Father Booth’s Weekly Reflection

Worthy of Full Faith and Trust

We have had two bank failures in the U.S. recently and one in Switzerland. The Swiss bank was bought out, with government assistance, by another Swiss bank. The Swiss government assisted this buyout for the sake of bolstering confidence in the Swiss banking system. The depositors at the two American banks, Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank, were bailed out to quell fears of a general banking collapse. Some are pushing back on the term of ‘bailout’ claiming that these banks were not bailed out like AIG, Freddie Mac, and Fanny Mae were in 2008. This is sort of true. The reality in 2008 was that the banks themselves were bailed out while the reality today is that the depositors of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank were bailed out. A partial bailout for the depositors would be expected, at least up to $250,000 per depositor, based on deposit insurance. But the government has stepped in to insure deposits above and beyond the $250,000 per depositor limit.

The whole point of FDIC deposit insurance is to instill confidence in the banking system. It also made for oversight of banks to minimize bank failures. One must wonder how, with government oversight, that any bank gets in trouble in the first place. Was somebody asleep at the wheel? Having two banks fail in short order is hardly confidence building at work. Then again, one might hope that other banks are being scrutinized to prevent more failures and more bailouts. One might hope.

Hope, at least when it comes to human institutions, especially government institutions, is becoming less and less of a reality. Deservedly so. Mankind is pretty adept at hubris and we do well to remember this. Tinkering with the genetics of viruses: what could go wrong with that? Forcing people to take rapidly developed, largely untested, and utterly novel vaccines: what could go wrong with that? Forcing banks to loan money to unqualified borrowers: what could go wrong with that? Boasting that a cruise liner to be unsinkable: what could go wrong with that? Given how close both the Americans and Russians have come to launching nuclear strikes against one another (in 1956, 1960, 1962, 1965, 1973, 1980, 1983, 1995, and perhaps at other times) and how it is often that a single cool-headed and perceptive Russian or American air force or navy officer stopped armageddon on their own initiative, we need to ponder how much trust we place in our fellow human beings and human institutions.

As a human institution the Church has certainly failed on multiple occasions. Nevertheless, the Church has not ceased to be. The human element is weak, corrupt, fallible, and at times perverse, but the divine element of the Church preserves it despite the failings of popes, bishops, and priests. Napoleon once boasted to the cardinal of Paris, ‘Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?’ The cardinal responded ‘Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.’ A better response might have been to cite Matthew 16:18 where Jesus tells Simon Peter “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

Thus, we can place our trust in the Church and perhaps not so much in its members, clergy or laity alike. In trusting the Church we are ultimately trusting God, not our fellow man. Psalm 118 puts it this way: “With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is on my side to help me; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” (Ps 118:6-9).

To some degree we have to place trust in our fellow man and in human institutions or else everyday life would prove to be more or less impossible, but we need to be prepared for the human element to fail us. Ultimately, only God is worthy of our trust, worthy of our hope. Indeed, the virtue of hope has taken a beating over the last few decades at the hands of stupid, depraved, corrupt, and self-serving men and human institutions. But God’s promises, especially those of our Lord Jesus Christ, are fully and completely worthy of our trust. Indeed, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps 124:8), not in banks, governments, or any other human endeavor.

—Fr Booth