Gloriosus apparuisti inter principes Austriae, sancte Leopolde, ideo diadema suscepisti de manu Domini; ora pro nobis ad Deum qui te elegit. (Magnificat Antiphon for the Feast of Saint Leopold)
Earlier this month the Austrian Bishop’s Conference met here in Heiligenkreuz. By some chance the first day of the Conference coincided with the Feast of Saint Leopold, the great Margrave of Austria and founder of Stift Heiligenkreuz (November 15th). These are, shall we say, challenging times for the Church of Austria, and one could not but be struck by the contrast between our times and those of Saint Leopold. But perhaps there is more illusion than reality in the contrast.
Certainly the impression that one gets from the liturgical texts etc. for Saint Leopold is of a kind of golden age in which everything went right for the Holy Prince. The antiphon for the Dixit Dominus at vespers goes, “Dominus confregit in die belli inimicos Leopoldi”! But this impression must be largely mistaken. Man is fallen from Paradise so it is natural to look back to a pre-lapsarian age, but one is inclined not to look back far enough and to project pre-lapsarian perfection on very lapsarian times. Saint Leopold’s greatest contemporary, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, thought that his own times were the worst times in the history of the world. To us they only seem great because the people we remember from them are the great exceptions: SS. Bernard, Leopold etc. The extreme example of this is of course the time of Our Lord, the fullness of time, but the generation which our Lord Himself says will be condemned on the Day of Judgment by Sodom and Gomorrah.
The opposite error is equally natural: to look forward to a coming generation which will set everything right. This is all very well if one looks forward to the Second Coming, but I’m afraid even Catholics have the tendency not to look forward far enough. How many times have we heard so-called “conservatives” say that soon the present unfortunate generation of “liberals” will die off and their places be taken by the rising generation of “traditionalist” churchmen who will reverse the excesses of the past decades? But every generation of churchmen is full of heresy, pride, cowardice, envy, and folly; all we can hope for is a occasional saint to keep our hopes up till the eschatological solution to all problems.