“The Church is not falling to pieces. It has never been better. This is a wonderful moment for the Church, you just need to look at its history. There are saints that are recognised by non-Catholics as well as Catholics – I’m thinking of Mother Theresa – but many men and women perform acts of holiness every day and this gives us hope. Sanctity is greater than scandal.”
-- Pope Francis, yesterday
I tend to hang around with people who are very protective of the Church's doctrinal, liturgical, and cultural heritage, which makes sense, because I am one myself. So I get a front row seat on some of the ways that something good - the desire to safeguard the Church's heritage - can sometimes start warping over time into something bad - defensiveness, panic or elitism in the face of the perceived societal onslaught against the Church and those who love her.
When our thinking starts to trend this way, it can be poisonous for all kinds of different reasons. Lack of charity is one: I've been a bit troubled lately by some things I've read from people who seem to think Pope Benedict's words about a shrinking Church are a mandate rather than a warning.
However, the words of Pope Francis yesterday highlight a different pitfall we can encounter when we allow ourselves to be too focused on the problems in the Church and the world. That pitfall is envy. My brother wrote about envy yesterday, which got me thinking about the different ways that particular deadly sin can trap us.
Sin causes us to see the truth less clearly. Envy specifically blinds us to the good things we've been given and the way grace is active in our lives. We focus on what others have and what we don't have, rather than recognizing and thanking God for his gifts.
But envy can be focused not just on ourselves personally but on the Church in the context of its two-millennium history. We can find ourselves looking back with increasing jealousy to that wonderful time fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, or back in the thirteenth century when men were men and heretics got their comeuppance.
Part of that is just nostalgia, but part of it is a little more insidious, I think. It's envy, which causes us to focus on the gifts the People of God received at other points in our history and to become less alert to ways He is active here and now. And that leads us to something even more poisonous: ingratitude.
The well of grace hasn't just dried up - God is, in this particular time and place, quenching the thirst of a parched Church both generally and in all kinds of specific and concrete ways. Believe me - in a generation or two, Catholics are going to look back at this period in the history of the Church and marvel at the holy and wise people who guided us, at the theological developments that increased our understanding of the deposit of faith, at the ways the Gospel took hold in new cultures and how those cultures enriched the Church...the list goes on.
We don't have to wait for generations to pass. We shouldn't wait. We should thank God now for the way his Holy Spirit, unchanging yet always new, is at work in the world, actively, dynamically, now.