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Time to listen to these wake-up calls

  • September 28, 2022

Once in a blue moon someone asks me what we can do to shake our fellow citizens, including fellow Catholics, out of their apathy.

It’s a fair question but maybe not the right question. Perhaps we should ask: “How did so many of us become apathetic?” Or better still: “How did I become so apathetic? How come my faith became something to do on Sundays or Christmas and Easter? How come I don’t see my faith as relevant to the world around us?”

I’m going to guess that part, and only part, of it has to do with the overwhelming presence of mass media. There is so much information coming at us that our brains are clogged with unnecessary garbage. It would seem it would be easy to turn off all the noise, but it may be just as hard to kick as an addictive drug. It causes us to think about the wrong things instead of the right things. It takes away time from prayer, reading the Bible and going to Mass.

Moreover, the things we are supposed to believe in as Christians are mocked in subtle and overt ways in popular culture. The images we see as “normal” go against what we believe. Even though we are supposed to be strong enough to withstand the assault it can eventually wear many of us down.

As I said, this is only part of the problem.

The other part is harder to figure out. Why can some withstand the assault and why can’t others? The question can be further boiled down to this: Why in some does faith remains strong, lending courage needed to live in this pagan world, while in others faith dissolves in the face of confrontation?

Here are two books to help you try to figure this out. Think of them as handbooks for existing with our faith intact within a hostile culture.

The first is Render Unto Caesar by Archbishop Charles Chaput, the former archbishop of Philadelphia, and The Benedict Option by author and editor Rod Dreher.

First to Chaput. I love this book. It’s a handbook for those who want to understand what has happened to our society and a reminder that we and our Catholic faith have a right and a duty to be here.

One thing Chaput wrote has stuck with me: We are so awed by the size and structure of the Church “it’s easy to abdicate our personal sense of mission to the official religious machinery.”

In other words, the Church is not someone else… it is us.

What I found thrilling about reading, and rereading, Chaput’s masterpiece is that it pours cold water on our confusion. When I first read it, I felt that I was not alone in my frustration and found myself deeply encouraged that our situation is not hopeless. Take it seriously and you’ll never shrug your shoulders again.

What I took from Chaput’s book is we’re not going to change all of society. But we can work in small ways to change the culture. We can volunteer at any number of life-affirming endeavours: volunteering at a hospice or a food bank. Aiding groups like the Sisters of Life to encourage women to have their babies. Or we can simply insist that our Catholic friends live their faith rather than hide it.

Dreher’s The Benedict Option analyzes how we got here and offers practical advice on how to engage. The book is based on The Rue of St. Benedict, a text meant for Benedictine monks about how to order their days in a balanced way. He shows how the rule can be applied to those of us in the workaday world so we can live to the fullest and at the same time strengthen us to confront the culture and stand up for the truth.

It’s the idea that the first step to changing society is to change ourselves… the hardest step of all.

In Dreher’s “Live Not by Lies” he describes a creeping secular dictatorship… a “soft totalitarianism” that “exploits modern man’s preference for personal pleasure over principles, including political liberties.”

“The public will support, or at least not oppose, the coming of the soft totalitarianism, not because it fears the imposition of cruel punishments but because it will be more or less satisfied by hedonistic comforts.”

If this doesn’t ring true, you’ve been asleep for decades and it’s time to wake up.

I’ve been writing and speaking about these issues for literally years and things keep getting worse. I don’t mean to imply I’m the only one concerned with these issues in such a public way.

(Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register.)

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