Faithful Catholics at the beginning of the 21st century can be forgiven a little pessimism. We’ve seen heterodoxy taught in seminaries, spouted from the pulpit, and promoted in Catholic colleges. We’ve witnessed sideshow liturgies, plummeting Mass attendance, and the recent sex-abuse scandal. All around us, it appeared as though our 2,000-year-old Church was crumbling. In the midst of it all, many of us—myself included—missed the good news. And there is good news, for anyone willing to look.
It starts with Pope Benedict XVI. God gives us the pope we need. And following on the revolutionary pontificate of John Paul II, we needed a shepherd who would continue and solidify his predecessor’s work. We have that, and more besides. Josef Cardinal Ratzinger was a brilliant and well-respected thinker—some consider him the finest post—Vatican II theologian. His election would not be unlike Ambrose or Athanasius or—dare I say?—Augustine ascending to the Holy See. We find ourselves in an era when the Church’s greatest living theologian is also her earthly leader.
And that’s to say nothing of John Paul II’s pontificate. Certainly, no pope in modern history can claim the library of John Paul the Great. So dense are his writings, so rich and layered his ideas, that his thought will be studied and unpacked for generations.
Happily, the return to orthodoxy that John Paul initiated is continued now by Benedict. We’ve heard much about the vocation shortage, and in many cases, it’s true enough. But that’s only half the story. Denver recently ordained its largest class of priests in the history of the diocese, while others, like Chicago, broke decades-long records. It’s a fairly safe rule: The more faithful the diocese and enthusiastic the bishop, the more vocations will emerge. Of course, this is true of religious sisters as well. Witness the success of the Nashville Dominicans; or the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Both orders have recently had to expand their convents to house the flood of new postulants.
Orthodox priestly orders have also seen tremendous growth. From the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to the Legionaries of Christ to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, fidelity to the historic Faith is proving to be the most effective way to fill seminaries. And many other houses of priestly formation have gradually returned to the fold. As I write, the apostolic visitation of the seminaries is proceeding full steam, and we may already be witnessing some of the effects. A few weeks after a visitation team inspected the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in New York, the rector unexpectedly resigned. While his sudden departure may not have been connected to the inspection—and a source in the know tells me it was not—Bishop William Murphy has selected a fantastic replacement: Monsignor James McDonald, a former pastor well-known for his commitment to orthodoxy, the Eucharist, and fostering priestly vocations. Indeed, according to a Newsday article on the appointment, a number of current priests and seminarians credit their own vocations to McDonald’s personal witness and enthusiasm.
But all of that only scratches the surface. New and faithful apostolates are emerging across the United States; orthodox Scripture studies are increasingly popping up in parishes; an unending stream of Protestant ministers are converting and bringing their love of Christ and Scripture to Rome—and the list goes on. Heterodoxy and crisis will always be with us, and when it appears, we must stand against it. But we should also have eyes to see the very positive things that are happening as well. We cannot allow dissent and foolishness to rob us of our joy in Christ. It is, after all, the Good News.