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What a world! Is it time to despair yet?

Rembrandt - Public Domain

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 08/10/16 - updated on 06/08/17

No, better to hope (and lament) like Jeremiah

I like my gloom spiced with a dash of eloquence, thus: “Some god is blinding men. Despite the choices still possible and the options still available, despite the paths still open to be taken, despite the warnings of prophets and sentries, despite the outcries of the poets .  .  . this blindness is leading men to will, at any cost, their own destruction. With their own hands they are tearing down their citadels and turning reason into unreason.” (Jacques Ellul)

Who hasn’t wondered whether some suicidal madness has seized our times? We act against our own best interest. We are contracepting and aborting our future, breaking faith with the past, and killing each other and poisoning ourselves in the present. We seem to disdain Nature’s laws and God’s revelation. If we heed no warnings whether human or divine, how can the human story possibly avoid a tragic ending? Thinking such thoughts, we may well ask, “Is it time to despair yet?” In other words, is it time for us to just throw up our hands and surrender to our fate?

The short answer is, “No.”

By that answer I don’t mean to say, “Cheer up! It’s not that bad!” It is that bad. But, truth to tell, it’s always been that bad. Since the banishment from Eden, there has been an unbridgeable gap between us and the good that God made us for—which is Himself. Josef Pieper wrote: “Humility is the knowledge and acceptance of the inexpressible distance between Creator and creature.” Knowledge and acceptance! We may be disappointed, but we should not be surprised by wickedness. This is what fallen humans do—apart from grace, they cannot rise above their sin.

Looking at today’s headlines, the world seems wicked in ways that previous times could not have dared or imagined. Yet I ask myself, “Can it really be as bad as all that—morally, economically, politically, culturally?” Recently, a friend advised, “We are wasting our time listening again and again to people who really know what is going on in our country and our world, from a political, social, cultural and economic perspective. We know that there is something deeper. It is the emergence of the ‘father of lies.’ We had better strengthen our prayer and sacramental life in anticipation of a full-fledged unfurling of the hate of the beast. This is the time to make serious preparation for life eternal.”

Again, I ask, “Is it time to despair yet?” But Aquinas warns that despair is the “greatest of sins.” So let’s ask, “Is it time to resign ourselves to a world that cannot be healed?” I asked that of the same friend, who replied: “To accept the fallenness of our human condition is the first step that we fight all the way to the grave. What’s needed is not so much resignation but recognition.” If we recognize our fallenness, then what? We must also recognize that we have spurned God’s sovereignty and grace repeatedly. And the proper response to that recognition is a lamentation, as the prophet Jeremiah lamented over the fall of Jerusalem. (The painting above is given a Christian interpretation in this brief video). In the Book of Lamentations, Jeremiah bewails the avoidable fall of God’s people, who should have known better.

Yet even in his bitter lamenting, Jeremiah spoke words of hope: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.‘The Lord is my portion’, says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.” We insist that hoping is more than wishing. It is a work of the Lord Himself on our behalf. Ninth-century Saint Paschasius Radbertus wrote: “Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him.”

We are held by Christ. Christ has chosen us for himself and will not abandon us. The grace we need to persevere to the end is always available to us. Whether our days are the darkest days or the last days is not what is most important. What matters most is that Christ is faithful and offers to share his victory with us. Let’s respond to that offer with repentance, gratitude, worship, witness and charity. Yes, let us weep and lament now, and then keep on walking with hope, for we are summoned to our Father’s house, where every tear will be wiped away, death will be no more, and all will be made new.

When I write next, I will offer a meditation on the Solemnity of the Assumption. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

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