A couple of weeks ago, I gave a lecture — nearly two hours long, without intermission, and without the usual ad lib digressions into humor — on "What Will — and What Will Surely Not — Save the Church." Of course the question is absurd, as I finally declared, one hour after shooting down five of everyone's favorite remedies. There is no "what" that will save the Church. God alone saves the Church. That fact struck the CBC reporter who called me the next day, looking for a laundry list of political objectives, as something of a surprise. She seemed to believe that it was open question, whether the Church was going to survive. "Oh, there's no doubt about that," I said, feeling irrepressibly cheerful. "We have the guarantee of Jesus Christ!" The real question she should have asked, I wanted to reply but restrained myself, was whether Canada or any nation so conceived — or rather, so unconceived, so culturally eviscerated by the worship of individual "choice" — can long survive. I did not break out into a rendition of the refrain to the Canadian national anthem, whose text in French is boldly Christian, but in English fussily avoids any reference to carrying the Cross. My rendition would have gone thus:
O Canada, you're here to stay,
Big, rich, and dumb, just like the USA!
O Canada, you're like the USA.
If nations survive by raising up heroes, who are willing to shed their blood to defend what their countrymen hold dear (this assumes, note well, that there are people who are recognizably one's countrymen, and that they love something dearly), then it should not surprise us that God, who alone saves the Church, should do so by raising up saints, those astonishing loser-take-all witnesses to the holiness of God and to his abundant mercies. Who would know a thing about Assisi, were it not for the poor little brother Francis? Ars was but a backwater village with an empty church, till the hardheaded John Vianney turned it into a place where the faithful and the wavering, the saintly and the snide, the devout and the curious, came by the thousands, to speak to the simple man, to confess their sins, and to be made whole again.
Nothing else will do but holiness, which is just another way of saying that God wants all from us, because anything less is a sin against love. Yet we persist in thinking that something else will save. If only we had women priests! If only we could use the pill! Thus we practice what I call Ecclesiastical Homeopathy. You take up your shotgun, aim at your left foot, and fire. Then you pray that the Lord will make you whole. When no miracle is forthcoming, you declare that God really wants you to be lame, that in fact "lameness is a great gift of the Holy Spirit, in the New Pentecost." So you pick up the shotgun again and blow the other foot to splinters too, to make the cure complete.
"Be ye holy," said Jesus, "even as your Father in heaven is holy." That we cannot do, unless we accept the grace of God; but grace upon grace is given to us, if we would but humbly submit to it, knowing that on our own we can accomplish nothing, or rather we accomplish only destruction, but that we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us.