“A heretic is one who has a particular opinion.”
ODAY, a great many people are confused about Catholic teaching on marriage and sexual activity, on the moral law and grace, and the forgiveness of sins, among other matters. Yesterday, in the very beginning of the 1970s, soon after the last Vatican Council, the Pope at that time, Paul VI Montini, had a strong impression that the Church was increasingly afflicted by secularization and the lack of internal unity. In a letter penned on 29 June 1972 (and published by Rogationist Fr. Leonardo Sapienza in La barca di Paolo in 2018) the pontiff’s concern called forth a letter in which he wrote:
“…We would say that, through some mysterious crack—no, it’s not mysterious; through some crack, the smoke of Satan has entered the Church of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, problems, unrest, dissatisfaction, confrontation. […] The Church is no longer trusted. We trust the first pagan prophet we see who speaks to us in some newspaper, and we run behind him and ask him if he has the formula for true life. I repeat, doubt has entered our conscience. And it entered through the windows that should have been open to the light: science.”
The post-conciliar wounds make themselves felt:
“…It was thought that, after the Council, sunny days would come for the history of the Church. Nevertheless, what came were days of clouds, of storms, of darkness, of searching, of uncertainty…We tried to dig abysses instead of covering them.”
In these parlous times for the Catholic Church a perceptive priest has called attention recently to a powerful prediction of the coming of a “counter-church” in which a “counter-magisterium” established by operatives within the Church seeks to dismantle the truths in the depositum fidei. Fulton Sheen’s seventy-year old prophecy 1 said that beside Christ’s Catholic Church…
“…the false prophet will create the other […] The false church will be worldly, ecumenical, and global. […] it will be the mystical body of the antichrist. The mystical body on earth today will have its Judas Iscariot, and he will be the false prophet. Satan will recruit him from our bishops. […] It will be a mystical body of the antichrist that will in all externals resemble the mystical body of Christ.”
But the empty pews at Sunday Mass, the disappearing confessionals in so many less-visited churches, the diminishing daily Masses in many areas today suggest to more and more Catholics that the smoke of Satan has thickened. Some suspect that the source of the smoke is the diabolical enemy of the Church who is trying to use the Church’s own weapons to confound it. To achieve this goal, the faith itself must be inverted; truth becomes false, falsehood is declared truth. Church and world must exchange places and directive roles, affecting the sacraments and divine worship.
There are today prelates who admonish their clergy by accusing them of “causing trouble” when they are “overzealous in their belief that many people are too casual in matters of liturgy and doctrine.” In the early XIXth century the Duke of Wellington, speaking of infantry battles, is said to have exclaimed, “All soldiers run away. The good ones come back.” Was he also thinking of the apostles fleeing from the very sight of the cross?
ERHAPS CONFUSED CATHOLICS can help themselves by recalling Mother Teresa’s famous remark, “God does not ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful.” Under such circumstances, what should the believer do? To settle this question, it may be helpful to consider an example from a similar period of tension and conflict in the IVth century: the “Father of Orthodoxy” Bishop Athanasius, of Alexandria (+373). When the Arians, with the Emperor on their side, were carrying everything before them and nearly all the bishops who had upheld the Nicene Creed were in exile or in prison, St. Anthony the father of monasticism, over an hundred years old, was on his death bed. “Fear not,” the old man told his monks, “for this power is of the earth and cannot last. As for the sufferings of the Church, was it not so from the beginning, and will it not be so until the end?” And Athanasius was hiding from the troops of Julian the Apostate by changing his hiding places frequently with the help of young monks. When capture seemed very near, Athanasius told the monk-scouts, “I have no fear, for many long years I have suffered persecution, and never has it disturbed the peace of my soul. It is a joy to suffer, and the greatest of all joys is to give one’s life for Christ.”
We ourselves might imitate such an example by starting with this prayer of Charles de Foucauld:
I abandon myself
into Your hands:
do with me what You will.
Whatever You may do,
I thank You;
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only Your will be done in me,
and in all Your creatures—
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into Your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to You
With all the love of my heart,
for I love You Lord, and so need to
give myself, to surrender myself
into Your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for You are my Father.
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NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen: Communism and the Conscience of the West (1948) pp. 24-25.