As the calendar gets thinner, and my home state of North Dakota shovels away the first snow of the year, there is one place that would attract many of us more than any other: the Aloha State. Whether the white-sanded beaches and salty warm waves of the Pacific speak to you of snoozing or surfing, and whether the golden sun—which could be too hot if there weren’t a perfectly timed breeze to refresh you—invites you to read a book or to watch the whales as they breathe the clean air, no sane person could possibly complain about a few days on the shore of Earthly (near) Perfection.
Yet it was not always so on these rocks in the sea. Seeing that they are the result of millions of years of volcanic activity, we can safely imagine that the prehistoric vacation family wasn’t sipping Mai Tais while lava flowed on their beach towels. And even today, the geological formation continues with an eruption or an earthquake from time to time. But perfection never comes quickly or easily, so it is fitting that this process didn’t happen overnight.
Fifty-one years ago today, the Second Vatican Council convened for the first time, called by Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose feast day is also today, ostensibly for that reason. This pastor-pope surprised everyone by calling the council whose tremors and aftershocks are still felt today. All can agree that the last fifty-one years have been a time of tumult and turbulence for the Church, and even people of great faith might be inclined to echo the man in the Gospel who begs Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.”
But these people of faith often allow their faith to be tested when the “test” is merely a distraction from the task at hand and the reality beneath the surface. Some members of the faithful ascribe the tumult in the Church to a power struggle as if this were some convocation of the UN Security Council or some back-room meeting of politicians to hammer out policy. The Church is no mere political organization, though her communal life involves complex relations among her members. She is not a mere lobby for dogmatic and moral legislation, though law and teaching are components of her makeup. The Church is established by Christ (Mt 16:18) and is the very bride of Christ (Eph 5), and he has sent his Spirit to watch over her and inspire her until he returns (Acts 2).
If it took millions of years to create the perfect beach setting, how much more care must be shown to the perfect dwelling of God! If the Church were just one human institution among many, perhaps we should say to one another: fear tomorrow; worry; don’t sleep; work harder; it’s up to you; we could go out of business any day. However, trusting in God’s providential care over the Church in all circumstances is integral to the faith.
Our perspective here on earth is intrinsically shortsighted and shallow. God’s perspective is perfect and timeless. He will not abandon his people nor allow the ship of his Church to sink because of human weakness. On the contrary, the Church exists for the very reason of shipping us sinners to safe harbor. Yes, of course there are members of the Church who cause harm, and there are sharks even in Hawaii, but this is no reason to pack your bags and grab the snow shovels.
We have seen our share of earthquakes in the past Year of Faith, which began on this date one year ago, when Pope Benedict called us to commemorate Vatican II by renewing our faith in God and his Church. When only a few months later, Pope Benedict resigned, there was a shock. When the current Holy Father makes headlines, there are tremors. When John XXIII called the council, there may have even been a full-blown eruption. But to regard these events as faith-shakers or to interpret them as mere tectonic political movements is the same as defining the islands only by their geological episodes—and the islands are just rocks! But God is the Rock, and through Christ he established his Church, which is guided yesterday, today, and tomorrow by the Holy Spirit.
So what if there is an eruption? Take shelter in Christ! Are you finding the ground a little shakier than you had bargained for? Stand firm and hold on! These movements make the foundation of the island, though it is not apparent at the time. Remember, no eruptions, no beach paradise in the Pacific. Instead of wishing these events away, maybe God is calling us to trust in his providence in times of trial, and maybe even to do the unimaginable: changing our own perspective! (Perish the thought . . . )
Yet, sadly, even the white beach, golden sun, and salty ocean breeze will falter, but the love of God will never fail, and the island of his Church will endure until the end of the ages. As Psalm 46 tells us, “God is for us a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of distress: so we shall not fear though the earth should rock, though the mountains quake to the heart of the sea; even though its waters rage and foam, even though the mountains be shaken by its tumult.”