In the parlor of my rectory where I meet with most of my spiritual directees, and others who come to me for counseling or instruction, there is a crucifixion scene, (see photo at right).

Among the many things means, it is for me something of a paradigm of the Church at her darkest moment. How tiny the Church had suddenly become. Gone were the crowds of Galilee which followed the Lord. Gone were the crowds of Palm Sunday shouting Hosanna. Gone were all but one of her first bishops, St. John. One of them (St. Peter) had followed at a distance, and then three times denied he knew the Lord, the rest of those first bishops fled to God knows where.

And now the tiny infant Church was gathered around her Lord at the foot of the cross. Yes, there is the Church, so tiny; only St. John, Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary Clopas, and perhaps one other. So tiny now, so few.

Yet here was one of her greatest moments. The bride of Christ, the Church mystically united to her groom.

And strange,  though even in this reduced and horribly suffering condition of the Church, Satan’s back was being broken, his power undermined. It is almost a Trojan Horse incident. For, even as Satan gloats over his apparent gift, a surprise waits within, a hidden power that will send him reeling.

And small though the Church has become, she will gain two surprising converts that Good Friday: the good thief, and the centurion. Perhaps not a bad day for a Church reduced to five or six: two converts, plus the breaking of the back of Satan’s power.

I often point to the statute in my parlor. For many come to me at times with great struggles, perhaps feeling defeated, or at least discouraged. I point and remind them that, for those with faith, there is something about being in the crucible, something about the cross that is pregnant with victory. Satan still has his incursions, and his apparent victories. But they are only temporary, they cannot stand. His back was broken Good Friday, and not by a large and triumphant Church, but by a tiny and suffering Church, the Church in the crucible, The Church at the foot of the cross with Christ her groom and head.

Many of us who share this blog together, are often dismayed at the condition of the Church today, and even more, the condition of culture. For those of us who are little older, our discouragement is deepened by the fact that many of us can remember a time when things at least seemed to be greater repair. Our families were largely intact, our churches filled, people seemed generally more able to make commitments and keep them…

The list could go on, but you get the point. Things were far from perfect, but things did seem to be more orderly, and the basic fundamentals necessary for culture, civilization and for the Church were more in place.

Yet, our mind should never stray far from that Good Friday afternoon, the Church so reduced, betrayed by most of her members, even her leaders; yet never more powerful.

There have been days of triumph of the Church, only to see collapse! And then, Victory again! The early days were so marked by suffering and martyrdom, and then suddenly the Edict of Constantine and the Church emerged victorious. Resurrection!

And yet, finally set free, Arianism reared its ugly presence and so many other endless fights ensued, perhaps necessary, over basic doctrines of Christology and the Trinity.

And then the sudden loss of the western flank, as the Roman Empire collapsed and moved to the east, as so-called barbarian tribes swept in to what we call Europe today. St. Augustine was so troubled that he wrote the City of God trying to explain how his beloved Roman Empire, finally having embraced the faith would now fall. St. Jerome, depressed, went to live in a cave. The Cross again.

But the Church struck up a conversation with those barbarians, and began to convert them, first in small numbers, then in waves. Resurrection!

And then, just as things seemed to be improving, all of North Africa, the great cradle of the Church, was lost, almost overnight, laid waste and mowed down by the edge of the Muslim sword. There were once 500 bishops in North Africa, some of the greatest Fathers of the Church had lived there: Augustine, Cyprian, Tertullian, Athanasius, and so many others. And now the great North African part of the Church lay beneath the sand. The Muslims made it across Gibraltar and into the Portugal and Spain before they were turned back. All of Asia Minor so beautifully evangelized by St. Paul, was also lost, lost to the Church! The Muslim invaders made it all the way to the gates of modern Vienna before they were turned back. The Cross again.

But now that North Africa was tragically lost, Europe began to flourish as a kind of Christian civilization was built there: Universities were founded, hospitals too, and the great cathedrals rose. Something called the great “Medieval synthesis” took hold. Resurrection!

And then, all of this to begin to erode with the rise of Nominalism and the Cartesian revolution it would eventually usher in. With intellectual confusion, came an epistemological revolution that severed the connection of the mind to reality, ushered in radical doubt, decadence, the rise of the individual autonomous self, and the rejection of any lawful authority within the Church. The revolution that some called the “Reformation” led to a break of unity, and the Church was once again firmly cast to the foot of the cross to search her own soul and begin a counter reformation. Ecclesia semper reformanda (The Church is always being reformed). The cross again.

Yet even as a million people left the Church in Germany in the Lutheran revolt, our Lady ushered in nine million Mexicans at Guadalupe. Resurrection!

Back in Europe, as wars, rebellion and confusion raged the Church was wracked by division, more Protestant revolts, and the hundred years war. A great darkness was gathering there that would lead to the bloodbath known as the 20th Century: two World Wars, bloody ideological revolutions, an iron curtain and an almost complete loss of faith. The lights were going out in Europe.  The Cross!

Yet, even so, faith began to take hold in the New World, And, though early persecuted, waves of immigrants escaping Europe brought the Catholic faith to the United States in numbers too big to ignore. Even though Europe was racked with confusion and doubt, many fled from there and found in America a remarkable synthesis of faith and culture held in tight knot ethic communities built around parish churches….(With healthy persecution besides!)  Resurrection!

But even America could not ultimately withstand the decadence of Europe and its decline in the post Cartesian centuries. America was eventually drawn into two European World Wars, and the poison of modernism reached our shores. And now there seems to be bewildering, almost demonic decline. The cross again!

And, suddenly, Africa is abloom again. There is a 7,000% increase in the number of Catholics in Africa in the last fifty years. Resurrection!

Yes, it would seem that the Church must often find herself back at the cross. Yet even as we are there now in the West, we must never forget that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Many look to the Church now with ridicule and declare that we are done and defeated. But they have not studied history, nor do they know the power of God, and that the Cross is pregnant with victory.

Even within the Church there are naysayers who point to glory days and, in fear, announce great woe, and seek to assign blame for the current decline. “Things have never been worse,” they declare. But they too have not studied history (things have been far worse) nor do they seem to remember the power of God.

That the Church is at the foot of the Cross in many ways, at least in the West, in hard to deny, but the Cross is pregnant with victory. Just you wait and see!

Ecclessia semper reformanda! Sed Christus Resurrexit tertia die! Semper! Ubique!

23 Responses

  1. john says:

    thank you…I read the whole article amazing for me to do…GOD bless…for GODS glory!!!

    • Repent and Believe the Gospel ! says:

      That’s right – “Just you wait and see!”

      Can’t you see? The Spring Time is at the door!

      For without the Tree of the Cross, there is no redemption.
      Without the Tree of the Cross, the gates of heaven will not open.
      Without the Tree of the Cross, there is no resurrection.

      The Tree of the Cross is the Tree of Life!

  2. Dismas says:

    I wasn’t quite sure how to take or what to make of Pope Francis’ recent references to triumphalism within our Church, but I think this article may have helped clear that up for me. I suppose in the end nothing can ever be truly or clearly understood without the light of the paradox of the Cross.

  3. Cathy R. says:

    Thanks, I needed that reminder!

  4. Vijaya says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post. I will always see the Church as a bride, blossoming and growing, even if at times, she is skinny and suffering.

    Might you reflect upon Pope Francis’ mentioning of the church as a widow? It was most confusing. Because Christ is in the Eucharist, she can never be a widow: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/church-is-like-a-widow-seeking-her-husband-pope-says/

    • Funny, I wrote an article a while back entitled: “The Church is a bride, not a widow” Alas, preaching, like any art will sometimes use idioms, metaphors etc., that differ. But that is to be expected given the nature of human language. I would personally never use the word “widow” to describe the Church. Jesus says, “I am with you always…” Maybe the Pope is referencing something in Latino culture that is foreign to me. We also do well to recall that the Pope is using a simile, The Church is LIKE a widow. But “like” does not mean “is”

      • Dismas says:

        “The Bridegroom is gone and she walks in history, hoping to find him, to meet with him. And she will be his true bride. In the meantime she – the Church – is alone! The Lord is invisible. She has a certain dimension of widowhood.”

        Vijaya, you make an interesting point. This is somewhat confusing for me too, or at least I have trouble as well with the widowhood metaphor in reference to our Church. I’ve always viewed Mary as a kind of metaphor for our Church. Mary, preceded in death by her spouse Joseph, was certainly already a widow prior to the Crucifixion and “loss?” of her Son. I wonder if there is another word that defines a woman who experiences the death of her child as opposed to the word widow that defines a women who experiences the death of her spouse? Even more interesting; what part might St. Joseph play in all this?

  5. I Like The Church Fathers says:

    Excellent post, Monsignor.

    There are so many further examples that could be cited, I can’t resist adding just one.

    In the late 18th century, in the wake of the French Revolution, Napoleon launched his campaign to conquer Europe. Among his conquests were Rome and the Papal States. Napoleon’s troops arrested the frail and elderly Pius VI, who had by that time reigned as Pope for over two decades. Napoleon sent him into exile in France where he soon died. The Cross!

    On Pius VI’s death, many of the secular atheist elites of Europe boastfully declared that the papacy was dead and the Church, with its head now cut off, would soon follow. They were wrong. The cardinals gathered in Venice and elected Pope Pius VII, who, with great humility and dignity, reestablished the prestige and standing of the papacy. He also managed to outlive Napoleon who died in exile on the distant island of St. Helena. Resurrection!

    Pius VII is one of the great Popes of the last two centuries and I am surprised that he has not been beatified. He is also the subject of a famous portrait by Jacques-Louis David that hangs in the Louvre:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jacques-Louis_David_-_Portrait_of_Pope_Pius_VII_-_WGA06091.jpg

  6. Anne Marie says:

    Also you can compare the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs of the Church to the seasons: fall, winter, spring, and summer. Good article! Thank-you!

  7. Anne Marie says:

    I also see that the Church is now going through a new early springtime of faith, as proof, Pope Francis who is truly preaching the Gospel of Jesus.

  8. RichardGTC says:

    I would like to share this passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “You will not let your Holy One see corruption”

    627 Christ’s death was a real death in that it put an end to his earthly human existence. But because of the union which the person of the Son retained with his body, his was not a mortal corpse like others, for “it was not possible for death to hold him”470 and therefore “divine power preserved Christ’s body from corruption.”471 Both of these statements can be said of Christ: “He was cut off out of the land of the living”,472 and “My flesh will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption.”473 Jesus’ Resurrection “on the third day” was the sign of this, also because bodily decay was held to begin on the fourth day after death.474

    470 Acts 2:24.
    471 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 51, 3
    472 Isa 53:8.
    473 Acts 2:26-27; cf. Ps 16:9-10.
    474 Cf. 1 Cor 15:4; Lk 24:46; Mt 12:40; Jon 2:1; Hos 6:2; cf. Jn 11:39.

  9. Candida Eittreim says:

    Oh, God bless you for this! There will always be faith resurrected, the Church humbled and apparently broken, only to rise like Christ our eternal phoenix, rising triumphant, while hell screams in agony. Always. God bless you and your ministry Msgr. Pope.

  10. stefanie says:

    Gosh, Monsignor, this was an amazing trip through the Christian Age — wonderful! As Anne Marie said above, the Church always experiences its seasons — each season has a beginning and an end — even our Church liturgical seasons have a beginning and an end. With the end of Cycle C ordinary time and our walk through the Gospel of Luke, we will enter once again into Cycle A and Matthew’s Gospel. Oh, how I love our Church that honors both eastern thought (cyclical) and western thought (point A to point B, etc.) !

  11. Heidi keene says:

    Bravo Msgr Pope. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
    1 Cor 1:25

  12. Nancy says:

    I recently read this quote by Blessed Pier Giorgio,”We are living through difficult days because the persecution against the Church is raging more than ever, but this should not frighten you, brave and good young people. Always remember that the
    church is a divine institution and it cannot come to an end.”

    Thank you,Monsignor for all of your writing on this blog

  13. one anonymous says:

    Reading this wonderful piece you write here I was reminded of today’s Gospel reading, Luke 7:31-35. “But wisdom is vindicated by all her children” So, as you say, we are given such beautiful children.

  14. Annette Strachan says:

    The hatred of the Cross is spoken of in The Devil – Venerable Fulton Sheen on YouTube, he
    explains Thessalonians2 chapter 2 verse7.

    I really wanted to tell of the lovely homily about the meal with the Pharisee in Wasting Your Life –
    Venerable Fulton Sheen . Stretching the friendship even further, Confession – Venerable Fulton Sheen
    talks about King David as well as Macbeth. On YouTube.

    Thanks for your relevant writings, everything old is new again.

  15. edraCruz says:

    So then we can ask, ‘when was the Church ever not under persecution?’ The answer is not ever. The Church will never be at peace for the the evil one is like a roaring lion always ready to pounce and devour. GOD always manifests HIS Mercy in the folly of every man and every generation. HE brings out goodness out of misery of man’s sins and we are always given saints that open our minds and soul to the Grace of GOD’s Love, for that was what HE promised, ‘Behold I will be with you until the end of ages.’ Thank you for this article, Monsi. You lift up our sagging morale as we see our surroundings of indifference to Our CREATOR. You must be one of those saints. GOD Bless you and your ministry. YHWH RUAH.

  16. Susan Swehla says:

    Excellent! Thank you for your ministry and taking the time to write this blog. It helps me immensely in my spiritual growth. Concerning the statue shown above. I find it beautiful and would like to get one like it or similar for my home. May I ask where you acquired yours? I’ve tried to do a search and haven’t come up with anything. Thank you for your time.

  17. John A. Lombardi says:

    Monsignor, thank you for a brilliant walk through history, and the Holy Spirit’s direction to you. The Church needs many more priests like you to “contend for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 8).
    God Bless you.

  18. Charles Agyeman says:

    Thank you and Godspeed!

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