Someone asked me yesterday, “what’s the best thing you see happening in the Catholic Church right now?” It’s a great question to be asked because we live in a news cycle almost entirely predicated upon bad news. This is equally true in the Church today. Catholics have been beaten badly by the waves of a great storm, but May is a month which flows from the Mount of Transfiguration — and it’s a month in which we can reflect on the great mystery of God present and active right now in “real time.” May is also a month traditionally devoted to the Blessed Mother, and something to ask ourselves is: what good news is she bringing us in the midst of so much bad news? I’ll choose three Marian “news stories”: an increase in liturgical reverence for the Lord, an increase in conversion, and an increase in vocations.
When Benedict XVI promulgated Summorum Pontificum he planted a seed for increasing liturgical reverence for the Lord that has just begun to be harvested under Pope Francis. I don’t just mean that traddies now receive more generous permissions to celebrate the Latin Mass than ever before — though this is true. I mean that average ordinary Catholics are now more likely to see an altar rail restored. They are more likely to say some the prayers of the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin. They are more likely to see altar servers properly vested. They are more likely to see people receive the Most Holy Eucharist on the tongue. Older generations who fought the “liturgy wars” sometimes do not understand that the millennials who are staying — rather than the ones who are leaving — want greater reverence for the Lord. They aren’t rigid. But they can distinguish degrees of liturgical reverence, and this is truly good news: they want more of it, not less. That’s really good news.
For several months now I’ve also been mindful of how many of my protestant friends have written to me about becoming Catholic. My own conversion story was recounted in a recent book by Robert P. George and R. J. Snell’s Mind, Heart, and Soul: Intellectuals and the Path to Rome. Yet with all the news about decades of clerical abuse from the latter half of the 20th century, and then the very grievous stories of bishops covering things up rather than letting the light of Christ in, it’s easy to forget that people don’t become Catholic because of what humans do, but because of what God has done, and is doing. It’s great to be continually reminded that the Church is not a human achievement, but a divine one. With every new convert to the Faith in the midst of this vale of tears, I think to myself, God is active, Aslan is on the move, the Lord is in the Boat. It’s as bracing as a full sail on Chesapeake Bay.
Finally, May 12th is simultaneously Mother’s Day in the United States, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, and for the past 56 years it has also been the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, instituted by Pope Paul VI in 1963. Like the gradual renewal of liturgical reverence, and like the convert, my seminarians have awakened me to the importance of this day to pray for vocations.
Men entering seminary today are not only on the defense against the impurities associated with previous generations, but they are also on the offense with evangelical zeal and reverence. Religious orders such as the Dominicans are bursting with new vocations precisely because they have set aside the old post-conciliar battles and have plunged themselves back into the intellectual depths of the ancient Sacred Deposit of the Faith.
I was speaking with seminarians the other day about Bishop Daly of Spokane who recently said that if he wasn’t a priest, he’d be married with five kids. They were so encouraged by a bishop who was willing to speak openly about understanding the relationship between the desire to be a natural father and sacrificing that great good to become a spiritual father. Most of the men responding to God’s call today are perfectly aware of the ways in which they are running into a burning cathedral. But this also frees them to see themselves not as functionaries but as fearless fathers ready to bear costly witness to the Lord. Just as the first apostles prayed, so must we continue to “Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2)
Devote the days of this month to Our Lady’s beauty, her purity, and her virtue — as reflections of the Lord’s own Transfigured Glory — and pray that a greater interior reverence for the Lord might also bring “good news” in the midst of the sadness of the disordered world that will pass away.
C.C. Pecknold is an Associate Professor of Theology and Fellow of the Institute of Human Ecology at The Catholic University of America
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