Turning Out the Lights on 2016

The year 2017 can be better. Not perfect, but better. And all it will take is a daily commitment to conversion on the part of each of us.

(photo: ‘Kritzolina’, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

At year’s end, it serves to take stock of the preceding 365 days and consider what we might keep in mind during the next annual cycle of months and moons.

For me, 2016 will stand as the year I reluctantly decided after too much bewilderment and agony to “turn the corner” with Pope Francis, as Dr. Jeffrey Mirus so aptly put it in a late November piece. Despite all the good Francis has done, his difficult moments are myriad and have become the institutional memory of his papacy. We can either despair or “turn the corner.” For sanity’s sake, I have recently chosen the latter.

We Americans also learned in 2016 just how far our nation has fallen from its historical moorings as a nominally Christian nation.

Consider our primary presidential candidates. One was an ardent pro-abort (she passed the more benign “pro-choice” decades ago) who has been implicated in a host of crimes spanning 30-plus years. Another was a man whose callow and classless verbal outbursts demonstrated a temperament unbecoming the dignity of the office he sought and will now occupy. The next most viable option was an affable but intellectually unserious former governor whose policies would have opened wide the doors to the moral sewage that had already eroded our nation’s foundations over the past 50 years.

This was the best our polity – voters like you and me, our relatives, our neighbors, and coworkers – could muster.

The national GOP and Democratic Parties will now engage in great soul-searching (one can only pray). So must each of us in 2017, because we all have some complicity for this state of things.

Don’t allow that anger you. (“Why, how dare he?! I’m not like them.”) Instead admit like the publican, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and then evaluate this past year in light of “what I have done and what I have failed to do.”

Take the film Bad Moms. Please. A puerile, horrible, even evil movie in many respects, it grossed over $100 million at the box office. This didn’t happen because good Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants refused to see it. Unfortunately I viewed it. I should have checked the USCCB’s film reviews or other sources.

Lesson learned? I hope so.

Regardless it’s the type of lesson we need to learn, for many of us seem to labor under the delusion that we can still somewhat trust the culture. We can’t.

At one point, before the 1700s, society and the Church were as one. One could not make a proposition that didn’t at least appear to be moored in what passes for basic Christian orthodoxy.

With the Enlightenment, however, that began to erode. And the greater the distance from historic Christianity grew, the greater hold secular ideas possessing no reference to Christ came to have on the literati (and on some within the Church’s hierarchy, who were, after all, formed by the literati) – the more the confusion grew within the faithful as to what constitutes a true Christian response to the age and what is a cooperation with it.

Consider the widely-held proposition, “I am personally opposed, but…” The confusion has become that ubiquitous.

Consider, also, how few of our societal and cultural leading lights have an authentically and holistic Christian worldview. These politicians, business leaders, fashionistas, and artists not only do not possess such a worldview as their starting point, they are hostile to it. And they have turned many of us toward that hostility.

Need proof? How many of us have apologetically said words similar to, “Well, I’m not religious, but …” How many of us habitually fear to cross ourselves in public or to be seen saying Grace in a restaurant? Were Norman Rockwell alive today, he would paint a father praying with his son at a diner’s table with another, albeit thoroughly disgusted patron looking on. That is how radical and revolutionary such an act has become in our de-Christianized age.

The time has come to stop cooperating with evil and to start being peaceful revolutionaries, to make small, courageous acts of defiance against the age and to stop allowing ourselves to be cowed by it.

“Are you religious?” they will ask. “Yes!” we must answer.

If we think we can do this on our own, we are raca, fools, blithering idiots, prideful buffoons doomed to defeat. (I am pointing all my fingers inward in stating this.) Even the strongest, most sincere, fervent desire will not suffice. Our graveyards are strewn with addicts who thought otherwise.

Our sole recourse is God. We will only succeed if we steep ourselves in prayer and Scripture and thereby enter the loving Sacred and Immaculate Hearts.

This could produce tremendous spiritual pain. “This great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord Our God anymore, we shall die” (Deut 5:25). We will be tempted to flee.

Don’t. Instead, putting on the armor of faith-born courage, stand your ground. With God, no form of earthly death has power.

You want a good New Year’s resolution? Try one/all of these:

  • Resolve to read one chapter of Scripture each day. You can read more, but start with one chapter.
  • Resolve to pray for at least five minutes each morning (ACTS: A – Adoration; C – Confession; T – Thanksgiving; S – Supplication). You can pray more. By all means, do, but start with five. No one runs a marathon the first time they lace up their FILAs.
  • Resolve to do one act of service every three months. Work up to monthly or weekly, sure, but start here.

In these ways, Jesus will open His Sacred Heart and make you a better family member, a better employee/boss, and a better citizen. And in the process, you will help transform this society without some great political action or, really, much effort.

This year was not the best in world history, putting it mildly. The coming annum, however, can be better. Not perfect, but better. That is a lot, when you think about it. And all it will take is a daily commitment to metanoia, to conversion on the part of each of us.

Scripture. Prayer. Fasting. Sacrifice. Confession. Penance. Conversion. The solution is as old as the Nativity and as sure as the Savior Who gave it to us.