There’s a great line in the book Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar. In writing about the downfall of Rome, she quotes an historian’s description of the Roman Empire before its demise, “a terrifying sluggishness of the whole population.” For me, this phrase denotes aimlessness, a lack of motivation and initiative, a sense of malaise and apathy. She further elaborates on the economic crisis, political corruption, sensual depravity, decadence, disregard for human life, worldliness of the clergy, and pagan practices that characterized life in the empire. The worst thing is, she is describing the Catholic world of the Roman Empire.
If we fast forward to today, we realize that nothing much has changed, other than the fact that Roman Catholicism is just one of many world religions and belief systems. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In his most recent controversial interview, this time with Eugenio Scalfari, Pope Francis explained that “the most serious evils that afflict the world in recent years are youth unemployment and the solitude in which the old are left.” Undoubtedly, these are serious problems, but in charity, I have to disagree with the Pontiff. In my profession, I’m trained to see things symptomatically—analyze the symptoms in order to arrive at the diagnosis, assess the individual and figure out what the problem is. That same principle can be applied to many different scenarios, including what ails the world.
Without any disrespect to Pope Francis, it seems to me that these two “evils” are the result of something deeper. In other words, they are symptoms of a serious disease, a morbidity that has reached epidemic proportions. The illness aptly described by the historian as sluggish is purposelessness.
In the First Communion class I teach at my parish, we are discussing why God created us. In words that even a seven-year-old can understand, the answer is: ” God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” (Thank you, Baltimore Catechism.) That is our purpose.
Sadly the world has, to a great extent, forgotten this. That’s why we have the rampant symptoms of abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, broken families, and violence—to name but a few. The list is extensive and many Christians are oblivious to and actually condone these behaviours.
The two greatest commandments that Jesus taught us in order that we may know and live purposeful lives have been replaced by love of self and love of things. To my mind, that is the greatest evil. Not only do the unemployed and the lonely lack a place in our hearts, but so does God.
When we set out to determine why there is a problem, we look for the root cause. We don’t just focus on the sky-high blood sugar, we treat the body’s inability to produce sufficient insulin. We don’t limit our care to the swollen feet and ankles, we address the issues of vascular and cardiac insufficiency. Likewise, we don’t just identify youth unemployment and lonely elderly, we pinpoint the malignant evil that plagues the world.
The remedy as understood by my First Communion catechumens is to know, love, and serve God in this world so we can be with Him for eternity in the next.
Moczar, Diane. Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know. New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 2005.
Photo: Thomas Cole’s The Fall of Rome.