If I’m going to buy a book from Amazon I like to read the 1 star reviews first. If those reviews are well thought out, then I tend to avoid the purchase, but if they are rantings and ravings from someone terrified that the book might do some good -then I’m more likely to buy it. I guess I’m a bit contrary like that.
When it came to the Church the history of the bad popes was a lesson in authentic authority for me. There have been some pretty dreadful popes through history. The Church hierarchy reached a real low during the Avignon papacy, and didn’t really recover until well after Trent. We have been truly blessed over the last two hundred years to have a bunch of truly good and holy popes, but goodness me the Church had muck all over the shoes of the fisherman before that.
How, you may wonder, did the dark days of the papacy help me on my quest to discover truth and authentic authority? Not one of these bad popes ever promulgated something against the Truth. They may have been awful sinners, but they never tried to rule their sins legitimate. The nearest we come in 2000 years to any Pope trying to get his own views accepted as authoritative is Pope Sixtus V and his badly translated and generally inaccurate Bible. He suddenly fell ill and died before he could promulgate it. But even that has been considered a non-event by thorough historians, presumably because it didn’t happen.
However, the next question I had over these bad popes was how Jesus’ promise not to leave His people orphans was fulfilled. If the Catholic Church really is His Church, He promised to ensure proper parenting for the sheep and lambs.
Bad, or absent popes, corrupt self serving Cardinals and bishops and priests who were not up to much must have left the ordinary people feeling very much orphaned. So what was God going to do about that? Where was His Church then?
I hit a bit of a wall here at first. You see, as a child I had been given those unbelievably sloppy little saint stories that leave you gasping for insulin. It put me off reading anything about saints at all. But then I discovered a couple of things (and I can’t remember how exactly). I learned that the soldier Ignatius Loyola had a conversion after reading the lives of the saints while recovering from his leg being blasted by a cannon ball. How on earth did a tough Spanish soldier find God among all that slop and fluff, I wondered? He had obviously had access to different saint stories than I had.
And then I stumbled on Louis de Wohl. At the same time I met a tiny Bridgetine Mother who told the story of St Bridget – and I was hooked. God HAD provided parents when the Fathers of the Church went AWOL. He gave the most powerful mothers we could ever hope for in St. Bridget and her daughter St Katherine and then the amazing St. Catherine of Siena. He gave us little father’s in St Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic, and of course He gave us a limping Spanish soldier in St. Ignatius of Loyola. There were so many holy men and women around this supernova saints that the Church and her people were steered through the storm tossed waters even while those supposed to be in Persona Christie were asleep at the tiller.
No other Christian church or community or any other faith for that matter has produced people of the calibre of my own St. Bridget and the astonishingly brightly shining St Catherine of Siena. And these were just two of the deeply holy, God strengthened and intelligent people that are fruits of the Church. If I was going elsewhere for truth I had to find people better God-guided than them. And I never have.
During my dive into history and the lives of the saints my innocence about Catholic and other Christian writers took a beating. Byrne had simply made things up in her book Women at the Altar. There never were any ordained women; the role, power and strength of women in the Church was in how they reflected the Bride. God, decided the role for women and it was a truly fulfilling and dignified one. The women saints were a powerful witness to me that I could turn to them and that women as nuns, sisters, wives and mothers had a place in Christ’s Kingdom.
But realising that even Christians would tell down right porkies in their books made me pray very hard for discernment. And it made me double check and look further into all the history I was reading.