In the Office of Readings, we have been reading from the Prophet Micah. The book contains much in the way of both warning and consolation for the ancient Jewish people, who saw great destruction all around them. During Micah’s lifetime, he and his fellow Jews in Judah saw the whole of the northern Kingdom of Israel swept away by the Assyrians. In 721 B.C., ten of Israel’s tribes were destroyed; the survivors were scattered and all but lost. The southern Kingdom of Judah, which was also under attack, barely survived, as if by a miracle.
To be sure, the destruction was largely due to their own sin. In its weakened state, the Jewish people could not withstand their enemies; they collapsed from within as much as from external causes. The destruction was devastating; only a remnant was left.
Much of this is a parable for our own times. We in the Church have experienced enormous losses. Mass attendance has plummeted, churches and schools have closed, and the horrifying scandals up to the highest levels have not yet fully played out. It is a time of great uncertainty; many of the faithful, both clergy and lay, are afraid to teach boldly and live the faith. Some, even among the clergy, openly live and teach error; Church leaders seem to have no willingness or capacity to bring any discipline to bear.
The Lord has permitted a deep chastening to take place in the Church. He has seen fit to severely prune the once-luxuriant vine of the Church, and there seems to be little relief in sight; the cutting away of diseased branches goes on and on. We are certainly suffering for our collective sinfulness and sloth. Few of us or our leaders can arouse anything close to a repentant spirit, and there are few signs of deep conversion. It still seems to be “business as usual.”
The world watches our unraveling with scornful wonder. Perceiving our weakness, many are circling in for the kill. Grand jury investigations are multiplying, and statutes of limitations are being lifted; it is possible that many sectors of the church will lose almost everything—and the worst may be yet to come. While not all of us in the Church are equally to blame, few can claim that they have not contributed to the sins of the Church, even if by omission or silence in terms of preaching and living the gospel.
As Micah surveyed the destruction and severe pruning of ancient Israel, he did the only thing he could do; the same is true for us:
As for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will put my trust in God my savior;
my God will hear me! (Micah 7:7)
To the scornful world that delighted in Israel’s destruction, Micah wrote these words of warning:
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy!
though I have fallen, I will arise;
though I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.
The wrath of the Lord I will endure
because I have sinned against him,
Until he takes up my cause,
and establishes my right.
He will bring me forth to the light;
I will see his justice.
When my enemy sees this,
shame shall cover her:
She who said to me,
“Where is the Lord, your God?”
My eyes shall see her downfall;
now shall she be trampled underfoot,
like the mire in the streets (Micah 7:8-20).
In the Church, this same faith must be recalled. We must say to this world: “We have been humbled on account of our sin, our rejection of discipline and devotion. God will finish with His purifications, and we shall arise by His grace. Our renewal will surely come, and the gospel will continue to go forth.”
Never forget, fellow Catholics, that empires and nations have risen and fallen, many enemies have tried to destroy us, countless heresies and errors have come and gone—all in the age of the Church. Yet here we are today, still preaching the same gospel we received. No weapon can annihilate us; the gates of Hell itself cannot prevail. This strength is surely not of us; it is proof of the divine constitution and indwelling of the Lord with His Bride the Church.
Take to heart Micah’s words. It may get worse before it gets better, but when God is finished purifying the Church, we will again rise, stronger and purer, to lead this collapsing culture away from ruin and destruction.
May it ever be so, O Lord, for as long as this world shall last.
Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: Words of Encouragement from the Prophet Micah