“Father, I’m calling to say goodbye—because the world is coming to an end.” That was the start of the first phone conversation I had after completing my annual 8-day retreat last month. And I must say, I’m not surprised. Calamities often ensue while I’m on retreat. For example, in 1991, when I was making the 30-day retreat required of all Jesuit novices, the First Gulf War broke out.
During this year’s retreat, the Supreme Court of the United States rendered two decisions which brought no consolation to those who respect the rule of law, the U.S. Constitution, or common sense. The first decision, regarding Obamacare, came to a conclusion, which, according to Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, is contrary to, “…the most natural reading” of the words of the law. This led Justice Scalia, in his dissenting opinion, to declare that, as a result of the majority’s opinion, “…words no longer have meaning.”
The following day, the Supreme Court handed down a decision regarding same-sex “marriage.” The majority ruled that the Constitution secures as a right for homosexuals that they may marry other homosexuals. Writing in dissent, Chief Justice Roberts noted that, “…by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.” Since these two rulings, many people have asked me whether the Constitutional Republic we grew up in still exists.
A dark tide rushes in not only from the legal world, but the financial world as well. The economies of, , and (among others) are visibly fracturing. We cannot reasonably expect that the economic fallout will be contained or painless.
At the same time, we see that the dark forces at work in the world are at work against the Church. Catholics are persecuted around the world, sometimes subtly by law, often overtly by violence. These days, it may be difficult for a faithful and informed Catholic to keep his spirits up. I could go on and on, citing examples from politics, culture, war, medicine, academia, etc., each illustrating (to paraphrase George H.W. Bush) “a thousand points of gloom.”
How shall a faithful Catholic respond to all this? How can he speak meaningfully of joy, hope, and peace? Recently, I had a long dinner with a group of especially faithful, literate and learned Catholic friends. We discussed these very topics and questions. The conversation included raised voices, fists pounding on the table, people standing up and waving their arms—without once falling into rancor or irrationality or losing charity. It was the kind of dinner conversation that I believe the likes of Belloc and Chesterton would have approved of.
While looking at the gloomy tides swirling around us, we asked questions such as these: “How can we speak of such things and not frighten our children? How can we speak of such things and not discourage our young people from getting married and starting families? How can we speak of such things and pray with confidence? When do prudence and good stewardship become a lack of trust in God? How shall we read Proverbs 31:25 regarding the holy woman (‘She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.’)?”
I wish I could say that by the end of the evening and the wine, we had come to a conclusion that could be reduced to a pithy formulation (but nothing so facile as a button I saw which read, “Too blessed to be distressed”). But we didn’t. And we didn’t find any singular, stand-alone Scriptural reference, text from a Church Father, or a papal pronouncement that answered every question and banished every fear. The reality of the dark was not denied, even as the Sovereignty and Providence of God were insisted upon.
What we did do was reject any unnecessary “either-or.” (For example, “EITHER hope OR despair”; “EITHER prudent preparation OR trust in Providence.”) Instead, we spoke of clusters of what we might call the “Great-Catholic-And.” (For example, “prudent preparation AND trust in Providence”; Cross AND Resurrection; sorrow AND joy.”)
We agreed, as faithful Catholics always have, that our first obligation was to grow in holiness and to meet the duties of our respective states in life with generosity and love (the two—holiness and duty—are inextricably linked). We agreed to continue to proclaim Christ, and invite others into His Church, by our words and deeds. We agreed to continue to search out the will of God through prayer (both individual and communal) and study. We agreed that our greatest and most urgent need was to come together for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the very next morning.
So, how shall we respond to my friend who called to say goodbye because the end is near? We should agree with Saint Paul that, “…the world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:31) With the prophet Isaiah we might cry out that, “All flesh is grass, and all their faithfulness like the flowers of the field.” (Isaiah 40:6) With the psalmist we may ask of God, “What is man that you are mindful of him? The son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) We would do well to recall Jesus’ warning that, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33) And surely we should inscribe on our hearts the words of John the beloved disciple, who gave us the most glorious vision of Heaven, and who recorded his exchange with the Lord: “He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
When I write next, I will write about what is wrong with the desire to pray better. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J. is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.