Q. When you speak of the `great apostasy' you imply that our spiritual leaders and teachers: bishops, priests and Religious have betrayed us. We grew up trusting them and respecting them. How is this possible and where does it end? Whom can we believe and trust today?
J.F., Green Bay, WI
A. Allow me to address the first part of your question. Namely, the question of the `great apostasy.' The great apostasy was already foretold by St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians. Bear in mind that the people of his day (the Catholics, that is) were all wondering with anticipation as to the time when Christ would return to establish the `kingdom of Israel.' The Second Coming of Christ was identified with this event.
The faithful converts living in Thessalonica were being persecuted by the Talmudists (whom the uninformed continue to mislabel as "Jews"). There lived in Thessalonica a sufficient number of Talmudists to have their own synagogue. St. Paul had succeeded in converting some of the Talmudists and a large number of non-Judeans. This success caused a great stir among the unbelieving Talmudists, who by calumny and riot (as they do today!) forced him to flee to another place.
St. Paul wrote two letters to the faithful in Thessalonica. In the second letter he writes:
"We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together unto him, not to be hastily shaken from your right mind, nor terrified, whether by spirit, or by utterance, or by letter attributed to us, as though the day of the Lord were near at hand. Let no one deceive you in any way, for the day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition who opposes and is exalted above all that is called God , or that is worshipped, so that he sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if he were God." (II Thessalonians 2,1-4).
This is the scriptural foundation for declaring that today we are in that great apostasy as recorded in St. Paul's letter.
I will not dwell on further details of this great apostasy. Bishop Louis Vezelis,OFM had already made a tape on the great apostasy which is still available through The Seraph. The tape was made some twenty years ago. Perhaps it was ahead of its time because most people were not yet prepared for such a dramatic presentation. Now would be a good time to hear that tape, or to review it. Subsequent events only prove the truth of the Bishop's observations.
Every loyal Catholic's faith was terribly tried by the apostasy of almost all the bishops, priests and Religious that followed upon the apostasy from the true faith of the antipopes occupying the throne of Peter since the death of the last true Pope, Pope Pius XII. But, God's wisdom and providence is such that His promises as expressed through Jesus Christ would prevail. Mark well that Christ did not say how many of the faithful would persevere to the end, nor did He say how many successors of the Apostles would be left near the end of time.
The best example we can follow is that of the little man from Assisi, St. Francis. His profound humility made it possible for him to have profound supernatural insight. His union with God was such that God communicated to him divine wisdom. Even the greatest theologians came to this unlettered little man for insights into abstruse theological questions and understandings of the Holy Scriptures.
Our faith is the work of supernatural grace. No one can believe the teachings of the Catholic Church without this interior supernatural grace. Even the sure teaching of the Church is not yet sufficient for salvation. It is only when these truths are put into practice and lived do they serve to lead us to salvation.
Even an atheist can teach catechism correctly, provided he simply repeats what is written in the catechism book. The reason is this: The catechism contains the doctrine of the Church and not the opinion of the atheist any more than the opinion of a saint. What makes the difference, however, is that the nonbeliever will use the opportunity to slip in subtle distortions of the doctrine and present that as the proper "interpretation" of the doctrine.
What this means is that doctrine is one thing, and its implementation another. Dogma tells us what God said; moral theology tells us how the dogma is applied in our daily conduct. A teacher of dogma, therefore, can teach correctly, but this is no guarantee that he instructs the listeners as to how this applies in daily life.
On this point, St. Francis said: "After that the Lord gave me, and gives me, so much faith in priests who live according to the form of the holy Roman Church, on account of their order, that if they should persecute me, I would have recourse to them. And even if I had as much wisdom as Solomon had, and if I should find poor priests of this world, I would not preach against their will in parishes in which they live. And I desire to fear, love and honor them and all others as my masters; and I do not wish to consider sin in them, for in them I see the Son of God, and they are my masters. And I do this because in this world I see nothing corporally of the most high Son of God Himself except His most holy body and blood, which they alone consecrate and receive and they alone administer to others."
Consequently, if we have the same grace as the humble saint of Assisi, we would do likewise. It is necessary to note, however, that his words are full of practical wisdom. He does not say just any priests, but priests who live according to the form of the holy Roman Church. This excludes all those priests who are heretics (whether modernist or tradionalist) and/or schismatics. This excludes also those valid bishops who have stolen sacred orders and promote themselves while denying authority to genuine bishops. In this group are to be counted all those bishops and priests who have denied the authority of bishops consecrated by Bishop Ngo Dinh Thuc. In effect, all these deniers are guilty of several heresies. But of course, have you ever met a heretic who would admit that he is a heretic? It's like trying to no avail to convince the Pharisee that it is he and not our Lord who has the devil.
Among the most obvious heresies of "Traditionalists" is their blind pride which must necessarily force them to conclude that the Roman Catholic Church has ceased to exist because they reject the fourth mark of the Church, namely, that the true Church must have apostolic succession. This means that there must always be a valid and legitimate Bishop possessing the fullness of the apostolic authority: the power to teach, the power to sanctify, and the power to govern the Catholic community.
It is sad enough to find ourselves surrounded by heretics and schismatics on all sides, so to speak. But the matter does not end there.
The devil never rests!
In the past, when the Devil saw that the human race was abandoning the temples of demons and happily entering the true Church where they found the Truth that makes men free, he did not give up. His relentless hatred for Christ urges him on.
In this case, the Devil inspires those Catholics who are weak in faith but strong in deceiving pride to oppose Christian teachings under the cover of the Christian name as if their presence in the Church could go unchallenged.
They miscalculated, thinking that their false opinions could do their undermining without detection and denunciation, much like the confusion created by philosophers whose entirely conflicting and contradictory opinions are accepted with equal indifference.
Heretics are those who hold unsound and distorted ideas while as yet remaining in the true Church and obstinately refuse, even when warned and admonished, to return to what is sound and right. They refuse to correct their plague-like, deadly doctrines, but go on defending them.
And when they are finally forced to leave the Church, they are ranked as enemies who try our patience.
Nevertheless, their evil-doing profits the loyal Catholic members of the Mystical Body of Christ because God makes good use of bad men, since for those who love God, all things work for their good. All enemies of the Church, whether blinded by error or consumed by malice, unwittingly serve God's purposes.
When these evil men have power to do the Church harm physically, they develop in us the power to suffer; and if they attack us intellectually, they bring out the dormant wisdom within us. And, since we are to love even our enemy, that loving kindness is made manifest. Whether we must deal with such people in the persuasiveness of argument or deal with them by means of punishment of the law, the power to do good makes itself evident.
No evil can befall us that we do not receive from God the grace and strength to bear and overcome it. No one is ever powerful enough to destroy the Church. Even when Satan's dupes act as his tools to persecute the faithful, God's Divine Providence sees to it that they (the faithful) receive some solace amid the adversity so that the adversity may not crush them. There is a divine balance here that tests by adversity as a protection against complacency, and there is consolation that protects against being crushed.
St. Paul has said: "All who would wish to live piously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." (II Timothy 3, 12).
Persecution will never be lacking. For, even when our enemies from without may give us some moments of tranquility and peace, we are not free from enemies from within.
The enemies from within are those people who bring discredit upon the Catholic name by their scandalous lives that wound the hearts of the devout. They shamelessly bring discredit upon the name `Catholic' and this causes `all those who want to live piously in Christ Jesus' to grieve bitterly as they see their brethren loving the Church less than pious people should.
Then there is still another cause for heartache: Seeing heretics using the name and sacraments, the Scriptures and the Creed of genuine Catholics. They realize how many would-be converts are driven into perplexed hesitancy because of heretical dissension or lack of unity in matters of grave importance. On the other hand, the evil-minded and foul-mouthed find in all this easy material wherewith to curse the name of Catholic because these heretics insist on calling themselves Catholic.
And so it is that those who would live piously in the Lord must suffer persecution _ albeit a spiritual persecution- from those whose aberrations in doctrine or morals bring dishonor upon the name Catholic.
The Lord knows who are His. And those who have been foreknown have also been predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. What else can this mean but to be conformed not only in the glory of Christ, but also in His sufferings. This is how the elect make up in their bodies what is lacking in the suffering and death of Jesus.
Even the mental suffering which the devout undergo because of the lives of bad or pretended Catholics is a source of spiritual profit because it flows from their charity. It is by virtue of this suffering charity that sinners are saved and the salvation of others is not compromised. The devout souls experience great consolations when through their anguish souls are saved.
In this world, in evil days as these, the Church walks onward like a pilgrim attacked by the world's hostility, but comforted by the mercy of God. This condition of the world did not begin with Christ and the Apostles; it began from the days when the just Abel was slain by his ungodly brother. It will be this way until the end of time.
As a conclusion, it may be said that only those can be trusted who show in their words and actions the truth of the doctrines of the Church and uphold them.
Remember: Even the best have enemies; and, the worst have friends.
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