World War II documentaries are fascinating. When the documentaries describe a bleak time during the war, say, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor or the relentless bombing of London, your heart goes out for the people involved. At that time, they did not know how things ultimately would turn out. Maybe Imperial Japan would conquer the entire Pacific, including western portions of the United States. Maybe the Nazis would reduce London to rubble and invade Great Britain.
However, when watching these war documentaries today, we know how things turned out. We know the Allies eventually prevailed and democracy and freedom were victorious. It was a gruesome and costly affair, and there were countless casualties, but in the end the good guys won.
I’m reminded of this scenario when I hear people lament about the fate of the Catholic Church. Things are somewhat bleak these days, especially in the United States and Western Europe. Mass attendance is down; churches and schools are being closed; there is a severe priest shortage; and millions of people who were raised in the faith have drifted away and no longer believe the key doctrines of Christianity.
So, you can make the case we are in the middle of this dire time in history, and we have no idea how it will turn out. Maybe the forces of secularism will prevail and the Catholic Church will just fade away and someday cease to exist.
Well, here’s some good news: the Catholic Church is the only institution on earth that has been given a divine guarantee of success. Jesus Christ Himself promised that the Catholic Church would be victorious in the end. We read about right in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16.
First, Jesus founded the Church, and He named Peter its initial earthly leader. He said, “You are Peter (which means “rock”), and upon this rock I will build my church.” A few moments later Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” That’s why St. Peter is often depicted as having a large set of keys. It’s not because he was the janitor.
There is a phrase in the middle of Jesus’ statement that we often overlook. After saying that Peter was the rock, but before giving him the key, Jesus said this about His Church: “…and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Jesus proclaimed a divine promise that the Church would succeed. He declared the Church would be victorious in the battle against the forces of darkness. After all, Jesus is, and always has been, the one and only head of the Catholic Church. The popes are merely Jesus’ temporary servants on earth. Do you think He’d ever let His own Church die?
Unlike every other institution in the history of the world, the Catholic Church is guaranteed success. In the end, when the war is over, the good guys assuredly will win.
We can view the Catholic Church in the same way we view World War II documentaries. Yes, there are bleak moments during this struggle, and yes, there are many casualties—after all, whenever a precious soul walks away from the faith, Satan cackles with glee. But when the battle ends many ages from now, we can be assured the Church will be the victor. Jesus gave us that promise.
Unlike documentaries, we cannot sit in a comfy chair and just watch. We are soldiers in the midst of this particular battle. We have to sacrifice blood, sweat and tears. But as we fight, we already know the outcome: Jesus’ Church, the Catholic Church, will win.