The Bishops aren’t going to save the Church. That was clear to me as I read the rough Google translation of the final document of the recent Synod. Synodality is not going to save the Church. Pope Francis is not going to save the Church. His successor chosen by and from among the College of Cardinals, whoever and whenever that is, will not save the Church. Stop holding your breath; the cavalry is not coming.
Yet we know that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church. Not because the men in white and red and purple hats can organize a cavalry, but because Christ has already conquered sin and death, and has entrusted all of God’s children to the protection of His Blessed Mother, who tends to us in the wilderness, where we are safe from the Evil One, though subject to the sufferings of this world. (Cf Revelation 12:6)
But we are not called to shelter in place. Unless we follow the commands of Jesus Christ, how can we call ourselves Christians and hope to be saints? He commands us to go out all the world to tell the Good News. He commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He commands us to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, and welcome the stranger.
We can’t wait to be commissioned to do these things by the Church hierarchy. We’ve already been commissioned by Our Lord Himself. The hierarchy has been commissioned to lead the flock, but they fail most of the time. They are too busy gazing at their navels and claiming to speak for God as they describe what they see there. We must turn to the Holy Spirit to guide us directly to get moving in a world that desperately needs our salt and light.
We don’t need a centralized authority to organize us to do this work. The way 3,000 people came into the Church on its first day of existence was a multiplicity of disciples each speaking to different audiences in their own languages. Different messages, different audiences, different charisms are not a problem. Rather, the many hues of our witness form a beautiful tapestry of glory to God that no human painters can plan and direct.
We are going to need to act with little or no financial support as well. This is not a call for more professional Catholics. Evangelization and service needs to be part of everyday life, without cost given for without cost we have received. The Catholic donor class has its own agenda, and it isn’t the Holy Spirit’s. It’s the agenda of Principled Entrepreneurship™ (no joke) and the consumption-driven bourgeois values of latter day Christendom. We must be accountable to the Holy Spirit, not patrons who seek their own honor in the assembly or worse.Does the Church need to be saved, anyway? Pope Francis said at the end of the Synod that “it is the time to defend our Mother, and our Mother is defended against the Great Accuser with prayer and penitence.” He added “the accuser attacks our Mother through us, and the Church is not touched.” Many have been puzzled by these words, but perhaps he was accidentally candid. Fewer and fewer people are professing the Catholic or Christian faith or going to church regularly, steadily declining for decades. The Church continues to lose credibility because of bad behavior of Her leaders, and without trust in Her shepherds it is difficult for people to have faith in Her claim to be the Body of Christ. The Church is yet who She is, even as she hemorrhages members.
But is the problem external attacks? Or is the problem that the hierarchy has Her locked in the attic and gagged so that they can continue to posture themselves as Her guardians and spokesmen? Perhaps it is time for Her members to remove the gag and slip out the back door to go out into the highways and byways and start gathering people in again, without being held back by the soiled reputation of the clergy.
The prayer and penitence Pope Francis prescribed as a defense is exactly what the hierarchy needs to be doing. But the time for the laity to attend solely to their rosaries and own families is over (not that this was ever the right model). Yes, pray the rosary, but not only with the intention that it will magically cause the wayward shepherds to start doing their job as humble servants of God. Pray for the Holy Spirit to show us how we ourselves can be laborers in the harvest, and for the courage to go out into the fields.
I amend that “perhaps” about us slipping out the back door. I have no doubt: it is time we emerge from our prayer closets daily and start taking up each our own active places in the great Communion of Saints.