These are words that have been used to describe the Catholic Church in our culture. Other than for brief periods the Christian faith has always been counter cultural. We are constantly belittled as backward, unenlightened, misogynistic, repressed, perverted, evil, grasping, or simpletons. And YET, the faith continues to flourish.
Boccaccio's Decameron is a collection of ten stories told by a band of travelers on the road. Many of these stories are bawdy or shocking, but there is one in particular that I find illuminating.
Abraham, a Jew, is continuously disputed with by Jehannot de Chevigny of the truth of his religion v. Catholicism. Finally, he is won over, but decides to go to Rome and see the Curia and Pope. While there, he hears of the debaucherous and decadent lives of the clergy from his fellow Jews. He returns and converts to Catholicism, reasoning that if Christianity can still spread even when its hierarchy is so sinful it had to have something else going for it.Although the story is meant as a "caustic anti-Catholic tale", there is yet a kernel of truth in it. Long before Boccaccio's time another virtuous Jew and teacher of the Law, Gamaliel, prophesied:
- For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself.
- But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God. (Acts 5:38-39)
This is the secret that our enemies dare not whisper except in the recesses of their hearts: without the Church they are nothing. Because without Christ we all are nothing. The human institution of the Church is flawed, our leaders flawed, the people in the pews (despite their protestations) are flawed. But the Church is more than a human institution; it is a Divine institution full of people. The true Guardian is the Holy Spirit and God Himself has sworn that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
The true treasure that the Advocate preserves is knowledge of the Lover of Souls who continues draw every one to Himself.
For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things! (Wis 11:22-12:2)