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Recently, we all experienced several shocks to our faith coming from the Vatican. The first shattering surprise came directly from the head of what is known as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, when he released his much decried declaration Fiducia Supplicans, (which means in English, "Supplicating Trust").
This document openly supports blessings for same sex couples, not individually but as couples, which could well suggest blessings for whatever behavior in which they engaged as couples willfully violating the 6th commandment.
The second shock was the leaked resurfacing of a book of a highly pornographic nature by the same Cardinal Fernandez who had previously received notoriety for an erotic book entitled Healing With Your Mouth. The Art of Kissing.
And, as if on top of it all, we have Pope Francis expressing his hope? although pointing out that this is not dogmatic, that Hell is empty.
With all of this coming on top of all the priestly sexual abuse scandals that have come to light over the past few decades, one could well ask if there are that many clerics and other religious lacking any real sense of supernatural faith.
Do these people have any fear of a loving God who could well abandon them to Hell nonetheless for being unrepentant about any egregious misdeeds?
When we strip away the supernatural elements of our faith, such as believing in our Lord's miracles, and His being really and truly present in the Eucharist, we risk turning Jesus into just some wise teacher and his church into some sort of social service agency or an NGO, (which stands for a secular Non-Governmental Organization).
As such the Ten Commandments become ten suggestions. And nowadays it seems like the Vatican is much more focused on the salvation of the planet in fighting what is called "Climate Change" rather than the salvation of souls.
Note that believing in Hell as a part of Divine Justice, doesn’t make our Lord King Herod, or Hitler or Stalin, a merciless tyrant who would just as soon throw you into hell fire as to have conceived of you, both figuratively and literally, in the first place!
Rather a well placed fear of the Lord can make us more attentive to avoiding sinful behavior that might seriously damage our relationship with Him and, not coincidentally by any means, with each other as well.
Considering Jesus' words that to whom much is given much is expected (Luke 12:48); and how we read from accounts of priests and other religious either in Hell or in Purgatory for neglecting their duties to God, anyone’s hope for an empty hell is a foolish one indeed!
And while Pope Francis may convey his recent fervent hope that hell is empty as not being dogmatic, it does nonetheless betray a mindset quite prevalent nowadays among many of the clergy, and thus, among the laity as well.
Namely, that what we’ve known for centuries as the Four Last Things meaning Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell, are actually only two, Death and Heaven. (There has been a specious notion associated with this mindset that the soul that doesn’t merit Heaven after death is simply annihilated.) Hell hasn’t even been replaced by Heck!
And yet, there are numerous examples of Hellish near death experiences that have been recorded, along with church approved visions from saints such as St. Teresa of Avila in the 16th century and Saint Faustina in the 20th.
We also have various New Testament warnings from St. Paul and our Lord for example, about the road to Hell being wide and the gate to Heaven as being narrow (Matt 7:13). All of this attests to Hell’s existence.
I have to think that the very lack of supernatural faith mentioned earlier in far too many of our clergy has contributed mightily to all the chaos and confusion we’ve seen in the church over the past few years.
How else can one explain the horrible proliferation of sexual abuse scandals that have battered believers over the past few decades, and indeed have driven many from the church entirely?
We’ve seen too many clerics past and present who have ruined countless lives and souls through sexual harassment and abuse. This has also played havoc with church budgets as well just in the staggering amount of funds that have gone into settling lawsuits rather than growing vital, flourishing parishes.
This lack of supernatural faith among the clergy has hurt the laity as well to the point where we are plagued with declining Mass attendance, and Communion lines far longer than those for Confession (which itself is only made available in some parishes from, for example, 3-4 pm on Saturdays)!
A poll taken in 2023 shows a rise in those Catholics who believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (about 64%, which is up from about a third from a 2019 poll).
However, many of the laity, both churchgoing and otherwise, are displaying indifference to church teachings about the necessity for us to receive and act on the graces God gives us in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance. This might well stem from a lack of supernatural faith.
In this regard, the downplaying of the Rosary as an essential weapon, as St. Padre Pio once referred to it, in our spiritual arsenal against Satan and Sin, as well as various devotions such as the Five First Saturdays, as being something quaint, but rather antiquated, isn’t helping matters either!
As Father Richard Heilman said in a recent YouTube Video from Grace Force Podcast, “We need a Supernatural revival in the land”, so that we may see ourselves as God sees us, that he’s not just some distant abstract Deity.
Father Chad Ripperger said in the same talk that we need to have “absolute fidelity to [God’s] Grace…which enlightens the mind and strengthens the will”. In this way we can see our relationship with God on His terms, not ours. Father noted as well that we live in a time in which sin is lauded and virtue is frowned upon, especially concerning chastity.
Catholicism has been plagued by priests for whom the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic faith has been reduced to being a branch of Christ, Incorporated, as if their vestments and visibility mattered more than their vows.
It seems they’re treating their vocation more as if it were a secular career rather than a calling! One can almost hear St. Dismas crying out on the Cross to them as he did to his fellow thief known to us as Gestas “Have you no fear of God” (Luke 23:40)?
Now is an especially good time to pray for those priests, other religious, and even ourselves when we get so wrapped up in our own self-importance that we shut God out of our lives.
Instead, may we rather continually seek our Lord out for His grace in prayer and the sacramental life, and not give into worldly indifference or disbelief in the supernatural faith in Him that He wishes to share with all of us!