We come to Him to find salvation, to find God. Jesus saves the human race; we know no other way. The human race comes to Jesus, gathers around Him, follows Him, unites herself with Him—and thereby finds peace, true religion, and eternal happiness.
That’s the Church. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the Christ of God.
Six years ago today, the white smoke floated on the Roman evening air, the bells rang out, the eyes of the world gazed at the loggia. Our local tv station came here to St. Joseph’s in Martinsville for comment. Bob Humkey happily talked to the camera.
The joy of the election of a new pope. Six years ago today, it filled the Catholic world. The sense of promise. The comforting continuity. Holy Church renewing Herself again. Habemus papam. Gaudium magnum. Great joy.
I don’t think any of us could have imagined how profoundly compromised that joy would become, six years later. The innocent exhuberance—I remember feeling it even when I was a boy, in October 1978. Then again, as a new priest, in April 2005. Then again six years ago today. Simple, happy confidence in this institution.
Not naivete; we know popes aren’t perfect. We know they are flawed men, like everyone else. The institution isn’t perfect. But when we heard ‘habemus papam’—the vitality, the capacity to start fresh, the fundamental soundness and permanence of the Church: we rightly reveled in it, as our new father in God stepped out to greet us and bless us.
Now? All that seems a million miles away, like a sweet dream that we had. And we have woken up to attorneys general, Royal Commissions of inquiry, and Saturday Night Live legitimately suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church is a crime syndicate.
The familiar loggia on the front of St. Peter’s Basilica: four centuries old. In the century before it was built, many earnest Christians lost confidence altogether in the papacy. They had their reasons. The beginning of… Protestantism.
We have our reasons, too. Martin Luther’s nemesis Pope Leo X reveled in processions with elephants through the streets of Rome. And the doctrine of indulgences was an utter mess. But, as far as we know, Pope Leo did not have two Cardinals publicly convicted of sexually abusing minors.
In other words, we Christians of the early 21st century hardly have less reason to lose faith in the Roman Catholic hierarchy than the Christians of the early sixteenth century did. We would seem to have a great deal more reason.
But it also seems to me that we have to dig deeper. There is something greater here, something greater than the current incumbents of the episcopal thrones. This is the Church of Jesus Christ.
I have a little plan to steal away for a few days in September and make a personal pilgrimage to the cathedral in Trent, Italy–to pray for myself, and all of you, and Pope Francis, and the whole Church.
Everyone know what happened there, five centuries ago? A miracle of doctrinal precision and clarity, to answer Protestant objections. And a miracle of new resolve and spiritual discipline in the Catholic clergy.
On our pope’s sixth anniversary, the gaudium magnum of the St. Peter’s loggia eludes us altogether. But the Lord will not fail us. He will not fail His Church, built on Peter.