That Holy Mother Church is going through the most terrible crisis of faith in history, nobody doubts. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger predicted back in 1970 the Church in the new Millennium would be much smaller, but more fervent.
It will be much smaller, yes, anyone can see it. More fervent? I can hope it will be so.
As to the causes, some people say the main obstacle facing the Church these days, especially as far as the so-called vocation crisis is concerned, is the secularism of contemporary American culture. Others say it is the internal dissent within the Church Herself, the promotion of contraception, homosexuality and same-sex "marriage." For others, it's the direct action of the Devil over everybody. Opinions vary.
I, for one, believe our main enemy is neither to be found primarily in the effects of the secular policies by this or that administration, nor in promoters of abortion and unnatural sexual practices, nor in the antics of fringe groups within the Church, like the James Martins who abound like a dime a dozen. Neither can we blame the Devil for everything wrong that happens.
I believe that the root of the crisis — that's the phrase used by Cdl. Ratzinger — will be found in the unwillingness of the good to become better in the Mystical Body of Christ.
It is true that, by and large, most loyal Catholics tend to abhor sin and do not want it to expand and take over the world. By the same token, most of us do not want to fight so that sanctity may win the world. It is preferable to sit comfortably somewhere on the safe side of the fence.
Again, if the majority do not want to see evil people becoming worse, it is also true that they tend to prefer that good people do not become saints.
That's because saints are a troublesome lot. They live the First Commandment to the fullest and have no time for nonsense. They are like eagles, gazing straight at the sun — flying high and soaring above the clouds in contemplation, love of God, dedication to serving the Church and ministry to everyone in need. They show us up. They cause nothing but trouble.
We are much wiser: We prefer to aim much lower and take no risks — like the chicken that flies a little and comes down again to the dust, safe and sound. Sunlight blinds us. We prefer to look into the ground right next to our feet to peck at the next worm.
This mentality has a name: It is called mediocrity. It manifests two ways — in behavior, as minimalist ethics, and in prayer life as a shallow religiosity.
Mediocrity is the refusal to see the big picture, the cause of the Catholic Church, the militant aspect of being a Catholic (a let your words be "yes, yes, no, no" type of thing). It is the habit of being small-minded and disliking the efforts of Catholics who want to aim higher. It's like when someone admires the beauty of the stars at night and points at them, and the mediocre Catholic looks at his finger and finds nothing particularly beautiful about it.
Minimalist ethics is to do the minimum necessary amount of good and avoidance of evil, just enough to escape Hell — not to kill anyone, not to steal large amounts of money, etc. No involvement in fighting evil, no concern for the loss of souls. No desire to see good rewarded and evil punished because this might upset some people in the parish. And after all, who are we to judge them for living in adultery or supporting abortion, contraception and euthanasia?
Shallow religiosity is the preoccupation with the type of prayer that makes one feel good without any particular concern for identifying with Jesus Christ. It's a form of spiritual one-eyedness that leads one to ignore the exhortation in the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done." It's for those who think, "My will be done," and everything will be alright.
The liturgical phrase at Mass, "Lift up your hearts," is altogether devoid of meaning to the mediocre. At best, the mediocre believer neither desires Heaven nor hates Hell; he'd be quite contented with spending eternity in limbo.
But I am not the one who coined this expression: "A call to holiness." It was Pope St. John Paul II, when he addressed the bishops of Japan after their ad limina visit. He exhorted them to aim high — very high — nothing short of a call to holiness. The majority of American bishops would have much to profit if they put the pope's advice into practice!
In section 31 of his apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, John Paul explained that the call to holiness, while it applies in specific ways to bishops, priests and religious men and women, is a universal call. There are different ministries and different roles in the Church, but this cannot mean that some are called to holiness and others are not. Everyone who is baptized is drawn into the holiness of God, and therefore "it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity."
In a sense, the holiness of clergy and religious is intended as a service to laypeople, enabling them to grow more and more in the way of holiness, so that they can fulfill their baptismal vocation. It is to form a laity imbued to a heroic degree with Christian virtue.
The truth is that holy pastors will produce holy laypeople, and from among those holy laypeople there will come the vocations to the priesthood and religious life, which the Church needs in every time and place. We must keep this vision in mind.
Once I was talking to a priest in Pennsylvania about vocations, and he moaned about the so-called vocation crisis. I disagreed. I stated that it would be unthinkable for the Holy Spirit not to call many souls to the religious life and the priesthood in times of great crisis. No, the vocations are mushrooming out there, but the problem is that we are busy stifling them. At home, in school and in the parish, how many vocations have been nipped in the bud by mediocre parents, teachers imbued with a minimalist ethics and parish priests who wallow in a shallow spirituality, not to mention the practice of homosexuality, in the seminaries?
I, for one, believe that when the call to holiness spoken of by Pope St. John Paul II is proclaimed — finally — from our pulpits and classrooms, it will encourage parents to consider themselves blessed if the Lord calls one of their children to the religious life. Finally, when that blessed day comes, we'll see that neither secular governments nor dissenting fringe groups — not even the Devil himself — will stand a chance against the Church!