I am preparing to take a group over to Rome on pilgrimage, which is one of my favorite parts of my job as director of Adult Formation for the diocese of Nashville. I will actually be staying in Rome for several days after the pilgrimage as well, to film episodes of 3 Minute Theology on location.
Admittedly, this is an interesting time to be Catholic and even more so, to attempt to introduce people to the place where I fell in love with the Church – Rome and the Vatican. (You can hear my testimony about falling in love with the Church – and why we should remain Catholic despite the scandals – here.)
When I confided to a priest friend that I was unsure of the timing of this trip and the filming, I admitted that I wasn’t confident this was the right time to be trying to convince people of the beauty of the history of the Church. He disagreed. Paraphrasing a quote from St. Louis de Montfort, he reminded me of the importance of fighting with one hand and building with the other.
Perhaps this seems like a strange time to build. There’s no doubt that we have things we need to get in order. There’s no question that we can’t operate as business as usual.
But as we clean up the mess, we also need to provide reasons for hope. We need to remind people – and ourselves – that the Church is beautiful. So I’ll still be going to Rome, telling the saint stories and the historical anecdotes that I know as well as I know my own memories, walking down the ancient paths that so many have walked before me, and praying in the churches that have sheltered saints and sinners for centuries.
Rome has seen the likes of Peter and Paul walking down the Via Sacra to convert an entire world to Christianity. It has seen Ignatius of Antioch and Lawrence the deacon, men who were martyred for the Faith while fighting paganism. It has seen Pius X fighting Modernism and secularism. It has seen Francis of Assisi, Dominic, and Catherine of Siena fighting priest scandals.
I hope, in some small way, my pilgrimage and my 3 Minute Theology episodes will remind people that Christ is still with His Church. He is with us, despite our sins and corruption. He is with us, as He was with us on the darkest day of the Church: the day we crucified Him.
Just a month before he was elected to the Papacy, Joseph Ratzinger wrote the meditations for the Stations of the Cross at the Coliseum on Good Friday. For the final fall of Jesus, Ratzinger pondered the sins of the people of the Church, both the clergy and the laity, and the way Jesus suffers even in his own Church.
“Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.” (Prayer by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 9th Station of the Cross, Good Friday 2005).
Sanctify us all, Lord.
It is time to fight, but it is also time to build. Over the past few months, we have seen the evil and sin that is present in the Church. Sinful men have been held up as representatives of the Church. It is time for us to build. It is time for us to be holy representatives of the Church. Sanctify us, Lord. Make us your instruments – to bring hope when we are faced with despair, to bring beauty when we are faced with ugliness, to bring courage when we are faced to run. Work through us, so that we can build up the kingdom of God.
Let us stay close to the Blessed Mother. She who was closest to Christ in His passion on Good Friday remains close to His Body, the Church, as we suffer. We celebrate her birthday this week, but next week we will be reminded of her sorrows. As he spoke about fighting and building, St. Louis de Montfort recalled that we will find support and protection from Our Mother: “Illumined by her light, strengthened by her food, guided by her spirit, supported by her arm, sheltered under her protection, they will fight with one hand and build with the other.”