2017 has been kind of a train wreck, hasn’t it?
Lately it seems like each week has brought news of another mass shooting, another massive sex scandal, another round of accusations and tarnished reputations and fresh outrage and calls for … something.
But I can’t help noticing that we seem to want to have our cake and eat it too, collectively speaking.
Frankly, this is the culture we’ve built for ourselves, constructed on promises of sex without commitment or consequence, violence as entertainment, and the pursuit of personal appetites at any cost.
We lament the violence done to women and the apparent backsliding of decades of feminist progress in our nightly newscasts, but the commercials between segments are filled with soft core porn using women’s bodies to hawk products.
We flinch at each new accusation of predatory sexual violence that hits our newsfeeds, many coming to light decades after the fact, while we meanwhile hound our elected officials for greater access to abortion and contraception, those necessary components fueling the sexual revolution.
We reject God and His laws, written into our very bodies, and then we rail against the cruelty and evil that springs up in the absence of a moral compass.
In short: this culture is one of our own making.
And it cannot be cured in Washington.
America – the entire world – can only return to greatness by falling to her knees.
Until and unless we get serious about pursuing personal conversion and cultivating holiness, this is what the world will look like.
This is what the world was like, before Christ, and this is the natural state to which it will return as we reject Christ. You might call it the human equilibrium, determined by the introduction of Original Sin and remedied by one thing alone:
The world can be saved, one soul at a time, by Christians willing to live out their faith without counting the cost, leading people to Him. But as long as Christians play at the game of going along to get along with the world, whether that means an outright rejection of the faith or a lazy complacency where we drift through life in a haze of busyness and Netflix, then this is the new reality.
Life with Christ is, as St. John Paul II was fond of joyfully reminding us, “a wonderful adventure.”
But life without Him is a nightmare.
Guys, we’re living the nightmare right now.
I have some ideas.
First, we have to get serious about our own personal prayer lives (looks meaningfully into mirror). I am the first to admit that falling into bed with my Kindle at 10 pm is immeasurably preferable to spending time with my Bible or rosary. That’s because my spiritual muscles are flabby and undisciplined, worn down by years of parenting small people and self-medicating with mindless entertainment and distraction in the evenings. I have to commit to at least a solid 15 minutes of serious mental prayer at some point in the day, offering back to God a fraction of the time He has given me. I know this, but actually doing it is another matter entirely.
Second, there are areas in my life where I have not fully given Christ Lordship. I’m thinking of a few novels I’ve read lately, grimacing and skimming over the explicit sex scenes and degraded morality but justifying continuing to read because “most of the book is fine.”
But it’s not fine. It’s not fine for me to read a book that is 10% pornographic content, justifying that the other 90% is Tolstoy (which it sure as hell ain’t). I’m no prude, and there is a place for realism and grit in literature, but what I’ve been encountering with increasing frequency in modern fiction is straight up smut: graphic, gratuitous, and worst of all, conscience-numbing. How silly to be striving to form my conscience and conform my mind to Christ’s while continuing to fill it with garbage. Maybe your garbage takes another form, but you probably know exactly what it is.
Which brings me to…tv. And movies. There’s a lot to choose from and a veritably limitless array of options, but it’s becoming increasingly necessary to just turn the thing off. I spend a good amount of time and energy devising ways to protect my kids from sexual deviance and premature exposure, and we put a lot of effort into forming this area of their personalities to be receptive to goodness and beauty. How can we spend a hour or two in the evenings fast forwarding through garbage, letting our own consciences become dulled by repeated exposure to pornographic content, homosexuality, adultery, sexual violence, witchcraft, and abortion and expect that there will be no long-term effects?
What goes into us very much affects what comes out of us.
Our consciences can become deadened and dulled by repeated exposure to garbage. What is shocking the first or seventh time it is encountered might not even raise the blood pressure the 40th or 100th time. Try popping in a DVD of a popular sitcom or drama from the 90s and then contrast it with, mmm, pretty much anything that’s popular in primetime in 2017.
You may be astonished at how much has changed in a relatively short time. By how “tame” the innuendo and violence, and how seemingly chaste the onscreen depictions of intimacy.
We’ve come a long way in a short time, thanks in large part to the internet, and very few of us have taken the time to step back and ask “is this okay?” rather than getting pulled along with the tide. It’s a small, necessary sacrifice I can – and must – make, as a parent, as an adult.
Finally, we need to be heeding Our Lady’s call to the children of Fatima and making regular sacrifices in reparation for our own sins and for the sins of others.
We each have a role to play in the sorry state of affairs of the modern world. We have been asked to pray, to make sacrifices, and to offer up suffering for the good of our neighbors. Those neighbors are our own family members, the people across the street, and the monster who shot up a church last weekend.
We live in a kind of modern fantasy of autonomy and individual freedom, when in reality, we are all intimately connected to one another by virtue of our brotherhood in the family of God.
Look, I am the absolute worst at fasting and making sacrifices. Happily, God has given me a tidy pile of stuff to offer up in the course of living out my actual life, if only I would consent to suffer willingly and intentionally rather than always proceeding directly to “thrashing about like a wounded animal railing at the injustice of it all,” which seems to be my default setting when confronted with pain.
But I needn’t waste it. I can offer up those midnight wakings, the stomach flu, the broken down cars and zeroed out bank accounts, the wrecked out bodies and the agonizing, lonely hours of solo parenting during business trips or endless Tuesdays. I can offer my little loaves and fishes to God to do whatever He pleases with, and perhaps it pleases Him to do something insanely miraculous with the crumbs.
But first I have to offer them.
Finally, we must be unashamed in our witness of faith in the public square.
Christians in the early Church were set apart form the depraved pagan culture from which they sprang because of the way they loved one another. Because of their marriages, their charity, their civic engagement and their unwavering witness to the truth.
And yes, some of them were killed for it. And they went joyfully to their martyrdoms not for love of pain, but for love of Jesus. We will probably not be martyred in a literal sense of shedding blood. But our careers? Our reputations? Our friendships and social status and financial stability?
Yeah, those are all up for grabs. We ought to be prepared to offer them willingly, if He asks. We should absolutely fight for just laws and morally sound legislation, but we should also be prepared to be increasingly marginalized as the cultural free fall – which shows little sign of halting – continues. We know how this game ends, but it might be a hell of a fourth quarter, so to speak.
I keep coming back to JPII’s most oft-repeated phrase when I read the news lately: Be not afraid.
That’s the hope we can offer to a world that is bleeding out in self-anihilation, seeming to crumble before our very eyes.
Be not afraid.
Be not afraid.
Be not afraid.
But also, be not an idiot. Be not caught doing nothing, when the Master returns. Be not a complicit accomplice in the carnage that is laying waste to a civilization.
I can’t save the world with my one little life, but I can offer it to God to do with it what He sees fit. And when He asks for something, I can give it to Him without hesitation, knowing that the steely core of the Christian identity must be a readiness and willingness to suffer as He did.