The Catholic Thing
The Church's Worst Enemies Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S. J.   
Tuesday, 12 June 2012

When asked why he entered the Church, Chesterton, in a famous passage, replied: “To get rid of my sins.” The New Testament also makes it clear that this riddance of sins is the central purpose of redemption. Christ did not come so much to define what sins were – we have to be pretty obtuse not to have an inkling of what they are – but to forgive them.

He claimed this power, which was indeed a divine power. That claim scandalized the Jewish leaders who heard Him. But He was firm in His purpose. He proceeded to give His apostles in the Church power to continue this central purpose, but only in His name.

Christ’s coming, then, is a relief that we finally have some authentic way to get rid of our sins. The presumption is that we want to do so because we know the burden they impose on each of us. The “thou shalt not’s” of the commandments are pretty basic.

Chesterton also remarked that we are given these basic admonitions about what we should not do so that we would be free to do what we wanted to do if we did not have the burden of our sins.

Sin, even if we insist on calling it a good, which surprisingly many do these days, prevents us from doing what we want, from reaching the good we seek. Indeed, even in sinning, we seek a good, only we freely put it out of order.

We should never be overly surprised that people of all sorts, including ourselves, sin. Saddened perhaps, but not surprised. The Church exists that sins be forgiven within her. It restores one’s direct relation to God that is broken when we sin.

Christ never said that somewhere down the line He or someone else would figure out a way to prevent sinning. He gave us free will. The only way to eradicate sin would be to eradicate free will. “There can be collapses and repeated ruptures,” Joseph Ratzinger said in Salt of the Earth, “because redemption is always entrusted to the freedom of man, and God will never annul this freedom” The denial of sin, whatever sophisticated form it takes, is simply a lie.

So sinners are not the most dangerous thing in the Church. They are why the Church exists in the form that it does. It is sometimes said that, because we know we can be forgiven, we can sin freely. Christ Himself was pretty generous in the number of times we should forgive, but He was not encouraging the sinning.

        Pius XI: “The Church's worst enemy is her own traitors.”

A real issue does exist, however, that is associated with such considerations. The Church can surely be said to have “enemies,” those who restrict her in every way, who set up other religious or ideological systems to replace or counteract her.

Many countries in the world, more than we suspect, including our own, have laws or decrees that exclude or restrict the freedom to practice or explain the faith. Such restrictions are quite unjust. They reveal some aspect of the mystery of iniquity, the mystery of the hatred of the good, of God.

Somewhere back in the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War, and facing other issues in Germany and Italy, Pius XI asked this very question: “Who are the Church’s most dangerous enemies?” His answer was as follows:

The Church’s worst persecutors have been her own unfaithful bishops, priests, and religious. Opposition from outside is terrible; it gives us many martyrs. But the Church’s worst enemy is her own traitors.

Why is this, we wonder? The mission of the Church ad extra has much to do with the witness to the truth by Christians themselves, especially those in high places, both clergy and laity.

In an analogous manner, John Paul II remarked to European bishops in 1982 that “the crises of European man and of Europe are crises and temptations of Christianity and of the Church in Europe.” We are wont to think that the drama of the world takes place outside of the redemptive plan of God. It doesn’t.

C. S. Lewis remarked, in Mere Christianity, I think, that the greatest evil we can do is to call what is evil good and what is good evil. It does not matter whether this calling is shrouded in the form of relativism, diversity theory, or the will to power. The effect is the same.

In the end, we now call, by various sophisticated names, what is evil good. We make laws to justify this reversal of good and evil, which, as such, do not change. We penalize those who hold that the “thou shalt not’s” are correct.

But the key point remains: the “enablers” who justify and make evil possible by their own disordered souls. Repentance remains the only way to stop this reversal, repentance and, as Benedict says, judgment.

James V. Schall, S.J., a professor at Georgetown University, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
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Comments (9)Add Comment
written by Frank, June 12, 2012
Father Schall,
Such is the bitter fruit of "social justice," the idea that man alone can solve the problems of this world by being a busy body do gooder attempting to do what we think is right for others while forgetting to seek Christ's forgiveness first. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing good. There is inequity and tragedy in the world everyday on a par that none of us can imagine but what we all know of it makes us sick and our heart goes out to those suffering the brunt of the misery. All of us want to help someway and I've resigned myself to the inescapable fact that I can help a little part of the world at a time but not the whole. None of us can save the world, it's already been done, would be a duplication of effort and besides, to do so would be to suffer as Christ suffered, a torture and death beyond magnitude of thought and description.
The enemies of the church are the narcissists walking point for social justice. They are unfortunately everywhere outside and inside the Chruch.
written by Dave, June 12, 2012
Thank you Fr. Schall for another judicious, urbane, and penetrating analysis of our state of affairs. Most of us readers of The Catholic Thing and other publications like it cry to heaven "how long, oh Lord, how long?" I have to remind myself that Judas was at Our Lord's side for three years and that his spirit has never left the Church. I also have to remind myself about the wheat and the tares, and our Lord's patients with the tares lest good wheat be swept up too. The hardest part of the battles we face lies within us, in our own ongoing need for conversation and for cultivation of the virtues, especially fortitude, temperance, and patience. For this we can look not only to Our Lord but also to our Holy Father, who mindful and more of all the great trials facing the Church in our days nonetheless retains optimism, hope, and youthful spirit. I hope that we all join with the bishops during the Fortnight of Freedom to fast and pray not only for religious liberty but for the conversion of those who from within the Church wreak the greatest havoc and harm.
written by Other Joe, June 12, 2012
Yes. Those who rage against the roadmap to redemption and try to destroy it are not as dangerous as those who would alter the plan to make the way "easier". Christ warned us about the broad way to hell, the one paved with good (as defined in worldly terms) intentions.
written by Tony Esolen, June 12, 2012
The "social justice" Catholics have reduced the rich teachings of the Church to some stale nostrums in favor of a welfare state. Actually, that same social teaching is ineradicable from all the other teachings of the Church, regarding sexuality and the family, authority and obedience, freedom in and for the truth, the role of the Church in the world, and so forth. If you don't understand what the Church teaches about marriage, you'll never understand what she teaches about the common good.
written by Charlie, June 12, 2012
This isn't quite on topic, but I was wondering what does the "m" stand for in "S.J.m" at the end of Fr. Schall's name? I have seen "S.J.n," which I think means that the person is a Jesuit novice. But I have not seen "m" before. Thank you to whoever is able to answer this question!
written by Brad Miner, June 12, 2012
@Charlie: It's an easy answer: It stands for my thumb, which must have hit the M key below the J key when I typed Fr. Schall's name into the composition are of our website. Sorry about that. I've corrected it.
written by Layman Tom, June 12, 2012
Perhaps levity is the true soul of wit. In which case here's to your thumb sir! m's all around!
written by MAT, June 13, 2012
Alas, as times change so must the Church. Not in the message it teaches but its position relative to humanity. The church must not continue to try to be an intermediary between the created and the Creator. She must adapt and learn to run alongside the created as each individual follows their own inner path to the Creator. The Path is Jesus the Christ. The Path is Unconditional Love of all Creation.
written by Darren O., June 13, 2012
Dear MAT:
It was the Creator: The Holy Trinity, that founded and set in motion the Holy Catholic Church expressly to be the mediator between humans and God, not, as you seem to infer, the hand of man. So, unless you intend to blaspheme that you know better than God, our creator, what we need to be freed from sin, please kindly pack up and put away your wicked snares. It is seriously bad form to attempt to beguile the faithful.

PS. All "paths" lead to Rome.

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