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Consolation In Troubled Times

September 3, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

The present time, one might say, is more than troubled; it is shaken to the core. That is the unpleasant reality, both within and outside of the Church. There can be no denying it. Nonetheless, there is never a time for despair. Hope springs eternal.
It is important to take note of a few important facts so that our realization of what is going on does not discourage us from acting. Boethius wrote a classic work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while unjustly imprisoned and awaiting execution. He found consolation in the ability to retain his self-possession in the face of adversity.
How do we retain our own self-possession at a time when the whole world seems to be going to wrack and ruin? What are these important facts that can re-energize us?
One important fact to remember is that Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve chosen apostles, was a betrayer. Dante placed him in the ninth circle of Hell because he believed that betraying a friend for an abstraction is the worst of all possible sins. He had Judas, along with Brutus and Cassius (who betrayed Caesar) eternally writhing in pain in the mouths of a three-headed Lucifer. For Dante, the punishment fit the crime.
It is good to remember that only a slight slip is required for a halo to become a noose. The chosen ones may not always live and act in a way that is worthy of their selection. If we had fallen angels, why would we think that we would never have fallen cardinals? Man is, indeed, a fallen creature and often uses his freedom unwisely.
Herman Melville expressed the matter without the slightest hint of sentimentality when he remarked that “we are all dreadfully cracked about the head and sadly need mending.”
The present culture is hardly an inspiration for a moral life. The path of least resistance has led to the point of no return. Freedom without restriction, especially in the area of human sexuality, produces restriction without freedom. G.K. Chesterton, who was not taken in by the temper of the times, said it best when he stated: “Mankind declares with one deafening voice: that sex may be ecstatic so long as it is also restricted. That is the beginning of all purity; and the beginning of all passion.”
Secularism engulfs us. Its “live for the moment” philosophy is both contagious and corrosive. We are sitting ducks for a moral environment that has been de-Christianized. This is a phenomenon that is not new, but may be more seductive in our contemporary world.
Wise Aquinas was well aware of the seductive charm of a bad culture: “There is not much sinning because of natural desires. But the stimuli of desire which man’s cunning has devised is something else. And for the sake of these one sins very much” (Summa Theologiae II, II 142, 2 ad 2).
Sinning, in this sense, is a corporate activity. Blame should not be focused entirely on individuals. Complicity in evil is usually a shared occurrence.
While we cannot blame culture entirely for our sinning, we can understand the seductive power it has and take action against it. And the best way to take action against it is to deepen our spirituality and unite ourselves more closely to God. The actions of a mere individual may seem to be but a trifle, but many trifles knit together can produce powerful weaponry. Nor do we need to wait until we are ready to do something extraordinary. Cardinal Newman reminds us: “Nothing would be done at all if a man waited till he could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We are far more eligible to be good apostles than we may realize.
It is always darkest before the dawn. There is consolation in this aphorism as there is in the German adage, Gnade des Nullpunkts (the grace of the zero point). Venerable Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy would tell his players that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
When things reach a certain crisis point, an energy and a resolve are unleashed that begin to set things right. Bad times can inspire people to live good lives and even become saints. When one is thoroughly dis-enamored with the false promises of secularism and its horrible results, the only thing to do is to begin turning things in the opposite direction.
Christ identifies Himself as a sower who sows the seed of His Word (Matt. 13:18-23). But His seed will not take root if the soil is thorn infested or rocky. If our hearts are not responsive to God’s call, the consequences are calamitous:
“For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8).
It is an illusion to think that we live in a progressive age where, like technology, we are improving on a daily basis. The truth of the matter is that we are fallen creatures living in a very bad environment who are often misusing our freedom and turning a deaf ear to the Word of God.
There are reasons for our dismal situation and a Church that is Christ-centered is not one of them. Our response should not be one of discouragement or despair, but one of hope and renewal. If we have not done enough in the past, we should now do more. If we have been slothful, we should now be more zealous. If we assumed that we were not needed, we can always pray. We are not without consolation; but, more important, we are not without sources of grace.
As Mother Angelica has advised: “Get cracking.”
(Dr. DeMarco is professor emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and senior fellow for Human Life International. His latest book, recently gone to press, is Apostles of the Culture of Life.)

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