The Papal Conclave is now in progress and two stories from opposite ends of the political spectrum both came to the same conclusion: the Catholic Church is facing an existential crisis. On the left, Reuters described the selection of a new pope to lead the Church as, “one of the most difficult periods in its history,” and invented words which Pope Benedict XVI never said. On the right, Fox News flatly states that the Catholic Church needs to be “revived” and is “almost irrelevant.”
The Church has survived far worse than any of the modern-day scandals that journalists breathlessly describe as the herald of the Parousia. The Church suffered terrible atrocities in Mexico, Spain, and Germany even in the last century. To be sure, these are trying times for many reasons, but they are not the most difficult.
Moreover, the nature of our pilgrim journey as we follow in the footsteps of Christ is always a struggle which can lead only to one place—the foot of the cross. It is easy to be distracted by the excitement and ceremony of the Papal Conclave, but we must also remember that we are in Lent, and that pace the media accounts above, the Church is about to receive a new generation of catechumens and converts as it does every year. Lent is a time not only of personal renewal, but also renewal of the whole Church, which has been solemnly celebrated since even before the time of Christ as the purification before Passover in the Jewish tradition.
The fate of the Church will not be determined by the next pope. The fate of the Church will be determined by all of us. The Vicar of Christ is only just that. He can show us the way, but it is up to all of us to take up the cross as Simon did on the road to Golgotha. In this respect, there are encouraging signs that more people are answering that call. A long-term study by Georgetown University shows that the numbers of seminarians and priestly ordinations have actually been steadily increasing since at least 2000. The laity are also showing glimmers of hope with the percentage of those who attend Mass weekly also slowly increasing over the same time period.
It’s easy to be discouraged by the world we live in. The greatest threat we face as Christians is the indifference and dehumanization of secular liberalism. Worse still, there are no easy answers. However, the old saying that many hands make light work is especially true during these times of uncertainty and fear. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The more we take up His cross in this time of purification, the easier it will be for future generations to carry on in the constant struggle against the forces of Hell which are always seeking our ruin.