In Christ we can overcome the world

  • March 5, 2010
In the developed industrial societies of the West, superficiality is among the great scourges of the age. Our prosperity and freedom, and the best values we have inherited from the past, are blighted by a mass culture that trivializes everything, from politics and entertainment to sexuality and social morality.

Movies, TV and advertising constantly reinforce the notions, for example, that sexual licence is just a normal part of growing up, that living together outside the exclusive terms of marriage is even desirable in the circumstances of our era. The bombardment of highly eroticized entertainment hollows out the personal depth and resonance that can come with sexual commitment.

And what of education? Who among us older people doesn’t have young friends who complain about the insipid fare their children are being served in the schools? In the name of a terribly misguided multiculturalism, curricula have been emptied of solid history, the monuments of Western literature, philosophy and art, and the knowledge of Christianity, which, more than any other single force, has shaped the narrative and destiny of Western societies.

Individual Christians, as well — I include myself — are too often caught up in the trivializing drift, becoming content to live in the shallows of faith. We do not study seriously the glorious spiritual and theological writings of our tradition, we do not pray and work and perform the acts of mercy with fervour. The results of this surrender to the glib spirit of the age include a narrowing and flattening of life, and tolerance for the shabbiness of the moral and religious character of ourselves and the times we live in.

Lent is a summons to reject such tolerance and embrace life in its fullness, richness and excitement. In this regard, I was mightily struck by the Lenten counsels of Pope Benedict XVI, delivered in a recent address to pilgrims at the Vatican.

“The call to conversion, in fact, uncovers and denounces the easy superficiality that very often characterizes our way of living,” the Pope said. “To be converted means to change direction along the way of life — not for a slight adjustment, but a true and total change of direction. Conversion is to go against the current, where the ‘current’ is a superficial lifestyle, inconsistent and illusory, which often draws us, controls us and makes us slaves of evil, or in any case prisoners of moral mediocrity.”

The transformation called for by Lent is not the craze for self-improvement or self-help popularized by mass media. Rather, it is nothing less than conformity to the Good News embodied in Christ.

“His person,” the pontiff continued, “is the final goal and the profound meaning of conversion; He is the way which we are called to follow in life, allowing ourselves to be illumined by His light and sustained by His strength. In this way, conversion manifests its most splendid and fascinating face: It is not a simple moral decision to rectify our conduct of life, but it is a decision of faith... Conversion is the total ‘yes’ of the one who gives his own existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ.”

Pronouncing that “total ‘yes,’ ” and continuing to do so throughout and beyond Lent in contradiction to the massive forces of banality, mediocrity and spiritual death at play in our culture, constitute the sure path to the freedom promised us in the Gospel. But it is also the surest way into the depths of our reality as God’s New People.

The Pope explained that “the Lenten liturgy, on the one hand, reminds us of death, inviting us to realism and to wisdom but, on the other hand, it drives us above all to accept and live the unexpected novelty that the Christian faith liberates us from the reality of death itself.”

We are invited “to live the time of Lent as a more conscious and more intense immersion in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, in His death and resurrection, through participation in the Eucharist and in the life of charity... With the imposition of ashes, we renew our commitment to follow Jesus, to allow ourselves to be transformed by His Paschal Mystery, to overcome evil and do good, to have the ‘old man’ in us die, the one linked to sin, and to have the ‘new man’ be born, transformed by the grace of God.”

It is easy to become discouraged by the cultural and spiritual powers arrayed against us and by our frailty in the face of them. But as Benedict reminds us, Lent is a time to take heart, for in Christ we can overcome the world.

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