America is facing dark times. The family has been redefined and is collapsing; nearly 60 million children have been aborted since 1973; urban violence, after a steady decrease, is rising rapidly; the national debt has doubled in eight years; the labor participation rate is at its lowest in nearly four decades; record numbers of people are on food stamps and state assistance; wealth disparity has reached levels not seen since the Gilded Age; nuns are being sued by the Department of Justice; religious liberty is being removed from the public square; Catholic school enrollment is in decline; genuine Catholic colleges are practically non-existent; and foreign powers, such as ISIS, North Korea, and Russia, pose grave existential threats to the country. Further, regardless of who wins the election, the country will send a moral reprobate to the White House. And the future looks even darker than the present.
The response to this situation by Catholics and other people of good will has understandably been despair, frustration, anger, and anxiety. Parents fear for their children’s faith, safety, and economic well-being; they feel helpless, that there is nothing they can do to change their situation. The world they knew appears to be slipping away, and the major forces in this drama—courts, markets, governments, technology—seem to moving along of their own volition, with no concern for the people they allegedly serve. Christians want to do something, anything, to get control of this situation, rearrange their circumstances, and bring about a world in which their children can flourish.
Yet, especially in these dark times and amidst this desperation, it is easy to forget our calling as Christians. We are called to be faithful to the will of God, but as Mother Teresa has famously quipped, “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”
Fidelity to the will of God is both an active and passive exercise. As Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J., explained, “The active practice of fidelity consists in accomplishing the duties which devolve upon us whether imposed by the general laws of God and of the Church, or by the particular state that we may have embraced. Its passive exercise consists in the loving acceptance of all that God send us at each moment.”
We are, indeed, called to do our part to elect leaders who will fight for the survival of the family, for a culture of life, for justice, and for the common good. We are to be faithful to our general duties as Christians and to those duties that accompany our particular station in life. But success in these endeavors is often beyond our control.
Yet, even in the face of our apparent failure and when all external circumstances would seem to indicate defeat, we are also called to be at peace in our fight. This peace is both a gift and the result of habituation.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…. [F]or I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:6-7, 11-13).
Peace and contentment are provided by God but also must be learned. “Accustom your will little by little,” St. Francis de Sales teaches, “to follow that of God, wherever He leads you. Make your will very sensitive to the voice of conscience saying, ‘God will it’; little by little these repugnances you feel so strongly will grow weaker, and soon will cease altogether.” If we remain faithful and abandon ourselves to divine providence, we are promised this peace will be given to us.
And we know that, in situations direr than those we currently face, God has granted this peace to his children. As he lay starving and awaiting his death in Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe spent his final days encouraging his fellow prisoners with joyful prayer, singing psalms and leading meditations on the Passion of Christ. St. Andrew is said to have cried out with joy when he was finally shown the cross upon which he would be crucified. And reflecting on his two decades in a Soviet labor camp, Walter Ciszek, S.J., stated, “I could testify from my own experiences, especially from the darkest hours in Lubianka, that the greatest sense of freedom, along with peace of soul and an abiding sense of security, comes when a man totally abandons his will in order to follow the will of God.”
So, let us strain every nerve to fulfill our active duties as citizens of America and to work for a culture of life and respect for human dignity. And let us not be naïve or Pollyannaish about the future. Soviet-style suppression of religion is, in many ways, already upon us, and there is every reason to believe it will increase in the future. But let us also pray and strive for the peace that is the fruit of our abandonment to divine providence. In this way, even if our earthly endeavors fail, we may be more intimately united to Christ and be in our very person a witness to the peace promised to everyone who puts his life in the hands of God.