‘Tis difficult to write history in the midst of it – for any ‘story’ needs a beginning, a middle and an end, and at least the last element of that tripartite equation is unknown, and the middle, amorphous.
With images of cities burning across the landscape, the looting, pillaging, vandalizing, assaulting – almost all of it without consequence, with police officers ‘taking the knee’, Kopernick-style, before the mob, and others forced to do so, apologizing for an ill-defined ‘white privilege’, it does seem that ‘Mere anarchy loosed upon the land – the blood-dimmed tide is loosed’ . Add to that the supposed pestilence whose name I shall not repeat, things do appear a little on the apocalyptic side.
Yet have we not always been living in an apocalyptic age since the time of Christ in these anni Domini, with the ‘end times’ – and our redemption – near at hand? For what is an apocalypse but a fancy word for revelation, an uncovering of what until now been hidden, or mostly hidden?
And a large part of what is being revealed is the light and darkness within each of our hearts. As Moses challenged his own people millennia ago, have we chosen the path of life and goodness, or of death and destruction?
The rioters did not need Derek Chauvin’s apparent asphyxiation of George Floyd to let their inner demons loose, which were already there, latent, in their more ‘quiet’ lives. All that’s required is some sort of trigger. After all, how is smashing store windows, pummeling helpless shopkeepers, and setting fire to going to help their cause?
Odd that Chauvin’s name itself is an ironic trigger, perhaps even a distant descendant of Nicholas Chauvin, an early 19th century soldier mocked for his unbridled patriotism and lap-dog obedience to Napoleon, whose name has come to stand for any slavish devotion to any cause, such as perceived male dominance and patriarchy.
Well, we now have politico-archy, physician-archy, epidemiologico-archy, police-archy. We are ruled by algorithms, predictions, computer models, expediency, fear, and the members of the executive branch of government, tasked with the coercive aspect of law, are taught to use what force they deem necessary to enforce the decrees of these elites, and are largely immune from anything that a posteriori was deemed excessive – even murderous. We will see what effect Chauvin’s arrest has, and whether he is ever convicted.
There is a rebound effect to these strictures, the societal equivalent of Newton’s Third Law, plain old an-archy, no rule, chaos reigning, if chaos can be said to rule anything. One might more accurately say rule by the passions, the fury and indignation, of the mob.
We should ask what is being revealed in our own hearts in the midst of all this – prelates, priests and people. In what terms do we think? Fear? Hatred? Anger? An overweening concern with health and a love of this life? Protection from any and all dangers? A lack of hope in God’s protection, in God’s punishment, in eternal life? A visceral and irrational antipathy for all things, not least all thing Trump? Lust and destruction, or purity and goodness? Orthodoxy, or heterodoxy?
We should cultivate a properly ordered love of the things of this world, and protest what injustice we might, but always and only in light of eternity, heaven and the four last things, asking ourselves where our own treasure resides, and what – or who – is the master of our affections.
The thing is, even if this all goes away, a downpour disperses the sloganeers and rioters, or even if Covid disappears – as it seems magically to have done for all those thousands squished together pounding the pavement in protest – the fault lines that run through each of our souls will still be there, where, as Solzhenitsyn wrote, the divide between good and evil really resides. And what is hidden will soon be shouted – revealed, apocalyptic style – from the rooftops.
As Pope John Paul II teaches in Veritatis Splendor – the prophetic nature of which becomes clearer with each passing moment – sin not only causes corruption in the soul, but also reveals what weakness and malice are already there. We are as we act, and we become as we act.
Is this the end of America, the whole pursuit of ‘happiness’, and the good life, as we have understood such, in broad terms of agreement, for millennia? I’m watching a documentary of Benjamin Franklin, who is no candidate for canonization, but he did believe in virtue, industry, philanthropy, civic duty, even religion and morality of a sort, which held America together, for a while. But who thinks in terms of virtue and character nowadays, of the value of hard work, of perfecting oneself before one goes about trying to ‘perfect’ others? As Mark Steyn put it, these protesters deface a monument to the Armenian genocide, when they likely know not who committed the genocide, nor could they likely find Armenia on a map. For that matter, on this anniversary of D-Day, I fear most could not find Normandy on a map, nor what was the point of invading the north coast of France in 1944.
Yet it’s deeper than that, for they cannot find, and know not how to find, the true source of goodness and truth, of what really and only binds a society together. I would quote Pope Leo XIII, from his Immortale Dei, that without some sort of basis in the one true religion, a state can never be well governed. And we’ve now drifted a long way from that ‘one true religion’.
I would also, while we’re at it, hearken back to Pope John Paul, who warned that a nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope. And we’ve killed a lot of our own children, and there isn’t much hope manifested out there.
We are a ‘gimee’ generation, living the capital built up over generations, the treasures of our civilization, the customs, laws, art, buildings, monuments, all those ‘ties that bind’, now being frittered away, if not destroyed outright. ‘Tis far easier to smash, than to build, and iconoclasts have an easier task than iconophiles.
All is not lost, however, and we, as Catholics, should never give up hope, for our hope resides not in this world, but the next. If worse does come to worst, the worst they can do, ultimately, is kill us, and, well, that’s like an express train, a veritable TGV, to paradise.
This may sound trite, but it would do us well to reflect upon the response of the early Christians, put to death in ways almost too horrific to imagine, under Nero, Decius, Diocletian – whatever one says of their response, it was not to riot, loot, pillage and, we may soon see and may already have seen, maim and kill, in retaliation. He who reaps the wind, sows the whirlwind, and he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.
One of the purposes of death – that great leveling of all men – is ultimately to reveal who we are, deep down, beneath all the hypocrisy, lies, deceit and veneer. For what a man is before God, that he is, and nothing more.
Die we must, someday, and best to die not only doing our duty, but more than our duty, living in charity and peace, and good-will, so we may hold our heads high, and not bow them in shame. For our redemption is always near at hand, but we must prepare our our hearts to receive it.