We mustn’t be blinded by the real darkness around us and within us; likewise we mustn’t be lulled by the twinkling of the hopeful stars.
At night, do you see dark sky or do you see stars? If you are a brooding melancholic with an apocalyptic imagination (like me) you may tend towards the darkness of the night rather than towards the brightness of the stars. In fact, we need to see both the dark and the light.
It would be easy to outline the shape, scope and shades of dark, especially for the Church in the West. In America, I might point towards parish closings, shrinking religious communities, aging clergy. Demographically, by every measure, the Church in America is shrinking. But today, I choose to speak of stars I’ve seen recently in our dark sky.
Last weekend, I saw seven young men profess their First Vows in the Society of Jesus. Before that, I spoke with a radiant young Dominican sister flush with excitement as she renewed her own religious vows. In July, I officiated at a wedding. Throughout the summer, friends have announced the births of children and grandchildren. And last week I met a young man anticipating starting studies at a seminary.
We can’t afford illusions about the darkness. Denial and wishful thinking are always followed by a terrible hangover. And yet we mustn’t deny the lights we see shining in the darkness. We dare not spurn what God has sent to cheer us and guide us. How shall we pray in these our dark times? How shall we pray against the darkness without being overwhelmed by it? And how shall we pray in the dark without losing sight of the stars?
To pray as we should, we must open our eyes, our ears and our hands.
We must open our eyes so that we might see with clarity that we humans are now, as we have been since the sin of Adam and Eve, caught in a war between good and evil: “Don’t tire yourself in seeking a place of security against the chances of war, for you tire yourself in vain; that war is extended as far as space, and prolonged through all time. In eternity alone, the country of the just, can you find rest, because there alone there is no combat.” (Juan Donoso Cortés) We shouldn’t be amazed by constant conflict; we should only be amazed when the conflict finally stops.
We must open our ears so that we might hear, for the sake of obedience, when Christ speaks: “If I am to answer the question, ‘How would Christ solve modern problems if He were on earth today?’ I must answer it plainly; and for those of my faith there is only one answer. Christ is on earth today; alive on a thousand altars; and He does solve people’s problems exactly as He did when He was on earth in the more ordinary sense. That is, He solves the problems of the limited number of people who choose of their own free will to listen to Him.” (G.K. Chesterton) If we don’t listen for Christ to hear him speak, we can’t listen to him when he does speak. If we can’t hear the Word of the Father, we are lost.
We must open our hands, in generosity and humility, so that we may do what we ought—and only that: “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.” (J.R.R. Tolkien) The world already has a savior; our call is to spend ourselves in his service.
We mustn’t be blinded by the real darkness around us and within us; likewise we mustn’t be lulled by the twinkling of the stars. Our vocation is to walk through the darkness, by the Way of the Cross, following Christ to Calvary and to glory. Along the way, we gather companions, chase after strays, fend off wolves and serpents, all the while stumbling and recovering—and always moving forward.
As he did with Saint Peter, Our Blessed Lord will call us towards him on the waves at night; we would do well to remember that Saint Peter started to sink only when he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked only at the storm. (Matthew 14:28-32) Sometimes Jesus rebukes the storm; sometimes he calms the disciple. Always, he is our only hope.
If we learn to pray with open eyes, ears, and hands, with heart and mind fixed firmly on the Lord, then even in darkest night we can see enough light to find our way home.
When I write next, I’ll speak of Saint Ignatius Loyola’s wisdom for times of desolation. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
You can listen to Fr. McTeigue discuss this column with John Harper of the Morning Air radio broadcast, by clicking here.