Scripture – Presumption in the Church

Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah
who enter these gates to worship the LORD!
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel:
Reform your ways and your deeds,
so that I may remain with you in this place.
Put not your trust in the deceitful words:
“This is the temple of the LORD!
The temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD!”
Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds;
if each of you deals justly with his neighbor;
if you no longer oppress the resident alien,
the orphan, and the widow;
if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place,
or follow strange gods to your own harm,
will I remain with you in this place,
in the land I gave your fathers long ago and forever. (Jeremiah 7; today’s first Mass reading)

The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man
who sowed good seed in his field… if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13; Today’s Gospel)

The Catholic Church […] is the kingdom of Christ on earth…  —POPE PIUS XI, Quas Primas, Encyclical, n. 12, Dec. 11th, 1925; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 763

This word of warning through Jeremiah could just as easily be spoken to us today: simply replace the word temple with “church”. 

Put not your trust in the deceitful words:
“This is the [church] of the LORD!
The [church] of the LORD! The [church] of the LORD!”

That is, the Church is not a building; it is not a cathedral; it is not the Vatican. The Church is the living Mystical Body of Christ. 

“The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men”… The Church is essentially both human and divine, visible but endowed with invisible realities…Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 771

Christ’s promise to remain with the Church “until the end of the age” [1]Matt 28:20 is not a promise that our structures will remain under Divine Providence. Clear evidence of this is found in the first few chapters of the Book of Revelation where Jesus addresses the seven churches. However, those churches no longer exist today in what are now primarily Muslim countries. 

As I drive across the beautiful province of Alberta, Canada, the landscape is frequently marked by once lovely country churches. But most of these are now empty, falling into disrepair (and several were recently vandalized or burned to the ground). In Newfoundland, Canada, the courts just approved the sale of 43 Catholic churches to pay for the settlement of abuse claims against clergy.[2] Dropping participation in the United States and Canada is causing the closure and merging of many parishes. [3] In fact, according to a 2014 Angus Reid National Household Survey, attendance at religious services at least once per year has dropped to 21%, from 50% in 1996.[4] And with bishops signaling to the faithful during the recent so-called “pandemic” that the Eucharist was not essential (but a “vaccine” apparently was), many have simply not returned, leaving vast swaths of empty pews. 

All this is to say that the existence of our buildings most often depends upon our faithfulness. God is not interested in saving architecture; He is interested in saving souls. And when the Church loses sight of that mission, frankly, we eventually lose our buildings too. [5]cf. A Gospel for All and The Urgency of the Gospel

…it is not enough that the Christian people be present and be organized in a given nation, nor is it enough to carry out an apostolate by way of good example. They are organized for this purpose, they are present for this: to announce Christ to their non-Christian fellow-citizens by word and example, and to aid them toward the full reception of Christ. —Second Vatican Council, Ad Gentes, n. 15;

Maintaining the status quo in Christianity is akin to being lukewarm. In fact, it was to one of those seven churches in Revelation that Jesus warned:

I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments to put on so that your shameful nakedness may not be exposed, and buy ointment to smear on your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. (Rev 3:15-19)

This is essentially the same rebuke that Jeremiah gave the people of his time: we cannot continue in the presumption that God is in our camp — not when our lives are indistinguishable from the rest of the world; not when the Church acts like an NGO for the United Nations rather than its guiding light; not when our clergy remain silent in the face of institutionalized sin; not when our men act like cowards in the face of tyranny; not when we allow wolves and weeds to spring up among us, sowing sin, discord, and ultimately, apostasy — and pretend that all is well.

Ironically, it is precisely these wolves and weeds that are permitted under Divine Providence. They serve a purpose: to test and purify, to expose and bring to divine justice those who are Judases in Christ’s Body. As we near the end of this era, we are indeed seeing a great sifting among us. 

Yes, there are unfaithful priests, bishops, and even cardinals who fail to observe chastity. But also, and this is also very grave, they fail to hold fast to doctrinal truth! They disorient the Christian faithful by their confusing and ambiguous language. They adulterate and falsify the Word of God, willing to twist and bend it to gain the world’s approval. They are the Judas Iscariots of our time. —Cardinal Robert Sarah, Catholic HeraldApril 5th, 2019

But it is also the “anonymous” masses of laity who are betraying Jesus all over again by following in the status quo

Judas is neither a master of evil nor the figure of a demoniacal power of darkness but rather a sycophant who bows down before the anonymous power of changing moods and current fashion. But it is precisely this anonymous power that crucified Jesus, for it was anonymous voices that cried, “Away with him! Crucify him!” —POPE BENEDICT XVI,

Hence, we are entering the Passion of the Church and the Day of the Lord, which is also the Day of Justice — a purification of the world and the Church before the end of time.

The world is rapidly being divided into two camps, the comradeship of anti-Christ and the brotherhood of Christ. The lines between these two are being drawn. —Servant of God Bishop Fulton John Sheen, D.D. (1895-1979)

The end result will not be a cleansed landscape with glorious steeples rising above the horizon. No, there may be no Christian steeples left to speak of. Rather, it will be a purified and simplified People who will rise in the absence of the weeds. Writes the prophet Jeremiah:

You shall be my people,
and I will be your God.
Look! The Storm of the LORD!
His wrath breaks out
in a whirling storm
that bursts upon the heads of the wicked.
The anger of the LORD will not abate
until he has carried out completely
the decisions of his heart.
In days to come
you will fully understand it. (Jer 30:22-24)

The Church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes… She will lose many of her social privileges… And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already with Gobel, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death. —Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (POPE BENEDICT XVI), Faith and Future, Ignatius Press, 2009


—Mark Mallett is the author of The Now Word and The Final Confrontation and a contributor to Countdown to the Kingdom



Related Reading

When the Weeds Begin to Head

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