The Catholic Church Through the Ages: A History is a great history book; it's short, very heavy with its bibliography (the author points you towards TONS of resources to further your exploration), and it's brutally honest. Without taking anything away from the Church and her mission, the author is very open and honest about our mistakes and scandals, like when we dug up a dead pope and put him on trial. This is because every Catholic who is honest with himself will love the Church with all his heart, while at the same time mourning with great sorrow all the scandals, corruption, crime, and pain that we've been part of which has in turn pushed people away from full Communion with Christ.
There's a famous story, probably apocryphal, but the short of it is that Napoleon - often described as a Catholic on his death bed, but during life, anything but - had used a church as a stable for his horses and looking at the rector said, "I've conquered the Church," whereas the priest said, "If we haven't been able to destroy her yet, then what chance to YOU have?" Some of our saints haven't been any kinder towards how Catholics take the Church (and Christ's mercy) for granted. Pope St. Pius X said, "All the strength of Satan’s reign is due to the easygoing weakness of Catholics." Pope St. Pius V said, "All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics." And we can see that just in our "Catholic" politicians who are saying that it is their faith that causes them to support homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics, etc.
With each and every generation that passes, a new scandal erupts in the Church. Maybe it's a heresy (like in the beginning of the Church's history) or maybe it's a scandal (like the indulgences that led Luther to rebel) or maybe it's corruption (which led St. Francis of Assisi to found his Order) or maybe it's crime (as we've seen with the homosexual "pedophilia" scandal). Throughout our 2,000 years the Church has been rocked again and again because Satan does not want us to win. He knows Christ has won, but the devil wants to drag as many souls to hell with him as he can.
I defend the Church with such passion because I see her glory - but the glory isn't hers in her own power, but her glory is a reflection of the glory of her head, Jesus Christ. The Church has taught throughout the centuries that the Church isn't holy because we're so great or because we don't sin; obviously, we're sinners and that's why Jesus gave us the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession), because as St. John told us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us" (1 Jn 1:8-10). No, the Church isn't holy because of us - the Church is holy because of her founder, Jesus Christ, and the "life force" that flows within her, the Holy Ghost. As part of the Body of Christ, we can either be healthy cells or cancer - sadly, we've had a lot of cancer over the centuries, but that doesn't mean the rest of the Body is dying.
If we didn't have corrupt bishops cheating people out of their money in exchange for indulgences, perhaps Martin Luther would have died content as an Augustinian friar instead of becoming the poster child for the disastrous Reformation. If we hadn't allowed homosexuals to enter the seminaries in the 60s and 70s, perhaps we would have avoided the sex abuse crisis that has rocked the Church. If our Catholic politicians actually practiced their faith, then that 30% of Congress could make some really positive changes to this country and the world.
The point is that no amount of terrible Catholics - myself included - can change the fact that Jesus Christ is with the Church because he IS the Church; the Church is his Mystical Body. As St. Paul said, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (1 Cor 12:27). So no amount of sin can destroy the Church, for He promised, "[T]he gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Mat 16:18). Sadly, in this day and age, if there's even one bad priest or nun, if there's even one Catholic politician or pewsitter who supports sin, the entire world is aware of it. If we had the same media in the past that we have today, I believe the Reformation would have happened centuries earlier! NOT because the Church teaches heresy and has corrupted Christ's revelation, as Luther believed, but because our horrible, sinful behavior is under a giant magnifying glass today. And in a world which does not understand redemption, which ridicules second chances, which hates mercy and demands ruthless justice, a repentant sinner is just looked upon as a "hypocrite". The only saint we have that I believe can escape this unfair label is perhaps the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the world hates her, too!
As the Venerable Archbishop Sheen said, "Judge the Catholic Church not by those who barely live by its Spirit, but by the example of those who live closest to it." So, perhaps the best way to evangelize the world is to encourage them to look more at St. Kateri Tekakwitha or St. Thomas More and less at Joe Biden or Jason Edwards. The Western world no longer has a discerning spirit, able to judge right from wrong, because the logical conclusion of the Reformation was that WE would decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. It started out that the Holy Spirit would guide us in the interpretation of Scripture, but then we had groups disagreeing on what the Scriptures say, so the Protestants split between the Lutherans and those who followed Calvin and Zwingli. More splits and more splits, with all members insisting that the Holy Spirit was guiding them. Now we have oodles of denominations, with new ones popping up every day, whenever members decide the denomination they are in are interpreting Scripture incorrectly. This exacerbates the plague of relativism that is in the world today, where there is a belief that there is no objective truth and that everyone has a different idea of what truth is and therefore everyone's truth is equal. I think this is mainly due to the fact that there are so many competing denominations - all insisting they teach the truth - and it's hard for any of us to feel confident in looking at everyone and saying, "But you're wrong." Because there's always this fear: what if I'M wrong?
What was started at the Reformation - basically radical self-determination - became the Enlightenment, which pursued radical self-determination, but freed from religious restrictions, which became the foundation of our secular, anti-religious culture in the West, with its antagonism towards faith, especially Catholicism. And so, the world has lost so much of its rich, Christian traditions (mainly derived from the Catholic Church) and the world has convinced itself that it's better off this way.
All because some members of the Church back in the 1500s decided that becoming a priest or bishop was a great "get rich quick" scheme. This should break every Christian's heart.
This is why history intrigues me - and why our sins should terrify us. Whom else has lost their faith because any one of us were silent in the face of sin? Or supportive of a scandal? Or were lazy in our faith? We'll find out at the general judgement at the end of time when God lets us know everything. However, here and now, the Church is going through yet another crisis. And there are plenty in the Church - some of whom are very active and not just the "Christmas and Easter" crowd - who think that the Church can change her Apostolic teachings and ignore Scripture, as if we're just a bunch of obstinate meanies. After all, haven't all the other Christian communities out there changed their teachings already? To me, that just highlights the truth that the Church has always taught, that Christ founded her and that the Holy Spirit guides her in all truth (Jn 16:13). So, although I am greatly concerned with the problems in the Church today - because these problems prevent us from helping the world as we remain focused instead on fixing ourselves - I am still not worried because, as history has taught us, a challenge to our faith in the Church is nothing new. We'll be ok because Jesus loves us, no matter how much the secular world hates us. And as that story goes, if WE haven't been able to destroy the Church yet, what chance does the secular world have?