As Catholics, we like to talk a lot about infallibility. To a Catholic, infallibility is the understanding that, on matters of faith and morals, the Holy Spirit protects the Church from issuing error. When viewed properly, it is a great gift that Catholics should cherish. We can follow the Catholic faith and have confidence that the Church won’t lead us into error. She (and her leaders) might not always say something in the best or fullest way, but we can have confidence they won’t error on those important matters.
What Catholics should also remember is that the Holy Spirit protects the Church beyond simple infallibility. While infallibility might be limited to matters of doctrine, the Holy Spirit still offers you, individually, His protection. The Propers for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost tell us what this protection is, and how we can accept it.
The Collect begins by pointing out that without God’s protection, man is likely to fall. Because of this, we must ask that God withdraw His Church from harm, and guide them in all good. These words should strike us as doubly important today. All around the world, the Church is persecuted. In the Middle East Christianity is being systematically destroyed. How can we reconcile this reality with the Holy Spirit protecting the Church?
The first question we should ask is are we really praying for their protection? Before their suffering, how many of us were really cognizant of the day to day activities of the churches in the Middle East? How often did we pray for their safety and mean it? God does not grant what we do not ask, and we, all Catholics of the Church Universal, should ask for their liberty and security at all times.
While we ask for their protection, let us also remember that God, even now, is still protecting them. That can be hard to see when daily our brothers are made martyrs, but we have to understand that. The Epistle points out that as a result of the Spirit’s protection, we are different from the world. We abstain from its harmful practices. The Scriptures make this a guarantee, if you continually seek the Spirit, you will avoid these things. That in itself is protection from the world. Even if we should die, we still die separate from the world by our deeds and our faith.
That is ultimately what protection is all about. No matter how hard the world tries to get the Church to renounce Christ, tries to get us individually to renounce Christ, the Spirit will always sustain us if we seek to choose Him. Even if it be difficult, our brothers are still practicing and living their faith, and often living it far better than we who can practice our faith with less difficulty. Why are they living it better?
The Gospel helps give us this answer. In the Gospel reading, Christ reminds us that we are more important than any of God’s creations. While that’s a nice cliché, Christ goes on to explain it. The lilies are among God’s most beautiful creation, so beautiful that not even Solomon in his entire splendor matched them. Yet we are more precious to God than His most beautiful creation. He provides every need for the beasts of the Earth, and yet Christ reminds us we are far more important in God’s eyes than them.
After pointing this out, Christ remarks on what little faith we have. When the smallest trouble comes, we act as if the Church has defected. When the culture turns against God, we complacent Christians grow into despair, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to go out and evangelize that culture. Our faith is contrasted with the faith of the martyrs and the truly persecuted, who have far less, but have far greater security in their relationship with God. Since they lack a lot of the comforts we have, God is their only refuge, so they cling to him with everything they have. Even should they die, they still remain united to their refuge. In the concluding words of the Gospel, they seek first the Kingdom of God.
That is what the church needs to do today, and by “church” I mean each and every one of us. If we seek God’s kingdom above all else, we’ll be protected so we can live out our faith. That faith isn’t always easy to live out, but it will always be possible. If we don’t seek God’s kingdom first, then we won’t be able to live out that faith, and we will fall away. The choice is ours.