New Year’s resolutions almost always fail. If they didn’t, year after year, we’d see constant improvement in the world, in people around us, in our own selves. Sadly, we don’t. Steps forward – if any – are usually offset by steps backward or sideways, or mere marching in place.
To put this theologically, redemption – even humble change of heart or habit – is a gratuitous gift, the secularized notion of progress mostly an illusion. Yes, your new Smartphone has more features than the old one, and your doctor may have some better ways to treat you in 2019. But don’t confuse these technical advances with greater humanity – we abort a million babies a year without batting an eye and euthanasia is just getting started – let alone holiness (which, in the end, is what matters).
Still, it may not hurt to lay out some public desiderata anno Domini 2019, fully aware that they will likely never come to pass. But also with the hope that at least identifying what we need may help us to orient ourselves in coming days.
First Resolution: In 2019 we should never lose sight of the fact that the world, especially our American world, has gone mad. The world first went mad in the Garden of Eden, but it sometimes slows down to catch its breath. We’re now going full tilt.
The nuttiest campus crazes – transgenderism, “wokeness,” even the old discredited socialism – are being transmitted and enforced on us by journalists trained at mental institutions, conniving politicians, absurdist school boards, a supine medical establishment, social media, sports channels, Silicon Valley, fast-food chains, sometimes even church men and women.
Each of us has to be prepared to resist this plunge into cultural abnormality at every step, and with a warrior’s determination – the time for quiet dialogues, that begin not at mid-field but a few yards outside our end zone, has passed. The threats are many and the solutions few, and it’s hard to say in advance how to resist in your own specific circumstances. Some will choose withdrawal (and contemplation), others action; but resist now we must – vigorously, everywhere we can – especially in sheltering marriage and family from the State’s new culture.
Second Resolution: Many of us must, regrettably, continue to speak in the hope of convincing the pope to avoid casually appearing to contradict Catholic doctrine. Case in point: four days before Christmas, Francis gave an off-the-cuff holiday speech to Vatican workers, in which he asserted that Mary and Joseph were not born saints, but became holy through life experience, as we all might.
Joseph, perhaps. But the 1854 Proclamation of the Immaculate Conception is one of only two modern infallible statements issued ex cathedra. The pope’s garbling of the truth – Mary’s being conceived without sin clearly means she’s born a saint – was so bizarre that it drove me to check the original Italian (found here). The relevant passage says, santi non si nasce, si diventa, e questo vale anche per loro (“saints aren’t born, they become such, and this is true also for them”).
Confusion like this – if it is only confusion – must not continue. The text, now on the Vatican website, could easily be corrected if the pope merely misspoke during a heavy Christmas schedule. But there it remains, a further irritant – and worse – to Catholics who expect mere Catholicity at the Vatican.
Third Resolution: We’ve had so many examples of this sort of thing that it’s eroded the trust of the most active Catholics in the world. And of course, the mishandling of multiple cases of sexual abuse in several countries and the Vatican itself has damaged the standing of Pope Francis and the Church even among non-Catholics and the secular world.
We need to constantly remind the Vatican that it must take action in 2019, not just talk – and real action, which we have not seen so far except from secular prosecutors. (We’ll see much more of the latter in 2019.) Indeed, what we’ve had is more ducking hard questions and shielding high-ranking prelates.
And from what we know so far of the February meeting of presidents of bishops’ conferences to deal with the abuse crisis, real action doesn’t seem very likely then either. Besides, we’ve had enough of meetings, commissions, documents. In the secular world, all this would look like an effort to just kick the can down the road, and hope the whole thing just dies down.
Partisans of Pope Francis have argued that people who are disappointed in his papacy for other reasons are trying to use the abuse issue to drive him out. In a few, extreme cases, that may well be true. But mainstream liberal commenters – like Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press writing in the Jesuit magazine America– have observed that what happens in February may very well “threaten the pope’s legacy.” And secular outlets like CNN speak of “How 2018 became the Catholic Church’s Year from Hell.”
If Pope Francis talks tough in 2019, as he did in a widely publicized discourse to the Curia before Christmas, but continues to avoid strong action – even restraining others, as he did with the American bishops – no one will take the talk seriously anymore. For the sake of the Church and the pope himself, we must call, relentlessly, for action.
Fourth Resolution: We must make the persecution of Christians around the world a larger public theme. Much larger. There’s plenty of brutality by governments all over the world for various reasons. But Christians – globally – a quarter billion Christians, are being persecuted in Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East. The pope raised this question as the year was coming to an end, but we need much more constant, public exposure – the way that the Holy Father has, for example, heightened the profile of the Rohingya (a Muslim group).
A central part of this process will require a hard look at the situation in Communist China – which has not been helped by the Vatican-China Accord. Indeed, the Chinese government is becoming, if anything, even more aggressive against all religious believers, as Rep. Chris Smith has recently documented.
Many governments are afraid to denounce persecution by Muslims for fear of being labeled Islamophobic – or encouraging terrorist reprisals. It’s hard to say why so many are so easy on China. What can China do to them, increase tariffs? Vatican leadership could make a difference here – but that would require making some public noise, whatever secret agreement has been signed.
We can never forget that some of the most heroic Christian witnesses and martyrs are suffering, right now, in plain view, in China. And in a way, their fate could become our own as governments in so-called developed nations (as well as larger international bodies like the UN and EU) marginalize and sometimes demonize traditional religion in pursuit of secular utopias.
In the New Year, anyone who wants to resist – really resist – needs to train relentlessly in the school of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – developing virtues of prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, Faith, Hope, Charity to levels we haven’t seen in a long time.
There’s a New Year’s Resolution worth making for yourself – and sticking to.
*Image: Christian Martyrs in the Colosseum by Konstantin Flavitsky, 1862 [State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg]