It is not only the Covid virus which is causing a great deal of confusion and anguish for us as Catholics today.
To be sure, we wrestle with the whole issue of church closures and restrictions on numbers even when they are open. We lament being deprived of the Eucharist and so much that goes on in our parish communities. We worry about the morality of taking vaccines that may have used aborted baby parts in their testing and production. But we are being told at the same time that it is our Christian duty to take the vaccine, to save the lives of others. That is an issue that will be popping up more and more asvaccines become more readily available.
But there are other, deeply troubling issues that concern us also. We have watched with horrified fascination the furore over the American election recently. We are aware of the dilemma facing the church in the U.S., faced with an elected President, who makes much of being a staunch Catholic, while at the same time promoting programs that are decidedly un-Catholic, such as on abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet at the same time, his positions on poverty and race relations are very Christian. The Church here in Canada faces the same kind of dilemma also.
How do you deal with elected officials, when Scripture says we must obey our political leaders, and yet they pursue policies which are eroding our freedom of religion, of assembly and speech?
What are we to do in a climate which is becoming more and more secular, when our witness as Catholic Christians has been so badly undermined by the clergy sex scandal and other evidence of financial and moral impropriety, reaching up to the very top of the Church?
Where are we to look for certainty and a solid foundation when there are increasing attacks even on our Pope, accusing him of betraying the Catholic faith, when even our bishops take up contradictory positions, on this subject and so many others?
In such a climate, we desperately need someone to speak the word of God to us with an authority we can trust, as Jesus is said to do in our gospel today. We need to know what Jesus would say or do faced with the questions and issues we are struggling with. We need the prophetic word today to flourish ,in the days of Moses and of the classical prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea etc. Of course, our Pope and bishops are meant to be those prophetic voices, in their teachings and other communications. But there are also laymen and women who have emerged in our time as, “prophets like Moses, to whom we should pay heed” as God promises in our first reading to provide for his people.
One such modern day prophet is Ralph Martin, whose book “A Church in Crisis” I have been reading recently. After giving a very thorough and balanced overview over the issues troubling the Catholic Church over the last ten years or so, Martin concludes with this paragraph:
“Is there a way forward that avoids these polarizing extremes without compromising the truth in any way? I believe there is. As we begin to address specific issues and hopefully bring the truth and light of the Gospel to them, it is important to remember that all this confusion and division is happening under the providential hand of God. He is permitting the confusion, the ambiguity, the division, and he has a plan to bring good out of it. It is clear that the Church is in need of a deep purification. God is permitting the darkness to be exposed so that the deep wounds of sin and infidelity may be healed, that profound repentance may take place, and the light of Christ shine forth ever more brightly.”Ralph Martin, “A Church in Crisis”
I am not claiming to be a prophet on the scale of Ralph Martin by any means, but I think I can say with some confidence that much of the above analysis by Martin could be applied equally to the state of confusion and anxiety caused by our current Covid crisis. We have to believe, and tell ourselves over and over again, that God is in charge. He has not at all been blindsided or caught off guard by the sudden emergence and widespread impact of the pandemic. He knows what he is doing, and as St Paul says in his letter to the Romans, at a time every bit as bleak and discouraging as now:
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose”Romans 8:28
Do you know that, brothers and sisters? Do you believe that?
If so, what are we worrying about, what are we afraid of?
It is only if we do not believe that God has this whole thing under control that we are liable to panic and paranoia. We find ourselves back in the position of the world at St Paul’s time of writing – where people felt themselves at the mercy of unknown dark forces that could be friendly or frightening , who could be placated, but never controlled. Is our faith really that weak, brothers and sisters? Are we reverting back to a kind of neo-paganism, where we have to consult horoscopes or fortune tellers or go to psychic fairs to try to find out what we are to do?
It was precisely to speak truth and light into such darkness of ignorance , confusion and fear that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, in which he declares magnificently:
”What, then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or peril, or sword. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Roams 8:31-39
More than conquerors. On the night before he was to suffer and die for us, Jesus told his disciples in the Upper Room:
“In this world you will have much tribulation, but take courage, I have conquered the world! I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace.” (John 16:33)John 16:33
“In me you may have peace.” Do you have this kind of peace right now, brothers and sisters? Do I? The kind of peace, which as Jesus points out, the world cannot give, because the world does not know Jesus or believe in him? If you believe in him, believe he is, as Scripture and the Creed declares “The Lord of the Universe, King of Kings, Centre and End of all History”, then we can rest in the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of knowing Christ is in charge and does indeed hold the whole world in his hands. St John in his first letter, echoes Jesus’ words, when he says,
“This is the victory that conquers the world, our faith, the faith that believes Jesus is indeed the Savior and Son of God.”1 John 5:4-5
And so Jesus can tell us, if we believe, as he does over and over again in the gospels, especially the gospel of John:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”John 14:1,27
“Do not be afraid, I am with you always.”Matthew 28:20
If you say to me, “Father Bob, I’m afraid I don’t have that kind of faith,” I would reply, “Then ask for it, ask for more faith, ask and go on asking, seek and go on seeking, knock and go on knocking.
To echo Jesus’ words, as he promises:
“Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. If you then, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”Matthew 7:7-11
So let us ask now in prayer…