The Church certainly has her enemies. Christ predicted that she would be persecuted, and we can see today that the Church is the great thorn in the side to various political and social agendas that are contrary to the Gospel of Jesus, but which are striving for ascendancy and wholesale public acceptance. It is fairly clear, then, who her enemies are, as we look at the anti-Gospel forces marshaled against truth and holiness. But the Church’s most insidious enemies may actually be lodged within her and thus be harder to identify as such and hence to overcome. “If an enemy had reviled me, I could have borne it; if he who hates me had vaunted himself against me, I might have hidden from him. But you…my companion…at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God!” (Psalm 54/55:13-15). Her worst enemies may be some of her own members and ministers.
I recently read an article about a seminar recently given by a bishop, who based his talks on writings of several “post-modern” theologians. The point of it was to reinterpret the whole sacramental system of the Church in such a way as to obscure or even deny traditional and authoritative teachings on the subject. They found the sacrament of confession to be irrelevant and dispensable, for example, unless someone perchance still was unenlightened enough to think they had need for it. OK, it could be made available for such. Such theological opinions, and such public presentations made by those ostensibly representing the Church, are unfortunately not rare. How can the Church effectively and universally present the Mystery of Christ and His Gospel to the world when a significant number of her own representatives are playing Judas?
On the individual level, we may notice, if we do a thorough examination of conscience, that we are our own worst enemies. We may be “shooting ourselves in the foot” by means of our hypocrisy, rationalizations, or the lack of self-discipline and true repentance that would reduce our bad habits and the sin that diminishes our personal credibility as witnesses of Jesus Christ. Christians sometimes present a caricature of the Faith by their uncritical identification with some political party or agenda. If the witness of Christians is manifestly one-sided or phony or shown to have underlying mixed motives, then the media will have a field day with us. It’s one thing to be attacked or ridiculed by a godless world for preaching the true faith; it’s quite another to deserve the scorn of others by jumping on some bandwagon and calling it Christianity.
The problem on both levels is deep and not easily resolved. Most of the erring members of the Church are not deliberately trying to defile or destroy her; they’re just engaging in a wrongheaded attempt to get her to accommodate herself to changing times and the current culture, somehow not realizing that such is not at all the mission of the Church, which is called to preach Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). And many individuals are self-deceived enough not to realize that they are the enemies of their own salvation by their lack of self-knowledge (and of knowledge of the Gospel and Tradition), and by their own personal accommodation to our (often corrupt) culture with its relativistic mentality and hackneyed slogans.
The enemy who is us (whether within the Church as such or our own souls) can be overcome and converted only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, by an enlightenment that flows from repentance and a sincere seeking of the truth. Constant prayer must be offered to God so that the enemy can be recognized and dealt with. For her mission in the coming times, the Church needs to be purified, united, and sanctified in order to effectively counter those who alone ought to be her enemies: those who choose to follow the devil and his perverse and death-dealing agenda. As for individuals, since the times are going to demand so much of us if we are to be faithful to the Truth, “what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion!” (2Peter ).