In recent weeks leading up to the Conclave, and this day after, an awful lot of people, Catholic and Non-Catholic, are trotting out their agendas and looking for the new Pope to somehow bring he Church into conformity with what they want and demand.
Chief on the list of the world are things that include the ordination of women, a total surrender of the Church’s sexual teachings, embracing of the homosexual agenda etc.
The worldly experts often opine that unless the Church surrenders to this agenda, we are destined to be empty halls and “irrelevant” to the modern scene.
Of course one need not go far to test this little theory and see if surrender really works. One need only look to the example of the Episcopal denomination and a good number of other liberal mainline Protestant denominations. There it will be observed that their halls are far more empty and getting emptier all the time.
You name it they’ve got it: Homosexual unions, Gay clergy, LGBTQ-sensitive worship, women clergy, abortion is OK, environmentalism, “pet-friendly services, etc; a veritable menu of every modern demand and trendy idea. Yes they got the rainbows out, and talk endlessly of every latest form of inclusion, and their “halls” are more empty than ever.
Yes, the T.V. and Newspapers have the spotlight on any dissenter they can find to give the usual reportage cut from the usual “Church it out of touch” template, and demands that the Church to strive to fit in more, be kinder and gentler than in the past, and that her essential mission is merely to accept everyone and make sure they feel good about themselves. Yes Mother Church ought to be more appealing and less “alienating” then her membership will increase. Otherwise we are simply “on the wrong side of history.”
But is this really the role of the Church? Is it really her role to be “with the times?” Surely not, since she is the Bride of Christ and also Body of Christ (for in this holy Marriage she and her spouse are one).
And frankly, to be even more bold, the job of the Church is not to reflect the views of the world or even her members, but to reflect the views of our Head and Founder, Jesus Christ. And perhaps we might do well to remember that Jesus, despite modern attempts to remake him into “Mr Rogers”, did not exactly fit into his times either. No Jesus was a sign that would be contradicted, and so to his body, the Church. He promised to his true followers not popularity, but hatred from the world. (cf Jn 15:18)
Consider too the words of Simeon to Mary as he held the infant Christ:
Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce)so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Lk 2:34)
And in holding the infant Jesus, Simeon was also holding the Church, for the Church is the Body of Christ. And Simeon looked to Jesus and saw that he would be a sign of contradiction to many. Surely Jesus would not be the affirmer-in-chief, but rather, as one who spoke the truth and feared no man, he would stand clearly and announce the truth without compromise. Some would love him and many would hate him, but no one could remain neutral. He would make us choose, tertium non datur (no third way is given).
And, as we have already alluded, Christ said two very important things to the Church:
- If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
- Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.(Luke 6:26)
So, that world hates us is not necessarily due to the fact that we have done anything wrong. It is often a sign that we have done something precisely right for it is often our lot, as the Body of Christ, to be a “sign of contradiction.” That is to say that we must announce the Gospel to a world that is often and in increasing measure, stridently opposed to it.
St. Paul admonished Timothy to preach the Gospel, whether in season or out of season (2 Tim 4:2). Increasingly now it is out of season and the world hates us for what we say. But we can do no other, for if we are faithful, we must speak.
Pope Paul VI said it so well in the very in the “out of season” encyclical Humane Vitae:
It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man. (H.V. # 18)
We in the Church must courageously accept our lot. Simeon spoke of it clearly in the beginning as he held the infant Christ (and thus the infant Church).
And then, looking at Mary, who also represents the Church as mother and bride, he says. “A sword will pierce your heart too!” So the Church as Body of Christ and the Church as Bride and Mother cannot evade the fact that we will often be called to be a sign of contradiction.
And we will often be required to suffer for our proclamation. The world will try and shame us, try to cause us to experience guilt through indignant outcries and labels such as: Rigid, backward, conservative, right wing, fundamentalist, homophobic, judgmental, intolerant, harsh, mean-spirited, hateful and so on.
But do not be amazed and do not buy into the false guilt. Simply pray and accept the fact that the Church is a sign of contradiction and we must continue to address ourselves to the conscience of a world that seems bent on going morally insane. To this world our announcement of the Truth of Gospel must be courageous, clear, consistent, constant and quite often a sign of contradiction. This is our lot, we can do no other, we can be no other.
If you can bare to watch it, here is a silly video of one of the update-demanding groups. It is supremely illustrative that the video was filmed here in DC among the ruins of an old Episcopal parish (St. Paul’s destroyed by fire back in the 1970s). So, in effect we are told to imitate the example of the Episcopals, a rapidly depopulating denomination barely one third of its former size and shrinking fast. How powerfully the ruined Church in the background shows the irony the demands of those who call for such relevance.
And here is the emblematic interview of Shepard Smith which summarizes well the demands of the modern world: