People talk today as if the present state of the Catholic Church is a disaster– some like to claim that this time the wheels really are coming off and that the Church can’t possibly survive the scandals, the onslaught of secularism, the Obama administration, the transition into the information age.
If you think those things, you probably need to familiarize yourself with the actual history of the Church and with the current phenomenal growth and flowering of the Church in many places throughout the world. Persecution, confusion, debate, corruption, and martyrdom are, historically speaking, the normal conditions under which the Church has grown.
Some things to consider:
1. Read the Gospels, especially the Passion narratives. The Church was born in the bosom of failure and has alternated between near-defeat and utter defeat throughout its history. The founder was killed. Almost all his closest followers met violent ends. And yet, it grows.
2. Read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. Or Acts. Or James. The Church was a disaster in the New Testament- morally, structurally, socio-economically. And yet, it grows.
3. Read some early Church history. There were fist fights at Nicea. It took them 350 years to really nail down the definition of the Trinity. It wasn’t pretty. It has never, ever been pretty. And yet, it grows.
4. There is no era where the members of the Church weren’t arguing about stuff– important stuff. Argument, dissent, and error are all present at every single stage of the Church’s life. So is persecution in one form or another. You’d do well to get used to it. Arguing is how we figure stuff out, guided by the Holy Spirit. Whatever else it is– and I believe, of course, that it is very much more– the history of the Church is a 2000-year-old argument about what is true.
5. Even the stupid heresies and bad ideas can last a few hundred years. The more robust ones can last 400-500 years, but they all collapse back into Catholicism eventually because Catholicism finds a way to incorporate the real, legitimate, holy insights and truths that the heresies illumine.
6. Before you get worked up about the present corruption of the Catholic Church, go and read about Pope Alexander VI. We’ve had some certifiably evil Popes and some certifiably crazy ones. We’re here. We survived them.
7. I think it was Chesterton who said that the demise of the Catholic Church has been predicted regularly for 2000 years. He’s right. The prophets of doom have all been wrong, and most of the organizations they’ve proposed for replacing the Church no longer exist.
The best thing you can do, as far as I can see, is keep your eyes on Jesus and keep looking for the real saints Jesus has planted in the Church as leaven. They are here, in your midst, and they are the signs of God’s continuing presence in the Church. And that is also how it’s always been.