It is when things are looking bleakest, humanly speaking, that the act of faith in God’s revelation is most valuable and saving.
When the Church is sailing along in splendor and sanctity, and when a culture is dominated by the Faith, one’s religious life can be carried along fairly effortlessly from cradle to tomb.
But then there are the times of crisis, when the surrounding culture turns against the Church, when the Church’s leaders become corrupt, when charity grows cold among the faithful. At such times it becomes harder to believe that the Church, in her inmost nature as the Mystical Body of Christ, is His immaculate Bride, spotless, sinless, totally united to Him—and that we need to remain a part of this Church if we want to be saved.
The Church that is our mother, perfect Bride of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal 4:26, Heb 12:22, Rev 21:9–10), is the city we aspire someday to be permanent citizens of. The Church on earth, however, is made up of wheat and weeds, the good and the bad, the holy and the perverse—and lots of us who are straddling the fence in between. Echoing St. Augustine, the great theologian Emile Mersch observes:
The source of sin remains in the Church militant in general, for what baptism does in the individual, the death of Christ has done for the whole Mystical Body. The Church is made up of sinners; hence her great prayers are the prayers of sinners, “Forgive us our trespasses”; “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.” Sin is in the Church, contagious and ineradicable, like the weeds in the field that are forever obstinately encroaching, and it will not be exterminated until the Church militant herself is no more, on the Last Day, the day of the harvest. The holiness of the Church is not less real for all that, but it is realistic holiness, the sanctity of the Church militant. The Church is holy by reason of what God has placed and wrought in it, but it is not holy because of what men contribute of their own resources or because of the activity they perform in it so far as that activity proceeds from them alone. (The Theology of the Mystical Body, 308)
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