Every few years I have the opportunity to teach high schoolers about one of the most critical centuries in human history, the 16th century. If you were alive in 1500 in Europe, you could go to any country in Europe and find Mass. ALL of Christian Europe was Catholic. It must have been a unique landscape in which to live.
1517 saw Martin Luther, a disgruntled Augustinian monk, begin his break with the Church and lead thousands upon thousands out of the Church. One of the key dates in the 1500s is 1521. When faced with German princes and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, Luther refused to recant. He was protected by a few German princes which led to the separation in Christendom which we still experience.
To be a regular Catholic, it must have seemed as one’s world was being upended and torn apart. Perhaps, people asked where God was. How many in leadership, including leadership in the Church, seemed to have failed to protect the spiritual, moral and physical well-being of the human person.
And, yet, 1521 was an incredible year for the Catholic Church! 1521 saw the victory of Cortes over the human-sacrifice-centered Aztec empire in the New World. His victory paved the way for Our Lady to visit a humble convert in 1531 in Mexico City. December 12, 1531 the Mother of God left her image on the tilma of St. Juan Diego. Our Lady of Guadalupe would be the instrument of NINE MILLION conversions to Catholicism in the next ten years!
1521 also saw the conversion of a non-practicing Catholic soldier, Inigo Lopez. After an injury in a battle, he read the lives of Jesus Christ and the saints. He asked himself, ‘What if I were to do the same as Dominic and Francis?’ He consecrated his life to Our Lord. With six other men, two of which he was instrumental in their conversions, he founded the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. We know him as St. Ignatius of Loyola. Within one century Jesuits were converting and re-converting all over the globe! Consider that Jesuits went to the Far East; offered the sacraments in England when illegal to do so; were in Florida, Maryland, New York and other colonies in the New World; were in South America; etc.
May we always have a hope and trust in Our Lord that He is working in ways that we cannot see – in ourselves and in others! How He was active in Our Lady before His Birth!