There is a set of skills the world will need in the bleakest darkness. And as Christians, we have a head start.
I personally don’t think the world is going to end anytime soon. But I know a lot of people who do.
Some are secular worriers who see the tropes of science fiction coming true. They worry about aliens and UFOs and robots and artificial intelligence. I try to have a more Catholic attitude toward extraterrestrials and advanced technology.
Others are religious worriers who see one prophecy or another looming ahead. They have a point: Jesus and the Catechism both expect dark times. I am not qualified to judge any particular prophecies except to quote Jesus saying, “No one knows the day or the hour” and Our Lady of Fatima saying, “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.”
I am qualified in one way though: Being a Christian gives me the grace for the set of skills the world will need in the bleakest darkness.
First Skill: Don’t horde; share.
I still remember the Y2K scare. Friends of ours, like so many people at the turn of the last century, were convinced that computers would fail and throw the world into panic and collapse, so they stockpiled some basic foods that would keep. When the year 2000 came with no digital meltdown, they divvied up the food they had saved and parceled it out to friends as an act of humility and charity.
In fact, that showed the actual behavior they would need in a crisis. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared for what may come, but you will never be able to collect enough food to make your family a world unto itself for the indefinite future. The only way to be ready for tough times is to learn to serve and share.
This advice was proverbial in the Old Testament: “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”
It is also Christianity 101. “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same,” said John the Baptist. St. Paul went further, saying: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
Second Skill: Learn how to connect, not how to hide.
Many post-apocalyptic stories paint a picture of a dystopian future where no one is to be trusted and the key to success is to hide. But this is not the way the world is. Former refugees attest that when you are most vulnerable, you will indeed encounter people who are uncaring and cruel, but you will mostly find that human beings go to great lengths to help other human beings.
As Christians, we happen to belong to a religion forged in refugee experiences. The Old Testament advice summed up in Judaism’s 613 commands is designed to connect God’s people with whoever shares Israel’s values, including strangers, but to forbid any compromise with those who would destroy Israel’s values. Jesus relocated the values to the Kingdom of Heaven and gave us our own eight beatitudes that do the same thing.
If you want to succeed when times get dark, learn how to get along with others.
Third Skill: Don’t worry; trust God.
Not only were our forebears refugees, but fellow Christians are right now, throughout the world. In America, we happen to live in a country people flee to rather than from, so it is easy to forget how real the suffering is beyond our borders.
Ironically, those who are well off sometimes worry far more than those who have learned by personal experience that God will look out for them.
In order to teach his disciples to trust God, Jesus sent them out two by two to rely on the mercy of strangers. In fact, ever since lack of trust led to the Fall of Adam and Eve, all of salvation history can be seen as the story of God meeting his people in hardship to prove that they can trust him — from Noah to Daniel, from Joseph in Genesis to Joseph in Matthew.
Fourth Skill: Don’t be silent; share your hope.
Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said hope was the key to survival in the concentration camps — but prisoners could only get it from one another. Father Emil Kapaun served his flock of Korean War soldiers and prisoners of war by sharing jokes, gifting trinkets and saying prayers: anything to give them hope.
That’s what our job will be, if and when a crisis comes: To give people hope. As St. John Paul II put it: “We do not know what the [future] has in store for us, but we are certain that it is safe in the hands of Christ, the ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”
Jesus has a master plan to make sure everybody hears that hope, when things get really tough. His plan is that you and I will tell them.