I may be teaching the history of the Catholic Church, to a group of 16/17 year olds, as the supposed expert on the topic, but I am learning right along with them. I think that is one of my favourite things about the teaching profession, I also get paid to learn 😉 No matter whether it is my first time teaching a subject or my 3rd year, I am always learning new things, deepening my understanding and hopefully passing that on to my students.
One of the most interesting things, I have discovered about the history of the church, is that a lot of it is cyclical. We have devout Christians who are sometimes martyred during periods of persecution. As a result, the church grows and flourishes but, as time goes on, Christians seem to grow lax and comfortable in their faith. Then when new opposition emerges many Christians are unprepared, they may apostatize, and the church often sees a decline. But at this time, when the church is at it’s lowest, you will also see some of the church’s greatest saints emerge, like St. Catherine of Siena, during the crisis of the Avignon papacy. When you engage in the history of the church you will see that the church has gone through stormy seas, time and time again, and has always emerged renewed and committed to the faith more than ever. If you find yourself losing hope with the church today, read some church history and your hope will be restored.
What stage are we at today? Well if we go with what Pope Benedict XVI has been speaking about most often, it seems we are at the end of a lax and comfortable part of history. The last few generations haven’t had to bother learning the teachings or history of the church, because no one has ever threatened their religious freedom, or attacked their beliefs with such venom, as they do today. They have dutifully gone to mass every Sunday, but they can’t understand why their adult children have stopped going, and they can’t answer the questions their children have about the faith. Sadly, the voices of their children, the media and the secular world place doubts in their minds, and because they never bothered to really look at what they actually believed, they too will stop attending mass. Of course, this is not the case with everyone, but clearly too many, or else why would so many bishops be promoting Catholics Come Home programs in their dioceses?
Pope Benedict XVI has declared this the year of faith for a reason. We can no longer take our faith for granted, we have to be active, we have to engage and we have to educate ourselves on the faith.
At the Knights of Columbus’s 130th Supreme Convention in Anaheim this summer the Pope called the faithful to:
“an engaged, articulate, and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-a-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism.”
As daunting as that may sound, it is a comfort to know that when you look at some of the darkest times of the church, you will also find some of her greatest saints. We will not be fighting alone.