Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Christians Can Have Hope in Dire Circumstances

 One of my favorite Catholic authors is Fr. Dwight Longenecker. He has a very fascinating story: raised as an Evangelical Protestant in Pennsylvania, he attended a Fundamentalist school, Bob Jones University, and then went to England to study at Oxford. He was ordained as an Anglican priest and served in ministry in Great Britain for many years. Eventually, he became Catholic, and now is the pastor of a parish in South Carolina. He is one of the few Catholic priests in the U.S. who is married with children.

Fr. Longenecker addresses many issues regarding faith and culture on his blog (which can be found at dwightlongenecker.com). Recently, he wrote something very fascinating. If you’ve been paying attention lately, our American culture in general, and the Catholic Church in particular, are in serious disarray. This year there have been regular and relentless riots in many major cities. Some people are calling for the complete dismantling of the American way of life and replacing it with a totalitarian Marxist society -- complete with “re-education camps” for those of us who don’t agree. In the Church, Mass attendance has been dropping like a stone (and this was before the pandemic hit). Catholic parishes and schools are being closed, and reduced donations have left many parishes on the verge of bankruptcy. Additionally, The Church is still reeling from the clergy sex abuse scandal, and recently we discovered why it seemed the bishops were doing so little to correct the situation: many monsignors, bishops, and even a high-profile cardinal were engaged in the very behavior at the heart of the scandal. 

This is certainly a moment in history when American Catholics might be tempted to despair for the future of our nation and our Church. 

Fully understanding the dire times in which we live, Fr. Longenecker recently wrote this on his blog: “I do not despair over corruption and immorality in the Catholic Church. I do not fear revolution or societal collapse. I do not fret over heresy and schism…I grieve over them as I grieve over my own sins, but I do not fret or rage…I know that God really does bring all things together. He weaves the horrors into the other side of glory.” 

Now, please don’t misunderstand. Fr. Longenecker is not saying he is optimistic that all our current problems will be solved and everything will go back to normal. Instead, he is saying that even if the Church crumbles and even if American society collapses, he will not despair. Why? Because he knows that God is in charge. He knows that Jesus was offering a profound truth when he said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And Fr. Dwight trusts the Holy Spirit, who inspired St. Paul to write, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). 
Personally, I’m quite aware of those statements by Jesus and St. Paul. I even gave a talk earlier this year that centered around them. However, it’s easy for me to lose sight of these messages and begin to fret and worry, especially when the TV news shows cities going up in flames and I read about yet another bishop who developed “deposition amnesia” when questioned by lawyers about a decades-long pattern of transferring pervert priests to unsuspecting parishes.

Unlike Fr. Longenecker, I find it way too easy to lose sight of the fact that God is indeed in charge. When I observe what’s going on these days, I admit I do fret. Occasionally, it even gets to the point where it turns into despair.  

Whenever we fret and despair, it’s a sign we have a lack of hope. And hope is directly connected to faith. When we have faith, even a mustard seed-sized bit of faith, we can confidently know that God is God, and that He is in charge. This is the reason Fr. Longenecker can be upbeat when times are bad. His faith is in God, not in Church officials or politicians. 
No matter what happens, no matter how horrible and tragic circumstances become, we must never lose sight of these three facts: 1) God knows exactly what’s going on, 2) He loves us more than we can comprehend, and 3) God’s will will be done. 

Whenever current events cause you to fret, turn the TV off for a while. Say a few prayers, asking God to fill your heart with peace. Then check out Fr. Longenecker’s blog. It will put a smile on your face.

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