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White Knuckles

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 11, 2021

Most of us have experienced the serenity of an airline flight at cruising speed. We have also experienced unexpected and unnerving turbulence. Hands gripped on the armrests with white knuckles, we hope that the pilot is competent and sober—or that at least the high technology features of the craft will prevent a crash.

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Life in the Catholic Church is something like that.

For centuries, Catholics were at cruising speed, with occasional bumps along the way. The post-Vatican II period was tumultuous, with a few close calls (such as the Humanae Vitae crisis). The papal pilots had a steady hand, keeping the Church on course. But in recent years, the Church has entered into the white-knuckle phase of extreme turbulence.

Recent examples include the German bishops (and many lay leaders) promoting the “blessing” of same-sex couples in a preliminary draft document. Over the weekend, the Holy Father met with another radical pro-abortion “Catholic” politician, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The smiling pictures of both of them during photo ops (and her invitation as a reader during Mass at an American church in Rome) not only unnerved many Catholics but alienated many Protestants who hold fast to traditional morality.

Alas, it seems Pope Francis has erased the favor of evangelicals won by the Christ-centered orthodoxy of Pope John Paul II. Old-time-religion Protestants will likely renew their claim that the Church is the “Whore of Babylon.” The turbulence will only intensify, and Catholics must prepare for the worst.

Here’s the good news. The Church is—and always will be—one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. She is the spotless bride of Christ, without sin. Mary, the Immaculate Conception and sinless, is the model of the Church. Suggesting that the Church is a prostitute is blasphemous. Identifying members of the hierarchy as hirelings, whores, and traitors isn’t pleasant. But it can be accurate and necessary. There is, of course, Scriptural precedent.

The Prophet Hosea prophesizes that the descendants of King Jeroboam will come to ruin because of infidelity and the worship of false gods. Their idolatry means that the Israelites betrayed the sacred covenant with God, like violating a marriage bond. Hosea links God’s message to his personal life by marrying a prostitute.

God, through Hosea, also reminds them that He will ultimately restore His covenant with them, purifying them from their sins. The marital imagery—and its violation and restoration—provides the context for the cycle of repentance and redemption. Although God punishes sin, He will always bring His people back to Himself. God’s love for Israel has more power than their idolatry and injustice.

The Catholic Church fulfilled and replaced Israel as the Chosen People. Catholics are not immune to the same temptations of infidelity and idolatry. We are all sinners, but the carelessness of Church leaders in recent years is astonishing. We expect the smooth sailing of carefully crafted Vatican statements that do not threaten traditional Church teaching. But Pope Francis has grown famous for “making a mess” in the Church, following himself the advice he gave the young people at the Rio de Janeiro World Youth Day.

It is hardly treason to observe that the Vatican’s happy hospitality extended to the pro-abortion Speaker of the House does not square with the efforts of several American bishops to call her to Catholic accountability. Indeed, Vatican actions undermine and discourage a relatively unified response hoped for during the November meeting of the USCCB. The turbulence and the white-knuckled anxiety may lead to widespread discouragement and abandonment of the Church. The pastors of souls must do their best to guide their flocks through these unfriendly and dangerous ecclesial skies.

Our first obligation is to remain faithful to traditional Church teaching. Jesus is the reason for Church, and He alone should be the ultimate focus of our attention. We stand by the office of the papacy, regardless of the personal failures of the office-holder. Popes, bishops, and priests are merely flawed witnesses, sometimes only occupying offices until future generations of the clergy can replace them.

We need honesty. We must acknowledge errors and outrageous prudential decisions. However, there is no need to obsess over the transgressions or give too much prominence to violations of Catholic orthodoxy. Not every clerical failure requires a frontal-assault response. At times it is possible to outflank the errors by accentuating the truth.

So, for example, if Church leaders undermine the marriage bond by word and deed, we should reinforce the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage between one man and one woman—by our witness and life. Be confident in the truth and do not allow our failings to muzzle our testimony. If Church authorities neglect to discipline pro-abortion Catholic politicians, we must disagree. Hold fast to Church teaching in conscience; and shame pro-abortion politicians—and even our own friends and relatives, when it is opportune. Pro-abortion politicians insist they rigidly “follow the science” regarding the prospects of climate change, but the scientific certainty of the humanity of an unborn baby is far more evident.

When we pray for our enemies, we should not pray that our views will prevail. We should pray that God sends His grace on all of us to enlighten and guide us according to His holy will. Hence, we should pray to activate the dormant gifts of the Holy Spirit received when confirmed: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Priests and laity alike should also resolve to double down on the proper celebration of the Mass with reverence. The turbulence in the Church should provoke a greater awareness of our Christian duties. We no longer have the comforts of autopilot. We must not allow the negligence and sins of the clergy to distract us from fulfilling our Christian obligations. Start with the little things. Come to Mass on time. Spend a few minutes in prayers of thanksgiving after Mass. Bear with the faults of others. Be kind. Be faithful to our respective vocations.

The turbulence in the Church is a white knuckler as we hold fast to the faith we have received. But we must not allow the turmoil of infidelity to provoke cynicism and ruin our love for the Church.

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: fsj - Oct. 13, 2021 7:40 AM ET USA

    @miketimmer499385 Please keep in mind that our Shepherd is one and the same as our Almighty and Savior Jesus Christ! He has saved, is saving and will save His faithful regardless of the fidelity or infidelity of His undershepherds on earth.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Oct. 12, 2021 7:38 PM ET USA

    Go get 'em, Fr. Jerry. We have to hold fast to the Truth, who is a Person, not a thing, and bear up under the burden. The end of our life (both meanings) is the important thing, and the beloved people of God who we help to be with us eternally.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Oct. 12, 2021 10:30 AM ET USA

    How in the world can the the flock be saved when the shepherd is the wolf? Doesn't it make more sense that the clergy be culled of the pretenders to orthodoxy so that more laity can realize salvation? Dante clearly does not focus on faceless masses of sinners in his Comedy, but he certainly repudiates specific churchmen in the circles of hell. American bishops have been captured by their secular lives and the money that comes of it. Our Church must become poorer to become more holy.