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It was rather customary in my youth to relate the covering of statues in the church on Passion Sunday to the closing words of the Gospel read for today: “Jesus hid Himself and exited from the temple.” Whether or not this liturgical tradition actually stemmed from those words, the fact is that the view of our beloved Lord (and His saints) has been removed from our eyes. It is the beginning of the gathering of the clouds that on Good Friday will entirely block the light of the Son from reaching the earth. Today then marks a decisive turn for us as we prepare ourselves for the dark days ahead: the time of Christ’s Passion.
Hiding Jesus from view is also symbolic of the ban against the Church and her teaching from public exposure. The jargon word is ‘marginalization’ and it well expresses the squeezing out of faith from public life. In seeing the progression of a stance adamantly antagonistic to Christianity generally and to Catholicism particularly we are discovering ourselves very much weak and ill-prepared to make a united and bold defense of what we believe and of what we have the God-given right and mandate to express and propagate to the world. The old apostolic vigor of the Church that carried the Gospel to all parts of the globe seems to have left us. Conversion and Evangelization have become clichés that apply only to personal spiritual states rather than to the universal mission of the Church to convert people and to evangelize nations. The world will always hate the Church as it has always hated Christ. This is nothing new. But the inability to muster the needed strength to combat the world and to preach Christ’s truth openly is indicative of these times when our Catholicism has lost much of its virility. The bravery of the apostles, the heroism of the martyrs, the convincing apologetics of the teachers, the disciplined witness of laity, the unshakable unity of Catholic family life, the service and educational institutions of a proud Catholic identity are–much like our covered images in church today–in hiding. Many of those who have managed to hold on tenaciously to the true faith have now retreated and insulated themselves, perhaps just in order to be able to survive in a time when they are opposed by oppressive forces from without and when they have looked about to find other Catholics standing together with them in a united witness only to discover that they stand largely alone.
It just may be (hard to say it and mean it) that opposition and even persecution is exactly what the Church needs in order to get out from under this listless and inert posture. Maybe when we’re challenged to fight we’ll summon latent powers to defend Christ and His truth. Or perhaps the Lord is permitting us to fall flat so He can show the might of His arm, as He did so many times in history when the enemy was bigger and tougher than God’s people. Yet there is one indispensable thing found in every page of the Church’s history, and that is the valor of individuals in the Church, man by man, who have trained themselves to battle the world and the devil by having first battled themselves. The old saw about “the need for personal conversion” is as so much blah-blah; we’re tired of empty platitudes. The reason for our lethargic spirit and our restlessness is the same reason we have discovered ourselves being so easily overpowered by our opponents: we have not mended our ways, individual to individual. We are one-by-one sin-sick because we don’t really want to be changed people. It’s hard to change our ways, to think differently, to curb our desires, to temper ourselves. And in this way we fall back on a benign self-comforting thought that we are, after all, only weak human creatures and that we are at least not as bad as some others. And in this way little can be done because indolence and lassitude are allowed to have their sway.
We are hiding Christ from the world because we are diminished Christians ourselves. There’s not enough of the ‘soap’ of asceticism to cleanse us. We’ve cut ourselves too much slack and forgotten that we are always under the ‘dome’ of God who hears our secret thoughts and views our most private actions. We pray to Him when we’re needy, but complaining when we have to make a holy hour, or say the rosary, or do almost any extra besides what we’re obliged to do. We simply don’t have that apostolic spirit, that winning confidence, the sure-footedness of our convictions: all because we are personally feeble Christians. We cover Jesus’ eyes and ears (or so we think) and we uncover Him only when we’re in pain or threatened or need something from Him. Fine soldiers of Christ we are! And we then wonder why we are made sport of in the world and why government is gaining an upper hand over us, and why non-Christian religion is making imposing advances in our country and in the whole world. We need to be ashamed of ourselves (the Confiteor) and not ashamed of Christ (the Credo).
So perhaps we need a good scourging to bring out the Christ in us again. God often has strange methods. For myself, I’d rather see an army of Christian witnesses rise up spiritually indefatigable than to have a lashing that will chasten us or a purging that will fortify us. But I’m certain of this much: the Church can’t be defeated and truth will always reemerge. Christ won’t stay in hiding, and in the end He will slay His enemies by the sword of His mouth, making His enemies His footstool. If all this sound like military diction, it is so in fact. But it’s first of all a summons to fight the personal battle against our own wickedness before it is a call to take on the enemy at large.
Do not be distracted from the fundamental reform that is needed and become all enthused about the emerging conservatism in politics, or even in the Church. Talk is cheap, as they say. Disciplined behavior, meekness and love of Christ is what’s needed.
Let’s take Christ out of hiding by making Him alive in our own selves and then Christ-in-us will emerge the Victor, having conquered the world.
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