As many are tempted to abandon the Church and make compromises with “the world,” the examples of great saints and evangelists shine forth all the more clearly. Now more than ever, we must hold fast to the faith
By Robert Moynihan, Ph.D.
“Let every fall… serve as a rung of a ladder always toward higher perfection. The Immaculata permits the fall only to cure us of our self-love, our pride, to bring us to humility.” —St. Maximilian Kolbe, Polish priest and Conventual Franciscan friar, who died in Auschwitz on August 14, 1941, age 47, after volunteering to die in place of another man. Kolbe is the patron saint of prisoners, families, and… journalists
Sunday, August 14, 2022, Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe
I write on the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan Conventual friar who was a tireless evangelist, founding and editing several journals (hence patron of journalists), who evangelized above all in the manner of his death — giving up his own life for the life of a fellow prisoner in Auschwitz.
On this day my thought turns to another evangelist of our time, Cardinal Jozef Tomko, who died six days ago on August 8 at the age of 98 (he was the oldest living cardinal).
In February 2007 at age 83, Tomko wrote his spiritual testament. Some of Tomko’s words were cited by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re in his homily at Tomko’s August 11 funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of Pope Francis.
In his testament, Tomko thanked God for the poverty of his childhood in a working-class family in Slovakia, and also for the “rich faith” his mother and father inculcated in him during those difficult years.
But the center of Tomko’s testament was his gratitude for having had the chance to spend his life serving “the building of the mystical body of Christ, the Church,” and for his close relationship with Pope John Paul II, with whom he felt a profound, “almost spontaneous harmony of ideas, joys and sufferings.”
John Paul chose Tomko to be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Tomko spent 16 years in that post, giving all of his heart and energy to fulfilling his episcopal motto: “Ut Ecclesia aedificatur” (“That the Church might be built up”). “I loved the young missionary Churches with all their beauty and fragility: the celebrations, the seminarians, the piety, the people who were often very poor,” Tomko said. “It was beautiful to labor and suffer for living missionary Churches!”
Tomko encouraged me in many ways over the years, both in publishing this magazine, and in the effort to accomplish the hope John Paul II expressed that the Church “breathe with two lungs,” East and West, Greek and Latin, Orthodox and Catholic.
We also spoke often about the poverty and consequent suffering of many in the “Third World,” and about the difficulty of the task of the Catholic Church in evangelizing the peoples of Asia, Africa, Lat in America, and in “re-evangelizing” the once Christian nations of the “Christian West.” I remember in particular a conversation about the Orthodox Christians of Russia, and my hope that faith of such Orthodox Christians might — with the help of the Holy Spirit — provide a “bridge” leading across the waters of distrust to deeper mutual understanding, and perhaps even to eventual friendship, between Russia and America. (Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the Pope’s nuncio in Ukraine, said in an interview published today that “it is important to do everything possible, within human forces, so that an atmosphere, if not of dialogue, at least of contact, is established.”)
“I met many Orthodox in Moscow,” Tomko told me. “And I was impressed by the Christian faith I found there. There is truth, I think, in the idea that a certain Christian faith and goodness remain, despite 70 years of atheism, in the ‘Russian soul.’”
I nodded, then, a bit provocatively, asked: “And what about us Americans, in our culture of individualism, materialism? Has that affected us? What do you think about the ‘American’ soul?” He replied, his eyes serious: “Not so good, I am afraid.”
Years have passed. Now we are faced with “wars and rumors of wars,” with a “Great Reset” to cancel the debt of the world, with young people increasingly attempting to “change” their genders. (On gender identity, Pope Francis expressed himself clearly a year ago, in a conversation with the Slovak Jesuits, saying that “the ideology of gender is dangerous, because it is abstract with respect to the concrete life of a person, as if a person could decide abstractly at will whether and when to be a man or a woman.”) Most worryingly, Christian faith itself seems on the ropes — ridiculed by some, abandoned by many, persecuted in diverse places, from China to Nigeria to the United States.
Does this mean we should lose hope? Abandon the Church? No! Jesus did come among us, 2,000 years ago, to be our Light in this sad and sinful world, and despite all that is evil, He remains our Light. Our salvation is to know Him. The darkest of dark nights does not extinguish this saving light in souls. And Christ enlightens men mainly through the ministrations of our Mother the Church. The American author Bishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) once said, “If you want to find Christ… look for the Church, which, amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself.”
The Church is hated, yes, and her members — you and I — are despised by many. Even some Catholics complain, shaking their heads, that the Church is led by corrupt, incompetent men. Just so! But even the Apostles, who had lived with Jesus, argued amongst themselves, and some denied Him in the end. Does this mean we should lose hope? Abandon the Church? No! It means that we should persevere with all the more energy and commitment, as the task grows more difficult and the problems we face grow ever more dangerous. We can’t throw up our hands and give up… St. Peter spoke for all Christians when he said to Jesus (and by extension, to Jesus’ Body, the Church), “Where are we to go? You have the words of everlasting life.” Yes, there are problems, confusion, even malfeasance, in the Church… yet it is the Catholic Church which alone has been entrusted with the complete and undiluted “words of eternal life.” We must never forget this. Most of all, we must not forget this now.