Thank God for the mediocre priests.
Praise Him for the lukewarm and wishy-washy Church leaders.
Bless Him for the days of half-hearted adherence to Church teaching and the post-conciliar years of the infallible self.
And I mean that from the bottom of my Church/Tradition/Magesterium respecting heart, because God in his Mercy has used these men to bring salvation to souls.
I was speaking with a convert friend recently, listening to her account of coming to the faith. She was preparing to marry a fallen-away Catholic whose roots were tugging him back for the celebration of the Sacrament of Matrimony. A heathen whose taste for things spiritual was rapidly becoming a fully-fledged hunger, she was willing to be married in the Church building.
“Whatever,” she thought.
To her, it was the emotion, not the place, that mattered. A painless concession to old-school in-laws.
But would the priest allow it?
A Big Tent man, he welcomed the couple with outstretched arms. “Come on! Of course you can be married here!” He intoned boisterously.
She didn’t even have to sign the paper saying she’d raise the kids Catholic. The one my pen almost choked on when it was my turn, a rabid Protestant, to marry a Catholic.
In she came, and the Sacrament, the outward sign of the invisible grace, became a platform, a foundation, a core for more, and the ultimate result of grace building upon grace, established on the nature of her willingness, propped up by the somewhat lackadaisical approach of the parish priest, is the reason she was eventually baptized along with their children.
It’s why she is today a Church/Tradition/Magisterium respecting Catholic.
There was another priest in the 1970s – I don’t even know his name. He must have had a blase attitude toward the stricter norms regarding education required for baptism, and the pesky little godparents detail, because he baptized a whole family – mom, dad, two small children – without so much as a crash course in making the sign of the cross, although perhaps there was a handout on the creation of felt banners.
And clearly, the ancient Church has her reasons for requiring the anchors of education and godparently assistance for the neophyte, because very soon thereafter, the family fell away. And the baptisms were forgotten.
But the grace of the Sacrament was at work.
Like Tolkien’s Ring of Power, the grace built quietly with the passing of years until one day, the fullness of time came, and the grace ignited a homing beacon. There followed a strange and unlikely sequence of events that did not involve hobbits, but resulted in one of the children, now Protestant marrying a Catholic, in the Catholic Church. One Sacrament having attracted another in a hungry soul, the combined grace power of the two was more than the soul could resist. Twenty-one years after the somewhat improperly imbued grace of Baptism, the soul came home to live in the Catholic Church, receiving the Easter ‘Grand Slam’ of Reconciliation, Communion, and Confirmation’ in very short order.
Then came the phone call to family.
“Oh, and by the way, I became Catholic.”
A long silence, during which the years of Protestantism marched in reverse review until the long-forgotten day of the unlikely baptism was projected on the screen of family memory.
“Well!” the voice was indignant toward the traitor. “Well! I suppose I’m not too surprised since you were baptized Catholic when you were two!”
She nearly dropped the phone.
And then she laughed.
For what God but ours would create time-release grace?
Who, but our God would know how to bring good from the work of those who should perhaps know better than to pass out Sacraments with such a cavalier attitude?
And how could it be contrived, except through His omnipotent omniscience that an invisible, indelible homing device could be affixed to a soul so that despite distance and intervening years, in spite of hours of fishing at the “new religion” pond, a soul could be recalled?
“This one’s mine,” God said. “See my mark?
And I praise Him for the unknown, and perhaps unorthodox priest who put that mark on me. Who, more fastidious, might have insisted on proper form, a lengthly process for which my drifting parents would not have waited and my friend might not have bothered. Our souls would have been left nameless, master-less, vulnerable, without the the latent attraction to the Faith that eventually drew us home.
God bless the lukewarm priests, and the soul-saving power of Christ which can work through them.