By Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan
Is the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church going to survive?
That’s a question many, both inside and outside Mother Church, are posing.
A couple days ago, I was enjoying one of my favorite pastimes: breakfast of eggs, sausage, and pancakes at a local diner.
Next to me was a table of three men, chatting over their cornedbeef hash and biscuits, unaware that I was eavesdropping.
“No way it can survive,” observed one of the diners. “Folks have lost interest, the long suspension of activity made people shrug and fi gure they could get along without it, nobody’s interested in going back once everything reopens, fi guring they can watch all the stuff at home, and we’re all tired of the scandals and money-asking.”
Well, I grimaced, uncharacteristically losing my appetite, they obviously have answered that question. “Will the Church survive?” with a bigno.
Then the fellas picked up the conversation, as one commented, “And it’s a shame the sport isn’t going to make it because the Yankees and Aaron Judge are off to such a sizzling start!”
I rediscovered my appetite! They weren’t talking about the Church at all, but about baseball!
Well, fact is, a lot of people are saying about the Church what those three were about baseball! It’s not coming back!
My friends, it’s time for a deep breath and an act of faith! To ask “will the Church survive?” is an oxymoron. We have God’s word, the most reliable guarantee there is, that the Church will indeed survive! Our Lord and Savior, the second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, gave us this promise, “I am with you all days, even until the end of the world! And not even the gates of hell can prevail against my Church!”
Unlike baseball, the Church is not a human proposition. Oh, that element—the human—is mighty important. That’s where saints are found that’s we sinners are found. But, the Church has a divine composition that assures us of her survival.
“The gates of hell shall not prevail against it”… Jesus promises us. But as a confessor once reminded me, “That does not mean that hell will ever stop trying!”
So we’ve got the sorrow and shackles of COVID; declining church attendance and donations; new allegations of sexual abuse from decades ago every day from tort attorneys, one of whom chants that he will “bring down the Church!”; closing of schools, merging of parishes; kids and grandkids not practicing their faith; not enough priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers; folks arguing about Church teaching, whether Pope Francis is “too liberal” or “not enough”; threats to religious freedom and the Church’s liberty to teach and serve…Oh dear! The “gates of hell” are at it full time!
While we can never conclude that the Church will not survive, we can wonder, “how?” What invitations from Jesus can we hear in all this turmoil? What is He asking from us, faithful, weary members of His Church?
An old Latin phrase applies: Ecclesia semper reformanda: The Church is always in need of reform! Her people, her leaders —I sure am in need of it—her structures, her pastoral strategy.
Jesus, of course, bids us, not to tread water, but to “cast out to the deep!” While the essentials of the Church, as given us by the Lord, cannot change, the way we live them, pass them on, and apply them sure can.
In every shout of a crisis we detect a whispered invitation from the Lord to reform and renewal.
Last week, I visited a wonderful group of religious women, the Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal. Next to their convent in Harlem, where they live in community, form their novices, and serve the poor, was a crumbling unused church. Last year they asked me if they could clean it up and use it for their community prayers.
“Be my guest!” I gratefully replied.
That’s where we welcomed four new novices on the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels. And the Church sparkled! Painted, fresh, repaired, a new roof and floor in the sanctuary.
The reading at the liturgy for the novices recounted St. Francis doing the same thing in Assisi: repairing, renewing the crumbling church dedicated to Our Lady.
That’s our charge, our dream, our dare: to rebuild, renew, restore His Church.
Because, make no doubt about it, the Church will survive! We members couldn’t destroy it if we tried —and tried we have!
(By the way, I’m confident that baseball will, too!)