The Church is always in need of rebuilding and renewal. The Apostles were scattered at Gethsemane; only John, and the Holy Virgin were present at the cross. So many disciples abandoned Jesus when the Word was too difficult for them to accept on that day that Our Lord said “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” Quarrels have divided the Church since the time of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, which itself was divided by schism. This spirit of division, of a lack of humility, and of misplaced allegiances has continued to sicken and weaken the Church throughout our history, one heresy at a time. And throughout all of these periods, between today, going back to Gethsemane, the Church has always been in need of renewal and rebuilding.
Today is no different. Many churches have become meeting halls or community gatherings rather than a holy place where the highest worship of God takes place. Many priests and bishops have distorted the word of God, have silenced the moral voice of the Church by failing to teach and preach the truth in its name. Some have given themselves to scandal; some, to fear. Some in the laity engage in politics before holiness, in gossip before the Gospel, in factions before discipleship. Many talk about a crisis in the Church but do they know what the crisis in the Church really is?
We see a Church that has lost its edge and seems to have forgotten its own identity. In these times many of us pray for a renewal of the Church, or a rebuilding of the Church. But renewal only happens when the Church is poised and ready for it. To wish for it is not enough. Often to pray for it is not enough, since we ourselves—individually or collectively—can often stand in the way of the very things we ask God for. For there to be a renewal of the Church, we must live the renewal we pray for. The Church is a body composed of many parts. Each of us is one of those parts. For the Church to be renewed by God, its individual parts must be renewed by God. That is a very hard thing.
When you pray for a renewal in the Church, or for a rebuilding of the Church, ask yourself, “Am I brave enough to accept what Im praying for? To be the change that I pray for? Am I strong enough to encounter the Holy Spirit, whose power created the universe, incarnated the Word of God in the Virgin Mary, established the Church? Am I strong enough, and humble enough to encounter that same power within myself now?
The Holy Spirit will renew the ailing Church. Not with a flash of magic, but with conversion. Not in an instant but through trial and by fire. The path is not tranquil or easy. Are you ready to follow that path? Are you ready to take onto yourself the renewal of the Church that you pray for?
Recently I was reading a meditation on the third fall of Jesus by, then, Cardinal Ratzinger. In it he outlines some things that contribute to Our Lord’s pain on the way of the Cross. I think it offers us many true and pertinent guidelines for our own renewal and the renewal of the Church
“How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there!”
Do we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion worthily? No one is perfect, but do we at least approach the sacrament in a state of grace, with humility, with grateful hearts? Have we lost touch with how awesome a gift the Eucharist is? Are we reverent in church, at mass, or in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament? Do we approach Communion with reverence and awe, or has it simply become routine—the next task we have to tend to on our Sunday? Are we chatty before mass when we should be maintaining a state of reverent silence, at least within reason, and moved to prayer before the Lord who is in the Tabernacle in front of us?
“How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!”
Whether a priest or a layperson, do you belong entirely to Christ? Is every decision you make for yourself, your parish and/or your family rooted first in Jesus? When you or I look at ourselves in the mirror, can we honestly say “I belong entirely to Christ”?
How much “filth” do we bring to the Church whose renewal we pray for? Do we bring nastiness, corrupt hearts, unforgiving hearts, an indifference to sin? Are we a part of the destructive forces of the world when we should be apart from them?
“…and How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall!”
Pride. It’s deadly! Are you ready to grow in humility? Are you ready to prune the tree of your own humanity? To cut from it those prideful branches that bear the fruits of malevolence, corruption and pain? That will likely be the hardest part of one’s conversion to greater holiness. Ask the Blessed Mother to help you. She will help you, and with a mother’s patience and gentleness. When you have a prideful moment either in action, or in your heart or mind, pray to her in that moment. Say “Holy Mother, teach me humility”, and follow it with a Hail Mary.
The Holy Spirit will renew the Church, but that renewal will start with us. When we are poised and ready to be renewed—and we all need renewal—then so will the Church be. Pray for the Church, and let us all live the renewal we pray for.
Ave Maria, virgo fidelis!