The following article was selected as the Essay Contest Winner and first published by Catholic Stand.
Adversity has taken on a different form today in our culture than in times past. A lot in the way of adversity is hurled at the Church—to be sure—and in some ways it looks that things may only get worse. Of course, we also know that in other areas of the world, many are being horribly persecuted and killed for their Christian faith. And although we are called to unite our sufferings with them, for most of us, the hand of adversity is subtler. Ours comes through apathy. Ours comes through neglect.
In my own life, I’ve come across my fair share of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian sentiment—and at times even a blatant disrespect or animosity toward the faith—but mostly, adversity for my faith comes in the form of a shrug, a polite nod of feigned interest, a blank stare. The proclamation of our faith has become dulled, a blunt instrument, which has seemingly lost its power to cut through the noise of the culture. The heralding of the Good News has become old news—mundane and ordinary to blasé and bored ears. Whereas our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ before us endured prison and death, we now endure marginalization and disregard.
It becomes apparent when attending a disappointingly sparse or disengaged Sunday mass, viewing a late night TV personality wrest yet another easy laugh from the audience with an unoriginal and ignorant crack about a Catholic priest, or having to refute the eager assumption that I somehow don’t believe in science or reason (sigh…as if either necessarily negate the need for faith). Catholics are tolerated for the most part as a quaint relic from the old days, back
when people weren’t educated or reflective enough to sustain society without a Divine enforcer, a cosmic watch-keeper to account for all of the mysteries of the universe.
It’s painful to live amongst many who are blind, and happily so. Many are caught within the tide pool of their own lives and agendas, and the mention of God isn’t so much an inciting impetus for revolt, but rather, just something else—just another oddly-shaped trinket to throw on top of a pile overflowing with fads, half-fledged philosophies and the most recent viral video. Where the sun has grown dim, many have learned to enjoy the comfort of the shade. I can beam about the joy and meaning enkindled by a friendship with God, only to field a “good for you” in return, all while my distracted interlocutor thumbs a Facebook feed on their phone.
I often look to Walker Percy, the gifted and illuminating writer and philosopher, who astutely observed a culture that is lost to the fact that it’s, well, lost. In his first novel, The Moviegoer, he explores this theme through the perspective of a young stockbroker named Binx Bolling living in New Orleans.
“For some time now the impression has been growing upon me that everyone is dead. It happens when I speak to people. In the middle of a sentence it will come over me: yes, beyond a doubt this is death. There is little to do but groan and make an excuse and slip away as quickly as one can. At such times it seems that the conversation is spoken by automatons who have no choice in what they say.”
In Percy’s view, our society is suffering from a moribund diagnosis, but the supreme tragedy of it all is that we think we’re otherwise quite well and healthy. I don’t mean to display a wagging, judgmental finger, since I personally have to strive diligently toward God through prayer and the Sacraments, knowing full well how easy it is to be swept away by what many in the Church refer to as a “culture of death.” Life among the dead, as it turns out, is quite dangerous.
As Catholics, I think our experience is not much different than what Jesus experienced when visiting his hometown. He was unable to perform many miracles—despite being the “Eternal One”—and was amazed by their lack of faith. The people of his hometown, like many today, felt they already knew everything there was to know about this obscure carpenter’s son. And so, why should they be bothered?
Like Jesus, many ignore us despite our best efforts. Instead of a golden sea of mustard plants alive and sprawling within the culture, we spot only a measly seed barely breaching the soil’s surface. We labor late into the afternoon in our corner of the vineyard, and while we continue to pray for more laborers, we wait patiently as our arms grow tired. As we work toward bringing Christ into the world, despite our own shortcomings and sinfulness, we must grip the cross of endurance—with all of our efforts to move a mountain, we may see we haven’t even moved a mound.
Still, we are people of hope. We are people of faith. And most importantly, we are people of love and life, which is why with Christ we can do all things. As the famous writer G.K. Chesterton quipped, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” And so, alive and kicking, we continue against the frantic white of a deadening current.
In Pope Francis’ wonderful and stirring apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, he addresses the tension of bringing about the Kingdom of God even when we aren’t able to enjoy the harvest. We struggle to aid a friend who keeps slipping back into addiction. We work to reconcile a relationship that remains shattered and painful. We seek to bring the light of faith to a family member who still thinks we’re deluded. Again and again our efforts seem wasted,
fruitless, devoid of God’s grace. But Pope Francis, always keeping the glow of hope alive and burning, reminds us to unearth the treasure of an interior certainty that is buried within us:
“Because we do not always see these seeds growing, we need an interior certainty, a conviction that God is able to act in every situation, even amid apparent setbacks: we have this treasure in earthen vessels…It involves knowing with certitude that all those who entrust themselves to God in love will bear good fruit. This fruitfulness is often invisible, elusive, and unquantifiable.”
And we recall, with hearts that celebrate the resurrected Jesus even while sauntering in the thick of Good Friday, that nothing is lost in God’s gaze.
“No single act of love for God will be lost; no generous effort is meaningless; no painful endurance is wasted.”
Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel
As we face a cultural stream that leads over a towering and fatal cliff, we continue on, trusting that God is present and active. With eyes of faith, even when we look out over barren soil in the dead of drought, we see the subtle hand of God gently leading all of His children back home.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
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