Everywhere we turn it seems that the Church is in turmoil or some sort of disagreement. Both celebrated and emphasized by the news media, this turmoil can seem overwhelming and even despairing at time, making one think another great schism is about to happen. Disagreements abound. Immoral clergy are being called out and held up as an example of why the Church can no longer be trusted. Messages and letters are issued from the Vatican that, although not necessarily intended to, have elicited more confusion than clarification on matters pertaining to the faith.
How are we to respond? For some, the response has come as an all attack – conservative Catholics versus liberal Catholics or traditional Catholics versus reformed Catholics. For others, dead silence is chosen instead of words due to shock, fear, hesitation, and confusion. Still others choose to polarize and make caricatures of the opposers.
As humans who live in the here and now we tend to think that the current times are worse than ever before, that we are living through unprecedented and even special times. It causes anxiety and fear for many people, maybe even desperation and sorrow in some cases. However, we should take solace in the fact that these times are not really unprecedented. Our turmoil is nothing new or worse than before today. History proves this. And the Church has endured as she will continue to endure because of Christ’s promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Her (Matt 16: 18).
The turmoil of the 16th Century
The Sixteenth Century was a particularly tumultuous time for the Church. There was great corruption and immorality that caused much of the laity and even some clergy to have a great mistrust of those in authority, resulting in the Reformation and the Great Schism. However, we also saw some of the greatest and most renowned saints come out of these turbulent times: St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of Avila, St. Francis Xavier, Pope Pius V, St. Thomas More, and St. Ignatius – all who fought ferociously against the corruption at the time.
One such saint that lived through the Sixteenth Century corruption is St. Cajetan, whose feast day is today (August 7). St. Cajetan is not the most popular or even a very well-known saint of the Church. He doesn’t have an extraordinary and dramatic story like St. Thomas More, nor is he a Doctor of the Church like St. Teresa of Avila. By all accounts, St. Cajetan’s story is fairly ordinary, something many of us should consider since we all like to think one has to be extraordinary to become a saint. Amidst his ordinariness, however, St. Cajetan was extraordinary in one aspect of his life – his submission to God’s Will and his response to the sickness of the Church of that time.
As we live through our own trying times of the Church, there are some things we can remember from the life of St. Cajetan on how we can respond to such turmoil.
Remember The Spirit & Mission of The Church
In response to the corruption that infected much of the Church during the time, St. Cajetan chose a different path to reformation. Instead of directly attacking the Church for the sins committed or focusing on the corruption, he combated the spiritual diseases of the Church with focusing on Her original mission – to bring souls to heaven. In fact, the zeal he held for the salvation of souls was so strong that he was surnamed the “huntsman for souls.”
During our own time, we need to remember that it’s not about politics or policies or liturgical preferences (barring the liturgy remains true and valid). Rather, it’s about the salvation of souls – your soul, your family’s souls, and your neighbor’s soul – and what we can do to help bring the souls closest in our lives to Heaven.
Pray, Pray, Pray
Many of us are people of action. We see something that is wrong and we work to fix it, but on our own terms. We often forget who is really in control – Christ.
St. Cajetan knew who was in control. He worked for the salvation of souls by teaching people about daily devotions and the importance of a prayer life. Prayer was so important to him that he often prayed eight hours a day and began the tradition of the Forty Hours’ Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in response to Calvinism. Moreover, he often prayed for unity in the Church at a time that the Church was severely divided into hostile and political groups. He didn’t pray for the wrongs of others to be put right or that others would see the errors of their ways. Instead, he prayed for the laity and clergy to come together to support the Pope in prayer, praying that the Pope may continue to lead Her and defend Her against attacks both within and from the secular world.
Trust In God Not Earthly Authority
Working in the court of Julius II as a prothonotary apostolic, a high position in the Roman Curia, St. Cajetan often spoke with others in high courtly positions, including rulers and kings. Treating them with the respect a leader is due, he never put more faith in them than in God. He always remembered where their power came from (Jn 19:11) and where his own place was in God’s plan.
But unlike St. Cajetan, many of tend to put too much stock in the earthly authority of leaders, Church hierarchy and even government officials. We are quick to forget that, ultimately, their authority comes from above. Christ is in control of the past, present, and future of the Church. We should take comfort knowing that no amount of earthly power can undue what Christ has already done. St. Cajetan never concerned himself with the mistakes and sins of those in power that he became anxious to the point of fear. After all, St. Paul tells us to not be anxious about anything, but instead to pray with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6).
Our Salvation Is in The Church, Not In Being Right
Whether we disagree with the current pope or how things are being handled, we must always remember that the Church will always be the one true way to salvation. This is regardless of authority, clergy, or laity, and certainly regardless of the sins of the many of which the Church consists. No matter who is right and who is wrong, there is no salvation outside the Church.
It is through the Sacraments that we are able to obtain salvation. St. Cajetan believed this so fully that, unlike others who separated from the Church because of the corruptions and immorality, he instead set out to renew the Church from the bottom up. He formed the Congregation of Clerks Regular, or Theatines. His mission was to renew and restore a clergy that was devoted to preaching and catechizing the laity. Nothing was more important to St. Cajetan and the Theatines than the administration of the Sacraments and keeping the Church’s beautiful rites and ceremonies to guide both the laity and the clergy to Heaven.
St. Cajetan is an important saint to remember in these times. Ultimately, his life teaches us that the Church, despite the sinfulness and error-prone people, is the one True Church. As such, we should continue to love Her and protect Her, as well as continuing to pray for those in authority.
Saint Cajetan, when we see things that trouble us in our Church, help us to continue to love her. Guide us to the positive steps we need to take to work within the Church for renewal. Help us to be examples of holiness to all. Amen.