We Christians are not immune from baseless optimism concerning the state of the world, and when this optimism is shattered by reality, we are not immune from baseless pessimism. It is unfortunate that we have at times at least partially bought into the myth that science and technology have changed the world for the better, without any qualifications. Christians too were exhilarated by the explosion of scientific inventions in the 19th Century that promised that man can create ever new means of bettering himself and his whole environment, with no help from religion or God. This so-called Victorian optimism also arose from the debut of progressive supposedly scientific based ideologies, democratic forms of socialism, Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism, all of which promised modern scientific solutions to age old social problems like poverty, slavery, oppression of the weak, in short a promise for a thorough transformation of this world into a workers’ paradise, once religion was put in its place, which was nowhere.
This at first sight shallow optimism proved in fact to be very deep seeded and evidently almost impossible to kill once it took root. It has survived two catastrophic world wars and two political ideologies, fascism and communism that killed hundreds of millions in the first half of the 20th century in their monstrous slave labor camps around the world, all of this carnage having taken place in the midst of a world growing in self-congratulations over the post wars’ growth of democracy, feminism, unionization of workers, universal suffrage, etc.
That optimism continues to survive today simply by ignoring the even more monstrous slaughter of human beings, worldwide, in the form of abortion, over a hundred million victims each and every year, not a half century, not a century, but each and every year. We fought an enemy in Europe that used science to tamper with human life in brutal experimentations; now we tamper with human life in our labs, not quite so brutally perhaps, but relentlessly, and we congratulate ourselves that we are so much more civilized than the Nazi scientists who used living human beings for experimentation. But wait, did we not do that in some states around the same time until the crime was revealed, but at least it was a crime. Today we use the victims of abortion, and who can doubt that is the criminality were lifted that our own “Mengeles” would be scouring hospitals and mental institutions for their own subjects of experimentation. One can’t really believe that a scientific profession that sees no problem with slaughtering millions and millions of children in the womb would have any serious qualms about using live victims for scientific experimentation, if they could get their soiled hands on them.
Satan knows well how discouraging all this is to believers. Paradoxically, this stupendous evil is a greater problem for us than for nonbelievers since it opens up the challenge to faith often made by the very perpetrators as to how we can believe in a God who is absolute goodness and yet tolerates this slaughter of the innocents on such a scale.
Well, that’s the pessimistic side of the picture, and I have to admit that it hits me very hard from time to time. But then I also believe that the Christian has every reason to be joyful and optimistic in the midst of this darkness. Indeed, we see this joy and optimism in the words of St. Paul and the other writers of the New Testament already in the aftermath of the crucifixion, in the midst of persecution from Jews and gentiles, in the face of an imperial power that will try to crush and destroy the Church in its infancy just as Herod tried to destroy Christ in his infancy.
There is no time when Christians live in an ideal world, a world without suffering, persecution, and eventually martyrdom. Jesus warned us of this fact of life in a world that rejects Him in every age. Even the so-called Christian political domination, Christendom, there was no such world. Kings persecuted even bishops and popes. The laity suffered from their fellow Christians in their own homelands and from Muslim domination of lands lost in war to this constant enemy. I prefer Christendom of course, but not because it means an escape from evil, even Monasteries do not accomplish that. I prefer it because I truly believe it lessens the evils of society, even of war itself, by virtue of the natural law and Grace, no matter how many evils remain untamed.
But just read the letters of St. Paul, what he suffered, what the evils were of his world, and see what joy filled his heart in the midst of this tribulation. What is the secret of his joy? It is his faith and loving communion with the Lord of Hosts and with his fellow Christians.
We profess this secret throughout Advent. The Lord is near. The lord is always near, if only our hearts are ready to perceive, to receive Him. St. John said it so wonderfully in his prologue, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5) Even in the breathtaking darkness of our age, the light of Christ continues to shine, bringing hope to the heart of man the believer. The Lord is near; he has not abandoned us. He became flesh for us, and He remains always with us, even in the flesh. And, if we have the eyes of faith, we see His presence here in the midst of this great darkness, in the light that shines forth from other Christians especially, but even from some on their way to His Kingdom, for His grace is already at work enlightening their hearts. Satan knows his time is limited and his fury reveals his presence in the horror of the crimes against humanity, especially against children who in their early years so powerfully reflect the innocence of God.
Here then at last is the secret of our joy: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)