Tremors in the Church
“There was a mini-earthquake in Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey,” wrote Dorothy Day, the Catholic social activist, in her journal in 1979. “Why was not Manhattan Island affected? What a thought! Unimaginable to think of those two fantastic World Trade towers swaying with a sudden jarring of what we have come to think of as solid earth beneath our feet.”
Inconceivable as the thought of swaying World Trade Center towers was before 9/11/2001, we know their collapse was one of life’s quakes that jarred the basic foundation of our identity as Americans. “When people are saying, ‘Peace and security,’ then sudden disaster comes upon them, like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape” (1 Thessalonians 5:3). Figuratively, these tremors in life may be likened to paying the final note on a family home only to discover that it was built on a fault line. They can shake us to our core, eroding our security and sense of well-being to the point that we no longer feel we’re standing on solid ground.
However, if we’re inclined this Lent to focus only on our personal, individual faults, let’s recall that the pilgrim Church has traveled the road to Calvary together over many fault lines in the last twenty centuries. For Catholics who wonder if the institution surrounding more than 2,000 years of sacred Church history is imploding before our eyes, take heart!
As John Shea writes in Stories of God: “When order crumbles, Mystery rises. When our most prized assumptions about life are suddenly ripped away from us, Mystery appears as a fury that threatens to engulf us. No protective symbols are available; no interpretive culture buffers its impact on the human soul. Its appearance is frightening; its name is the abyss. For many in the twenty-first century, it is this chaotic face of Mystery that has revealed itself.”
When Jesus died on the cross, “the earth quaked, rocks were split, [and] tombs were opened” (Matthew 27:51–52). According to the International Geology Review in 2011, geologists analyzed annual layers of deposition in the sediments of the Dead Sea, determining that two major earthquakes affected the core: a widespread quake in 31 bc and a seismic event between ad 26 and 36. They concluded Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 3, in ad 33. They also acknowledged that Matthew’s report of a quake might have been allegorical.
Regardless, Jesus came to set the earth on fire and wished it were already blazing (Luke 12:49). In other words, he had a frightening experience to undergo before emerging victoriously from the abyss. In the basic foundation of our faith—Christ’s death and resurrection—the old order crumbled and Mystery rose triumphantly! How jarring was this paschal event? Not only was the sanctuary veil torn in two from top to bottom, years are now measured before and after Christ!
With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, that same Mystery that first rocked our world will reveal itself through the Church’s current tumult—perhaps in unimaginable seismic ways. Brace yourselves!