“To evangelize means: to show this path – to teach the art of living … This is why we are in need of a new evangelization – if the art of living remains an unknown, nothing else works. But this art is not the object of a science – this art can only be communicated by [one] who has life – he who is the Gospel personified.”
— Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Address to Catechists and Religion
Teachers, Jubilee of Catechists 2000
“Bewilderment” is perhaps the word that best sums up my feelings as I survey the events of the past year. If there is anything that is a constant in this world, it is change. And yet, it seems to me that 2019 was a year characterized by unusually rapid, seismic, and often-confusing change: political, social, and spiritual.
If there is any one issue that I would say sums up this reality of rapid change and pervasive confusion it would be transgenderism and gender ideology. Even though I have paid close attention to the progress of the Culture of Death for many years, I would never have guessed, even as little as two or three years ago, that the most radical forms of gender ideology would sink their teeth into our culture so deeply and as quickly as they have done.
Indeed, one could well argue that 2019 was the year of gender ideology. Every single day, it seemed, we were being asked to accept ever more bizarre and improbable claims: that biological men can become pregnant, for instance, or get a period; or that the right for biological males to compete in women’s sports is a fundamental “human right”; or that we should celebrate when allegedly “transgender” toddlers are trotted out in front the world’s media to show how tolerant and progressive their parents are.
Equally dismaying was the sight of so many ordinary people bowing their heads and accepting every new outrageous demand, regardless of the very real cost on our freedoms, our culture, and the happiness, health, and even lives of our youth.
The confusion of 2019 was hardly confined to the world of social progressivism, however. The world of politics seemed to many to be increasingly characterized by division, chaos, and extremism. It often seemed, for instance, that each of the Democratic presidential candidates was consciously striving to outdo one another in the extremism of their pro-abortion and anti-family positions. And I hardly need mention how the year ended with a vote to impeach our president, and the exposure of deep political divisions even within the Christian community.
Meanwhile, for many Catholics, 2019 was the year they realized that the confusion and corruption in Holy Mother Church goes deeper, and higher, than they had previously realized. For faithful Catholics this is, without doubt, the most discouraging source of confusion of all. As the culture has descended into moral chaos, we have relied upon the stability of Holy Mother Church as the one and only reliable refuge against the madness of our age. We counted on the Barque of Peter to carry us calmly across the heaving ocean of the Culture of Death, and the moral madness of our age. Now, however, it sometimes feels as if that Barque is taking on a dangerous amount of water.
Christ, Our Rock
At the end of 2019, then, this year characterized by such disorienting change, it is a good time to remind ourselves of certain fundamental truths, truths that can provide a stay against the confusion. The first of these is that Christ is and must be our rock, and that – whatever the temporary appearances – it is only in Christ, and in the Church that He founded that we can find the stability, peace and the salvation for which our hearts so yearn.
Recall the despair of the Apostles in the boat, as they crossed the Sea of Galilee in the storm. Christ was right there, in their midst. They could see His peacefully sleeping form. Their Lord, their Christ, the Son of God, the Word made flesh, their Savior, lay but an arm’s length away from them. What more could they have wanted? And yet their courage failed when they saw the storm and the waves. Despairing, they woke Christ, daring even to rebuke Him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”
The evangelist recounts: “And He awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Then Christ turned toward his apostles sadly, asking, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’” (Mark 4:39-40)
“Why are you afraid?” Many of us right now might feel like the Apostles in that boat. Like the Apostles, the Church is carrying us amidst the waves and winds of a world gone mad. And yet, like the Apostles, we lose faith, we lose courage. The waves seem so large, the winds blow so fiercely, and the boat itself heaves and spins in the waves. And yet, all the while, Christ Himself is among us, His resting form quietly awaiting us within the tabernacle, ready to impart His peace and grace to our troubled souls, if only we would turn to Him and trust in His promises.
As I have said so often in this column, the answer to the Culture of Death and the confusions of our age does not lie in political or social activism, no matter how brilliant. Yes, we need brilliant and committed activists and political leaders. However, even more than this we need men and women of deep prayer, in whose hearts has been kindled the fire of Divine love. We need men and women who have drunk deeply of Christ’s loving presence, and who yearn to bring His love to all the world, beginning with their family, friends, and neighbors.
My New Year’s Wish
My dearest New Year’s wish is this: to see people, especially within the Christian fold, adopt this motto and to live by it: “Whatever happens to my brother or sister happens to me. Whatever affects my brother or sister affects me.” For, as Jesus says, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
The greatest act of love that we can do for our neighbors is to bring to them the truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and His gift of salvation – to evangelize. If more people lived by this reality, our cultures would be radically different. Our problem is that most have been desensitized to the inalienable dignity of the human person. Therefore, we must first re-teach the inherent and immutable dignity of the human person, a dignity that was revealed to us in its fullness by Christ’s incarnation. If we do not understand our nature and dignity, we will make little to no progress.
The Culture of Death has been very successful in dehumanizing the human person and our concern for each other. By assaulting the family, it has unlinked us from each other and our obligations to each other. The Culture of Death has peddled its wares well in convincing people to reject long-held Judeo-Christian beliefs and moral doctrines. Moral relativism reigns. For most, their conscience is either numb or dead. And, “The supernatural,” says Cardinal Robert Sarah, “is swallowed up in the desert of the natural” (The Day is Now Far Spent).
We need to re-evangelize, starting within the Church. Ultimately, the solution to the current cultural and moral crisis is the pursuit of greater holiness. As our Enemy is sin itself, the easiest sins to do battle against are those festering in our own souls. As St. Francis of Assisi put it, “The soldier of Christ must begin with victory over himself.”
Victory over our sins is possible only once we have united our hearts with Christ, the “stone which the builder’s rejected” which “has become the cornerstone” of our whole lives. As Pope Benedict stated in 2010, “[A]t the root of all evangelization lies not a human plan of expansion, but rather the desire to share the inestimable gift that God has wished to give us, making us sharers in His own life” (Ubicumque et Semper, 2010). To build our lives on this rock is to protect ourselves against the winds of confusion and the storms of discouragement: “And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:25)
While many make New Year’s resolutions for superficial things, we should pledge, using all our abilities, to be more active in the pro-life and family movement. We need to stand in unity against the radical assault upon life, marriage, the family, and our children. We need to educate ourselves on the issues, get more involved in the political life of our country, support people in leadership who actively support our causes, and expose and confront those who are in opposition to our values. We need to be more sensitive to what is happening around us – i.e. anti-life and anti-traditional marriage legislation and policies, the indoctrination of perverse sex education programs and gender ideology, legalization and normalization of euthanasia, etc.
I say to you: Make perfect your will.
I say: take no thought of the harvest,
But only of proper sowing.
— T.S. Eliot – Choruses from the Rock
Even more importantly, since we are in a spiritual battle, we need to recommit to deeper spiritual lives. In this time of confusion and change, we need men and women who, as T.S. Eliot put it in the poem above, have made perfect their wills; who never give into the temptation of discouragement, but paying no need to the harvest – which is Christ’s business – put their hands to the plow in the sowing – which is our business. “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’” (John 4:37)
We must lay all our trust in Christ, our rock. We must recommit ourselves to deep prayer, to frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist, to Eucharistic Adoration, to the family rosary, and to mortification of our passions. These are the weapons that the Church recommends to us, and that have served so many saints so well over the centuries.
As we begin this new year then, let us make concrete, achievable spiritual resolutions, which we can begin to put into practice immediately, and that will – if we adhere to them – carry us through the year ahead with the deep peace that only Christ can impart in our hearts.