Joy Under the Sword
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The current condition of the world forced me to turn over a conundrum in my head on the way to Mass after work. You can probably, like me, list the locations of the last half-dozen major acts of international terrorism, the recent ethical and moral rulings of SCOTUS, and at least three of Pope Francis’ confusing statements. There’s a lot happening in this world, and with the help of mass media, we see little that is good.
Many of my friends and colleagues have no optimism left. Accurately, perhaps, they predict an oncoming storm of chaos, fear, amorality, and death. In the current day and age, many feel that the world is rolling down a steep hill, picking up speed as it nears destruction at the bottom. Hope has faded into a dull resignation. But when I hear comments like “This is the end of civilization as we know it” and “Martial law is coming”, and I listen to the underlying tone of despair, something in me recoils.
While that analysis of the downhill trend is probably right, my first emotional impulse is to escape into a kind of Christian Pollyannism. Most days, I tend to be an optimist, generally assuming things will turn out all right. If there is a problem I can make better with a little effort, I’ll try. But if there’s a worrisome situation that’s too big, or utterly beyond my influence, I try to ignore it. I try to keep living my life, looking away from the sword of Damocles over my head.
When it comes to a collapse of civilization, though, that’s a sword long enough to dangle in my peripheral vision, like it or not.
And so, as I walked to my car, I asked God, “What is the right answer? I don’t like this pessimism, but I know I can’t ignore what is happening. What ought I to be feeling? How should I be living in this broken world?” I mulled over various answers, but none of them seemed to click. I wanted to find some happiness in the middle of this chaos, to find some answer for the despair, but images of shattered buildings and broken bodies kept leaping at me. How could I not just accept the darkness?
In the chapel, I opened my breviary and began to pray Vespers. I tried to pay attention to the Psalms, but my mind wandered as it typically does. When I came to the reading, however, I suddenly focused with a sharp breath and stinging tears.
“This is a cause of great joy for you, even though you may for a short time have to bear being plagued by all sorts of trials; so that, when Jesus Christ is revealed, your faith will have been tested and proved like gold – only it is more precious than gold, which is corruptible even though it bears testing by fire – and then you will have praise and glory and honour. You did not see him, yet you love him; and still without seeing him, you are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which your faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1, 6-9
As if I could hear His voice in my head, there was my answer, and it couldn’t have been more plainly spoken. Perhaps I can find happiness even in this chaotic world, and not through an empty blindness to reality.
Yes, there will be trials and suffering, maybe even destruction and death. But faith brings joy, and that joy can and must remain even in the darkness, because Christ remains. The trials should never be ignored, but must be identified, anticipated, and met with firmness of purpose.
God always answers when He’s asked. And every now and then, His reply is easy to hear. But He also must be answered. His words are a challenge: with a clear head and a keen eye for the dangers before us, can we cling to this joy He offers?