To a world that says that God does not exist, or that He is dead…
God shows His presence in that the mere continued existence of the Catholic Church in such strength (as also with the Jewish people), despite so many persecutions, such a length of time, and every other human fault, defies explanation and comparison to all merely human institutions.
The irony for the secular world that says that God is irrelevant, that mankind can do better and be more good without religion, is that the largest, oldest, and most diverse human organization is the one dedicated to God, and claims that He started it and continues it.
It is the Church that has built civilization and done more good than any other human organization, creating the first hospitals, universities, and more charity by far than any other. It is the Church that is more diverse (and unified in peace) than any other institution, spanning all nations. It is the Church that has proven relevant enough to all cultures at all times that it contains members from across the world. And it has done so in fulfillment of ancient predictions from centuries before–a historical anomaly? The world would like to believe so, and dismiss or ignore the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that it bears to the world.
But the occasion of the election of a new pope makes that difficult for the world to ignore. Surely, it tries to focus on just surface things and externalities, attempts to mire everything in controversy and scandal. This is a reaction to deeper questions too uncomfortable for a secular culture to want to consider; it doesn’t fit the narrative that faith in God is destructive or false, and faith in man is better.
Yet it is Satan’s works that destroy and divide. God’s works unite and withstand time.
To all those who would take the role of the Accuser against the Church of Jesus Christ, the life of the Church after all this time is substantial evidence of God’s unifying power.
In fact, the most revered rabbi of Jesus’s time, Gamaliel, made this same observation from history and the Scriptures, citing several examples in Acts 5:34-42. Then he applied it as a test for the Church:
“For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”
The Romans found themselves “fighting against God” as they persecuted the Church. They failed. Instead, Rome was conquered by the Church, in fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy of the fourth of the Gentile empires (all of which were made subject to God), that it would be conquered by the Son of Man and made his own (Daniel 7-8).
And now where is the Roman Empire and its imperial dynasties, the rulers of which often called themselves gods?
As Cardinal Francis George reflected while Pope Benedict XVI was being introduced for the first time:
“I was gazing toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.'”
Indeed. Over the centuries, the Church has seen empires rise and fall. And yet for 2,000 years, Christ’s Church has defied the decay of the world and prophetically brought the light of the Gospel to every corner of the earth, encompassing all peoples in one universal family of God.
Dynastic succession was the evidence of who the rightful ruler was, to allow for stable nations and peaceful transfer of authority. Yet under the rule of dynastic succession, all human kingdoms have fallen, undergoing usurpations and revolutions, conquests and transformations. No human dynasty ever lasted more than a few generations, no nation more than a few centuries.
Not Christ’s Kingdom. The Living One will forever sit his throne; no dynasty by bloodline is necessary. Instead, he has left a visible sign on earth of the continuance of his Kingdom in a dynastic appointed office (like the Davidic kings had for their prime ministers).
The successor of Peter is that great, visible sign of unity that demonstrates that the King of Kings still sits his throne and continues to guide his kingdom, his family, his flock, here on earth. With him and the other apostolic successors, all can still know who to look for to carry out authority “in the name of the King.”
And so, long after every other purely earthly organization would have collapsed, torn apart from within or without, we shall soon see a new successor of Peter.
Hail to the King of Kings!