Down through the ages the Church has found herself re-living Holy Thursday over and over again. St. Peter, St. James, and St. John enter the Garden of Gethsemane with Our Lord. As He prays in agony to the Father, the Apostles fall asleep. Our Lord warns them to remain awake so they may not undergo the test. In other words, stay alert and spiritually prepare for we don’t know the hour of His return or testing. We don’t know exactly when persecution will come upon us and we as the Church will once more enter into Our Lord’s Passion. The Apostles continue to sleep despite Our Lord’s warnings for they were overcome with sorrow. The hour He repeatedly warns them about comes much quicker than any of them expect, so they flee.
We are living in such times again today and a growing number in the laity and the clergy are growing frustrated with the hierarchy. Many of them still seem to be asleep in the Garden as the hour of danger approaches. COVID-19 has served to accelerate great divisions in our nation. It has led to major government overreach, some of which was welcomed by the Church. We forget too quickly that the state can never be fully trusted to maintain proper respect for religion. We think our small acquiesces will remain just that, small. We falsely believe that they will play fair despite the fact that history tells a very different story. We must always remain alert.
COVID-19 has led many Catholics to wrongly believe that watching Mass on Sunday is good enough. I was saddened to see how abysmal the Easter turnout was at my own parish this year. The highest feast day of the year and there was plenty of room to spare at all of the Masses. This is what happens, however, when we spend a year telling people to stay home, or worse, that Mass isn’t a priority, but those shopping trips, family gatherings, group events, and even riots are acceptable over and above the sacramental life.
This shouldn’t surprise us. For decades many Catholics have placed their Catholic identity and responsibilities behind everything and anything secular. As a catechist, I watched many parents place their child’s sports above the Sunday Mass obligation. When I was a child, we didn’t play sports on Sundays, but in this part of the United States it’s common. Why should we be surprised that many Catholics are “afraid” to go to Mass, but not to visit family, go to a crowded Walmart, or protest in large groups of people with the support of their bishop who was denying them access to the Mass and the sacraments?
We suffer from self-inflicted wounds. That has been the state of the Church since her institution, but faithful Catholics are growing more and more concerned about the state of things. Many bishops and priests seem to be telling themselves and their flocks that everything will go back to normal. There is no going back. If the pandemic has shown us one thing, it is that we cannot live as comfortable Catholics paralyzed by worldliness any longer. Our culture is going headlong into insanity and we will be their prime target in the days ahead.
As this pandemic has raged on, diabolical forces have been allowed to spread fear, division, and an increased hatred between peoples. Woke capitalism, critical race theory, transgenderism, and other ideologies diametrically opposed to our Faith have spread like wildfire through the institutions that matter. While we’ve been playing a largely political game, we have ignored that big business, big tech, academia, and the media are spreading dangerous ideologies that will come to a head in destructive ways in the decades to come—if that long. Some in the Church have even embraced these ideologies even though they are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Christian anthropology, and the moral law.
Meanwhile, we as the Church seem content pretending as if nothing has changed, when in fact, everything has changed. There is no return to what the Church was before COVID and thanks be to God for that. We were too comfortable. We had forgotten that the Cross is central to our Catholic Faith and that we cannot hope to reach heaven without picking up our own Cross. Too many Catholics have been living a bland, superficial, and sentimental moral therapeutic deism that has been slowly destroying the Church from the inside. We cannot evangelize a culture trapped in darkness with banality and a boring and vague call to be a “good” person any longer. Whatever “good” even means in this context.
We also cannot afford to live our family lives on auto-pilot any longer. We have become slaves to our technology and our activities. Our families run from place-to-place or are disconnected from one another because of the overuse of screens. We tune out as our family members fall further and further away from Christ. This leads to lukewarmness, mediocrity, and unhappiness.
We are made for more. We are made for deep intimate union with Christ and with one another. Christ does not want us to mindlessly go through life staring at our phones and televisions. This is why we must fiercely combat the lie that watching Mass on television is good enough. It was always a stop-gap.
What is the answer in the face of these dark forces at work? We are, after all, a people of faith, hope, charity, joy, and peace. The answer is to seek holiness and to live the radical call of Christ. It is the saints who will show us the way. We must turn to them in these difficult days and the days ahead. If we are not being spiritually fed or led by our leadership—many are, but many are not—then we must turn to those who gave their entire lives over to Christ.
It is the saints who show us just how radical of a call we have been given. There is not a single canonized saint who lived a life of comfort, pleasure, and ease. Every one of them suffered in some profound way. They faced abandonment, rejection, illness, poverty, and persecution. The saints understood that true joy is found in a life of prayer, penance, and submission to God’s will over and above anything else.
The saints knew what it was to be rejected by those they loved because they followed Christ over the world. Their lives were conformed to Him precisely because they sought to be crucified with Him for the salvation of souls and their own salvation. From saints in families who give everything in service to their families and communities through prayer and sacrifice to priest-saints in the image of St. John Vianney, St. Charles Borromeo, and St. Padre Pio, the world needs us to become saints. We will be rejected and hated for our Faith, even by brothers and sisters in Christ who choose the world over Christ. Regardless, lasting joy can only be found in a life of holiness. It is saints who Christ uses to transform this broken world.
To start, it’s time to return to Mass. It’s time to place the sacramental life at the very center of our lives. For those who are high risk, proper discernment needs to take place. For those who are not, why are you shopping, going to work, and visiting family and friends, but not attending Mass? It is safer to be at Mass with safety protocols in place than it is to be at a gathering of friends and family in close proximity without masks. Most viruses are passed through close contact with family and friends. The Holy Eucharist is the very center of our lives. It is where Christ Himself comes to us in His body, blood, soul, and divinity. Why do we place Him behind everything else in our lives? Why is it safe everywhere else, except with Him?
We cannot afford to falsely believe that things will return to the way they were before this pandemic. Our Lord, in His mercy, has allowed this pandemic to lead us back to Himself. To draw us to the foot of the Cross and to invite us to be crucified with Him. It’s where we were supposed to be all along, but forgot in our comfort and ease. We forgot this truth in our desire to avoid suffering and pain. So long as we continue to flee from the Cross, we will not be able to evangelize our culture. How can we be the antidote to the diabolical fear that paralyzes our culture if we ourselves are paralyzed by that same fear? Christ commands us not to fear. He is calling us to go out into the world and proclaim His death and resurrection, which conquers all fear, sin, and death. Our fallen world is in desperate need of the Good News.
There is much we will face in the years to come. The next generation will be the most unbelieving and hostile to our Faith in our nation’s history. Do we understand what this means for the Church and our culture? There is a crisis of priestly vocations and most dioceses cannot keep up with the loss of priests due to retirement and men leaving the priesthood for a variety of reasons because not enough men are committing to the priesthood. Do we understand what this means for the Church in the coming years and the availability of the Sacraments? The status quo is failing to lead men to lay down their lives for Christ in the priesthood.
There are forces at work who will seek our ruin. This is foolhardy on their part, but it will cost us. Do we understand what is coming? Why are we still sleeping when the hour is very nearly at hand? The hour of testing will come whether we are prepared for it or not. Arise! Become the saint Christ is calling you to be. Abandon comfort. Pick up your Cross. Turn with your whole heart to Him. Commit to prayer and penance because these two powerhouses change everything. Cling to the Sacraments. Only then can we persevere through the tests He will require of us that will come much sooner than we may expect. There is no going back. Thanks be to God for that!