It would be presumptuous, it seems, to rule out the possibility.
Many years ago I remember listening to a lecture by the late, great Fr. John O’Connor on the paralyzing fear the first Bishops of the Catholic Church experienced during Our Lord’s passion. Not many heroes in their company, I’m afraid, at least not at that point. In fact, the first act of collegiality is recorded in Mark, Chapter 14 verse 50: “Then his disciples leaving him, all fled away.”
They all fled — those first bishops of the Church, shepherds who had been personally selected for their holy mission by Christ Himself. Why, then, should we be surprised when ecclesiastical midgets such as Roger Mahony or Timothy Dolan turn tail and run from Christ's company in our day!
And why did the first bishops flee? Because they were afraid. Fr. O’Connor speculated as to what must have been required to transform St. John, for example, from the trembling coward we see in the Garden to that tower of strength standing in the very shadow of the Cross on Golgotha. What happened?
“Isn’t it obvious?” asks Fr. O’Connor. John stopped fretting about himself just long enough to think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. And so he dashed to her house, pounded on the door and tried breathlessly to warn her against the peril they all faced at that moment.
And what do you suppose she said to John, as he stood there panting in fear, begging Mary to come with him into hiding?
Nothing, at first. She just winced and drew a deep breath as her heart was pierced by the first of Simeon’s swords of sorrow. And then she spoke: “No, John. Not that way but back the way you came. The hour is at hand. We must go to Him.”
And in that moment, the fear in John’s heart grew less paralyzing and he knew he needn't run anymore.
Led by a transformed St. John, the little company of Jesus' closest friends—a mere remnant of the crowd that had shouted hosannas to the Son of David just a week before— hastens to the foot of the Cross, where they remain for the next two thousand years. And for his part as noble protector of Our Lady, John would become the son of the 'woman wrapped in silence', the last of the Apostles to hear the Master’s voice, and the only Apostle never required to shed his blood for Christ. Why? Because he had been the one who remained at Mary’s side.
And where was Peter? Where were the first bishops? Well, that’s just the point—no one knows. Somewhere, anywhere, hiding, trembling in fear, working out their escape. Christ was in the hands of His enemies, and His friends were losing faith in Him to such an extent that it would require a visit from God Himself, in the person of the Holy Ghost, fifty days later to break the spell of their paralyzing fear that led to their confusion, scandal, denial and even betrayal.
Little has changed since then as Almighty God made certain that all the precedents for scandal and betrayal had been set while the Cross was still newly planted at the 'place of the skull'.
Two millennia later we have no excuse to lose faith in Christ or His Church. Despair is not an option, and neither is apostasy. Mary is still at the foot of the Cross, even if many bishops and popes are not. And it is there with her that we all must remain... if there is to be any hope for us to keep the faith.
Some say ours is the darkest hour in history, and yet what must it have been like for that little remnant beneath the Cross when the Messiah breathed His last and when the vulgar soldiers couldn’t even be bothered to look up from their dice as the blood of God poured into the ground beneath the spot where they played their games?
Listen to them for a moment: “Look at these kooks! They actually believe that dead guy up there on the Cross was God. What morons!”
Sound familiar? Again, little has changed.
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But Mary's remnant wasn't listening to all that. Instead they were watching as Our Lord expired on the Cross of our sins. And far from despairing on that first Good Friday, they waited for the horrible ordeal to end and then removed His lifeless body from the gibbet, held Him close for a time and prepared it for burial. There was nothing else to do. The soldiers had grown bored, the priests had walked back down the hill and the crowd was breaking up.
If His ignominious death on the Cross did not crush faith in Christ at that terrible moment, how, why, could the crucifixion of His Mystical Body crush it today? Easter Sunday will come for the Mystical Body of Christ too. His Church will rise again, and He will be with us always even unto the consummation of the world. In the meantime, we keep the old Faith and watch and wait...just like they did.
It is sometimes suggested that tradition-minded Catholics see themselves as being “more Catholic than the Church”. But one wonders if Magdalene and John weren’t accused of something similar, standing beneath the cross after all the other apostles had fled. Who do they think they are? Peter isn’t even standing there!
But it was love, certainly not arrogance, that united the little company at the foot of the Cross and prompted them to remain there when even Peter was conspicuous by his absence. So, too, it is love for Christ’s Church that inspires Catholics all around the world today to cling to the Cross of Tradition even when most of the Apostles themselves have abandoned it for 'fear of the Jews'.
The little remnant of believers still fears that faith could fail them, too. Why? Because it well could. Christ prayed for Peter himself that his faith would not fail. “And the Lord said: Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” (Luke 22)
Obviously, we too could lose our way in this darkness. Who among the shrinking little remnant today would dare presume that salvation is easily within his grasp, especially now when the bulwarks of the old Faith that stood strong against the gates of hell for a thousand years have been compromised. We remain paralyzed with fear, our arms wrapped around Tradition like Magdalene’s around the Cross. And in the darkness that is falling again, we plead as she might have: Jesus, we are not strong enough to go on without You; We are so afraid. Stay with us.
And in that terrible moment what does He say to us? "Behold thy mother."
We are sinners whose only hope of salvation is at her side, anchored to the rock of the traditional Mass and at the mercy of her Son — glorious Catholic realities which ushered a million saints and more souls than can be counted through this vale of tears ever since the first Crucifixion.
Thomas Aquinas may have reasoned his way to the Cross; St. Teresa prayed her way there; St. Joan of Arc obeyed even unto the Cross; the Cure of Ars rode there on the back of heroic virtue. But sinners like us can only hope to find our way through Divine mercy and Mary’s love. Our prayer is that God will see our weak and pitiful attempts to follow Him, and again ask His mother to take our hands and lead us all the way to the Cross. For without the intercession of the Morning Star this darkness will overcome us and we too will go into hiding.
Holy Mother Church is being eclipsed and we are becoming orphans. Our priests, our nuns, our monks, our fathers, our mothers are leaving us to fend for ourselves in a darkness so terrifying that even Peter himself lost hope because of it and denied the Son of God three times in the midst of it.
Demons are all around the Cross once again but the Virgin Mary still stands inviolate among them, even in the darkness of this new passion. Let us ask her, then, to stay with us so that we too can dare to hope to witness the glories of the empty tomb.
A blessed Easter to all of our friends and allies in the little remnant all around the world. This dark night will pass and Christ’s Mystical Body will rise again. Hallelujah!
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn.”
- G.K. Chesterton
(The Everlasting Man)