A righteous man is not naive. He knows how evil works, and so he is on guard against it. He knows all the strategies of hell. In fact, he knows the enemy so well, he even sees ways in which the demons could be more efficient:
If I actually had to expect a message from the worst fiends of an inferno, there is nothing I should expect so much as the message that everything is bright and breezy, happy and comfortable, and that there is no peril on the path of man.
The words of a good man who understands the mechanisms of evil. G.K. Chesterton could see that the devil would do well to tell us that everything is okay as we slide slowly into hell.
But who in the world today could possibly believe that everything is okay? “Bright and breezy and that there presently is no peril”? No one. And yet. And yet. If we don’t believe it, why do we remain on the same course? Why don’t we change anything? We slog on in the same direction, conning ourselves with the catchwords of progress, of “moving forward,” caught up in the notion that old is bad, new is good, old was wrong, new is right, newer is even better, and time itself will make improvement inevitable. We keep lying to ourselves, hurting ourselves, destroying ourselves, and we think that for all that, a fine future lies just ahead, a perfect place.
However, the litany of things we call progress defy common sense. We crowd into cramped uncomfortable living spaces, stacked on one another, far away from the open air. We sit for hours each day in a car so that we can sit for several hours more at a desk, working for someone else, so that we can end the day sitting for still more hours in front of a screen, expecting to be entertained, enlightened, and engaged. We pay to watch other people play games. We curse the politicians from the opposing party but not as angrily as we curse those from our own party.
In spite of the improvements, nothing works. Even the good things don’t seem to work. “The society begins to decline,” says Chesterton, “when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.”
The litany continues. Contraception has led to abortion and now infanticide. The separation of sex from birth and sex from marriage has led to the separation of sex from the sexes. The pleasures of life now pain us. Machines that were meant to serve us now control us. Instead ridiculing the ridiculous, we take ridiculous things seriously. We are under the delusion that if we behave differently we can control the weather, yet we believe that we are incapable of controlling our own strange lusts and fashionable fetishes, and we resent being told to. An iceberg melting is unnatural and must be stopped, but a boy thinking he is a girl is naturally following an imbedded inclination not to be disrupted or discouraged.
We don’t need a prophet to tell us there is peril. And the peril is not to the earth; it is to our souls. It is time to repent.
And, coincidentally, it is time for Lent.
Lent begins in ashes. Chesterton says we repent in sackcloth and ashes. We merely regret in the latest fashion.
We repent because we see, whether slowly or suddenly, that we have been heading in the wrong direction and that we must turn around. We repent because we have sinned. We need to confess. Lent calls us to confess. And, in spite of our keen awareness of the whole world’s waywardness and unworthiness, Chesterton advises us, quite rightly, not to confess other people’s sins, only our own. And he says we must be swift to forgive our enemies and less eager to forgive ourselves.
I would add that not confessing other people’s sins includes not confessing the sins of the priests or bishops who have hurt us or hurt the Church. They must confess their own sins. We must pray for them, pray for the Church, and help make the Church righteous by being righteous. Not self-righteous.
In Lent we are reminded of our duty to others. We give alms. When we remember that everything we have is a gift, we realize that giving to others who have not been given as much as we have is good for our souls and theirs. Chesterton takes it a step further: “As we should be genuinely sorry for tramps and paupers who are materially homeless, so we should be sorry for those who are morally homeless, and who suffer a philosophical starvation as deadly as physical starvation.”
People are hungry for the truth. It is a true act of charity to feed them. But let us speak the truth in charity. Let us give what we have received.
The Church has what the world needs. Right now the world—and the Church—need repentance. The Church, with perfect timing, has it. Lent.
The Church, in spite of its failures, is still Christ’s body, God’s body, God’s broken body. In these 40 days, we re-live the story of salvation. Lent begins in humility. It continues in agony. It climaxes in crucifixion. It ends, please God, in resurrection.
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