For the Sake of the Kingdom: A New Year

“It stands athwart history, yelling STOP, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

William F. Buckley, Jr. offered these words in the inaugural editorial of that always-indispensable journal, National Review. I believe they also work as a fine summation of why in this New Year we must grow in our knowledge of the authentic Catholic faith, deepen our devotion to it, and sharpen our practice of it.  There are many things we as Catholics MUST say “no” to if we are going to say “yes” with conviction to Jesus Christ. 

It is commonly accepted today as a matter of “going along to get along” that history – really our present preferences – is somehow revealing some grand design, which is bringing about a new order of morality, life, and even of being itself. This is demonstrably false, dangerous, and dehumanizing idea was held with tenacity by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, myriad other major and minor butchers of peoples and nations, as well as a whole host of pedantic and squeamish contemporary “leaders” who fancy themselves “progressive” in their outlook. (Progressive meaning that such leaders can discern the true designs of history and of your life, which you will be made to see in a mandatory fashion, of course.) 

This ridiculous idea is accepted for three reasons entirely unrelated to critical thinking about it: 

1.  Complacency: we just don’t feel like engaging or challenging the idea, which allows it to fester, or “progress” as some would style it, lending credence to its inevitability.
2.  Comity: we all just want to get along. “Getting along” is not a “value” one finds atop the Savior’s list when matters of truth and salvation are at stake. 
3.  Ignorance: we sense something is wrong, but don’t feel we have adequate knowledge to refute various pernicious, but popular ideas.
A fourth could be added.  Cowardice: we are often afraid to take a substantive and disagreeable stand. We fear isolation more than error, and because of that our witness to the Truth becomes tepid and our evangelization insipid.

Of course, there are no inevitable forces of history gradually or suddenly unfolding for us some grand design opposite of that of the Savior.  There is no inevitably new order of morality, some “new” (meaning contemporary) way of life, and certainly not some new order of being.  All this really is nothing more than hedonism sanctified and ignorance glorified. 

And of course, faithful Catholics are expected to go along with it all because, if we don’t conform, we’ll be on the “wrong side of history.  In truth, all we’ll really be is on the wrong side of people who are going wrong.  Who cares?

         The Temptation of St. Anthony by Salvador Dali, 1946

To restore sanity to our society and sanctity to our persons, we have to say no to the tenets of the sexual revolution and its pillars – abortion, contraception (which fears family life), adultery, fornication, pervasive pornographification, and the normalization of homosexuality.  And we certainly can’t forget the spiritual, physical, psychological, and moral poverty created by these pillars. All of us are judged by the demonstrable facts of the thoroughgoing awfulness of these things.  None of those things is in keeping with the dignity, design, purpose, and destiny of the human person. Period.

The social pathologies, family dysfunction, and destruction common in our time, along with its accompanying impoverishments, demonstrate the error of the hedonistic revolution whose tenets are casually accepted throughout Western life – and in most friendly conversations – as well as exalted in nearly every form of entertainment we ingest.

For peace to reign in our souls and for Truth to govern our lives, we must say “no” to unbelief in its most casual forms – like absenting oneself from Sunday Eucharist.  Sports and sporting events have become idols sidelining the command to Divine Worship.  Failing to make Confession a regular and, yes, routine part of our Faith comes in a close second.  If He is the Vine and we are the branches, why do we saw the limb off behind us?

A Disciple of Jesus Christ may dispense with neither the Sunday Mass nor Confession nor daily, disciplined prayer. The point isn’t primarily to “judge” – though we are all judged by the facts of life, natural and supernatural – but to steer ourselves back in the right direction.  We have to say “no” to certain things in order to utter with conviction, “AMEN.”

Jesus Christ, through His Church, has given us grace and truth. Nothing is “inevitable” as many assert as balm to our debased comity and spiritual complacency.  Just because something is probable, or prevalent – i.e., human weakness and sin – is no confirmation that it is inevitable, natural, good, or holy. Such things are simply part of the ongoing spiritual battle that is the battle noted by St. Paul: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”

G.K. Chesterton, reacting to the supposed discrediting of the truth of the Gospel following the carnage of World War I exactly a century ago, wrote:  “As for the general view that the Church was discredited by the War – they might as well say that the Ark was discredited by the Flood. When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

With a deep knowledge of our Faith and the Tradition given to us by the Church – not a guru of our preference – we can stand athwart the falsified tide of history and yell, “Stop”, so that we may be guided and guide others to that reconciling and clarifying “AMEN”. . . I believe in the fullness of life in Christ.

Father Phillip W. De Vous is the pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Crescent Springs, KY and an adjunct scholar of public policy at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.