Birth Pains of the Church

I am a 38-year-old priest. Most of my priesthood has been spent with university students and young families. Every week, I end up in some conversation on the phone with someone who is enduring unspeakable suffering within their family.  I know that every age of history has suffering, but something is different about this year. For example,  I asked a young Mom at a funeral of a mutual friend how her family was doing. She replied “Good. We’re the only people we know whose lives aren’t falling apart.” I said, “Then I’ll put you on the short list.”  “Don’t put us on any list,” she said as she smiled.

I look at the world at large: 2 million children are sex slaves. Over the past century, more Christians have died for the faith than ever in history, and where Communism has ceased its persecutions, groups like ISIS have arisen to continue the butcher’s work. Half a billion children are wiped out by the pill and abortifacients every year. Human nature has not become more evil, but the instrumentation afforded to us by the modern world has undeniably led to more death and slavery than ever before — including the transatlantic slave trade and the holocaust. This is a statistical fact.

Normally I would look to the Church for the strength I need to lead  families, but when I read Amoris Laetitia, I see that Pope Francis says that the divorced and remarried can receive Holy Communion without reform of their life. That is quite a temptation to divorce for so many families who are fighting hard to keep it together. Maybe this is why so many bishops claim that this is not what the Pope asserted. But there’s a problem with that: Even Pope Francis and Cardinal Schönborn have both confirmed that Pope Francis meant what he wrote.

Go down the rabbit hole a little deeper: I just finished reviewing some of the Vatican’s new sex-ed program called “Meeting Point.” Some of it is fine. But small parts are light pornography, with erotic photographs included. I am not a sheltered priest. In fact, I’m an ex-paramedic who has helped deliver babies. But “Meeting Point” had sick pictures of mild erotica. The “decent part” of Meeting Point is still a far cry from the Theology of the Body. The bad part of the program reminds me of the very sex-education that the Communists presented to children in Romania in the 1980s to spike libidos in elementary school. A priest friend of mine recently pointed out to me that rat poison has “99.95% of everything that rats like. Only 0.05% is poison.”

So, as I took these things to Eucharistic Adoration, I had what Ven. Fulton Sheen called “a lover’s tiff” with God. I basically looked at God in that monstrance and said that if the Church would not support me in fighting for the truth, then I didn’t have to either. Now, I don’t “hear” things in prayer, but what I understood in prayer in that next moment was one of the only times in my life that (I believe) God spoke directly to my understanding:

“My Church is being crucified.  Will you leave her?”

I will never forget these words. They not only brought courage to my heart; they brought clarity to my mind: The Church must go where her Bridegroom has first gone, and this would come — as with Judas — as the fruit of a betrayal from within. Our Lady of Good Success promised a “complete restoration” after a prophecied crisis that was described very much like what we are witnessing today. I had seen that the Church was enduring a crucifixion, but how had I missed that after this would come a resurrection? If Paul VI could say that “the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God,” then I am surely not disobedient or schismatic for pointing out that we now have a full conflagration.

In seminary, they told us that the Church would be our bride. But the Church does not belong to me or any priest or bishop — or for that matter, any pope.  This is why St. Augustine’s theology of the priesthood is one that places the priest as another John the Baptist:

“I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. The One who has the bride is the Bridegroom. The friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”—John 3:28-30.

The “friend of the bridegroom” is simply the “best-man” in modern parlance.  The Baptist is saying that the old Israel and the new Israel both belong exclusively to the Divine Bridegroom, alone.  John remains the “best man,” and so also is any priest who chooses to walk into battle with the bridegroom.

But where the bridegroom has gone, so also must follow the bride and the best-man.

On Monday, September 19th in the Traditional Latin Calendar, it was the 3rd class feast of St. Januarius. In the Gospel for that Mass, Jesus offers His most apocalyptic discourse, spoken only in private to His disciples:

“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”—Matthew 24:7-14

The above checklist has mostly been completed, especially the most chilling of it all: “The love of many will grow cold.” On a more measurable scale than charity, consider that even CNN and CBS have reported that “relative to the 20-year period from the mid-1970’s to the mid 1990’s, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years.” They are quoting Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science & Technology, who is basically saying there are more earthquakes now than ever.

And then the end will come.

I actually don’t think we’re at the end of the world (please forgive me, Jesus, if you’re coming tonight) but I honestly believe we’re at the end of an era.  Something is different this year, different than ever before. And it’s not just “God’s special club of weirdos” who sense this distant storm.  Anyone praying—moms, dads, priests, nuns—all have an ear to the rail of the future. But what awaits? What is coming?

Actually, here begins the really good news.

Remember that in Monday’s Mass, Jesus said:  “All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.”—Matthew 24:8. The word “birth pains” is translated from the Greek plural genitive odinon (ὠδίνων.) The singular is odin (ὠδίν.) My Greek dictionary defines odin as “birth-pain” and places it “equivalent to intolerable anguish, in reference to the dire calamities which the Jews supposed would precede the advent of the Messiah.”

What we are experiencing are not death-pains, but birth-pains. Yes, the earthquakes are part of it. (Check the above CBS article if you think I’m like a paranoid late-night televangelist in a Roman collar.) But this is a lot deeper than that. What we have here is this:  The mystical body of Christ is being born, following Christ the head, and this must arrive with the labor pains of suffering. Remember that when Jesus died, there was an earthquake (Matthew 27:51.) His Passion and the earthquake were just the birth of the head (Col 1:18.) Now, the body, the mystical body, must follow in labor pains.  Hasn’t the Church always been in the dolors of birth?  Yes.  However, among the 70,000,000 Christian martyrs in 2,000 years, over 45 million of those have been in the last 100 years.  That means that most Christian martyrdoms have taken place recently.

Eschatology is the study of the last things. Protestants believe that things must get really bad before Jesus comes again. Catholics believe that things must get really bad, yes, but also really good.

“When He opened the fifth seal, I [John the Apostle] saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, Holy and True, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be completewho were to be killed as they themselves had been.”—Apocalypse 6:9-11

The quota of holy martyrs must be met for Christ to come! Maranatha! Since the earliest days, the Church has named the day of the death of a martyr as her “birthday.” A sick obsession with death? Not when you realize what comes after the crucifixion of the Church. If Mary is the exemplar of the Church, and the Church is now being crucified, then the Resurrection of the Church can probably mean only one thing:  The era of the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as promised by Our Lady of Fatima, 99 years ago. 2017 marks 100 years of the bloodiest century in the history of the world.

I think things will get worse before they get better, but still I write: Hold on, you Eastern martyrs and victims of Western priest scandals. Hold on, any of you readers blessed with the unspeakable joys and crosses of having a disabled child. Hold on, all you holy priests in exile for defending tradition. Hold on, all you Moms who don’t think they can see their children suffer another day. Hold on all you husbands who are ridiculed at work for your love of the Catholic Church. Is it worth it?

Will you leave my bride while she is being crucified?”

Don’t be afraid. The Bridegroom is coming, and He will not delay. What you have are birth-pains unto new life. We want to stay in the womb of our blue atmosphere, but we were made to be born into a new heavens and a new earth with new bodies — if we keep our souls prepared. For it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Fr. David Nix writes at www.padreperegrino.org 

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