There’s a story that has been around for years: you can place a frog in a pan of cold water that is slowly brought to boil while the frog complacently adapts to his environment – until it kills him. The analogy is frighteningly apt. Ninth grade students reading Elie Wiesel’s Night are appalled at how the Jews of Germany, Poland, and other parts of Europe refused to believe the warnings sent to them by witnesses of Nazi atrocities against their people. “That’s dumb!” they say almost as one voice.
Yet such complacency, such disbelief, is our own sin. We have allowed atrocity to build on top of atrocity and we have not stood in the gap and cried “Foul!”
In the days immediately following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, President Bush stood before our nation and warned us that the war we had entered into, on terrorism, would be exceedingly difficult precisely because it is a war against an attitude, a philosophy of destruction, and not a sovereign nation or specific king. In the same way, we as Christian people are called to be engaged in a battle for souls – a battle not against individual men and women or armies, but, against attitudes and philosophical constructs that lead to the injury and destruction of the immortal soul:
St. Paul urged the Ephesians: “… we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand….” (Eph. 6:10-13)
A deceitful view of the truth, common in our culture, says that all opinions have value, all ideologies are of equal merit. This is a worldview that tells us it doesn’t matter what we think, what we do, or how we live.
After all, it whispers and sometimes shouts, God only wants us to be happy!
No, dear friends. God does not want us to be superficially “happy.” God wants us to be good, so that we can be supremely happy with Him through all eternity.
Despite what we have been told by prevailing “wisdom” – which insists that I have “my truth” and you have “your truth” – there is only one Truth – and it is revealed to all of human history through the Person of Jesus Christ and through the agency of His Church. The issue is whether we are going to be faithful and obedient to the Truth or whether we are going to, by default, become complicit with the Enemy. We must recognize this and adapt our attitudes accordingly. There will be no middle ground.
We are called to be a countercultural people, in the world but not of it. This is not a popular or easy path. It means that we have to be engaged – deliberately engaged – in trying to know and to conform ourselves to a standard of thought, conduct, and feeling that the world is telling us is old-fashioned, archaic, and even repressive. It will require the engagement of all three of those dimensions – thought, conduct, and feeling – to combat the evil in our midst.
When we were baptized into the Church, into the Christian faith, we received, as Paul says, our adoption as joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8: 15). We are now citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven – in exile in this world, but eagerly awaiting our call Home, where we belong with Him. He is our Heavenly Father, but He is also our King. We are called to honor the laws, customs, and loyalties of our Homeland, even while we are in exile, as did the Children of Israel during their exile to Babylon. Like them, we are strangers and sojourners, having relinquished citizenship in this world in exchange for a Heavenly citizenship; we must therefore honor our first loyalty to God.
This loyalty is not popular in the world. Our eccentricity points out the destructiveness of a worldly, pagan culture and makes its residents uncomfortable. We will face a lot of misguided but well-intentioned opposition and downright hostility. The Enemy of our souls will make many attempts to get us to renounce our identity as sons and daughters of God.
The means he will use are manifold. Each of us has his particular weakness – lust, love of wealth and luxuries, self-aggrandizement, love of power – and it is to these that the Enemy appeals to us as individuals. What tempts me to stray from fidelity to Our Lord may not be what tempts you, and it hardly matters; the Enemy will address us personally.
We must begin our defense against the Enemy, and our offense against his domination of our culture, by changing our minds; old attitudes, the old complacency, will not do for us any longer.
It is astonishing to see how many verses in the Scriptures directly address the issue of our thoughts, our minds, and our orientation in the world but not of it:
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds – (Rom. 12:2)
Whatsoever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Phil. 4:8)
Be not conformed to this world… (Rom 12:2)
Do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility to God? (James 4:4)
Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. (I John 2:15)
As we change our attitudes, our ideas, we must also take action.
We must never grow weary of defending the defenseless by our opposition to abortion, euthanasia, cloning, and embryonic stem cell exploitation. That is obvious – but it is only a beginning. We must also defend the dignity and worth of all human life, in the aged, the infirm, the culturally and socio-economically deprived.
We must also defend what is decent and honorable in our culture and oppose all that is mediocre, salacious, and banal. As inconvenient as it is, as bitterly uncomfortable as it makes us, we must face head-on the fact that our culture is becoming desensitized to sin – just like the frog in the pot of water. The mediocre and banal – if not the utterly salacious – entertainments that we feel entitled to enjoy are like a termite infestation eroding the moral and spiritual fiber of our culture.
We must not make excuses for careless self-indulgence. When we engage in activities, recreations, and conversations that make a mockery of the best of our identity as Catholics, we give that round of battle to the Enemy. It’s no good saying of a television show that glamorizes adultery or violence, “Oh, it’s just TV, it doesn’t really matter.” It matters a great deal; TV and other mass entertainments have been a primary means of desensitizing the culture to sin, evil, and coarseness.
Parents, particularly, must be diligent to protect the minds and souls of their children. Catholic parents who allow their children to watch MTV, BET, movies that glorify violence, and other aggressively contemptuous entertainments fail in their duty to train their children’s minds, characters, and consciences. Parents who do not challenge their children’s schools’ use of novels like Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War, with its unchallenged contempt for others (both peers and those in positions of authority, particularly for religious), and its masturbatory references, fail in their duty to safeguard the minds and imaginations of their children and to preserve in their communities an adherence to the Christian standards of common decency that have shaped and defined those communities to the present day.
Moreover, we are defending not only our own children, but the children of those parents who are not doing their duty or living as active Christians.
When anti-Christian voices in our communities threaten the values and symbols we hold dear, we have an obligation to raise our voices in protest against the few dominating the many. We have an obligation to remind our elected civic leaders that the Constitution does not support freedom from religion, and that the voice of the majority chooses the policies and representations of our communities.
In every way imaginable, we have an obligation to seek and to conform to godly principles – as citizens, neighbors, and consumers. Our countercultural influence will not be nearly as effective if it is not all-encompassing, to the best of our ability at any given moment in time. What I am prescribing here will be an ongoing, developing endeavor, for the rest of our lives.
Finally, all our actions must be wholly undergirded with prayer. In prayer we touch the Mover of the Cosmos; in prayer we effect networks of change on a grand and an infinitesimal level. Our ideas and our actions become grounded and fused through prayer. Most of all, in prayer we enter God’s own presence – and in that Presence we ourselves are transformed. That ongoing transformation is what makes possible the change in mind, heart, and action we are being called to undertake.
Our culture is no longer dominated or governed by the principles of Judeo-Christian morality. Our identity and our values as Catholics are being challenged with increasing hostility. Battle lines are being drawn more dramatically with every passing week – between the friends of Christ and His enemies. The distinction between darkness and light, right and wrong, is becoming more dramatic.
Complacency will place us in the position of spoiled salt, to be thrown out (Mt. 5:13) or the lukewarm, who will be spit out of His mouth in Judgment (Rev. 3:16).
We truly are at war, as Paul says. – Therefore, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power Put on the full armor of God so as to be able to resist the devil’s tactics… That is why you must take up all God’s armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full. So stand your ground, with truth a belt around your waist, and uprightness a breastplate, wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One. And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God. (Eph. 6:10-17)
May He find us faithful to the very end.