“let us exult, too, in our hardships, understanding that hardship develops perseverance,
and perseverance develops a tested character, something that gives us hope…” Romans 5:3-4
Brothers, there is much hardship to be concerned with these days. From unseen levels of inflation, to skyhigh gas prices, threats of food shortages, CRT and gender ideology being pushed through the schools (including kindergartens), heretical and unfaithful clergy, a divisive Pope, questionable injections being forced upon the population, and the list goes on. The world looks a gloomy place. Add to it the war on Ukraine, the unhinged response by the diversity and inclusion crowd south of the border (burning and desecrating churches, vandalising pro-life offices, threatening Supreme Court judges), and one begins to think, how much worse can it get? Is this the worst time in history?
In many ways these times remind me of the Old Testament accounts of the people of Israel. Moral decadence, plagues, violence, famine are all examples of what Israel experienced each time they abandoned God. The Old Testament recorded at least 7 times where the people of Israel forgot about God, and full of pride, thought they could govern themselves on their own. This usually took place after a period of peace and material well-being. By material standards, life in North America and Western Europe over the past 50 years has certainly produced some of the most comfortable times in history. Yet, no matter how good it gets, we somehow always manage to mismanage, generally through ingratitude and amnesia towards God. This pattern however began much earlier than even the people of Israel – it started in a beautiful garden, full of delicious fruits and trees. Gen 3:3-5
With that first act of pride, humans managed to throw away paradise for toil and labour, pain, and death. From there, we quickly get to Cain killing his own brother Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he famously protests. Is this any different than “my body, my choice”?
The root of hardship is sin. The foundation of capitalism is greed (avarice). Communism – envy. Sexual perversion – lust. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, defines sin as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods” CCC 1849. Throughout history humans have oscillated between two extremes: believing they are gods or believing they are nothing. In the former, they worship the creature (themselves), while in the latter, they worship creation (i.e. “mother Earth”). Somehow the fact we have creation and creatures doesn’t seem to lead them to believe in a Creator. It’s like seeing paint and then a painting, and reject the idea of a painter. Everytime this happens, confusion reigns and people suffer.
If the root of suffering is sin, then it’s antidote is virtue. Consider them side by side:
- Pride – Humility
- Envy – Admiration
- Anger – Forgiveness
- Sloth – Zeal
- Avarice – Generosity
- Gluttony – Asceticism
- Lust – Chastity
Sin is an act of the will, therefore virtue will not happen without act-ion either. Belief in a Creator, even in one God, is no assurance either, for “even the demons have the same belief” James 2:19. The Catholic approach involves faith AND works. St James tell us, “faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead” James 2:17. Jesus, in a deeply prophetic statement not only about the world but also about His Church, warns us, “Beware of false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit.” Matt 7:15-16. Again, actions speak much louder than the proverbial words. What actions have you taken to make the community better, to give your family the better version of yourself? Ora et labora or complain in vain?
Original sin is “the only doctrine that’s been empirically validated”, says G.K. Chesterton. This means that suffering is here to stay, at least until that time when Christ comes again. The Church does not preach a prosperity gospel, a magical formula whereby one professes a few words and money starts raining in, our families are perfect, and all diseases disappear. Christ indeed conquered the cross, but He also died a brutal death on the Cross. In other words, before the Resurrection, came the Passion. He didn’t tell us to pick up our wallet and follow Him, but rather, to “take up your cross” Matt 16:24. Hopefully, our cross(es) don’t involve crucifixion or loss of life, but for many it did (and still does). Before thinking the task is too hard, keep in mind athletes don’t succeed without “suffering” in the gym, learning a musical instrument requires “suffering” through repetition of basic notes, and children aren’t born without suffering by the mother. Anything worth having or pursuing in life, will require some degree of suffering. Why then would we expect less in regards to salvation? The world has been promising happiness to everyone with its gospel of the self, the Ubermensch, who triumphs with his will alone. Yet, despite more access to contraception, to abortion, to no-fault divorce, to assisted-suicide, to more sex “education”, to being more connected, survey after survey keeps coming up with more and more issues related to anxiety, loneliness, poor mental health, etc. In other words, society is feeling miserable, and the ages of those reporting this experience, is getting younger and younger. Yet society continues to be prescribed the same drugs. It’s a bit like Venezuelan communists who in the face of not being able to afford toilet paper after taking over one of the richest oil nations, state that the reason for this situation is that the country is not communist enough. If only the communist government had been more communist…
Our salvation and helping people get through hardship, requires more than a few robotic responses on a Sunday hour. It will require suffering, our suffering. Through our deeds and sacrifices (our fruit), others may come to experience Christ now, and as a consequence, experience joy! The Church is not simply made up of clerics. We too are the Church. Always waiting for priests or school bureaucrats to transmit the faith to children, is like waiting for politicians and union bureaucrats to fix sidewalks. It’s not usually their priority, and when it is, they often do a lousy job. So whether it is through giving time, talent, treasure or all three, nothing will change without you. Jared Diamond, in his popular book Guns, Germs and Steel, claimed that Eurasia’s dominance was the “accidental outcome” of an environmental hand stacked heavily in its favour. Culture, ideas, and personal sacrifice you see, had little or nothing to do it, according to him. Rather, it was the mountainous Alps, the black plague, the 1755 earthquake in Lisbon, the location of Pompeii vis-a-vis a certain volcano, among many other environmental advantages, that allowed Western civilization to flourish. It’s a good thing our ancestors didn’t wait for accidental outcomes at Lepanto or more recently, on D-Day.
St Peter, in the midst of brutal, unrelenting persecution, had this to say: “as you share in the sufferings of Christ, be glad” 1 Pet 4:13. St James said, “My brothers, consider it a great joy when trials of many kinds come upon you, for you well know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance, and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.” James 1:2-4. The trials of today are meant to test our faith, just as the trials of yesteryear tested our fellow ancestors (world wars, islamic invasions, schisms, heresies, corrupt clergy, barbarian invasions, roman persecution, etc etc). These men and women were sinners like we are, were probably scared like the apostles were (John 20:19), and yet they stayed faithful. Tolkien’s hobbit had to leave the comfortable confines of the Shire, albeit reluctantly, to go on his epic journey. He came back a happier, joyful hobbit. We can too.
St Joseph – pray for us.
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