Scandal! Heresy! And Grace!

When considering the multiple scandals and heresies besetting the Church in our time, three Biblical verses come immediately to mind:

“And whosoever shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:41).

“Woe to the world because of scandals. For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh” (Matthew 18:7).

“For there must be also heresies: that they also, who are approved, may be made manifest among you” (1 Cor. 11:19).

These two utterances of Our Lord and one of the Apostle to the Gentiles would be appropriate matter for our meditation, especially considering them in their tropological sense (concerning which, see here and here).

In a piece I recently wrote, I made a statement that I think is important — not because I wrote it, obviously, but because of the dogmatic truth that it expresses, one that is often forgotten today by the anxious faithful:

The work of conversion — and the work of living the Catholic life, which is an ongoing conversion — is the work of grace. The Mediatrix of All Grace is more powerful than the purveyors of ecclesiastical novelty, who will come and go while the Cross stands still.

Let us never forget the availability of grace and its absolute necessity in the process of conversion and perseverance. When people say things like “you have to just trust that things will work out,” or “God still runs the Church,” etc., it is easy to dismiss them as being pietistic and ignoring the gravity of the situation. Sometimes, those who make that statement are naive about the machinations of perfidious men who are not worthy of trust. If our hope were in men, it would not be a theological virtue. We trust that things will work out in the Church — as in, her saving mission being achieved — not because of men, but because of the promises of Christ.

The Church in our day is undergoing something of a mystical crucifixion. As her Head was crucified for our salvation, so now His Body undergoes a similar crucifixion (and has since Apostolic times; martyrs there have been in every age). But today perhaps, in the rampant scandals we see, she is less recognizable as the divine institution she actually is.

But here, too, grace is necessary to illumine the eye of the intellect.

Saint Dismas, the good thief, looked at the pathetic figure of our Lord (yes, pathetic) and asked for a place in His Kingdom. He did not have the benefit that the Centurion had, of witnessing the calamities at Our Lord’s death and His crying out “with a loud voice” — which the Centurion would have known to be impossible for a victim of crucifixion when he is about to die.

The good thief saw in the bloodied, bruised, and despised Jesus, not “a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people” (Ps. 21:7), but the very King of Kings, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. That was the grace of God working on a soul of good will. Under the influence of divine grace, he called out: “Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

The Church is bloodied and humiliated today by Her enemies, external and internal, but her unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are still to be seen for all who have good will. Supernatural faith, a gift of God’s grace, is the key. Without grace we do not convert in the first place. Without it, we do not persevere in justice.

We must never be afraid to seek the conversion of our non-Catholic neighbor because things are so bad off in the Church. She still has the only saving remedies so desperately needed by our race.


Saint Dismas, the Good Thief