“Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones..”
Simeon prophesied to the Blessed Virgin that Her Son would be “a sign of contradiction” (cf. Luke 2:34) – similarly, His Church must also be a sign of contradiction, if she is to remain faithful to her Crucified Master and so be light for a world in darkness. More than thirty years later, speaking about His Mystical Body, the Church, the Lord promised that the gates of hell would never prevail against her; He did not promise that she would be perfect, nor that she would never be subject to trial or the need for purification.
At times, the Church undergoes severe trials which affect every part of that mystical body – sometimes, as a result of her own failings and those of her members. There is the immense danger that the Church forgets to be that ‘sign of contradiction’, that she loses sight of the core of her message to be the voice and the presence and the action of the Lord in the world. Another danger resulting from this is that the Church seeks her own good rather than the good of those she cares for; that she seeks to protect her reputation or prestige in the world, regardless of the cost – and this is to invite darkness into the Church, whether by commission or omission, or by silence when truth should speak loudly. In times such as these, there is a great risk that our response is to forget the mystical dimension of the Church and to see only the institution. This can lead to souls leaving the Church or the practice of their faith, and it greatly damages the credibility of the Church and the faith itself in the life of souls, sometimes beyond repair.
In the same way that the trials of the Church affect all it’s members, so the efforts of the members can draw down great grace upon the Church, purifying and sanctifying her so that she once again shines brightly as the Light of Christ in the world. Writing about the Church in his great Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul touches clearly on this – “With prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful, with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me .. to make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel” (Eph.6:18-19).
This admonition of Saint Paul to the members of the Church to pray for the entire Mystical Body is as necessary now as it was then – all of us, every single one, can obtain grace for the Church by our entreaties. Let this be our response in times of trial for the Church, while also doing whatever is necessary and within our power to correct the faults with the Church.
We have a great model in praying for the Church – her own Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the foot of the Cross on Golgotha, the entire Church – represented in the person of Saint John – was entrusted to Mary, who became her spiritual Mother in the order of grace. Shortly afterwards, gathered together with the Apostles in the Cenacle, She prayed continuously for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; He descended upon them all and the Church was born and received the grace to fulfil the mission entrusted to her by the Lord at His Ascension, that she preach the Gospel to all nations.
In union with the Blessed Virgin, may we always ‘persevere in prayer’ and so ‘contribute to the needs of the holy ones’ – the Church herself and all her members. And by means of this, may the Lord look with favour upon His Mystical Body and may He purify and sanctify her that she might be faithful to the mission entrusted to her and so lead souls to Him.