The world is spiraling out of control. It has been, in fact, since its pinnacle eight hundred years ago, but today it seems that any minute now, we’ll hurtle off kilter.
The HHS Mandate threatens the religious freedom of all people, not just Catholics. Abortion is rampant. Gay marriage was just approved in Maryland (the eighth state to approve it so far). And through it all, the Church is attacked.
And yet, somehow, for some reason, people are flocking to the faith.
Last weekend in Philadelphia, for example, Archbishop Chaput welcomed 785 new Catholics in the Rite of Election. At the Easter Vigil, these 785 people will be welcomed into the Church.
That is irrational. Astounding. Beautiful.
Consider that, as 785 souls march into the loving arms of the Church, the jury has just been selected for a particularly awful priest sex abuse trial in Philadelphia.
Consider that, as 785 people shed their old lives, and sins, and pasts, to put on the life of Christ, new court reports claim that the recently deceased, former Cardinal shredded a list of priests accused of abuse.
Consider that, as 785 new Catholics come into the fold, yearning for the knowledge and the truth of Christ, forty-nine Philadelphia diocese schools are slated for closure this year.
It doesn’t make any sense…at least it won’t to the world at large. Why would you willingly join an organization that has been accused of pedophilia? That hates women? That hates sex?
Last month in Houston, the Reverend Jeffrey Steenson, a former Anglican priest, was installed as the first U.S. Ordinate for Anglicans coming into the Catholic Church.
Consider that while real, legitimate (to a point) news sources are publishing blasphemous tripe about the Church, entire parishes of people are converting to Catholicism.
Why? To the world, it’s irrational. Anglicans allow gay bishops! They allow women priests! Why would someone leave such an enlightened, modern-world-approved institution?
After years of tolerance and a maddeningly hands-off approach (and sometimes worse), the U.S. bishops have banded together. They have rallied and preached against the HHS mandate with one, full-throated voice. After what seems like a lifetime of staying largely silent as secular America had its way with the lay faithful, the bishops, led by a vibrant, pugnacious, charismatic, and orthodox group, have shaken off the rust and come out swinging.
Why now? Wouldn’t it just be easier to—once again—abide and compromise, in exchange for being left alone?
The world certainly does not understand. And we, too, sometimes do not understand.
Such is the mystery and majesty of Christ. At a time when the Church is being assailed from all sides, and even from within, here come thousands of souls—one by one, and in hoards—joyfully joining this Church, so battered and bruised. From the outside it must look ridiculous: a swarm of young recruits scampering to the ravaged and bloody frontlines.
And from the inside, too. We, the grizzled vets, so long in the battle, tire at times. We have committed the motions of the clash to muscle memory, so we continue to hack away, dutifully. But we do so dispassionately, lips pursed, our eyes fixed on the enemy, never breaking our stare to gaze up toward our goal.
But we must keep our focus on Christ; on the cross; on that Constantine standard, being lifted now with such vigor by Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop Chaput, and our other generals.
We are in a battle, to be sure. The Church is being attacked by the government, by the secular world, by Satan, and even from within. But we should be careful not to dwell on the individual thrusts and blows of battle. Rather, we should continue to brush them aside, parry, counterattack, and move on, focused on the prize.
It’s easy to get caught up in elections and specific battles. And they are certainly important. But if we get too embroiled in them and sink into the muck and mire, we’ll be flanked.
It’s here that we can learn from the thousands of people who will, at the end of these forty days, become our brothers and sisters, our comrades in arms. They come from the outside. They know of the attacks on the Church; they know of the slings and arrows. They know of the failings (some massive) of those within the Church. And yet they brush them aside, moving happily toward Christ, ready and willing to be conscripted.
It is dark out there, indeed; each day bringing with it a fresh blow, a raging battle, a new enemy. But in the midst of it all, Christ is at work. It’s why nearly 800 new members are joining the fold in Philadelphia, even as the diocese struggles to deal with law suits and school closings.
It’s why entire flocks of Anglicans are converting to Catholicism, even while the Anglican Church sits comfortably to the side, generally out of the crosshairs of the enemy.
And it’s why thousands of others around the country will be baptized and anointed despite the constant attacks on the Church by the government and the world at large.
Let us, too, be willing and joyful foot soldiers for Christ, eyes fixed on him. It is a battle, not just today, not just in this age, but always. “The world will hate you.” When this battle is won, another will come along.
When it does, let us take up the sword of Christ like the convert: joyfully, incessantly, passionately. And with knowledge that it’s not so much the stakes of the battle that are important, but that we fight.