ASK FATHER: I struggle with despair at the future of the Church.

From a reader…


I am blessed to attend a beautiful Extraordinary Form Mass each Sunday, offered by devout, orthodox priests. I go to confession regularly and make every effort to lead a good Christian life.

Yet, I struggle with despair at the future of the Church. Between the news of the scandals and what’s happening in Rome, I find it my faith regularly disturbed. I often seriously wonder whether I will die a Catholic, because there are days – increasingly more in recent months – where I think of giving up entirely. Why bother when it seems as if so few of the Church’s priests and bishops believe in her teachings? Why cling to tradition it seems increasingly likely that, within my lifetime, Rome will capitulate to the fads of the world?

Rather than finding consolation in the Church, I instead feel abandoned. I speak of this feeling often, including to my confessor, but it does not abate. If anything, it grows stronger the more I openly admit it and that worries me.

What am I to do?

Never fear.

Never give in to doubts.

Christ’s promises are rock solid.

The Church is indefectible.


You have a role to play and eternity awaits.

Pray and be good.

Off up your suffering in reparation for sins that offend God and the Blessed Virgin.

When high leaders in the Church do confusing things people will, legitimately, be upset.  When that happens, we have to stay calm.   Not false calm, to the point of inaction or paralysis.  Calm, in the sense of not having a spittle-flecked nutty or doing something rash.

Each horrid thing that clerics do or strange thing they say is further proof that this is God’s Church.  Only He keeps it going.  If it depended on us, we’d be finished in no time.  God is trustworthy and the Church is indefectible.

Every Pope’s pontificate, every bishop’s or every priest’s mandate are the mere blips in the long history of salvation which is directed, not by us, but, again, by God.

We are offered every grace we need to get though any blip, whatsoever.

Some Councils and Popes were not nearly as important as others.  In the long term, we will see how things shake out.  Since Francis is interested in “peripheries”, one day we may refer to this time as the “periphery of Francis” rather than the “pontificate”.  Perspective!

When something weird or confusing comes our way, we have an opportunity to crack open our trustworthy books and study.  Thus, we wind up being better educated and better prepared to give reasons for the faith that is in us.  That’s a good thing.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. blena316 says:

    I have no doubt the Christ’s Church and HIS Sacraments will prevail, not so sure about the Vatican or Roman Catholicism as exists today, personally I consider both deformed, but so is Western Civilization in general. I’m no Church historian, but hasn’t renewal come from the bottom up?

  2. Mark says:

    I really relate to this reader, I have the same feelings and thoughts as he does. I keep waiting every single day for the Pope to come out and say that the official church teaching is now that homosexual activities are no longer a sin because now we have a better understanding of sexual development and human nature than we used to have, or some such thing. If that happens, and the Pope declares it is official teaching binding on all Catholics, I just don’t know what I will do. I worry about this daily now.

  3. Pingback: I struggle with despair at the future of the Church. Fr Z replies. |

  4. NBW says:

    I feel the same way as this reader. Thank you Father, for putting things into perspective.

  5. Bellarmino Vianney says:

    “Each horrid thing that clerics do or strange thing they say is further proof that this is God’s Church. Only He keeps it going. If it depended on us, we’d be finished in no time. God is trustworthy and the Church is indefectible.”

    Great point. It is God’s Church; the Word of God is God’s Truth and truths. Churches themselves are God’s House. Human beings are called to be servants of those “things” that are God’s. That is, in part, what it means to be humble. Humility is, in part, the defense of, propagation of, and preservation of the “things” that are God’s. (Humility is not the re-distribution of wealth or syncretizing with false religions with the goal of “world peace”.)

    I cannot help but notice a possible major error above, though.

    The questioner wrote, “I often seriously wonder whether I will die a Catholic, because there are days – increasingly more in recent months – where I think of giving up entirely. Why bother when it seems as if so few of the Church’s priests and bishops believe in her teachings? Why cling to tradition it seems increasingly likely that, within my lifetime, Rome will capitulate to the fads of the world?”

    It seems to me that the question indicates a lack of understanding of the Catholic Faith in general. God instituted the Church so that human beings would know, love, and serve Him and live in the Church to work out their salvation in fear and trembling with the hope of ending up in heaven.

    Leaving the Church is, in most cases a mortal sin, and would lead one to hell. One stays in the Church because one needs the Church to get to heaven; one also stays in the Church because one loves God and preserves God’s “things” in the Church through prayer, penance, rebuking and admonishing the sinner, etc.

    The questioner seems to be anecdotal evidence that even the Extraordinary Form does not ultimately lead to conversion or understanding the Faith. I am not mocking the Extraordinary Form of the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Nor am I mocking the questioner. I am merely stating the fact that what is needed is interiorizing (believing) very basic Truths of the Faith, no matter what language they are expressed in. Most people do not interiorize the basic Truth of God’s Faith which is that, in order for one to be saved and get to heaven, one must not reject or deny Jesus (Luke 12:9). Leaving the Catholic Church or refusing to enter the Catholic Church after having knowledge of Her is a denial of Jesus, plain and simple.

    For the record, millions of people do *know* the aforementioned Truth. However, they often don’t *interiorize* or believe that Truth.

    Jesus’ words will have their effect, otherwise He would not have said them. He was not joking or merely uttering an “empty threat” when He said that denial of Him leads to Hell. He said what He meant, and He meant what He said.

    Don’t leave God’s Church, and don’t even let that temptation enter your mind. Otherwise, you may very well end up in hell. Harsh, but True.

  6. Bev says:

    The best age to live is the age when your virtue stands in greatest contrast to the world and to corrupt members of the Church! Lord, make us saints!

  7. Bev: The best age to live is the age when

    … when God called you into being according to the plan He had from before the creation of the cosmos.

    Of all the universes God could have created, He created this one, into which God calls us according to His plan. This is the BEST possible time for each of us.

  8. Olecrochet says:

    I found the image included in Vigano’s second letter comforting. It is a painting of Christ sleeping in the storm tossed ship, and yet He is depicted again in the other side of the ship calming the storm. Ask God to strengthen your faith and have confidence in Him. He has already defeated Satan, no worries.

  9. aliceinstpaul says:

    Faith is a gift. You cannot earn it. You can ask for it, beg for it. But God answers in His way, not our way.

    Some of us suffer this terror of loss and abandonment.

    Mother Teresa felt abandoned by the Lord. She didn’t just have a dark night of the soul. She experienced a loss of God’s very existence so great that she didn’t even believe his existence at times.

    She was holy. She didn’t misunderstand her faith. She didn’t misunderstand her call. She persevered.

    I highly suggest reading her biography Come Be My Light. Just read her letters and hear her pain. Beg her to help you. She is a saint for you. Beg her to be the Lord for you to console you in this abandonment.

    To others:
    Suggesting someone doesn’t understand his faith when he is not experiencing either emotionally or spiritually any feeling of the Lord’s presence is presumptuous. It’s possible, of course, but you could be wrong.

  10. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    This reader spoke my own mind on the issue.

    There are times I cannot pray or sleep because of the sense of spiritual desolation. In the past when I’ve felt like this, it was usually because I needed to go to Confession and was avoiding/delaying it out of pride, but the last 4-6 months have been some of my best in my adult life from a breaking bad habits and state-of-grace standpoint.

    I used to obtain such consolation from the steadiness of the Church, Her beautiful teachings, and Sacraments in the chaotic world. It was my lifeline in college with all the temptations of the world one has to swim through. But increasingly it seems the Church’s ministers all the way to the top are the source of confusion.

    It feels like I married this beautiful, complex, cultured woman only have her develop Alzheimers a few years later and now she doesnt know who she is and isnt taking care of herself and in fact behaves erratically and irrationally and denies our prior Joy’s ever existed. You would still love her, but there would be decreasing recognition or solace in it.

    I feel at times as though Jesus Christ is taking the Church from us.

    Sometimes it helps to just write what we’re feeling, even if we know it isnt true intellectually.

    My Faith tells me Christ wont abandon his Church. I believe the Faith of the Creeds and the Fathers and my ancestors.

    But increasingly it feels an act of pure will, and less a gift or an act of the intellect or of charity/joy. I want to give my 6 small children a joyous Faith that is true to itself and history and consistent and intellectually defensible. This is getting harder and harder to do and I dont see it improving before their adulthood. I see a Church at war with Herself that will be easy for my kids to simply abandon because She isnt offering the safe place in the world that I had when I needed it.

    I’ll stop rambling now.

    In any case, as always, thank you, Father, for your advice.

  11. Thanks for these words of comfort, Father Z. Much appreciated.

    A timely reminder that the Church would never have survived it relied on mankind alone!

    Maybe we needed this pontificate to remind us that the Church truly is not of human origin…

  12. Ms. M-S says:

    In the decades before Vatican II it was pretty easy to just roll along with orthodox Catholic liturgies and life, maybe so easy that lots of us took it for granted and complacently left it all unexamined. The ensuing chaos since the hijacking may in fact be a salutary opportunity for each of us to stop short and check the Magisterial roadmap for the right directions to where we actually want to end up. No cause for alarm: The war has been won since the Resurrection. We just have to make sure we’re following the right set of pilgrims. Hints: Look for a biretta and join that crowd. Avoid the parade of Mass-goers with flip-flops and rainbow banners singing Gather Us In. And as you’ve heard often enough from St. Paul, should even an angel say something that doesn’t ring true, don’t listen.

  13. majuscule says:

    Perhaps because I have a good bishop (who I have observed with my own eyes is truly devout) I do not feel hopeless.

    I live a somewhat isolated life and although I am friends with some devout local people, I derive much consolation from people I see here and on social media, believe it or not.

    In my personal life I have seen the results of offring my own prayers and suffering. I think the offerings of many people are bringing to light all the filth in the Church. Keep up the good work (and good works). We know who wins in the end but maybe together we can help speed things up!

  14. Late for heaven says:

    I think these are all excellent suggestions. One thing I have found most helpful when I dispair is to realize that these are not my own convictions speaking but rather an attack by the devil. I get out the holy water and my rosary.

  15. Greg Hlatky says:

    “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine – but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.” – Hilaire Belloc

  16. Benedictus says:

    I’ve been challenged by similar thoughts. It really sickens me about what I’ve read! If cardinals, bishops and other clergy are flouting their homosexuality, how does a poor sinner (like me) try to be holy. I am a husband, and father of six kids.

    I hate to rehash the ugly details, but McCarrick would look at seminarians (while attending to one), and say “you’re next.” The teenager that “credibly” accused McCarrick indicated he was violated while preparing for Christmas Eve Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1970s. Right after that, McCarick consecrated the Holy Eucharist! This is terrible.

    When you hear about all these clergy violating the 6th Commandment with impunity (and seemingly no remorse), how does it make me (a weak sinner) feel when I fall into temptation? Look at the two Chicago priests caught in the act in Miami.

    I will never leave Jesus’ Church, but I am getting repulsed. I understand that their is righteous anger, but believe that my anger/disgust has passed that. It angers me to hear that traditionalists are punished (for conforming to Church teachings, or for preaching the hard truths) than homosexuals.

    I attended a NO mass this weekend (like I normally do), but not at my regular Church. I really despise the parade of “Eucharistic ministers,” the blessing of the Boy Scouts at the Altar, the “stand up” and greet everyone before Mass starts. Sometimes I feel like I sin by just attending Mass and being annoyed by the shenanigans.

    Lord have mercy!

  17. Vincent1967 says:

    I also feel the same as this reader, and I’m moved and grateful to you, Father, for such comforting words.
    I sometimes go to bed thinking I’ll wake up tomorrow to hear the Church’s teaching on sexual morality will have changed, that the Mass will be changed, that women will be ordained, that everything I trust will be gone. And then I remember, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of time’.
    I know Fr General of the Society of Jesus says we can’t trust Scripture because no one had a tape recorder, but it’s in Scripture I get the greatest courage and comfort these days. That, and your good sense, Father, are invaluable in these diabolical times.

  18. Liturgy Lover says:

    I can identify with some of these feelings. Perhaps not despair, or wondering whether I will remain a Catholic – but definitely with the feeling of abandonment. I’ve often said in recent months that I feel like a spiritual orphan. I was feeling particularly downcast about the present state of the Church a couple of days ago, after reading Cardinal Oullet’s response to Vigano. Our pastor had just given a good homily on the Rosary for the October 7 feast day, so I sat down to pray my final Rosary for the 54-day novena. At the beginning, I said, “Look Lord, I know You said in today’s Gospel that people are always asking for signs or they won’t believe, but some kind of little sign to give me encouragement would be really nice right now.” By the end of it, I did feel comforted. It felt as though Mary was telling me, “Don’t worry. My Son and I are going to take care of things.” I then decided to turn on my sacred music playlist. I put it on shuffle, and the very first song that came on was Palestrina’s marvelous “Tu Es Petrus” which sets the text of Matthew 16:17-19. Perhaps a small thing, but still it felt like a direct answer to my earlier despondent feelings about the Church and request for a sign of encouragement.

  19. Matamoros says:

    We must remember the Church’s motto: Semper Idem – Always the Same.
    The Faith is written down, we can always refer to written works from times past to know and understand the Faith. So there is no excuse for ignorance.
    Saints have told us that the Church will undergo much persecution and even that “Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of anti-Christ” which appears to be happening now. Yet, the Church — the Church herself, remains spotless and pure, for she belongs to Christ alone and can neither deceive nor be deceived, nor be destroyed.
    Hold fast to the Faith once for all time delivered to us, fight for the visible Church, but realize that what we see is not the whole of the Church. And though large parts may fall away, the Church remains indefectible.

  20. Julia_Augusta says:

    Shortly after I came back to the Catholic Church after many decades away, I became very depressed because there is no traditional Mass in my area or in the places where I travel. I began to cry everyday when I would pray the Rosary because the N.O. Mass in my neighbourhood, although more reverent than most N.O. Masses, still features altar girls, lay readers, etc. During my daily prayers, I would cry and ask Our Lord not to let anyone take Him away from me. That’s what all this novelty feels like – taking Christ away from us. One early morning, in the sliver of consciousness between sleep and wakefulness, I seemed to receive a message from Our Lord: He said no one will ever take Him away from me. The reality is this: we are the ones who walk away from Him. After that, I stopped feeling depressed.

  21. mtmajor says:

    Thanks Padre, perfect timing. Deo gratias!

  22. kram2181 says:

    The original poster must have been reading the minds of many Catholics. There was a small hint of a promise that the Church may be purified after the Pennsylvania report which was followed by the Vigano letter shortly afterwards. I, along with a lot of posters, had been praying for a purification of the Church, purging the smoke of Satan from the Vatican and all levels of the clergy, returning to reverence and Orthodoxy. Then came the silence. Then came strange allusions to the enablers of abuse being attacked by “the great accuser.” Then came the Ouellet letter. Now the synod is in full force with who-knows-what as a final outcome. It has been very numbing. The momentum that seemed to exist at the end of August seems to have been shushed away by the highest leader(s) in the Church. It seems that “business as usual” and a march toward secular relevance are being pressed harder than ever before. So yes, it is a very real question at this point, and it seems a very real possibility – what will happen, what will we do when something such as the nature of man, the definition of marriage, the reality of sin is “remade” by this synod or this pontificate? Compared to the last few months, the outcry over Amoris Laetitia seems quaint at this point, like a minor quibble between fans of opposing sports teams. Which puts into perspective how deranged things have become. So, I agree with the original poster. It is difficult. Never before in my life has the Church felt like merely a “man-made” institution until now. And as terrible as it sounds, recently it seems that I receive the Eucharist joyless. It’s mechanical; going to Mass feels empty, like going to the pharmacy. A pharmacy for sacraments. And God forgive me, but I even wonder to myself why I want to go to a heaven with a God who would allow His Church to have been a cause of pain and scandal for so many years? The faith at times seems reduced to a battle of wits, like we are just holding on for dear life, hoping and praying that teachings don’t change, hoping things get better. The Church is supposed to be our rock and path to salvation, not a constant source of anxiety, worry, and anger. God forgive me. But I will keep praying.

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