In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. She was dressed in a dazzling robe of white silk and draped in a cloak, adorned with stones of great price. On her feet she wore shoes of onyx. But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’
And she continued: ‘I lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood. With that same blood as his dowry, he made me his betrothed.
For my Bridegroom’s wounds remain fresh and open as long as the wounds of men’s sins continue to gape. And Christ’s wounds remain open because of the sins of priests. They tear my robe, since they are violators of the Law, the Gospel and their own priesthood; they darken my cloak by neglecting, in every way, the precepts which they are meant to uphold; my shoes too are blackened, since priests do not keep to the straight paths of justice, which are hard and rugged, or set good examples to those beneath them. Nevertheless, in some of them I find the splendour of truth.’
And I heard a voice from heaven which said: ‘This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk 16:15)”
– Vision of St. Hildegard of Bingen as cited in Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Christmas address to the Roman Curia, December, 2010
Sitting down at my desk today, I couldn’t find where to begin. The images filtering in from Cuba are bothersome, with the pope offering Mass in view of a giant image of the murdering, thug, Che Guevara. More photos, this time of Pope Francis meeting with a track-suited Fidel Castro, guilty of the death of untold thousands of Cubans and proprietor of Latin American communism. I glance at these while skimming through reports indicating that nobody, not even Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi, knows if the pope will meet with “Catholic dissidents.”
I still haven’t processed all the articles I’ve had on my to-read list since last week. Articles like the LifeSiteNews story about the absolutely surreal list of papal appointees to attend and participate in the Synod, despite their open and flagrant actions and positions which show them to be no friends of the traditional Catholic teaching on marriage. Or the story about how the official website of the German bishops published an article from one of their theologians making the case for “gay marriage.” Or the one about how Cardinal Tong Hon of Hong Kong is not being invited to the Synod for the alleged reason that he’s too old (at 76) despite the fact that there are at least half a dozen others — including the arch-heterodox Cardinals Kasper and Daneels — who are older still. On this last, Rorate Caeli reports:
Cardinal Tong Hon is by all accounts a man deeply interested in fostering Christian family life as shown by his Christmas pastoral letter of 2012 (affirming that marriage should be between a man and a woman), and his November 2014 Pastoral Letter on the “Gospel of the Family.
It’s almost impossible to believe that orthodoxy alone has become the criterion for exclusion from a Synod of bishops. And yet, here we are.
Taken alone, these things would be enough. But there’s also the issue of an increasing number of voices who have begun canonical critiques of the so-called “annulment reforms” issued by Pope Francis earlier this month. Meanwhile, no less a figure than Msgr. Pio Vito Pinto, the Dean of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (and thus, head of the Vatican Commission which is responsible for the reform of the process) said last week that these reforms were “desired and decided by Pope Francis’ while also being attributed to the will of Our Lord through the Holy Spirit and intended to facilitate an increase in the declarations of nullity — and dares to imply that the Lord expects obedience to these new procedures.
So, with this fundamental law, Francis makes a real beginning to his reform: by putting the poor at the center, that is, the divorced and remarried, considered set apart and distant, and asking bishops for a true and proper metànoia. That is to say, a “conversion”, a change of mentality which convinces and sustains them in following the invitation of Christ, present in their brother, the Bishop of Rome, to pass from the restricted number of a few thousand annulments to that immeasurable [number] of unfortunates who might have a declaration of nullity — because of evident absence of faith as a bridge to knowledge and thus to the free will [necessary] to give sacramental consent — but are left on the outside by the current system.
But how will the bishops or eparchs, most of all in large dioceses, be able to guarantee, at least in part and as a sign, their role as shepherds and judges? What is important is that the spirit of collegiality and communion among bishops under obedience to the Pontiff, begins to permeate the hearts and minds of the shepherds. The faithful are waiting with eagerness and love for such a metànoia and will nonetheless be patient in the Lord when faced with the good faith of their shepherds. The Jubilee Year of Mercy expects this sign of humble obedience (on the part of the Churches’ shepherds) to the Spirit who speaks to them through Francis.
Of course, it’s not like we have only a trickle of annulments because the process is so arduous. While in the 1960s there were only a few hundred annulments a year, that number skyrocketed into the tens-of-thousands per year in the post-conciliar era – with Kenneth Jones claiming in his book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, that the number hit 50,000.
Now, with a process extended by design to “that immeasurable number of unfortunates who might have a declaration of nullity”, we’ll have even more.
How is this not Catholic no-fault divorce? And how –if the determination of nullity is delegated to the local ordinary, who delegates it to the local priest, who tells the couple that it’s a matter of conscience in the “internal forum” — is this not the very thing we’ve feared? How is it anything but an opportunity for the divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion regardless of whether or not their current relationship is, objectively, adulterous? We haven’t even arrived at the Synod yet, and it appears that the very danger many of us were worried it would produce has already come like a thief in the night.
It’s all happening so fast that we can’t take it in.
I would be remiss not to mention the positive signs, and they come mostly from the places one might not have otherwise expected. The Polish Bishops Conference today has released a statement re-affirming that “Holy Communion cannot be given to the divorced and remarried…” Last week’s video from Polonia Christiana (which I’m still transcribing quotes from) in which several Catholic prelates discuss how heresy and schism are now a reality facing the Church remains one of the best things we’ve seen on the topic.
The attack on marriage — and through it, the promotion of sodomy and of sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist — is the issue that is even now bearing down on us like a freight train. But we’ll be treated — from now until the end of the month — to a non-stop barrage of papal imagery coming from Cuba. Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York. There will be speeches and addresses and homilies; appearances with heads of state and before Congress and in front of the United Nations; canonization Masses and spectacle Masses and “off-the-cuff interviews” and enough confusing imagery and messaging to make even the most hearty among us need a nap and a stiff drink.
For our part at 1P5, we simply can’t cover it all. We’re not even going to try. We are going to do our best to stay focused on what we are facing next month. If something comes up that simply demands commentary, we’ll address it as we can. Even so, there’s a reason why we published an article on division and another on distraction last week. The enemy is hard at work, sowing disinformation and waging psychological warfare against the faithful. It will overwhelm you us if we’re not careful. It will even cause us to despair if we are not vigilant.
In this moment, a scene from the Gospels comes to mind, the deeper meaning of which many of us are now experiencing in a new and personal way:
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that the ship was filled. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awake him, and say to him: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish? And rising up, he rebuked the wind, and said to the sea: Peace, be still. And the wind ceased: and there was made a great calm. And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? (Mark 4:37-40)
It seems now as we watch the Barque of Peter battered on the waves of heresy and scandal that Christ sleeps through the tempest that surrounds us. Even so, we must remember that His power is not latent and His awareness has not turned away from us. His love for His bride is deeper than any man’s for his own beloved, and He will save her in her deep distress.
In his encyclical on the Kingship of Christ, Quas Primas, Pope Pius XI reminds the faithful:
Not least among the blessings which have resulted from the public and legitimate honor paid to the Blessed Virgin and the saints is the perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy. We may well admire in this the admirable wisdom of the Providence of God, who, ever bringing good out of evil, has from time to time suffered the faith and piety of men to grow weak, and allowed Catholic truth to be attacked by false doctrines, but always with the result that truth has afterwards shone out with greater splendor, and that men’s faith, aroused from its lethargy, has shown itself more vigorous than before.
Take heart when you see the attacks of those who hold false doctrines, for the glory of Holy Mother Church will once more shine, the splendor of the Mystical Bride, who “lay hidden in the heart of the Father until the Son of Man, who was conceived and born in virginity, poured out his blood.”
She will prevail, her robes mended, her shoes polished, her face cleansed, her radiance restored. Christ sleeps, but soon, He will arise. Why are we fearful? Have we not faith yet?
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.