Last week, I spent day after day fighting through seemingly endless distractions in an attempt to write a piece summarizing the takeaways from the Youth Synod in Rome that lasted nearly the entire month of October.
I wrote a bunch, but it just wasn’t coming together. I may take up the task again this week, but I’ll be honest: it’s hard to care very much about parsing something designed to hide obvious agendas amid tens of thousands of words of nonsense. They are absolutely committed to not making this pleasant, and I give them full credit for being unreadable and nonsensical. (You win, guys. You win.)
Feeling defeated and pretty down, I made my way to Confession on Saturday and came out feeling more renewed than expected. On Sunday, as we stood and read the Gospel, I found a wry smile creeping across my face. The reading was Mt. 8:23-27, and I instantly found myself thinking of the Fourth Resumed Sunday after Epiphany as “We’re All Gonna Die Sunday.” The passage is the one (taken, in this case, from the Gospel of Matthew) where a boat full of experienced seamen-turned-apostles are freaking out because a crazy storm is getting to smash their boat into matchstick-sized driftwood, and Jesus is just taking a little nap.
Now, I’ve written about this before, and I’m not going to re-invent it. In fact, I’m going to shamelessly crib pieces from my 2015 post, and another 2016 post – and another – after that. (This is absolutely the most quoted scripture on this website other than 1 Peter 5:8-9, and these are not the only examples of its use here.) Self-plagiarism is happening starting now, because as readers surely know and as Shirley Bassey famously sang, what we’re going through right now is “all just a little bit of history repeating.”
And when he entered into the boat, his disciples followed him: And behold a great tempest arose in the sea, so that the boat was covered with waves, but he was asleep. And they came to him, and awaked him, saying: Lord, save us, we perish. And Jesus saith to them: Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith? Then rising up he commanded the winds, and the sea, and there came a great calm.
But the men wondered, saying: What manner of man is this, for the winds and the sea obey him? (Matthew 8:23-27)
In this moment of absolute chaos in the Church, this scene from Sunday’s Gospel is unmistakably relevant. It came, in fact, at exactly the right moment in time, for me, at least. I had, in my confession, mentioned to the priest the discouragement I feel over all that is happening in the Church. How I struggle sometimes with temptations to doubt that the Church is what she claims to be. He reminded me, gently but firmly, that I must not confuse the failings of the men who run the Church with the Church herself. If anything, he said, this should drive us deeper into the Church, to Christ Himself, Who is her head, to the sacraments, and to adoration.
It is my job to observe and analyze what is going on in the Church. But I have reached a point where I feel I can no longer plausibly explain it. Nevertheless, if we trust Christ, if we trust in His promises to the Church, we may have to accept that we aren’t going to find the answers we’re so desperately looking for.
We are being tested in no less severe a fashion than were the apostles were when Our Lord was asleep in the boat during that storm. Think about it – these weren’t a bunch of gussied-up hipsters wearing skinny jeans and drinking Soy Macchiatos (no foam!) while Snapchatting about their ironic glasses or…whatever hipsters do. These were rugged men of a harsh time – sailors, most of them, who made their living on the seas. They knew the difference between a sprinkle and a tempest. If they were scared, that boat must have been in serious danger. If they thought they were “all gonna die!,” it was because in ordinary circumstances, they would have.
And then there’s Jesus. Just, you know, catching some Zs.
So they wake Him up, with all the passive aggression they can muster: “Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?” It’s a hilarious line if you think about it. It reads like, “Uh, Jesus? We’re just about to get killed to death here. No big deal. If You’re done getting your beauty rest, You think maybe, uh, You know, You might want to do something? Or we could just get back to dying a horrible death. It’s fine. No worries. We’ll see You at the bottom.”
So Jesus gets up, and in my mind, He’s giving them the kind of dirty look only a dad (or maybe an action hero) can, but not saying anything. Just mad-dogging them on the way to the prow. And then He rebukes the storm. He doesn’t calmly tell it to go back to sleep, or soothe its self-esteem. He rebukes the weather for having the audacity to act up. And then He turns around and gives the apostles (again, I’m assuming) the same look I give my boys when they start having an imaginary brawl with each other in the wine aisle of the grocery store, fists flying near bottles I can’t afford to buy even on Christmas.
And He lays into them: “Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet?” (Mark 4:40).
And you’d better believe that in the midst of this tempest we’re currently being beaten up by, He’s asking us the same exact thing.
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.
I’m a big fan of analogies (as you’ve likely guessed by now). I’ve often referred to Francis as “Pope Smelling Salts,” because he’s waking people up from their unconsciousness. But it occurred to me that he’s actually more of an emetic.
Emetics are deeply unpleasant. They cause you to vomit rather forcefully. The point, of course, is not to inflict suffering on you; rather, it is to force your body to expel the toxins that have been ingested.
The Mystical Body of Christ has been poisoned. Francis, in his attempt to deepen the crisis, is actually beginning to serve as its unwitting remedy. (So if he makes you want to throw up, take heart. It’s a good thing!) He is forcing all this festering nonsense to the surface, in much the same way Vatican II did. The modern era of the Church didn’t begin in the 1960s. That’s only when it first came to a head. And soon – possibly sooner than any of us expects – it’s going to expend itself.
Either that, or God will excise it by force.
You see, we’ve reached a point in time where we have to admit that there is no human solution to the crisis. We’re all scratching our heads and wringing our hands and praying our rosaries and making our sacrifices and saying, “How Long, O Lord?” And the thing is, He wants us to ask that question. He wants us to see that we can’t solve it. We may even have to endure yet another conclave where a Francis protégé gets elected (cough*Tagle*cough). And if so, we’re going to have to endure that, too. We’ve got to get to the point where we feel it in our bones that there is no way out except through Him.
When the solution finally comes, however it comes, it will leave us no doubt about its provenance. It will be from Him, and not from us.
When Christ endured His passion, He drank the cup of suffering to the dregs. He is asking us to share in that. He is asking us to put our need for definitive answers on hold. He is asking us to give over all our worry and anger and concern to Him, to shelter ourselves within His wounds, and to trust.
Can we do that? Do we love Him enough to see this through? Do we trust Him enough to know that He has a plan, and that if we seek His will, we will be provided for?
There’s no easy, comfortable “yes” to any of these questions. But it’s that or nothing, and to whom else shall we go, when He alone has the words of eternal life (Jn. 6:68)?