a growth of interest due to the increase in natural disasters. Many who read a little scripture now and then in order to keep a token contact with their faith are suddenly looking for ways to make a more serious commitment to do the work God requires of us all. Some are even openly looking for into the possibility of a congregation. If any ask me for input all I do is to respond that I chose to become Catholic because that is where I’ve found the greatest challenge to be the best I can. This seems to be a very attractive point at this time.
    I have opinions, not answers but it doesn’t seem like a good time for presenting a warm, fuzzy and easy image to attract. A lot of people see something big looming on the spiritual horizon and want to prepare. There’s strength and a healthier relationship with God by such things as the Sacrament of Reconciliation; a commitment to the Rosary; attending Bible study and helping the needy. The last most especially when done in secret. Matthew 6:4.
    It may even be a good idea to point out that the winter soltice of 2012 doesn’t show a connection to scripture and; if nothing big happens then, don’t stop preparing. Maybe it just happens to be the point where calendar designers decided that they’d gone far enough ahead in time designing calendars at that moment.

    1. Not “different” but “difficult to hang onto a commitment” I’m still a work in progress.

  9. thank you Msgr. it is important to keep things in perspective. There does seem to be a renewal and i think the internet and blogs, etc. are part of it. I wish that someday soon you could include number 11: Catholic parents are encouraging their sons and daughters to consider seminary/convent with pride and love and great prayer. I hope. I liked the reference to the roses beginning their awakening. It reminds me of the conversion of Cardinal Dulles who said that he was as a young man sitting on a park bench contemplating his future and simply noticed the tree/shrub beginning its budding and he experienced this awakening of truth that permeated the universe….the truth of the Church? … interesting.

  10. I agree with most of your findings and it’s great. I do take exception to the Latin Mass (if you mean the 1962 Missal and not simply the Novus Ordo in Latin). One has to ask: what do we as Catholics believe about the role of the Holy Spirit in an ecumencial council and, if we do believe he directs this most extraordinary of magisterial moments, how do we explain the Spirit-led Church commanding a reform/simplification of the 1962 Missal and then a Pope by motu proprio acting in contrary fashion and upholding the 1962 Missal without reformation? I think that perhaps the spiritual fruits coming from the TLM can be likened to those coming from Medugorje or other non-approved “apparitions”. That is, it is not the form itself that yields the fruit but rather God uses whatever means of faith he can to bless those who sincerely turn to him. Sadly, the liturgical abuses of the recent past obscured the Spirit’s work in the liturgy but are we them to turn our backs on his call through an ecumencial council?

  11. Well that is my friend Fr. Dave in the video. He was ordained last May. I can’t say enough good things about him. His priesthood is a real gift to the church.

  12. Thank you Father for this ray of hope. I have often suspected there were good things happening which were being overlooked. The sisters are a great example, such as the Benedictines of Mary etc.. Also, the priests who answer God’s call today are truly remarkable people given the climate that is so against Catholic teaching. And they bravely answer the call anyway! God bless our priests!

  13. Part of this renewal is former protestants like myself who became increasingly disillusioned by the ongoing slow implosion of mainstream protestantism. All this empty talk of mercy and grace without any real substance, or listening to pastors rant more about themselves instead of concrete instruction on how to live a more virtuous life. I’ve found my true home in the Catholic Church and loving it.

  14. Agreed! “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

    That’s the way the Holy Spirit works, quietly and without a lot of fanfare. I see the same signs up here in NYC, plus the reform/renewal of the Legionaries of Christ is off to a very auspicious start too.

  15. There’s a growing number of the Catholic Laity giving up their secular jobs to be itinerant catechist for the new evangelization. They are not only single men and women but even families called by the Lord to go in mission for the new evangelization. This is definitely the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of these laity because of the the LOVE OF GOD that drives them to give their lives to announce the Good News of salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    Yes, as the Holy Scripture, states, “the harvest is rich but the laborers are few. Pray then to the Lord of the Harvest to send laborers to His harvest. ” The prayers have been heard and the laborers are indeed growing in numbers. Thanks be to God.
    Your group, FOCUS, is one of the fruits of the renewal of Vatican II teachings and a proof that the Lord, our God and Father in Heaven, is ALIVE in His Church. Thank you for your services and these are ALL FOR THE GREATER GLORY OF GOD.
    We are just mere servants of the Lord doing our duty: obeying His most holy will. Amen.

  16. Monsignor Pope, You are one of the blooming buds! I often ask God to let me see the beautiful and the good around me, and I see it here quite often on your blog, I hear it in your words, and I hear it in the comments from those you attract.

  17. Outstanding and hopeful article, Msgr Pope. I concur wholeheartedly. When I began blogging in 2006, I dedicated my work to the New Springtime of Evangelization and as you see in those budding rosebushes, there are many more things blooming in the Church now than even those four short years ago.
    As society around us becomes darker and more threatening to Catholic teaching, especially on marriage and family, the light of Christ in His Church shines ever more distinctly.
    May good St Patrick and the Patron of the Church St Joseph pray for us to water these budding plants.

  18. Thanks Msgr. Pope!

    Not only is dissent graying, but the culture of death is reaching its predictable dead-end. We witnessed as a family with our 11 and 14 year old daughters at the March for Life this year, and, conservatively, it was at least as big as 2010 which was estimated by Kansans for Life at 250,000, likely larger. Then we’re seeing certain protestants like some Anglicans come home to Rome. As well, there is more and more dialogue between Catholics and some Baptist bretheren, for example, as we have the Right to Life ground in common. So, at the grass-roots level, I see some of the wounds in the Body of Christ owing to Christian division mending.

  19. Thank you for this post—I see the evidence of many of these trends in my city, as well. I would just add that there has been increasing alarm about the campus hook-up culture (through which even well brought up kids stray from their faith), which is so physically and emotionally damaging, especially for young women. Female modesty and chastity are being embraced and valued again, as a reaction against the feminism we were raised on. I laud the work of Jennifer Roback Morse and the Ruth Institute, which has sponsored a “Love and Fidelity” movement on many college campuses.

    Relatedly, I think young women realize that the feminist idea of delaying motherhood until one’s thirties for the sake of career belies the reality of fertility challenges at that age. I see signs that more of us are aiming to marry and start families at younger ages.

    On both counts, as young people come to see the destruction of the sexual revolution, they realize that the Catholic Church has been right all along—and awareness of that truth draws them in and gets them returning to Mass. I hear this kind of account in the Inquiry and RCIA sessions at our parish.

  20. Yes the TLM is approved but that doesn’t mean its consistent with the papally sanctioned decision of an ecumencial council that the 1962 Missal is to be reformed (i.e., whatever form it took afterwards, it would not be the same as it stood in 1962). Surely a man of your education is well acquainted with the fact that papal decisions of the liturgical or disciplinary arenas are certainly valid but not asssured to be the best deicsion for or even a decision in line withm, the plan of God for his Church. Church history is full to the brim of countless papal decisions that were quite valid to be sure, and yet horrendously hamrful to the members and/or reputation of the Church. To disagree with the Pope is not to be disloyal, it can actually be a sign of deep love and devotion, otherwise St. Catherine of Siena should have minded her own business and permitted the pope to live wherever he pleased. God bless.

  21. There is indeed room in my heart for you. But yet again…no one in the TLM crowd with whom I have ever conversed with on this topic of TLM and the decisions of the Vatican II Ecumenical Council, seems willing to deal with the apparent contradiction and yield a reply. I think the emotional attachment to the solemn ritual is fogging the intellect on this delicate important ecclesial and pneumalogical question. Personally, I think the present TLM craze is an expected pedulum reaction to the absurdities and abuses that sadly clouded the implementation of the Novus Ordo. I have confidence that the Spirit will bring us to a balance.

  22. TLM craze? That doesn’t make sense. The Novus Ordo Mass has been around for 50 years. How was the Mass practiced before that time and for how long?

  23. I used “craze” in reference to the recent/contemporary interest in it, particularly among those who have no conscious memory or historical-emotional atttachment to it. And yes it was one of the rites of the Mass in use for several hundred years (not the only rite however, even in the West). However, the the world’s bishops in communion of mind and heart with the Pope, guided by the Holy Spirit in the extraordinary magisterium of a valid Ecumencial Council, issued a constitution calling for the reform and simplification of the 1962 Missal. Can a pope degree otherwise and have his decree be valid? Certainly. But the personal motu prorio of an individual pope is not a higher magietrial act than that of a Pope with Bishops in Ecumencial Council. And we know from countless facts of Church history that ordinary acts of popes in liturgy or canon law or church discipline (not being under the divine promise of the Spirit’s guidance in truth concerning faith and morals) have been harmful or even erroneous.

    So how is one who hold to the faith of the Apostles supposed to respond to this situation? Surely s/he can accept the motu prorio and obey and the believer is fine doing so. Or the believer can ask of the hierarchical Church that she respect the decisions of an Ecumenical Council since it has greater authority (but to be clear, NOT greater authority than a pope TEACHING definitively on his own). I feel it is a very important point for discernment.

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