Bishop Hying

Throughout the ages, the Lord calls us to respond in our time to the ageless call of the Gospel

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on May 27, 2018


      In the rich and varied history of the Catholic Church, the Counter-Reformation was the Catholic response to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation, which itself had begun as a movement for needed renewal within the medieval Church. 

      The religious legacy of this era includes soaring Gothic cathedrals, remarkable saints, a flourishing monasticism, Thomistic philosophy and the development of universities and hospitals. But Catholicism also needed some profound reforms. 

      Popes lived like Renaissance princes, wrapped in luxury and often warred with the political powers of the age. Born of the noble class, bishops often did not even reside in their dioceses, nor care for the pastoral needs of their people. Priests were poorly educated and often could not articulate the Catholic faith to their people, the majority of whom were illiterate.  

      In many ways, superstitions and myths held more sway over Christian minds and hearts than a true knowledge of the Gospel.

      In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, as religious leaders like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli left the Catholic Church with their followers, popes, bishops, priests and lay faithful realized the need for renewal within the Church with a burning urgency.  

      The Council of Trent, held in Italy from 1545-1563, rearticulated the basic truths of the Catholic Faith and implemented needed reforms in the hierarchy, priesthood, religious life, Church governance, catechesis and ecclesial life in general. In many ways, Trent was calling believers back to the basics - a living relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church, the sacraments and prayer, the primacy of the Scriptures proclaimed and believed in the community, personal holiness and asceticism, especially in the clergy and a renewed concern for the needs of the poor and suffering.  

      None of this essential and radical renewal of Catholicism would have succeeded, however, if individual leaders did not step forward to incarnate a radical return to Christ and the Gospel in their own lives.

      God raised up remarkable saints in this tumultuous time of social ferment and religious conflict, women and men who renewed the Church and the world in powerful and transformative ways because they first allowed the Lord to renew their own spirit and vocation.  

      I am thinking of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, Francis de Sales and Jane Frances de Chantal, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, Ignatius of Loyola and Francis Xavier, Catherine of Bologna and Philip Neri. These extraordinary individuals changed Catholicism and the world by reading the signs of the times, rediscovering the basic principles of the faith and incarnating a persuasive evangelization, a rigorous spiritual formation, a compassionate service to the poor and a mystical relationship with Jesus Christ.

      I ponder the lives and legacy of these particular saints because we are clearly in a similar historical and social moment as they found themselves. In the era of the Counter-Reformation, many people felt disengaged from the Church, society was riven by poverty, conflicts and violence and traditional ideas, presumptions and institutions were being questioned.  

      Catholicism was emerging from the medieval world into the modern one, amid much uncertainty and confusion. The Council of Trent had outlined the nature and method of Church reform, but such plans still awaited full implementation.

      This description sounds startlingly familiar as we examine the Church and the world today. Fewer people are dynamically engaged in the life of the Church, we experience a great polarization in our culture, and even in the faith. Increasing violence and poverty threaten societal stability, and we still need to fully embrace the implications of the Second Vatican Council. 

      I am convicted that God is calling us to become transformational leaders in the Church today, to embrace the opportunities that all of this change, challenge and ferment provide us, so that we can help usher in a new age of the Catholic faith, strengthened and renewed.  

      In forthcoming columns, I will explore the lives and spirituality of the saints mentioned above, to mine their rich experiences and inspiring examples; they have much to teach us concerning how the Lord is calling us to respond in our time to the ageless call of the Gospel. Amid the confusion, tumult and change that constantly surround us, God calls us to a serene fidelity to Christ, the Church, the Scriptures, the sacraments and the moral life.  

      I find it exciting to be a Catholic right now! We could wish for a by-gone era of greater numbers of priests, religious and practicing laity, when everything seemed clear and simple, but God has willed us to live in this present moment, to be light and leaven for our brothers and sisters in a time of great ferment and uncertainty.  

      The saints of the Counter-Reformation model for us how to renew the Church by first seeking holiness themselves, and then living their mission and purpose with a courageous boldness and a joyful trust in the changeless love of Jesus Christ.


       + Donald J. Hying

Join The Flock

Flock Note