Sometimes, a comment made in passing by a pope may carry a lot of weight and cause a very deep impression on people — much more than an allocution or encyclical.
I am referring to Pope Benedict XVI. In July 2005, he gave an impromptu address to some 140 priests of the Italian diocese of Aosta, addressing the widespread religious indifference that exists in Europe and the Western society in general.
Referencing Protestant communities, he noted "the so-called great Churches seem to be dying," adding this is true "particularly in Australia, also in Europe, but not so much in the United States."
Alongside Protestant sects, the Catholic Church is also dying in Australia and Europe, he noted.
I was shocked to hear Pope Benedict himself publicly acknowledging that the great churches in Europe and Australia seem to be dying.
I have mentioned in a previous article that the greatest evil for the Church today is not any anti-Catholic lobby or agenda in the secular world or outside the Church (Islamic terrorism, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, etc.). Rather, the greatest evil is the unwillingness of decent people to become better. Lukewarmness is the best word to use for this. It is the sloppy state of soul that produces a spiritual lameness that prevents Catholics from assuming their full role in the Church and society. That is an evil immensely worse than open antagonism against the Church. It is the greatest enemy of evangelization because the lukewarm soul is not interested in converting anybody, not even himself.
And our beloved Savior greatly abhors lukewarmness. The word "lukewarm" is found only once in the whole Bible (in the book of the Apocalypse, also called the book of Revelation). In a passage addressing the church of Laodicea, the book says, "I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15–16).
Vomiting is a very graphic description of His abhorrence of lukewarmness.
Although He abhors lukewarmness so much, the Sacred Heart of Jesus promises those who are lukewarm He will make them fervent if they work to become His true devotees. That is the seventh promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
For us to understand the great benefits of the seventh promise of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we must, first of all, understand what lukewarmness truly is. Let's look to a Doctor of the Church for an answer. The great St. Alphonsus Liguori dissected the horrible spiritual disease of lukewarmness in a famous passage addressed to lukewarm priests and bishops. His exhortation can be applicable to us, the lay folks, as well.
The saint discusses Revelation 2:2–5, which, addressing the bishop of Ephesus, states:
I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers. You have tested those who claim to be Apostles but are not and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember, then, from what you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place — unless you repent.
To have lost his love of the Church is a catastrophe for a bishop!
Saint Alphonsus remarked:
Is lukewarmness, then, productive of so much ruin? Yes, it brings with it great ruin, and the greatest evil is that his ruin is not known to the lukewarm bishop or priest and is therefore neither avoided nor feared by them. The majority of the lukewarm are shipwrecked on this blind rock of lukewarmness and, therefore, many of them are lost because the great danger of perdition to which the lukewarm are exposed consists in this, that their lukewarmness does not allow them to see the great havoc that it produces in the soul. Many are not willing to be altogether separated from Jesus Christ. They wish to follow Him, but they wish to follow Him from a distance like St. Peter who, when the Redeemer was seized in the garden, followed Him from afar off. But they that act in this manner shall easily fall into the misfortune which befell St. Peter who, when charged by a mere servant maid with being a disciple of the Redeemer, thrice denied Jesus Christ.
Notice how St. Paul exhorts the bishop of Ephesus to return to his former fervor but uses much stronger language against the bishop of Laodicea. This would seem to suggest the bishop of Ephesus was slipping into lukewarmness, while the bishop of Laodicea was already deeply immersed in that tepidity of soul.
This is Part I of a three-part discussion of lukewarmness. Stay tuned for Parts II and III.