Modern culture has a certain forceful magnetism. It preaches a daring secular gospel — an audacious ‘good news’ of its own. Everywhere we turn this preaching happens. The streets in our cities are the new church pews. And we are mesmerized by the bright lights, lured into wonder and belief.
There is an incoherent religiosity to the way we live. Many do not realize that however great their effort to sever ties to religion, the more they become entwined by them. It is a paradox with modern meaning and modern consequence.
Times, yes, they are different now. The tides rise and fall to a beat that no longer syncs with order: with truth, with virtue, with the authenticity we might return to calling reality. We may have the greatest revulsion towards matters inherently religious, those classically understood as pertaining to belief in (a) God, and God presently at work in the world. What we fail to realize is that a pseudo-religiosity surrounds — a pervasive force that we mistakenly think to be inherently irreligious. The habits we have and the preferences we exercise, the things we say we ‘love’, those we consume regularly, the decisions we consistently make, the friendships we form — all of these, having present value, intrinsic meaning, and eternal consequence — have become as gods to us.
There is a palpable discontent among many we know and love, one which they themselves are often unable to express in words. It is the modern malaise that manifests itself often as a general insufficiency, a sense of pervasive inadequacy, a paradigmatic ‘yearning for more’. The sponges of our lives are soaked through. There is little more they can absorb. From data feeds, to superficial friendships, to material possessions and even spiritual excesses, we can only contain some much. And yet, still we desire. Still, we search. Still, we experience what many call ’emptiness’, and seek to fill it, even if only with distractions, ‘escapes’. Only recently has it dawned on me that this discontent amounts to the laboring that precedes the birth pangs of a still veiled reality: the reality of the freedom that comes from ‘living in the Truth’.
The daunting starkness of this struggle is that the labor may for some last a full lifetime. There will be no escaping it. If we think we have adopted a modern credo of freedom that unbinds from the fettering inhibitions of a religiously oriented life, then we are living a radical in-authenticity. The comedy of Truth is that it will not suffer destruction. Truth is real. What is really true — in the fullest sense of the word, the godly sense of the word — endures, attracts. It may itself be derided, rejected, dismissed, attacked, but it will triumph victorious still. We may take a lifetime to get to this realization. And still we shall circle back to it out of eternal need
Many people possess cities and fortresses, but unless they are in possession of themselves in love for virtue they will discover that they are merely empty.
—St. Catherine of Siena, O.P.
It is a rather comical thing to conclude that all our efforts, all the lies and all the half-truths, all the machinations of surrealism, all the postmodern abstractions and restructured, re-visioned constructs, fall apart when Truth makes an appearance. Think simply of the marketing that makes us buy things; the pseudo forms of love that captivate our minds and hearts; the bodily desires we give free reign to at the cost of our very happiness; the myriad manifestations of a culture thirsty for attention at the cost of its soul; the pervasive ideologies that cloud our capacity to think and act as persons, in charity and fidelity.
And then, against this procession of things, and people, and years, and ideas, and attractions, and allurements, and judgement, and experiences, something happens to stop us on our way. It is as though the runway of our lives were finally stolen by one show-stopping entrance. The blur and the traffic stand still. The bright lights become the piercing ray that aggregates the scintillating fragments. And we gasp. Perhaps for the first time in years, we fall to our knees in a Pauline collapse from a stallion we were riding in the race of competing lies.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the bright lights. It is truly easy to confuse the specks for the full illumination — they scintillate magnificently. Just don’t lie to me, and tell me they are the same thing.
Enough, please, with the burdening weight of replacing God with ourselves! With the pseudo-worship of what is merely human, fleshly, passing. With pretensions of mercy masked as tolerance of mediocrity. With believing that sin is the fruit of subjugating ideology — merely to be ignored. It is hard work to piece God together from the makeup of modernity. It is hard to live as though evil were good, although at times we easily do so. Tired, is the modern disintegration that already pervades the very heart of our souls, our marriages, our families, our communities, our churches, our societies. Where is unity to be found? How hard will it be to recover it? What will it take to move from the lie that confusion is normative? That sin is just a name for pleasures we are unjustly forbidden in this modern Eden? How long will we march on, thirsting in the desert, before we reach the promised land?
We can still sense untruth — though we be drenched in it. It is the interior turmoil of confusion and darkness that clouds the struggle for the cities of our souls. Often our response is the glazed stare of acquiescence. We are blinded by the bright lights — splintered by inauthentic loves, meaningless suffering, lost innocence. There are things that are so ingrained in us we have been conditioned to believe them true, although they are the farthest from reality. Mercy fails to attract, fails to even be mercy, without the prior generosity of justice and truth.
Sometimes, in moments of clarity, a strange internal mechanism of pointed alertness triggers within us the realization of in-authenticity. It is as if we squint for light, and an illumination comes — enough clarity of vision to starkly see what is less than real, and recognize it so.
How many times must our hearts be broken before they find such light? Before the restlessness turns to rest? Where is peace to be found? The delight of rest born of surety: the rest of Truth?
The trial of Christian life begins to birth hope the moment we realize what is at stake: how much we stand to lose by believing lies, and how much more we stand to gain by facing the unreal — our sin — with daring confidence in the boundless mercy at our disposal. Such is the docile invitation of surrender. In the Christian sense, this is not a passive obliteration of struggle; a pretension of its non-existence. No. It is the fully conscious, active, painful offering of our hearts and our wills, which is possible only when we trust enough, and believe enough, that the victory has been won for us. It is the surrender we call conversion.
“I know well: it is not the trial that tears you apart but the resistance you offer to it. I let God snatch away from me anything he wants me to give to him. At the first moment of submission, everything becomes serene. …I am surely not unaware that God wants all of me, and I always have something I want to keep from him. I make a ridiculous effort to outwit him. It’s as if I were trying to evade his glance, which has firmly settled upon me, forever.”
—George Bernanos, in von Balthasar’s ‘Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence’
In the divine comedy, Truth will have the final laugh along the highways of this world. Of this we can be certain — or certain of nothing can we be. The question is when will the lies give way to life risen from the misery of doubt? Should we finally reject the lies, shall we ever repossess the cities of our souls, and allow them to become Cities of God? Or will it be too late?
Yes, we should be ready for the parting of the Red Sea, and expect liberation — we, who look to a Cross as the reason for our hope. Mercy hung there and died. This is what the the bold confidence of faith looks like when it triumphs finally over the cacophony of lies. There it finds rest in the arms of a Savior. The Gospel truth Christ himself proclaimed, assures us that what awaits on the other side of modern chasms of fear, and beyond the death pangs of sin, is that ‘glorious freedom of the children of God’. We call this the Resurrection and the Life.
Anything else renders Calvary meaningless. Anything less is unreal.
Say what you will, people of God. Just, please, don’t lie to me.
O radiant Church of Christ, my church, help me believe! Believe enough that forgiveness is necessary and beautiful because sin is real and deadly. Believe enough that yours is a treasury of grace for the salvation of souls, because salvation matters. Believe enough, that Christ still lives, still saves!
You who profess to believe, please, don’t lie to me. Because most everyone else already does.
Lift me up. Please. Even to the Cross.
Because even I — yes, even ‘I — thirst’.
For the Truth.
In its fullness. In its glory.
You may reach Maria Grizzetti at IncarnationandModernity@gmail.com