From the crisis in the Church today will emerge a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. (Joseph Ratzinger circa 1969 – the future Pope Benedict XVI)
Since the Second Vatican Council which ended over fifty years ago now until our own days, a great deal has changed in the life of the Church. The shortage of priests and Religious Sisters and Brothers, the introduction of a new liturgy, and the disappearance of many Catholic customs and practices have been much in evidence during these years. Attendance at Sunday Mass is at a historic low and the sexual abuse scandals continue to plague the Church in many parts of the world.
It is easy to become discouraged. However, there continue to be signs of life here and there. The pro-life movement is alive and more active than ever. Some traditional religious orders have sprung up and are receiving good vocations. The days of strange forms of the liturgy seem to be beyond us and the interest in the traditional liturgies of the Church continue to grow, especially among young adults. These are signs that the Spirit is active in our lives and the Lord makes good on his promise that he does not leave us orphans even though the family may be smaller and less influential.
No doubt, the Church, as Pope Benedict XVI speculated so many years ago now, is indeed getting smaller in some sense. Any time genuine reformation takes place in an organisation or group this can result in a better and stronger version of the entity. Authentic and true adherence to a group requires purification or cleansing. It also elicits a faithful response to being committed. When Jesus asked his closest disciples if they, too, were no longer able to follow him because of the exigencies of the nature of their discipleship, they had to make a decision.
Although we know that the Apostle Peter struggled and failed frequently to follow the Lord as he desired, he, nevertheless, recognised that it was, and is, Jesus to whom we must go because it is the Lord who is the Christ and the One who has the words of eternal life. The weeks of Lent are a time, particularly for cradle Catholics, to re-commit and learn from Peter that we are to go with humility and honesty to Jesus as Saviour, Redeemer and Friend. Young people cannot be expected to go to the Lord if they do not see us going before the Lord as to a dear and loving friend. Naturally, Lent is a good time to practise some penance and abstinence for the sake of perfecting self-discipline and for diminishing the ego which is often an obstacle to being truly human. Above-all though, it is a time to go to the Lord as one does a best friend.
Despite all the difficulties and the suffering in the Church, one thing remains true: There is only one thing that stops me from loving and serving the Lord and that is my own will. I offer you the following little way of living the forty days of Lent which help me:
Attend Mass regularly and make a real preparation to receive the Eucharistic in a worthy manner.
Put aside time each day in personal prayer and pray with my family, friends, community.
Get over the fear or reluctance to ask Jesus to guide me in my actions at work or school.
Make an extra effort to support my parish or some charity with my talents and treasure.
Read a passage or two of Scripture each day.
Select one or two persons whom I will commit to pray for each day.
Give more time on Sunday to rest or relax with my family or friends.
The soul that thirsts for God is first sorry in his heart from fear, and then from love. -St. Gregory I the Great, Dialogues c. 590
Brother Domenic, fsc