I'm sure it was hard for any Jewish contemporary of Jesus, under the ruthless Roman occupation of Palestine, to imagine the "Kingdom of Israel" as something great. Where was their king? Where was their kingdom? Where was the evidence of those ancient traditional prophecies of a Davidic kingdom that would endure forever? (2 Sam. 7; 1 Chron. 17:11-14, 1 Chron. 6:16)
In a similar way, it is becoming increasingly difficult for many Catholics in our day to imagine the Catholic Church as something great, as wielding power, possessing authority, manifesting glory, majesty, and anything like beauty. Think how much more difficult it would be if Rome itself were overrun by foreign enemies, St. Peter's Basilica destroyed, turned into a mosque or a museum, with the papacy dismantled. Of course Christ promised to be with His Church until the end of days, though all that would be needed for that promise to be fulfilled is for a single shepherd and a remnant flock (of even one or two!) to endure.
Not that I have any inkling that such an outcome lies in store for the Church. I don't. But one would think our Lord might expect us to be able, at least, to interpret the general signs of the times: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.... You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky; but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?" (Lk 12:54-56)
Remember our Lord's haunting question: "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" (Lk 18:8) Again, His brief discourses on the end of days are grim: "[M]any will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold." (Mt 24:10-12)
Yet all I need do to remind me of the Sun shining above the clouds of our present darkness is to read a short prayer composed by Pope Leo XIII, a prayer I clearly remember reading not long after I was received into the Church back in the early 1990's. It was sent to me by a nun in California who has been a constant correspondent of mine for nearly three decades now. The prayer is The Exorcism Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel.
The prayer is nothing short of awe-inspiring. (See my earlier post on this prayer: "Giving the Devil his due - Part II," Musings, February 3, 2009.) When I read this prayer, I can't help but (1) wonder at the awesome power and authority that the Church and her ordained priesthood was once understood to possess, and (2) ask myself why this sense of power and authority seems almost to have evaporated in the contemporary incarnation of the Church.
All-too-often, unfortunately, one finds on the Internet the caveat that this prayer is "To be said by a priest only," which is a little misleading. The point is that only a priest with appropriate faculties from his Ordinary can licitly and safely say the prayer formally as an exorcism, not that the prayer cannot be read privately as a personal petition to ward off diabolical influence. (In Pope Leo's own words: "The faithful also may say it in their own name, for the same purpose, as any approved prayer.")
Providentially, a new book by Kevin J. Symonds, with a Foreword by Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael(2015), a comprehensive examination of the complex puzzle of the prayer's historical origins. The book (upwards of 200 pages), carries multiple imprimaturs, multiple appendices, and an interesting and balanced discussion sorting out legend from what can be known of Pope Leo's reputed horrific vision of the diabolical attack on the Church throughout the world in the generations after him.