Thursday, March 21, 2019

Only those who live by faith know what is really happening. . .

“We are at the end of Christendom.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen said in 1974.  Of course, he was not speaking about the end of Christianity or the demise of the Church but the social force of Christianity in culture and society.  “Christendom is economic, political, social life as inspired by Christian principles. That is ending — we’ve seen it die. Look at the symptoms: the breakup of the family, divorce, abortion, immorality, general dishonesty.”

Growing up in the 1950s, what some have deemed golden years of American life and Christian culture, I can well see what he was speaking about.  Though it did not appear at that time that it would be possible to awaken to a culture and society in which orthodox Christianity had become an enemy of our common life and the public square, the seeds of this were already being sown long before the sour fruit is being picked now, some forty or fifty sixty years later.

Sheen continued: “Why is it that so few realize the seriousness of our present crisis?  Partly because men do not want to believe their own times are wicked, partly because it involves too much self-accusation, and principally because they have no standards outside of themselves by which to measure their times… Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world. The great masses without faith are unconscious of the destructive processes going on.”

There is great wisdom.  We do not want to believe our times our wicked because that wickedness points to us, to the sinful heart which is the fruit of Eden's rebellion, and to the loss of our place within God's creative order.  We do not want to look into the mirror of the law and see what evil we have done wrong, the good left undone, and our helpless state to repair this condition.  We find it easy to cast off the constraints of God's wisdom as if they were shackling our desire and drive but then we find ourselves unable to fill the gap with common wisdom and common morality.  We do not see the evil of it until the evil of it has done its worst and we are left wounded and blind.

But the key statement here is:  Only those who live by faith really know what is happening in the world.  Now there is a statement to consider and roll over in your mind.  The world sees the faithful as the blind but Sheen is saying we are the only ones who see.  That is the witness not simply of Sheen but of Jesus before the Pharisees and a world left unprepared for the coming of the Messiah and unable to recognize Jesus as that long promised Christ.

It is not simply the faithful who suffer for this but the world which is consigned to its darkness as the public square is increasingly closed off to the voice of God's people speaking His Word.  In the end, this is the terrible destruction we did not realize or learn to fear until it was too late.  I grew up when it was considered wise precaution to hide under your desk in case of nuclear attack and in my middle aged years I learned it was considered wise precaution to secure aircraft and public spaces against the terrorist.  But the most prudent thing of all is to identify and label the destruction which happens in our midst not from predictable enemy or means but from the loss of family, the confusion of gender, the glorification of pleasure, leisure, and sexual desire, the refusal to protect life from its earliest stages in the womb until its natural end, and the redefinition of truth as subjective and temporary.  In these we see the evidence of Sheen's prediction and the truth of his diagnosis.  But it remains to be seen whether or not we see the courage or the path to escape from the dead end into which our common life without God has led us.

According to Sheen, we are “definitely at the end of a non-religious era of civilization, which regarded religion as an addendum to life, a pious extra, a morale-builder for the individual but of no social relevance, an ambulance that took care of the wrecks of the social order until science reached a point where there would be no more wrecks;  which called on God only as a defender of national ideals, or as a silent partner… but who had nothing to say about how the business should be run” or life is to be lived.  Again, Archbishop Sheen:  “God will not allow unrighteousness to become eternal.  Revolution, disintegration, chaos, must be reminders that our thinking has been wrong, our dreams have been unholy.  Moral truth is vindicated by the ruin that follows when it has been repudiated.  The chaos of our times is the strongest negative argument that could ever be advanced for Christianity… The disintegration following an abandonment of God thus becomes a triumph of meaning, a reaffirmation of purpose…Adversity is the expression of God’s condemnation of evil, the registering of Divine Judgement... Catastrophe reveals that evil is self-defeating; we cannot turn from God without hurting ourselves.”

But this is not simply a sobering judgment of the days, it is a call to action.  Sheen insists that Christians “must realize that a moment of crisis is not a time of despair, but of opportunity.  The more we can anticipate the doom, the more we can avoid it. Once we recognize we are under Divine Wrath, we become eligible for Divine Mercy.  It was because of famine the prodigal said: ‘I will arise, and will go to my father.’ The very disciplines of God create hope.  The thief on the right came to God by a crucifixion. The Christian finds a basis for optimism in the most thorough-going pessimism, for his Easter is within three days of Good Friday.”

We will not legislate or vote ourselves out of this crisis.  According to Sheen “The only way out of this crisis is spiritual, because the trouble is not in the way we keep our books, but in the way we keep our souls. The time is nearer than you think.”

Instead of those who make peace or accommodation with the times, we need such clear voices in our day.  We need those who will not only speak but act courageously and heroically on the basis of their faith, for the sake of those who they know and love and for those who are strangers to them.  In the end the world will not be repaired but the faithful will live, the Church will not be killed but will be brought to her wonderful completion, presented holy and spotless by Christ the bridegroom, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be eaten and drunk in the presence of the Father forevermore.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 1950's was a time when Bishop Fulton Sheen had a top-rated
evening TV program. He gave inspirational talks with the help
of his blackboard and chalk. ABC, CBS, and NBC were the three
choices for the TV audience.

Church attendance in Protestant parishes reached a high and new
church buildings were erected to meet the challenge. The 8 years
of a peaceful Eisenhower Administration was a bonus for everyone.

Now in the 21st century we live in the post-Christian era in
America. People are secular minded and the church is no longer
important to them.