How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the cities has become a vassal. (Lamentations 1:1)
Contrary to the claims of so many “progressives,” the Holy Catholic Church was thriving in the decades leading up to Vatican Council II. Her moral authority was unmatched, she was great in the eyes of the nations, and she was well-respected (even feared) by her enemies.
She was also full of people; in her parishes, her rectories, and yes, her seminaries.
According to an elderly priest friend of mine who also happens to be a history professor, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s two seminaries were so full in the 1950’s that their rectors had discretely suggested to area pastors that they slow down their efforts to cultivate vocations – they had literally run out of room.
Even the neo-conservative champion of all things conciliar, George Weigel, speaks glowingly of Catholic life in those years.
In his book, Letters to a Young Catholic, he writes about “growing up in seemingly the last moment of intact Catholic culture in the United States: the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.”
Sure, the Church had her problem children in the pre-conciliar years, just as she does in every age, but thanks in large measure to the diligence of faithful popes, their influence was minimized as their errors were exposed and condemned.
With the coming of the Council, another lament for Holy Mother Church was in order:
She dwells now among the nations, but finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. (Lamentations 1:3)
The Second Vatican Council began with promise thanks to the efforts of Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani and other venerable members of the Preparatory Commission he served as head.
Within a day of the synod’s opening, however, it became clear that this would be for Holy Mother Church a moment of distress as the seventy-two preliminary documents painstakingly drafted by the Commission, in faithful adherence to immutable doctrine, were jettisoned by well-organized rebel forces.
(For a detailed account of the Council’s proceedings see The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, Roberto de Mattei)
Her pursuers – worldly churchmen so thoroughly convinced of man’s soaring dignity apart from Christ that they would dare to declare that “all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown” (cf Gaudium et Spes) – had overtaken her indeed.
In spite of the rebels’ confidence that they had inaugurated the dawn of a new Springtime, not more than seven years after the Council closed did Pope Paul VI – a pursuer in his own right – famously stated:
We believed that after the Council a day of sunshine would have dawned for the history of the Church. What came instead was a day of clouds and storms, a day of darkness and uncertainty… from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. (Sermon given 29 June 1972)
Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI…
Each in his own way fed the conciliar storm, ensuring that its path of destruction would widen all the more; so much so that the legacy of these men moves us to repeat after Jeremiah:
Her foes have become the head… (cf Lamentations 1:5)
Fast forward to the present day:
The Satanic presence once well-described in ethereal terms has become corporal, its name, Francis – a man who differs from the aforementioned post-conciliar papal “pursuers” not only in degree but in kind; to the point where one is moved to say:
The foe has become the head!
How else can one explain a pope who plainly encourages the use of contraception, dares to declare via “Apostolic Exhortation” that adultery and fornication are not mortal sins, and even accuses the Lord of making unjust demands and desiring sin?
With men like Walter Kasper, Godfried Danneels and Lorenzo Baldisseri growing in prominence, are there any so blind as to deny that the lament of Jeremiah applies equally as well to Holy Mother Church in our day:
Her enemies prosper… (ibid.)
And why does Christ so allow His Bride to suffer?
Because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. (ibid.)
Chief among those transgressions is the denial of His mother who delivered at Fatima both a warning and a request; each of which have gone unheeded.
To make matters worse, the shepherds who are called to protect the flock have proven themselves to be nothing more than mere hirelings. Even the cardinals of Holy Church, men who wear red as a sign of their willingness to embrace martyrdom, remain silent in the face of the present attack.
From the daughter of Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like harts that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer. (Lamentations 1:6)
Of all that we can lament in our day, to my mind, the most remarkable is this:
There are more than 5,000 bishops in the Catholic Church, some 214 of which are cardinals, and not a single one has enough love for Christ or concern for the salvation of souls to plainly point to the heresies and blasphemies that are being put forth by the chief pursuer in white and say:
Let him be anathema!
And Satan dances with delight.
When her people fell into the hand of the foe, and there was none to help her, the foe gloated over her, mocking at her downfall. (Lamentations 1:7)
At the sight of all that has befallen Our Holy Mother, the Church, we repeat after the prophet:
O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed! (Lamentations 1:9)
What, you may ask, is the point of all of this?
It is easy to imagine that calling attention to the offenses that are being heaped against the Church in our day, as we so often do in this space, is a fruitless exercise in “doom and gloom.”
I must admit that I sometimes fall into this trap. In fact, not long ago, I literally asked myself as I wrote, why bother?
It occurs to me that the lesson to be found in the Book of Lamentations, as Sacred Scripture so often does, provides the answer.
You see, the affliction of which the prophet Jeremiah wrote was his own. This is critically important for us to acknowledge.
It means that his lament was more than just an expression of sympathy for another; so deep was his devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that the destruction of Jerusalem wounded him personally.
Jeremiah didn’t ignore the offenses against the Almighty. He didn’t deny the consequences of the faithlessness of his day. He didn’t seek comfort in looking for silver linings. Rather, he looked at the injustices against God for what they truly were; he met them head on and suffered each and every one in his very own being.
And why did he do so?
Because that’s what loves does. Love moves us to make the wounds that are inflicted upon our beloved our very own.
As those configured to Christ in Baptism, we do so not out of some maudlin desire to grieve, but rather because we know that joining our sufferings to the Cross of Christ is redemptive, both for ourselves personally as well as for His Mystical Body:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. (Colossians 1:24)
My friends, all of this is to say that we must resist the urge to avert our gaze from the unprecedented crisis of faith that is plaguing the Church in our day, such as it is epitomized in the words and deeds of Francis.
Indeed, we must take care to give thanks for the many gifts that come to us through the Church even now, in spite of her passion, but we mustn’t fall prey, as so many sincere Catholics do in our day, to the idea that we do well to “focus on the bright side” even as our Beloved is enduring so many affronts.
At the same time, we mustn’t allow our lamentations to become a routine act of complaining. Rather, we must lament the present crisis in earnest love for Christ, for Holy Mother Church, and with zeal for the salvation of souls.
With all of this having been said, let us conclude by repeating after the prophet Jeremiah one final time:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)