As James Bogle stresses, in the latest edition of Inside the Vatican, Christ is the one and only Head of the Catholic Church. The pope is his vicar in spiritual matters; and governments are his stewards in temporal affairs.
As we sadly know, vicars and stewards are wont to govern poorly at times, which God in his wisdom permits, perhaps to remind us that our true King is in heaven.
None of the above is meant to take human authorities “off the hook.” They are responsible for their errors and iniquities, and will be judged accordingly. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required” (Luke 12:48).
Though their deeds are consequential for themselves and others, however, this does not make rulers (much less those under their authority) governors of the cosmos. Thankfully, that charge has been retained in worthier hands.
As God exercises his providential prerogatives, he is in the habit of ribbing those underlings who have failed to do their part. We see this in his approach to Achaz, king of Juda, who feared the wrath of his enemies despite the prophet Isais’s assurances that God had his back (Isais 7).
In the face of the king’s incredulity, God commanded him to ask for a sign, “unto the depth of hell, or unto the height above.” But Achaz, thinking himself smarter than his Maker, affected to decline the offer, on the pretext that he would not “tempt the Lord.”
It was in the face of such pusillanimity that God chose to reveal the most magnificent of his own designs: “Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good.”
Fast forward to the 21st century. Humankind remains steeped in sin, ruled by men (and women—even those who cannot define the term) more confused than ever about what is evil, and ought to be refused, and what is good, and ought to be chosen.
Among the misguided we must reckon the present Vicar of Christ, who is as much responsible for the decomposition of our civilization as anyone.
And yet, this does not make him any less Christ’s Vicar, or prevent him from being the instrument of Christ’s providence in our times.
When Achaz failed to govern as God demanded, the Lord promised to send his Son by miraculous means, through the humble ministrations of a Virgin whose obedience to his will brought his Kingship to earth.
It is through this same Virgin, his Mother, that Christ seeks to bring the hearts of men under his gentle sway today.
The text of the prayer with which our Holy Father consecrated Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary may be verbose, and filled with platitudes characteristic of confusions that need to be cured, rather than the light that needs to be cast upon our present darkness.
But God and our Lady are more than capable of making up for these defects. What matters most is that the servant of the servants of God has (finally) heeded the Virgin’s request.
This does not absolve him, or us, of the need to repent of our sins, and grow in the virtues whose lack is the cause of our woes. It does, however, open the way for this wayward world to be brought, with gladness and rejoicing, back to the temple of our true and only King.
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