As I write this, it is mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Like each season, winter has its time, its three months. To many of us, there seems to be a metaphorical winter in the Church and in our culture, one that has lasted for years.
Those of us who are older probably remember a time when Masses were crowded. The church parking lots were packed full, and if you didn’t arrive early enough you often had to park elsewhere and then stand during Mass. Catholic Schools had long waiting lists, and parents made sure to put their children on the list long before they reached school age. If you put up four walls, Catholics would fill them.
Beginning in the mid-sixties, however, weekly Mass attendance by Catholics began to drop. According to some polls, nearly 80 percent of Catholics were regular attendees in the mid-fifties; today, that figure has dropped to as low as 20 percent (depending on the polling methodology). Open dissent from Church teaching grew among the faithful and the clergy, especially after Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which re-affirmed the rejection of artificial contraception. The autumn of our discontent and the “falling leaves” of defection of clergy and religious sisters from their vows and the faithful from their pews ushered in a long winter from which we have yet to emerge. Added to this are scandals of the worst kind, rooted in a loss of faith by the very ones sent to prophetically announce that faith. Corruptio optimi pessima!
What is evident in the Church is even more apparent in our culture. The West, which was once called Christendom, has descended into a cold and fierce secularism. The darkness and moral confusion grow deeper; opposition to once-widely-held moral norms is outright celebrated. Artificial contraception, abortion, divorce, premarital sex, adultery, homosexual acts, euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide, and many other things we once considered shameful are now promoted and called “rights.” Our culture has become crass, coarse, and angry.
Yes, it is the depths of winter in the Church and in our culture. Jesus once said, False prophets will arise and mislead many. Because of the multiplication of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:11-12).
Where is the plentiful catch of fish, the abundant harvest of which Jesus often spoke? What are we to do in this long winter when little seems to grow?
Perhaps the first step is to realize that there are seasons through which the Church must pass and that one day the seasons will change. Even in winter, farmers work to prepare for the next harvest. What does this mean for us? St. Paul wrote this to Timothy regarding the seasons:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and encourage with every form of patient instruction. For the time will come when men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires. So, they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:2-4).
Therefore, even in winter we must still work for that which will bring in the harvest when winter has passed. We are to preach and live the Word in season and out of season, whether popular or unpopular. We are to pray, to prune, and to accept pruning ourselves.
Back in November as climatic winter approached, I pruned my roses and crape myrtles. Pruning cuts away what is excessive and no longer fruitful in order to encourage future growth. Soon enough the warmth of spring will come; tender shoots will appear and then leaves and flowers. Similarly, the Church must prune and be pruned. The pruning has been severe and evidently quite necessary; much that was unhealthy is being cut away.
Even in those times that the Lord designates for pruning or for the field to lie fallow, He is preparing for future growth. The Lord says, “The harvest is plentiful,” but that doesn’t mean that the harvest is necessarily right now.
The bottom line is this: just do your work. Keep living the faith, passing it on to your children, and insisting on what is true. Obey what the Lord commands and know that the harvest He announced will be brought in someday. Yes, the harvest will come, and it will come with abundance. Scripture says,
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy. They go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown. But they will surely return with rejoicing carrying the harvest of grain (Psalm 126:5-6).
Although it is winter, continue to do your work. We may not live to see the harvest for which we prepare, but others surely will. Jesus says,
Thus the saying “One sows, and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor” (John 4:37).
I have reaped harvests that others have sown. When someone comes to confession after forty years away, I reap the harvest that others prepared—planting, watering, and fertilizing. I, too, will prepare so that others after may harvest.
Whatever the season, do your work. It will bear fruit in due time.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: In the Winter of Faith Just Keep Working
13 Replies to “In the Winter of Faith Just Keep Working”
Thank you again Rev.Msgr., for the words exhorting the virtue of hope and trust
Related to the recent visit of the Holy Father ( and may be the blessing of his and of many others too , with the prayers and mercy for all ) , wonder at times if one of the strenghts of Islam is them seeing holiness and related love through God’s mercy which they too plead for , starting with their Prophet , about whom many would likely know , but still attribute profound reverence .
OTOH , The Church in Russia , in arrogance , chose to see The Catholic Church
( now, thankfully changing , it seems ) as not holy enough .
Seems such an attitude might have been also against those in their churches as well – need for public confessions etc too , which , in turn, might have turned many against the Father figures and thus leading to much.
After all, receiving such an attitude in a place where it is to be the least can also be the most damaging .
Is it that error that is pervading more and more , manifesting in may be to some extent the excesses against those who committed mistakes but being seen as unworthy of mercy – true, it is a narrow walk , in need to good bit of Godly
wisdom and on this Feast of St.Valentine , may his prayers as well as all of heaven , help all, to accept His mercy and love as holiness ,as The Blood and water , to wash away all the hardness of hearts , to live in trusting love , pleaded for all .
A blessed Feast !
Like a hearty fire on a dark winter day, this essay is warming my bones. Thanks, Monsignor. May we all persevere with God’s grace to see a spiritual spring.
“… Various nations will be annihilated.” You know, I think it has already happened, and we are probably one of those nations.
The “errors of Russia” were, I suppose,
1. believing that God does not exist, or that He is at any rate irrelevant, and that the only appropriate references to God are as an empty figure of speech, or a joke, or a way to control the gullible,
2. believing that man is merely material, and as Bill Clinton’s campaign insisted (and Karl Marx would agree), “It’s the economy, stupid,” and
3. believing that the key to creating a paradise on earth is putting the right government into power.
The spread of Communism per se may have been limited, but can you deny that these errors have spread and been adopted wholeheartedly by the west?
And what does it mean for a nation to be annihilated? Does that have to mean the destruction of its population through a nuclear war, or a loss of independence to more powerful neighbors? What if it was a spiritual annihilation, a snuffing out of that vital spark that gives a nation its special identity and vocation in the Kingdom of Heaven?
If you remember, the neutron bomb was a weapon designed to kill all the people while leaving the buildings intact. That way one could kill off the population of Paris, but leave the Louvre intact; one could sterilize Anaheim, but leave Disneyland untouched. Naturally, though, there was a danger that fires might break out in the untended structures, possibly destroying many of them.
We seem to have been hit by spiritual neutron bombs. They have left the institutions standing, but devoid of life, and periodically one or another of those institutions collapses, like a vacant building in Pripyat or Fukushima.
building on your theme, ABORTION was liberalized, rad feminism roots propogatd, athesism as sophistication ,
I think I would say that abortion is to our current spiritual crisis as mustard gas was to WW1: the most visible horror, but only the most visible horror.
Yesterday, in the National Church in Copenhagen, Denmark, I went to a public lecture, on the Lutheran faith of King Christian IV (1577 – 1648). Out of his personal Christendom and following the protestant reformation of his grandfather, Christian III, and of his father, Frederik II, he established so called Lutheran orthodoxy. In brief, people were brutally conformed to adopt the protestant faith, with detailed ordinances for Church attendance and house prayers, for the benefit of God’s grace on the Kingdom, and he burnt so called witches on the fire, and economically ruined the country, with his adventures into the thirty years war. In England, Queen Elizabeth I established a similar protestant police state, but there the catholic Church nevertheless survived, until religious liberty to catholics was granted. In Denmark, catholics are little more than one percent of the population, but there Sunday attendances are perhaps ten times that of regular Danes.
Western Europe, during the past five hundred years, has suffered three major revolutions, each connected to major wars. Namely, the protestant reformation with the thirty years war, the French revolution, with the Napoleonic wars, and the Russian revolution, between the first and second world war. At last, with the the Second Vatican council and the opening of the Berlin wall, peace and the Church go hand in hand in our century. But basically, the catholic Church almost starts from scratch, in Europe now.
The main ideas of the Western European revolutions were humanism, liberalism, and socialism, that are all based on misconceived reason. Thus, the secular state becomes omnipotent, with centralized governments, religious intolerance, bureaucracies, economical ruin, and war. The recently formed European Union is still in danger of all this, but popular nationalism and population decrease with free abortion are not the faults of the E.U.
Catholics need to rediscover that religious liberty based on private property and the moral law is truly the Church’s contribution to all humankind.
As regards contraception, this must be prohibited within catholic marriage which is a sacrament, instituted by God before original sin, while our first parents were still naked. But outside of holy marriage, people who sin, wether heterosexual, homosexual or autosexual, cannot be denied contraception under secular law, since they have religious liberty.
Perhaps most important, catholics should rediscover Aristotle’s theory of the soul, subdivided in three layers, namely the rational soul, the motional and emotional soul, and the alive soul. This tripartion of the soul is evident in our anatomy, as the central nervous system, common to all human beings, the skeleton, muscle and nervous system, common to all higher animals, and the internal organs, with life processes common to fungi, plants, and invertebrates. Please, accept my apology for over simplification. These three layers of the soul are developed in a fourty days old human foetus in its mother’s womb, at the time of so called quickening. One can boldly conjecture that the Universe is created in the image of Our Lady, since it has given birth to humankind. We have immortal souls for God.
In the culture, it is always winter, never Christmas.
thanks Mgsr. I sense your own feelings of dismay in this essay, and the admonition to carry on , a pep talk to self as well as to your flock. I must trust the Lord, that what is happening in the Church is necessary, like you said , we are in the winter. Up here in Canada, we just had some icy rain which left everything encased in crystal , the sun came out and I felt so grateful for that rare winter event that makes everything a work of art to marvel at. Winter, has two great aspects. Its a great time to huddle, bunker down, light the candles , catch up on reading, and dream . Its also good to get outside, embrace the fierce cold , it is invigorating, reminds us we are alive. Interesting times.
Mgsr., I’m a regular follower of yours, I don’t normally comment, but I just want to say that I think this essay is one of your best.
Thank you Monsignor for your wise encouragement. It never occurred to me to think in seasons. A great help and hope for what God will bring out of this troubling time someday.
Just my own view but I believe we have moved past a secular state, with even more astonishing speed than from Christendom. I believe God’s handwriting is on the wall and the evil, demonic force moving us toward a pagan society of witchcraft and deviant Satanism is showing itself more than ever. Monsignor, one state after another is declaring war on infants; I believe they want full term babies and body parts for sale and sick ritual. And states are sending absolute morons to Congress to declare war on our Constitution, rights and rule of law. What can we do? Why aren’t our bishops and our Pope in DC stating the truth, demanding justice? There is no constitutional separation of church and state. We have the right and duty to go to every court and call this murder. We need to stop preaching to the choir and playing PC. Our leaders should be visible on the national stage to tell the truth. I’ve heard brilliant priests offer ‘write your representative’. We are so far beyond that. Monsignor, many of these legislators, judges, media serve the organized crime that really rules this country. Look what they do to our president every time he states the truth. We are lambs sent among wolves and need our own shepherds to see and lead us through this internal revolution. Thank you!
I am strongly and firmly hanging in there. It really hasn’t been all that hard for me because I truly believe that my church is the one true church. I attend a pretty liberal parish and sometimes it’s hard to sit and listen to and see some of the things that go on. BUT….I’m there for me and my soul and know what I’ve been taught and what I believe.
May the Lord have mercy on all those who so believe in abortion–even up to the time of birth!!!! I don’t believe in any kind of abortion….period. People seem to be able to do to human life what they make against the law to do to animals….”Spare the whale and kill the baby.” Truly sad!!!!
I suspect that the pruning is not over by a long shot.
Even if the Church experiences a flourishing on an ever-large scale in the future, it will not necessarily revive itself in the Western world, but elsewhere. One only has to consider the Middle East and North Africa as examples: they were the Christian heartland in the first five centuries while Europe was still largely Pagan. Now those named regions are overwhelming Muslim with very little extant Christianity.
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