There are no defeats, only setbacks for Christians and the Church that Christ founded: this is an article of faith, beyond all transient articles of fact. However, we experience things that look like defeats, and sometimes rather bad ones.
At the moment, nothing is turning our way, or, nothing easily visible on the surface. By the Enemy, we are invited to despair.
He has free speech; we are losing ours. The media of the godless Left (I am choosing my words carefully) are set upon us like a pack of rabid dogs, even to the proposition that “silence is violence,” and other propositions that invert reality.
As I’ve argued, here and elsewhere (and elsewhere, been “canceled” for it), we must keep this in what is called “historical perspective.” That is, a Catholic hasn’t the luxury of ignoring a history full of Saints and Martyrs who were made in times less propitious than the present.
Things could be worse, much worse, and this we can also know from an appreciation of history. There has been, according to me for one, no moment when paradise ever broke out on earth.
At the moments of greatest victory, our sins were working to undermine us, and at our worst defeats, hope was still there. For Catholics are not a godless tribe, and our fate does not depend upon worldly success.
For the “nominal” it does, however. I invite gentle reader, when inclined to give up, to reflect on this, even at the shallowest level. Did the man wearing a crown of thorns, promise us a bed of rose petals?
Not in this world, nor in heaven – to insist on what should be an obvious point. For in other religions, paradise is depicted in terms that cannot apply to it, that are worldly, material.
Notwithstanding the moments in which we have glimpses of paradise, even within the confines of this world, we know nothing about that place that is not essentially dogmatic. Our faith is not premised on a supply of seventy virgins, nor our theology on whether there are really seventy-two.
It is not based on the fulfillment of any earthly desire.
In funeral eulogies, I have often heard that the deceased will now be joining his late parents, lost children, friends, and the famed. This includes eulogies in Catholic churches, where the “feel-good” gospel is proclaimed, as a popular alternative to the Christian one.
Among the more traditional, eulogies are suspected, when not directly banned. They are for the party, afterwards – for the amateur rhetoric with sandwiches and cookies, where nostalgia may be freely indulged. They do not belong in a pulpit.
What we know of the Heaven for which we die, is a promise not like that. For we, who have at least embraced some “family values,” can know from the Risen Lord, that they don’t even have marriage in Heaven. (It is a nice question, whether they might still have it in Hell.)
Faith, our faith, is not in jellybeans, nor chocolate truffles, nor (more likely in my own case) in steak-au-poivre with frites. We cannot know what they serve in Heaven, but we can know at least this much: that “cafeteria Catholicism” will not be available.
I am taking this to an absurd extreme, by an apagogical argument – a reductio ad absurdum – because we live at a time when no other argument may work. Catholics, too, must come to their senses as they view the road ahead.
The very terms by which we class goods and evils never provided an easy filing system. We must think things through, at a deeper level, even to survive unpropitious times, including that dangerous word “spiritual” under which no end of absurdities are filed.
The “dark night of the soul” can provide this clean-up service. We must reach beyond our childish hopes, and fears, to get to “spiritual” adulthood. To despair because something as minor as an election, or the legislated whim of a tyrant, is not what in contemporary jargon we call a “good look.”
For these things are out of our control, and will stay out of our control, no matter how numerously we rally. Heaven looks askance, but even the world will punish, “idealists” of every stripe. In time, all of our stupidities are buried.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” These words, attributed to Christ, are the Church speaking, as she must always speak. Though placed on earth, among fallible men, including her own fallible leaders, she is here to keep our focus – not only on what is true but what is not true.
Or as I like to say, “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your eschatology.” We are inclined to insert nonsense even into our most “spiritual” thoughts; no less than into our “material.”
Our hopes are in things we shouldn’t hope for; our fears in things that need not be feared. And although we may be forgiven as “mere earthlings,” a ludicrous expectation of forgiveness clouds our humility on every side.
More precisely, through bad faith, we do not think we even need forgiveness; and by this I mean “we” and not “them.” For even at the heart of Holy Church – or at least at its center of administration – the notion of “us versus them” is flourishing.
“A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death: the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders, we are not going to be judged.”
This quotation from the Polish poet, Czesław Miłosz, is one that I have frequently used.
Reversed, it helps to explain the strange Christian practice of praying for our enemies. This is very hard to do, when we are not in the mood; when we are “licking our wounds.”
But anything else is, finally, the counsel of despair.
*Image: Café Terrace at Night by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 [Kröller-Müller Museum, Oterloo, Netherlands]. The painting is fascinating for at least two reasons: 1) Vincent painted the scene at night at Place du Forum in Arles, France, and the stars in the painting are aligned exactly as they were in the sky on September 16-17, 1888; and 2) at least one scholar believes van Gogh used the setting to portray the first Eucharistic meal, with Christ at the center in white.