It feels like the church is falling apart.
It feels like our country is falling apart.
It feels like the world is falling apart.
These are things that many of us feel right now. And rightfully so. Corruption seems to reign supreme. You find it in one corner so you run to the other corner, but then you find it there too. Add a heavily contagious virus into the mix that makes people mistrusting and afraid of each other and everything only becomes more confusing and sad.
Here are my general thoughts.
- First of all, accept that it is falling apart, and that there’s only so much we can do about that. Now, I am not saying that we cannot do good in the world or change peoples’ hearts or expose corruption or stop the spread of viruses. I am saying that, whether by means of natural catastrophe or by means of God’s ancient plan to remedy the terminal effects of original sin, the world is bound to come to an end. We cannot stop the falling apart. What we can do is put our faith and hope in something that transcends the falling apart— and we can encourage others to do the same.
- Be the saint you want to see in the world. We have all heard about being the “change” but there are simply some things we cannot change. Additionally, “change” is not always an unequivocal good. The world changes every time we have a new president and then it changes again another 4-8 years later. What we need is not change. We need holiness. We need saints. Because saints do more than change the world. They bring love of Christ to the world— often amidst the most dire and corrupt situations— and the love of Christ does not just change. It redeems. In response to the essay prompt, “What’s Wrong With the World”, Chesterton famously said, “Me.” How wrong he was! But how right he was in saying it. Our response to the many sins of the world should be evermore striving to uproot our own sins. Our response to the great lack of holiness should be to be holy ourselves.
- Resist the destructive cycle of judgement and condemnation. It can be very tempting to give up our standards on gossip, slander, and hatred when presented with unspeakable evils. And yet, either we believe that only God knows the heart or we do not believe it. If we do believe it, then all we can judge are actions, opinions, and situations. Famous saints are all quite different from each other— from Mother Teresa to Joan of Arc to Maximillian Kolbe— and yet, they all share one thing in common. They do not hate anyone. In this age of social media, it seems like hatred reigns supreme— even amongst people of the same ideologies and affiliations, and often in response to grievances small and insignificant. What will these people do when presented with grave injustices? Hatred breeds hatred. Extreme, supernatural love is the only possible answer. We absolutely must wish the best for our neighbor, however bad he may seem.
- The Benedict Option is a good one, if you’re willing to live like Saint Benedict. I am a big fan of retreating from corrupt situations, especially when you have young, vulnerable people in your care. My family and I moved out of the city last year in the midst of the Covid crisis. We homeschool. We are continually thinking about how to simplify and refocus our lifestyle. And yet, we have to fight large-scale, utopian thinking. There is so much talk these days about looking for or creating the perfect “community”. But communities don’t spring up out of thin air and they can’t really be affectively planned. Communities generally come about organically from good and like-minded individuals and families. Saint Benedict’s original retreating away worked, most of all, because he first embraced some level of solitude. The primary focus of a retreat from the world (or a specific city, town, or community) should be nurturing the self and the family. We need to worry less about building or fixing other people and larger systems and focus more on finding the space we need to live good and holy lives without too many distractions or interferences. Do not be surprised if you end up completely alone in your endeavor. Many saints have had to live in exile for a time— even, sometimes, in exile from their own church.
- Do not trust in false gods. Most of us know well that false gods can come in the form of money, drugs, sex, etc. But other, seemingly good things can become gods too. Even a parish community can be a false god. Or a really brilliant voice on Twitter. Or an online moms’ group. Our modern grand interconnectedness, thanks to the Internet, makes it easy to get pulled into and attached to all sorts of groups and individuals, many of whom we do not know personally at all, or have much personal concern for us. Trust in people you know and love well— people who see you on a daily basis, who know the faces of you and your children in real life, not in pictures. Even then, remember that the people you love most are still not gods and will not be perfect. Trust, most of all in God and in His saints. Read the Gospels. Read the writings of the saints. Read good literature, listen to good music, spend more time in nature. Calmly ignore excessive political banter, bad advice, and bad homilies. Do not be surprised when these things come to you. The devil finds his way into almost everything. But he doesn’t have to find his way into you.
- Finally, when it feels as though there is more evil than good, if the cross seems heavier than the crown, the sufferings too great or too hard, remember St. Simon Peter’s famous words, “To whom shall we go Lord, for you have the words of eternal life?”