Everything is going to be fine.
Can you imagine how that would have sounded to the Apostles? Yesterday’s first reading tells us what they did for the long ten days between Ascension and Pentecost. Mary, the Twelve, and unnamed followers prayed together. One can only imagine the confusion of those prayers, when they couldn’t help but feel abandoned and had just been given an enormous mission.
We’re at another scary time for the Church. A few hundred years after religious observance stopped being expected and started being optional (Enlightenment and French Revolution, anyone?) we have seen every sector of society influenced by this possibility of opting out. So parishes are closing, numbers entering ordained ministry are unsustainably low, Catholic schools are under-attended (or under-performing, or both), and in most of our parishes the pews are half-full at best. I wouldn’t dare attribute these changes to any single cause. Put a lot of causes together and you have a recipe for a Church that looks very different from 50, or 100, or 500 years ago, as perhaps it should.
In the midst of what looks like crisis I believe I shall see the good things of the Lord. Am I to believe that a church half-full of people who want to be there is worse than one teeming with those who feel coerced? Should I lament that the people with whom I worship are drawn to the Church out of love rather than out of fear of hell?
If the fragile, terrified Apostles in a brutally hostile culture could accomplish God’s purpose, I believe that the Church of the 21st century, in an era of dwindling observance, can participate in that accomplishment as well. The Catholic Church in the United States is going through a time of painful – and, frankly, frightening – change. I but I have belief in God’s goodness. I have hope. Everything is going to be fine.