Some days ago, whilst visiting an enclosed contemplative order, I happened upon a book: "Difficulties in Mental Prayer". Published in 1943, in Dublin, it is a slim volume, dedicated to :"Mary, the Mother of Christ, who gave her to us for our own." Within the chapter concerning "The Difficulties of not praying" the author observed:
"In these critical times, when the Church has such need of the full co-operation of every one of her religious, it is the interior life of prayer and penance that she needs most, and it sometimes seems as if that is the last help her members think of offering her. There is a danger that through the stress of necessity and through the contagion of the materialistic world, our perspective may become distorted and our scale of values upset."
On reading the text, I was immediately struck by the relevance of the observation for our own times. At the time of writing the appeal of Cardinal Pell is being live streamed to the whole world. Given the nature of those proceedings and the strictures which govern access to the live broadcast, it would not be appropriate to comment upon the detail of that case. Nonetheless, the litigation illustrates, in graphic terms, the extent to which the standing of the Church has diminished in modern times. So too has the acceptance of the Church has a moral authority entitled to voice her opinions upon matters of moral significance. It must naturally be accepted that the popularity of any institution may be subject to fluctuation. However, those organisations dedicated to the transmission of a faith will not be focused upon issues of popularity and, it might be thought, rightly so. However, the significance of this observation and, indeed, its implications, is brought home when contrasted with contemporary expressions of public opinion and the subjects to which they are directed. In this respect, the state visit of President Trump to the United Kingdom.
A cursory examination of the protests widely reported in the media confirms that the issue of abortion was high on the agenda. That is to say, the introduction of laws in the United States which have - in certain States at least- reduced access to abortion and the circumstances in which the law permits the conduct of an abortion.
It is a conspicuous feature of the attendant protests and demonstrations that the recent Irish Referendum on the issue had the effect of removing the suggestion of equality of rights as between the woman and the foetus.
It may be thought that St John Paul II would look upon such demonstrations and expressions of public opinion as affirmation of a culture of death and fundamentally contrary to the dignity of the human person. Whatever one's opinion, it is perhaps difficult to envisage a sharper illustration of the counter cultural character of the Church in modern society.
In his "Perseverance in Trials - Reflections on Job" Card. Martini of Milan speaks of the importance of 'obedience of the mind' in perseverance during trials. In doing so, he adverted to the following passage from the "Journal of a Soul" of Pope John XIII:
"I must always take care to strip my vines of all useless foliage and spreading tendrils, and concentrate on what is truth, justice and charity, above all charity. Another way of behaving is nothing but affectation and self-assertion; it soon shows itself in its true colours and become a hindrance and a mockery.."
Such 'obedience of the mind' involves the recognition that it is through adherence to irreducible truth, and its non-negotiability, which provides the much needed endurance during trials of any kind.
St John Eudes famously observed that the role of the priest was to place the light of Christ in the souls of men. Issues of gender inclusivity aside, this same obligation is inherent to the salvific mission of the Church herself. It may be considered that the only effective means by which the Church (and her leaders) may withstand present challenges is by fidelity to the discharge of this obligation.