I am going through the homilies of St. John Chrysostom as the moment and felt inspired to write a post on the life of the Church in the past vs. the present.
A common thing to hear from some Catholic circles is that now, in this point in time, we are approaching the end times. How can it not be so? Millions of abortions, sexual “freedom”, lukewarmness in the pews, on and on. It definitely can feel that way at times! But are we perhaps being a bit too critical on our present vs. the past? It would seem like in previous centuries when Christianity was the only religion in the Western world, that people lived much more virtuously, were very much devoted to the faith, and were actively striving to be saints.
One thing I recommend to folks (and one thing I have personally started to appreciate myself) is to start reading the homilies of old saints. If you can find them, read them. Why? In a remarkable way, the homilies given by saintly clergy have a two fold benefit: they are jammed packed with very beneficial spiritual nourishment for the soul and in a historical sense, they reveal the state of the people and the Church at that particular point in time.
I will now take a few snippets from St. John Chrysostom’s Homily VI on the Gospel of Matthew to illustrate this point for you:
1. But for all this, some are of so senseless a disposition, as even after these words to say, “Nay, far be it from me to weep at any time, but may God grant me to laugh and to play all my days.” And what can be more childish than this mind? For it is not God that grants to play, but the devil.
2. And this I say, not freeing them from reproof, but that ye may learn that it is you chiefly who supply the principle and root of such lawlessness; ye who consume your whole day on these matters, and profanely exhibit the sacred things of marriage, and make an open mock of the great mystery.
3. And thou in a market-place wouldest not choose to see a woman stripped naked, or rather not even in a house, but callest such a thing an outrage. And goest thou up into the theatre, to insult the common nature of men and women, and disgrace thine own eyes?
I did not want to copy and paste his entire work, but just to give you a sense of the way he describes the people of Constantinople. In the first point, we hear the saint talk about how people in his time were very much focused on entertainment and good times, and very much adverse to suffering and weeping. In the second point, he continues on the thought about how the people wasted their time laughing and watching buffoons blaspheme the Lord, marriage, etc. The last point talks about how some men in that time, were apt to go to a show to watch women perform completely naked.
Now, this is only a small section of one homily from this saint in the 4th century. If you were to read this in light of the present, does this not sound identical to some of the issues that we are seeing currently here today? The means and methods may have changed overtime but the behavior is still the same! How much does our world despise suffering and fear it? How much time to we waste on modern buffoonery today? And even the last point, has this issue not merely transformed itself to the pornography of today?
All this is to illustrate one point: the Church of the past had just the same, if not perhaps, the identical issues to what we are experiencing today. There may be some warranted cases where we could say this is the worst possible time (such as the ease of abortions today), but I think that misses the point. The reality is that the battle between good and evil, Satan vs. the people of the Church, has been ongoing since the days of Christ. It has never stopped. Satan, deploying what means he can in that point in time, is always fighting against us. While he may have used theater in the past as means to derail the laity, today he uses TV, the media, and the internet.
I have found myself guilty of believing that if we were to be living in the times of the great Church Fathers and the Church Doctors that we would be beating down sin, growing in virtue and becoming saints in no time. I now firmly believe that is not the case and perhaps is a rather juvenile thought. I think that the Church is and always will be attacked by the enemy, and we have to accept the fact that in the Lord’s infinite wisdom, He has dictated that we live in this point in time. Why would He put us in a time or place where we couldn’t achieve sainthood? If another point in time was holier than another, it would seem that God just arbitrarily decides to put some souls in that time to be saints, and the rest of us have no chance. God wills that ALL souls be saints, some big saints but most of us small saints.
God has placed us in this point in time and He gives each and everyone one of us the means by which we can become saints. This is all accomplished by grace. Let us not get too vexed worrying about our times and how this is the worst point in the Church’s history. One could make a case for that claim but I see that as a fruitless mental exercise. Forget that and focus on growing in holiness. Read scripture/holy books, practice prayer, practice virtue and receive the sacraments frequently. These will be enough for most individuals to combat the evil of their particular time.
St. Peter, on this the day of the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, pray for us!