The post-COVID Church: smaller but stronger – The B.C. Catholic


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Our future is uncertain. It always has been, of course, but with just under a year of rotating country-wide lockdowns and social distancing under our belts, we are left to wonder in a much more concrete way: What will next year look like? Or next month, for that matter?
If you feel unsettled, that’s because things are truly unsettled and disturbing. Even the most optimistic people among us know deeply that things will never fully go “back to normal.” As a country we have racked up an inconceivable amount of debt and a tremendous amount of fear of our neighbours.
Among those things that will never return to us in its original form is the Catholic Church.
Upon his election as Pope, Pope Emeritus Benedict prayed that he would not be tempted to “flee from the wolves.” He later articulated that he was speaking not only about the secular pressures of the world at large but also members of the Curia who exerted acute pressure in hopes to get the Church “in line with the times” – particularly in the realm of sexuality.
“Modern society is in the middle of formulating an anti-Christian creed, and if one opposes it, one is being punished by society with excommunication,” Pope Emeritus Benedict said in a recent interview, “the real threat comes from the worldwide dictatorship of humanistic ideologies with the consequence that contradicting these ideologies mean the exclusion from the basic consensus in society.”
Many of us haven’t thought of Pope Emeritus Benedict as a prophet, but his observations resonate deeply for these times. The Church is archaic and irrelevant to most, a sentimental antique of the past at best. It necessarily must see a great dropping off in its numbers as people choose to follow their “own truth.” COVID just served to make quick work of it.
We have been without our traditional faith community for the better part of a year. When we finally jumped through all the hoops necessary to get back to Sunday worship (with zero confirmed outbreaks in Canadian Catholic churches, to my knowledge), the pews were sparsely populated.
Now, we have the option of being in the parking lot and tuning in our FM car radios while donning our masks (from where I write in Eastern Ontario, the health unit has mandated face masks in our vehicles for the duration of our closed-window, parking lot church service ... not joking). Despite the over-the-top level of safety, many people are missing. Safety isn’t the issue keeping people away.
So, what will we find when the dust settles and we can go back to church?
This is the good news. The Church will be stronger. But she will also be smaller, poorer, and more persecuted. But ... stronger. This is wonderful news for those who thirst for a holy purging of the Church. A deep clean is in our future!
In a 1968 interview Pope Benedict spoke prophetically about a future Church that has “lost much.” “She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges.”
But now for the good part.
Benedict continues: “When the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
In a 1947 radio address, Archbishop Fulton Sheen articulated how eventually we would see the sheep and the goats scenario play out in real time; he felt that a great division was imminent. People would willingly organize themselves absolutely into “two great religions.” The two camps would comprise those who “believe in the God who became man” and those who believe that “man can make himself God.”
“Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world,” Sheen said, “the great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on. From now on, the struggle will be for the souls of men.”
The great time for choosing is upon us. This is a time for following the words of Jesus and not a remix or selection of them. This is a time for going back to our first love, Jesus in the Scriptures as revealed by the Holy Spirit. This is a time for a social media blackout if we feel overwhelmed and oversaturated by half-truths. Instead of being endlessly triggered by our neighbour, we need to pray for the grace to love them radically and to lead them to God.
This is a time to give Jesus more of the floor, more of our time and more of our attention. In a word, now is the time for complete abandonment to God.

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