He is with you today, tomorrow, and always.

Today there are factions in the Church involved in controversies and frictions which I find very troubling. Being a simple soul, unencumbered with degrees or vast theological knowledge, I feel I can only approach this subject telling the story of my journey, what I have learned and where I stand.

It seems before Vatican Council II everyone who called themselves Catholic believed the same things and knew what they believed. I thought that’s the way the Church had always been, with no controversies or dissension, from the time it was instituted by Christ and down through the ages until Vatican II. Of course, I did know about the Protestant Reformation but I viewed that as an abnormality, resolved centuries earlier, with the dissenters starting their own religions and Catholics ‘sticking’ to the beliefs they had always held. Then came Vatican II and it seemed everything changed and the changes, so sudden and drastic, made it feel like all the rules were thrown out and it was a new Church. This put me in a ‘state of confusion’, however, I tried to work through it and remain the loyal daughter of the Church I had always been.

Memorized answers in the Baltimore Catechism were not enough to solve my dilemma so I began to read histories of the Church, lives of saints and study the Bible. It was so interesting to find that there had always been controversies in the Church and often they were solved by councils. Councils defined in Our Sunday Visitor’s “Encyclopedia of Catholic History” as: Formal assemblies of cardinals, bishops, theologians, and heads of religious orders as well as other Church representatives who have been convened to examine or discuss matters of religious or doctrinal importance or to formulate regulations on Church teaching or discipline.

The very first council is described in the Acts of the Apostles: Some men came from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the believers, “You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised as the Law of Moses requires.” Paul and Barnabas got into a fierce argument with them about this, so it was decided that Paul and Barnabas and some of the others in Antioch should go to Jerusalem and see the apostles and elders about this matter. Acts 15:1-3

They assembled in Jerusalem, where much discussion took place and the matter was resolved. This set two important traditions which hold true today: They went to Rome to resolve the dispute and they deferred to Peter, the first pope, to make the ultimate decision.

Reading about saints, I discovered an overwhelming amount of them were involved in attempts to settle discords, heresies or schisms.

St. Ignatius of Antioch converted to Christianity in the first century and was an intimate acquaintance of St. John the Evangelist, and Sts. Peter and Paul. He was condemned for being a Christian and sent to Rome in chains to be killed. He did not stop his work for God but wrote letters instructing in the faith, encouraging holiness and warning against heretical doctrines. A quote from one of his letters is: “My chains, which I carry about on me for Jesus Christ, begging that I may happily make my way to God, exhort you: persevere in your concord and in your community prayers.” Ignatius was thrown to the lions at the Coliseum in Rome as entertainment for the crowds, and there he died.

Sts. Lucian and Marcian, two men who were born and raised as pagans, lived at the beginning of the 200’s. They studied and practiced black magic until they encountered Christians not susceptible to their magic and saw evil spirits defeated by the sign of the cross. Their eyes were opened; they changed their lives, burned all their books of black magic and became Christians. Eventually, God called them to spread the Word of God to other Gentiles. In the year 250 when edicts were published against the Christians, Sts. Lucian and Marcian were arrested. Asked why they preached and taught about Jesus Christ, they responded, “Every man does well to endeavor to draw his brother out of dangerous error.” These two men were sent to the rack to be tortured, and then condemned to death by burning.

Lucian and Marcian’s early lives show us that the devil often uses normal people to do his will through ignorance and the use of black magic. These saints remind us that we should never follow any temptation to call upon the devil or any of his tools for assistance, and that we should trust our lives only to God.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lived in France in the 1600’s. She was a sister of the Visitation order. Jesus began to appear to her in visions with His heart surrounded by a crown of thorns and flames and gave her the mission of establishing devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She propagated what was revealed to her with the theme: Jesus’ great love for us should be reciprocated by love for His Sacred Heart. During her life Jansenism was a heresy causing serious problems in several countries, especially France. This heresy believed that human nature was radically and intrinsically corrupted by original sin and that those who will gain the rewards of eternal life are only those who are predestined for that reward. Jansenism advocated an extremely rigorous moral code. This heresy was condemned by Pope Pius V in 1567 and by several other Popes until it was finally put down by Pope St. Pius X in the early 1900’s. Most scholars believe that the devotion to the Sacred Heart, advocated by St. Margaret Mary, was an important contributing factor to the end of Jansenism.

In the 20 centuries the Church has existed there have been 21 Ecumenical Councils. All but the last were convened to resolve controversies within the Church. The last one was Vatican Council II for the purpose, “mainly to more effectively preserve and present the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine.”

The first Ecumenical Council at Nicaea was in the year 325. It formulated the Nicene Creed. Then in 381 the second Council was held at Constantinople and here the Creed was confirmed and extended. The Nicene Creed is said at every Sunday Mass. It gives such confidence to know that all those centuries ago the tenets of our faith were set down, have been recited by untold numbers of Catholics through the ages, and it is the same Creed we are saying today.

The fourth Council was at Chalcedon in the year 451. It settled a great controversy raging in the Church, the Monophysitist or Eutychian heresy, which was over the nature of Christ. The Council proclaimed Jesus Christ has two natures human and divine. So today Lois Donahue, in her article “Was Jesus Truly Human?” can state with confidence Jesus Christ was true God and true man or fully human and fully divine.

Today I realize there were always controversies within the Church and valiant men and women, more than I can possibly relate here, fought relentlessly to preserve the faith from error and many brave men and women died martyr’s deaths to ensure the faith could be passed on. I think of Jesus’s words when He founded the Catholic Church: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:18-19) And I think of something else I remember Jesus saying, which is very comforting: “I am with you today, tomorrow and always.