The other day I was reading the homily of a bishop given at the Baccalaureate Mass at a well-known Catholic college. He quoted Christ saying “the gates of hell shall not prevail against [My church].” And then the bishop said, “The fulfillment of Our Lord’s assurance obliges Christians to conform our human will to the divine will in carrying out the mission entrusted to the Church.”
Obviously, we do need to conform our wills to the divine to accomplish any good work for the Church. But Christ’s promise about the tenacity of His Church does not depend on us in any way. We are not obliged to do good works to support the life of the Church. Yes, this is nitpicking the bishop (whose identity is irrelevant to my argument and who is one of the good guys). But the moment I read his words, alarm bells went off in my head followed immediately by a fuller understanding of one of my more useful understandings of Faith.
The juxtaposition of the words Crisis and Church is occurring with regularity in my reading of late. It is no longer a scandal to discuss the scandal that is the state of the Church. That second scandal is making it hard for many people to remain faithful. What can we do about it? Remain Faithful!
Up until the end of the last Pontificate, being Catholic, for westerners at least, was not a difficult position. The new Mass got a better English translation. Access to the Traditional Latin Mass was increasing. Religious vocations were on the rise. The noise from the left was weakening. The Pope was a nice guy with a traditional outlook. There was a general sense that the western Church was in recovery.
These may be the biggest reasons we got the Pope we now have. Who needs Faith with a capital F when things are going so well? When the guy in charge (and really, he’s just a guy) is sowing confusion about faith and morals, who will remain faithful? The Faithful!
Which leads me back to that useful understanding: true faith can weather anything. Faith being the belief in things unseen, the faithful will trust that the Church will not fail even when it appears to be failing. We may not be able to see a viable future for the Church so we must exercise our faith in Christ and our faith in the truth of His words and know that His Church will not fail. We believe in Christ, we believe in what He said, therefore we believe that the Church will be around as long as this world exists.
A corollary to this line of thought is that we cannot read meanings into Christ’s words that are not there. The “gates of hell shall not prevail” is a fairly simple statement of the longevity of Christ’s Church. It says nothing about the composition of the Church throughout the ages. It did not predict that there would be a sense of Christendom through the Middle Ages. It said nothing about a revolt followed by the Enlightenment (read that Endarkenment) that poked a big hole in the general adherence to the True Faith. In short, it doesn’t say much — just that the Church will not fail.
And so as we remain faithful, while not expecting to see anything in particular beyond what we are promised, we must, in fact, be motivated to do all we can, while we can, knowing that God does not need us to accomplish His ends, but He welcomes our efforts and we make them for our own good. As the bishop notes, we must “conform our human will to the divine will in carrying out the mission entrusted to the Church.” And as Christ promises, there will always be a Church within which to execute those missions.