"Get on Board Children, Children, There’s Room For Many-a-More" A Meditation On the Miracle of the Church

I have often pondered how the Church has survived 2000 years. I have considered how long the Church could have survived without the promise of Christ that gates of Hell would not prevail, and without the Holy Spirit. I have concluded that we would have lasted about twenty minutes, max.

Yet here we are, a kind of miracle, so big, that no one notices. 2,000 years old, (longer if you ponder our Jewish roots). Empires and nations have risen and fallen during that time: The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the great and expansive European nations with their widespread colonies: the British empire, the Spanish and French expansions and later contractions. It was once said, “The Sun never sets on the British Empire.” Now it does.  And all Europe, as we know it, may be in the late autumn of its existence. Chinese dynasties have risen and fallen, more recently the Nazi and then Soviet regimes have come and gone. In the 7th Century the Muslims came on the scene, expanded, contracted and now, it would seem, are expanding again.

But through all this the Church has withstood. Sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but always, miraculously left standing, though all crumble around her. What other nation or organization can, as we do, trace its roots in an unbroken line of successors (Popes and bishops) back to its founder? It is true we have suffered some divisions within, some precarious moments, and it is true some have broken away from us. But the center has held, and the line is unbroken. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia (where Peter is, there is the Church). The Church stands, while Empires, nations, movements, and fads have come and gone.

And this miracle shines forth despite significant human obstacles within her: often terrible scandals, poor preaching, bad example, abuse of power, poor priorities, disorganization, sweeping heresies, schisms, lack of faith, and just plain stupidity.

It is said that the Napoleon, threatening to destroy the Catholic Church, was scoffed at by the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris in these words, “Priests have been trying to destroy the Church for 1800 years and been unable!” Words sad, but at times true. Corruptio optime pessima (the Corruption of the best, is the worst). Yet here we still are.

An old hymn (though Protestant in origin) is true when applied to the Catholic Church:

Though with a scornful wonder
we see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping;
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till, with the vision glorious,
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great Church victorious
shall be the Church at rest.

Until that time, we shall endure and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us. Though dismissed by many who predict our demise, it is a promise of Christ (Matt 16:18) and it has proved true despite many previous predictions of our demise.

This does not mean that the Church is not in need of purification and pruning. And we have and will continue to experience this. I am convinced that we are still in a time of pruning. The Lord has taken the tall and proud vine of the Church, so luxuriant, it seemed, fifty years and before in this land, and has pruned us, by allowing us to be tested. This is a time of purification. A time not yet complete. But, as I have remarked before, I experience the Church here in America to be in much better condition than the more terrible times of the 1970s and 1980s. The pruning may not yet be fully over, but there are signs of greater purity and intensity already in: fervent and orthodox younger clergy, fine and wonderful new religious, many new and superb lay movements, and many individual lay people powerfully dedicated, sober and clear about their faith and the need to be light, even to accepting a kind of martyrdom in this ever darkening world.

The Church is surely a miracle; one before our very eyes. The world, and even many of the faithful, may think we are on the ropes and ready to go down. But we will endure, by the promise of Christ. An old spiritual says, Get on board children, children, there’s room for many-a-more. Nations, cultures, empires, and ideologies, will come and go. But there’s one ship that’s going to make it through this old storm tossed world, and that is the Church. Get on board children, (and stay on board), there’s room for many-a-more.

Photo Credit: The Cardinal’s Portrait by Rosenthal – A wonderful diptych of sorts. On the canvas painted by the monk, we see an image of the Church as we want her to be. On the left is the all too human reality of the Church. Ah, but the Church endures, by God’s grace.

This video of the Church being (re)built in France inspired me to write this post. Enjoy the video as you see a sign of new life and a visual image of the church being (re)built.

26 Replies to “"Get on Board Children, Children, There’s Room For Many-a-More" A Meditation On the Miracle of the Church”

  1. An institute run with such knavish imbecility that if it were not the work of God it would not last a fortnight.
    [Hillaire Belloc, on the Church]

  2. Only God’s Church could be so hated and yet so loved, so weak and yet so strong. I think every generation like my own fears the damage being wrought on Her, and yet She endures despite our faults. God bless you Msgr Pope and thank you for this post.

  3. I believe our daily repentances gives some insight into the mystery of the Church’s constant purification.

  4. You cant say you love Jesus and not love the Church. There is no greater love than Jesus Christ and His Church. This is where salvation is found.

  5. Thank you for this word of encouragement. I spent a good part of yesterday, struggling in prayer over my own failings, my shrinking CCD classes, the lack of faith in family members, and the state of the world adrift from God. I went to bed on the couch, candle burning, and still moaning in my spirit. The morning has not brought much light, until i read this.

    I also struggle with how we in the church can get caught up in our little ghetto, our echo chamber, so busy reinforcing our own flagging spirits that He is not proclaimed to the world. … if there is any public proclamation by the church in our diocese, it is a news article of some financial trouble or church closing. Halloween gets far better press at the drop of a hat. Yes, I do believe that His church will endure, but His plan for the world is that WE still have apostolic voices (even if none listen).

    Thanks for the reminder Father. It seems we live in Jeremiah-like times.

    1. limping along, I feel your comment so much. When I think about these things, I can get myself very sad. Our diocese is in the process of “realigning” the diocese’s Catholic schools. We all know this will end in many schools being closed. It is depressing. About family members, out of 35 first cousins, I am the only one who remains a practicing Catholic. It is a collapse of epic proportions, there is no doubt.

      I’ve decided all I can do is make sure that my children are taught the faith and I try my best. That’s it.

    2. Yes continue to pray for your local part of the Church. There is renewal, but it is not always evenly spread. As for the collapse, yes it is epic. These are surely times of pruning. But pruning brings life after the winter.

  6. I was dropping my children off at our Catholic school today, and there was a funeral streaming into the church. It was a beautiful juxtaposition really, to see all of the children happily going in to the school, and the mourners streaming into the church, many with tears in their eyes. We even saw the casket being lifted out of the hearse and my son asked me what was going on, and I told him. And he said, “That’s ok, that person will be in heaven.” And I said, “Yes, let’s say a little prayer right now for their soul.”

    All with faith, even as the world scorns us. It’s the Holy Spirit guiding the Church, there is no other explanation.

  7. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. The miracle of Christ’s Bride is the grace of His Sacred Heart, through the Immaculate Heart of His beloved, Blessed Mother.

  8. Ann, are you saying that person’s soul wouldn’t be going to heaven unless you said a little prayer?

    1. I am not sure. But Buddhism is a philosophy (though some call it a theology, I would think not since it is not focused on “Theos, namely a god or God). Buddhism is not an organization or Church. In this sense it is similar to Greek Philosophy etc., also very old some of it incorparated in to the Church some of it not. Also I am unclear as to whether Buddhism has changed, remained fixed from the start or if there are schools of thought etc. All of these things I just don’t know. In the end, Jesus founded a Church, rooted in his own person with a visible head and members. There is more to the Church than just a philosophy, theology or set of doctrines: the Church is a visible communion (in worldly terms, an organization), not just a philosophy.

      1. But then, how about Hinduism and Judaism? They’re religions and they’ve certainly weathered more storms, so does that mean they meet all the “qualifications” you cite as reasons the Catholic Church is a miracle?

        1. I’m in the same boat with Hinduism not knowing really whether we can speak of it as an entity or just a collection of thoughts and religious views. Is there really an unbroken chain or line? I don’t know. Are the various branches of Hinduism all valid? Does one stretch back in an unbroken chain? I do not think so. We don’t even know who the founder was and there are numerous different types. Further, such such wide latitude exists in Hindu belief, what are we really talking about here? And has “it” really remained unchanged? And how could we know this since there is no founder per se and it just emerges as a series of traditions on the Indian sub-continent. So again, I’m not sure what to make of it or how it is distinct from any number of other perduring human ethical, natural law, philosophical and generic religious sentiments and traditions. What we call Hinduism is more a wide range of a fairly disparate system of religious insights, evolving over time into different strands but not a Church, institution or religious dogma per se.

          I think regarding Judaism there are a couple of very different ways to understand this issue. One way is to understand them as still annexed to the Church as an older brother, who according to Rom 11 will one day convert and that, until that time, they still enjoy some special favor from God.

          Another very different way is to conclude that Judaism, as it was known in the 1st century, ceased to exist in 70AD and morphed into a variety of strands we call the Jewish faith but which is has no central and unifying core, leadership or structure that we can say has perdured through time, like the Catholic Church. There are many strands of Jews, Reformed, Orthodox, Conservative, Ashkenazis, Hassidics, et al and many sub variations of each. Which of them are the “true Jews” and, after the end of Temple Sacrifice does such a category “Jew” even exist other than as a National identity? Who is to say? And if they do have a national identity, overlooking all the wide variety of of Jewish religious subcategories, can we show an unbroken chain? As a Nation the secular State of Israel only took up again, in 1948. Prior to that time where do we locate the Jewish people per se and which branch of Zion is the true one?

          So here too, allow me to claim no clear answer on this matter except to say that none of the examples you have cited have the clear capacity, to my mind, to say “here is a clearly defined entity, founded by a clear founder thousands of years ago whose doctrine and intended structure has survived intact.” The Catholic Church can well demonstrate this, I am not sure the other examples (with the possible exception of the Jews as annexed to the Church), can demonstrate this for the reasons stated.

  9. “And now, therefore, I say to you: Refrain from these men and let them alone. For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. And they consented to him.” (Acts 5:38~39)
    Truly, Christ be with us until the consummation of time.

    “But then, how about Hinduism and Judaism? They’re religions and they’ve certainly weathered more storms, so does that mean they meet all the “qualifications” you cite as reasons the Catholic Church is a miracle?”

    @Larry: Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe Judaism is older than Hinduism and Buddhism. As one pope commented “we are all spiritually Semite” and if you believe that Catholicism is the continuition of Judaism (economy of salvation); then Christianity goes back more than 2000 years. God never lapse on His promised and His plan is sails on uninterrupted.

  10. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    This video helps me tremendously in my hopes for the Church. I struggle with what I see and hear all over the Christianity of Europe and ourselves. Recently the Holy Father addressed the German seminarians
    and told them from 1 Peter 3:15 “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” Very powerful indeed.

Comments are closed.