Stormy Times for the Catholic Church: What to do?
I’m writing this reflection while on a short mid-year break and so this reflection will probably be published just as I am coming back. I left on my break shortly after the great times of Veritas festival which also happened to take place just the week after (1) Victorian police announced that Cardinal Pell would be facing charges of child sexual abuse in court and (2) the release of data from last year’s census which showed the highest number ever of those who selected “no religion” in a census, doubling in 15 years and now larger in number than any other religious denomination in Australia; including, for the first time ever, Catholics.
After a “double whammy” of negative news for the Catholic Church within a week, Veritas was a welcome source of encouragement and inspiration especially in the light of the great turnout, enthusiasm and participation all around. It was a great image and testament that nothing can ever fully dampen the light, warmth and joy of the Good News whether that be the rainy weather outside or the media storm the Church was in that week; and not that either of those things was ignored or dismissed. It was a great sign that, despite some “prophecies of doom”, the Catholic Church in Australia can look to the youth as signs of hope and life for the future.
My first stop on my holidays is the city of Rome. It’s a place that is so closely connected with the history of the Catholic Church and where so many of the key moments of the Church’s history have taken place: the highs and the lows, successes and trials, persecutions and scandals, saints and martyrs – this city has witnessed and witnesses to them all. I had the privilege of spending some years of my training for the priesthood in this city and a great lesson that this city always teaches me is that the Church has been able to pull through so many difficulties in the past – not on her own steam or by a fluke but carried through by the power of Jesus Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit – and that will continue on well into the future.
Of course, none of this is a reason to be complacent. One of the ways that God has provided in times of crisis in the Church is to raise up men and women in the Church to be heroic in their faith whether as martyrs, leaders or as saints. For some it meant leading by example, for others it was inspiring hope and others it was suffering for the Faith and, for some, it was paying the ultimate price. What they all had in common was that they let Christ more and more in their hearts and, through their lives, Christ was able to do much for the Church and the same can happen in our own times if we let Christ more and more into our lives too.
When you exit from St Peter’s Basilica and look up as you leave the atrium, you will see a mosaic/painting called the Navicella. It was actually made in the Middle Ages and was originally placed above the exit in the Old St Peter’s Basilica. It was placed there to remind people, as they were leaving the basilica, of the episode when St Peter walked on water in the middle of a storm. He was only able to do so because he kept his eyes fixed on Jesus but started sinking the moment he started to focus more so on the waves and the storm but, even then, Jesus came and take him by the hand and saved him from drowning.
That’s a lesson we can take always into our own lives and in the times the Church is in: to keep our eyes fixed not on the storms; but on Jesus. When we are tempted to feel disheartened, disillusioned, dispirited, it’s important to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ and He will help us weather any storm whether in our lives, in the Church or in the world. The Apostles faced more than one storm and each time they thought they were going to sink but each time Jesus came to their rescue just when they seemed to be going under. Likewise, we shouldn’t be surprised that storms are part of our lives and in the life of the Church but, in times like these, we can look to Christ and His assurance that “the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it” and, even if we need to, reach out and hold onto His hand and Christ will lift us up: as individual persons and as the Church.
Written by Fr. Brennan Sia, CYM Chaplain