The progressist theologians and their disciples are right when they say that the Church is in progress. She truly is! But the way they understand the progress of the Church is wrong. She has been in progress since the day of Pentecost and will remain in progress until the second coming of our Lord. For certain people, the Church has been in progress only since the Second Vatican Council. I wonder what the Church did for 20 centuries before the Council.
The idea of progress has always existed since man has been on earth, but it is only since the XIX century that its concept became systematized and theorized, even though it had some precursors before. Today, the notion of progress is omnipresent in the society and is in the heart of the political debate. Being a person of progress seems to be necessary in the modern world.
But the Church did not wait for the new theories of progress in order to progress and even to make the world progress. Even on a natural level, she is at the origin of many progresses: social progress, cultural and artistic progress, economical and political progress and scientific progress. Knowledge and savoir-faire were spread throughout Europe by the monks during the Middle Ages and later. To give some examples, especially one that I particularly like, Dom Pérignon was a Benedictine monk who brought many progresses to the viticulture and I cannot imagine what a good champagne would be without him. You can also think about the contribution of the monks to music. The most famous is certainly Guido of Arezzo, the inventor of modern music notation. In the area of the sciences, look at the XIII Century with its great universities. Saint Albert the Great, was not only a great Saint and a theologian. He was also a famous zoologist and anatomist and his works were the beginning of a new era for these sciences.
The world has many reasons to be grateful to the Church for her civilizing work, yet it is not her most important action. Her mission is not to bring progress to the world. In fact, she does this as a consequence of her main mission which is to spread the benefits of the Incarnation and of the redemption throughout time and space. She completes the work of her Divine Founder, which was a renewal of the original creation, unfortunately wounded by the first Adam and fortunately restored by the new Adam. On the Cross, Jesus made all things new. Each day the Church renews the face of the earth. Each day, the gift of Pentecost is manifested to the world. This is the true progress of the Church, as Charles Cardinal Journet explains: In the Church, as for Christ, the progress does not consist in an improvement of the initial gift “gift of the Incarnation in Christ and the gift of Pentecost in the Church“but in a successive manifestation of the demands of this initial gift. And he adds that the events of the Incarnation and Pentecost are the center of time. So, we don’t have to expect a new era and a new Pentecost, because there will never be one. But each day we have to rediscover the beautiful gift of God.
Si scires donum Dei! If thou didst know the gift of God! (Jn 4,10) It is probably the grace that we need to ask on this day of Pentecost: the grace to know the gift of God. We need to know it so that we can taste it, appreciate it and be thankful for it.
The gift of God is first, the Incarnation of His Son. It is also the gift of His Church, which extends the Incarnation in time and space. Cardinal Journet explains that the mystery of the Incarnation is a fact. It is completed in what concerns its essence as soon as Mary says Fiat. But in another point of view, the mystery of the Incarnation embraces the entire progression of the life of Jesus. For what concerns its unfolding, it will be achieved only on the Ascension day.
Then Cardinal Journet says that it is the same thing for the Church. The Church of the New Law is achieved and completed in her essence as soon as the Holy Ghost comes upon her on Pentecost day in order to fill her with the capital grace of Christ. But concerning her unfolding, she is in process and progress is open to her.
The progress of the Church takes place between the first coming of Our Lord, when Jesus came to save the world and His second coming when He will judge the world. During this time, the Church marches like a pilgrim toward a holy place, in the midst of the hazards of life, sometimes shining to the eyes of the world, sometimes exhausted and running out of steam, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes triumphing, sometimes persecuted, but still and always the same Church preaching the same Truth and leading men toward God, when they accept being led. As Saint Augustine explains in his City of God, two cities are fighting each other throughout the centuries. The City of God has to face the attacks of the Prince of the World and progresses between the persecutions of men and the consolations of God.
According to the book of Revelations, the time between the two comings of Our Lord is a thousand years and three and a half years. One thousand symbolizes peace and perfection. The Church keeps throughout her history an unalterable and divine peace, signified by the 1000 years. Three and a half is 7 divided by two. Seven is a plenary number which signifies completeness of time and space and achievement. You can think about the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost, the 7 Sacraments, the 7 days of the Creation, the 7 colors of the rainbow, the 7 notes of the diatonic range etc. But the completeness is broken, which is signified by the division by two. So, three and a half signifies the attacks from Satan throughout the Messianic era. They are violent and strong but finally they cannot prevail against the Church and are precarious.
Cardinal Journet says again that after two millennia the Church experiences her own weakness but also the power of God in her. She is more and more aware of the way that Our Lord wants her to progress. He impresses in her the resemblance of His own battles, His humiliations, His paradoxical victories and He silently prepares her for the great final battle which will come when the antichrist will show up.
When will it be? I do not know and I think that we do not need to know. Our Lord did not want to reveal it. But He revealed something much better. He revealed Himself and He continues to reveal Himself through His Church. For that reason, we should love the Catholic Church more than anything else. We should love her as real and fleshly like a child loves his mother.
Pius XII wrote in his beautiful Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis that our pastoral office now requires that we provide an incentive for the heart to love this Mystical Body with that ardor of charity which is not confined to thoughts and words but which issues in deeds. If those who lived under the Old Law could sing of their earthly city: "If I forget thee O Jerusalem let my right hand be forgotten; let my tongue cleave to my jaws if I do not remember thee, if I make not Jerusalem the beginning of my joy," how much greater then should be the joy and exultation that should fill our hearts who dwell in a City built on the holy mountain of living and chosen stones, "Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone." For nothing more glorious, nothing nobler, nothing surely more honorable can be imagined than to belong to the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, in which we become members of one Body as venerable as it is unique; are guided by one supreme Head; are filled with one divine Spirit; are nourished during our earthly exile by one doctrine and one heavenly Bread, until at last we enter into the one, unending blessedness of heaven.
On this Day of Pentecost, let us ask Our Blessed Mother to help us be able to recognize the gift of God and to love the Church. As long as we remain faithful children of the Church, we can share her glories until we reach our goal: the beatific vision. The tribulations of this world are nothing in comparison to the glory of the future world. May Our Lady introduce us in the glory of God.