History is replete with pivotal moments. Moments that allowed evil to flourish or for good to triumph. Turning points that were not immediately obvious to all, but were to some. When Germany invaded the Rhineland and the allies turned a blind eye in the name of peace, war was made almost inevitable. How many people recognized it at the time? When the U.S. fled in Somalia, how many realized that were inviting the terrorists to hit us here? When Pope John XXIII revealed fifty years ago that he would convene a Council, how many of the hopeful understood what would be unleashed in the name of that council? A prescient few seemed to know, but most had no idea how pivotal were the times and actions.
What do all these pivotal moments have in common? To a point, in each of these incidents, the side of good deluded themselves that they acted, or failed to act, in the name of peace. In hindsight it is obvious that what made these moments pivotal was the clear signal to the enemy of weakness. This weakness, whether to live up to treaty obligations to push Germany back, stand and fight when the going got rough, or to give into the spirit of aggiornamento in an effort to bring peace. In all three instances, the enemy sensed real weakness, was emboldened, and seized its moment.
Since becoming Pontiff, Pope Benedict has been focused on unity. Not unity through compromise, but real unity through charity and clarity. He has focused his efforts on our Orthodox brethren and of course the SSPX. I, like the Pope, believe we (and they) are better off in the Church than outside of it. But we always knew this effort would be painful.
The Pope was widely attacked when he made available to the priests and the faithful the Tridentine Mass through his Motu Proprio. That move was misunderstood (purposefully and inadvertently) by many. But the Pope weathered the storm and was stronger for it. But that was only Phase I. Phase II is proving to be much more difficult.
Without a doubt there was always going to be protest of the lifting of the excommunications. We all expected the tried old America/Tablet/Commonweal crowd to throw up a hue and cry to a compliant media that this was more evidence that the Pope wants to bring back the dark ages. We all expected that. I don’t think many of us expected what has transpired in the last month.
All the usual suspects used the occasion of Bishop Williamson’s egregious comments to attack the Pope, but this unfortunate incident went way beyond the confines of the Spirit of Vatican II coffee klatches. The backlash went wide and far with enemies of the Church hanging every ridiculous word out of the mouth of Williamson around the neck of the Pope. Even heads of State publicly rebuked the Pope for what, in actuality, was an act of mercy. There would no such mercy for the Pope.
In the midst of the uproar over the SSPX, the knives came out again for the Pope when he decided to appoint an orthodox and well known conservative priest, Maria Gerhard Wagner, as auxiliary Bishop of Linz Austria. The liberal establishment and other enemies of the Pope screamed bloody murder and made threats about dividing the Church.
Fr. Wagner, amidst all this uproar, asked the Pontiff to withdraw his nomination for the Episcopacy in Linz. Sadly, it seems, the Pope has acceded to that request. Rorate Caeli, reporting on this incident, titles its post as “Capitulation.”
Capitulation. The enemies of the Pope, internal and external, will rightly see this capitulation as victory. There is now blood in the water and the sharks can taste it.
I think that what comes next may end up being one of those pivotal moments. Does the Pope retreat in the name of peace virtually ensuring that his agenda of unity is dead in the water or does he stand defiant in the face of these withering attacks? Pivotal.
Let me add one more thing. I have spoken about the enemies of the Church and the Pope, but let us no forget about the Enemy. The Devil, it seems, is pulling out all the stops to derail the Pope. I think there is a reason for that. I think that if the Pope succeeds with what he is trying to do, it will have long lasting effects on the Church and the world. Likewise, his failure may also set back the cause of unity and Tradition for years. The Devil does not want him to succeed. I suspect that now may very well be the critical moment.
Please pray for the Pope that he has the faith, courage, and strength to withstand these attacks. To bend but not break. To see his quest through to the end. To see these attacks for what they are. If we are ever to have peace again in the Church and in the world, now is the time to stand and fight. Much may depend on it.