Perform a simple act of defiance against discouragement, self-pity, and resentment.
Who said this? “Any idiot can survive a crisis—it’s the little things that will make you crazy.” I remember reading it on a greeting card more than 30 years ago. The card attributed the quote to philosopher Albert Camus, but I have never been able to ascertain that. No matter. What is important is to ask, “Is that statement true?”
I am inclined to think that it is. As a chaplain in an urban trauma center, I’ve seen highly-skilled, sleep-deprived, super-stressed health professionals perform heroic work for 12 hours at a stretch. And I’ve seen those same people throw toddler-style tantrums because the coffee machine was broken. In such cases, I believe, the “little things” became the lightning rod that draws out the excess emotions and anxiety that a crisis can foment.
Fever-pitch performance can’t go on indefinitely. Inevitably, there is a collapse. Sometimes, apathy envelops the person as kind of a protective shield. (An illustration: As a child I saw a cartoon wherein Daffy Duck is put into a strait jacket and thrown into an ambulance. He says, “I’m not crazy—I just don’t care anymore.”)
I’m writing this on September 11, on the 17th anniversary of the tragedy of 9/11, so response to crisis is on my mind. I’m also writing this as a priest in the United States in September of 2018. Each morning, as I silence the alarm, I struggle to choose between my commitment to start the day with prayer, and my inclination to check the headlines to see what new embarrassment the Church or the nation has suffered overnight. I know that I am not alone in starting the day with that kind of struggle.
We face a challenge. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we are subject to a barrage of (as one friend says) “one damned thing after another.” And our ubiquitous electronic devices are ready to buzz at any moment with the news of some great horror—a plane crash, a shooting spree, a hurricane. It seems that we are inundated with crises as well with an endless stream of the “little things” that can make us crazy. In these circumstances, we ask ourselves: How can I cope? How can I do what needs to be done? Why should I get out of bed today and tomorrow? Why can’t I run away? Where is God in all of this?
These are important, honest, heartfelt questions. And the people who ask them won’t be satisfied with pious platitudes and a few rousing choruses of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” In these dark times, what shall Christians do? Let me make a few recommendations.
1. Pray always. Cry out to God (as we see in the Psalms, in Jeremiah, in Job). Pray the Litany of the Saints to remind yourself that you are not alone. Recall God’s fidelity in your life and count your blessings.
2. Fast, sacrifice, do penance. Remind yourself (and Satan) that you are not helpless. Perform a simple act of defiance against discouragement, self-pity, and resentment. And remember what Our Lady said at Fatima about souls lost because no one prays or sacrifices for them.
3. The sacraments and Eucharistic Adoration: I believe firmly that the answer to almost every human need always includes the sacrament of confession. People stressed and tempted need confession more than ever. Assist at Mass as often as possible. Commit to Eucharistic Adoration when you can, and make a Spiritual Communion when you can’t.
4. Be mindful of your health and limits. Constantly afflicting our bodies with junk food, alcohol, and lack of sleep is no way to endure this present darkness. Making ourselves sick can weaken our spiritual defenses.
5. Be alert to the needs of those around you. We cannot do this alone. We need each other. And charity to those in need, those in crisis, can expand our hearts, opening them to unexpected graces.
We don’t have to like our pain; we don’t have to trivialize our pain; and we don’t have to succumb to our pain. Whether we are facing a life-threatening event or the daily grind of humiliations and disappointments, we can choose to face our days with the helps of nature and grace that God makes available to us.
Let’s not give our spiritual enemy the opportunity to separate us from Christ and the peace he wants for his disciples. And let’s seek out and help those around us who are struggling and faltering. We can remind them that we and they have an identity, a dignity and a destiny beyond this present darkness.
When I write next, I will introduce a new resource against the persistent and pervasive onslaught of pornography. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.