Our time has been a failure. We are called to ‘the revolution of tenderness’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p48), but we largely fail to respond. Ours is the violence of indifference towards the cry of the earth, the cries of countless creatures condemned in factory farms, those of refugees, those of victims of the Western world’s addiction to arms sales, and many others.
What has this ‘post-Christian’ era proclaimed? A ‘society orphaned of transcendence’ (Erik Varden, The Shattering of Loneliness, p30). Countries gorged on the ‘filthy lucre’ of twenty-first century capitalism. A careerism so prostrate before the gods of money and pleasure that everything is licit. The pseudo-intellectual concupiscence of empty words, which the Apostle calls ‘unghostly and vain voices’ (2 Timothy 2:16) – the eloquence of irreality. A planet plagued by the pessimism of humanity’s greed for profits. A technocratic vivisection openly violating the peace of Christ every day. The maiming of hope itself: many are confronted with a fanatical secularism – itself the offal of bourgeois society – unable to create symbols and structures with the ability to invest human life, birth, death, suffering, and love with hope and meaning.
We are all responsible. It seems the thorns and briars in our hearts have put forth their barren, spiritually diseased fruits: ‘You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briars do not bear figs. A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit’ (Matthew 7:16-18). We would do well to heed the warning of James the Apostle: ‘Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming upon you! Your riches have rotted away, and your clothes have been eaten by moths. Your gold and silver are covered with rust, and this rust will be a witness against you and will eat up your flesh like fire’ (5:1-3). The moths and rust reside everywhere in our society; in the hearts of everyone consuming more than necessary; in the mouths of all content to blame others and avoid their own conscience; and in the minds of those possessed by the technocratic paradigm at the expense of solidarity and love among all peoples and creatures.
Despite this it’s possible that the rust clogging our personal, national, and global arteries may be dissolved in the transforming grace of self-examination and change. The locus of hope is the recognition that ‘injustice is not invincible’ (Pope Francis, Laudato Si, p74). As Saint Iranaeus writes: ‘By his coming, Christ brought with him all newness.’ Let us sing with joy the words of Mary’s magnificat: ‘He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans. He has brought down the mighty from their seats and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands’ (Luke 1:51-53). Let us become living words of a new magnificat of change and renewal. The imperative of loving one another and perceiving once again ‘Christ’s tender smile for us coming through matter’ (Simone Weil, Waiting for God, p104) in the beauty of the world is dependent on recognising that ‘the Christian must be a revolutionary’ (Camilo Torres Restrepo, Revolutionary Priest, p340).
Liberal capitalism, secularism, and materialism expel Christ from society. They are symptoms of alienation from the sacred. Theirs is a deadly vivisection exacted upon the tender body of Christ. As flesh of His flesh, it is a symptom of profound nemesism. What can meet the challenge of stasis, despair, and egoism? The sadness of these times is in direct opposition to the vision of the Gospel: ‘And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’ (Luke 24:15-17). The sadness is often unperceived; yet it pours forth its vinegar in the insatiable maw of possession, accumulation, and consumption.
Wittgenstein thought that ‘one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life’ (Culture and Value, p53). Christianity proposes a spirituality of transformation, transfiguration, dynamism, and revolution. ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). Revelations poured forth in the womb of Marian stillness germinate in the revolutionary flowers of the Gospel. Openness to this transcendent creativity allows us to cry out: ‘for all my desire to live, I shall die; that I am dust with a nostalgia for glory. I am taught to let glory, by grace, lay claim to my being even now, to make it resonant with music of eternity’ (Erik Varden, The Shattering of Loneliness, p32). A shattering, visceral morality and spirituality born of kenosis (self-emptying), metanoia (turning of the heart), and resurrection (rebirth) is up to the task. The social action spawned thereby is oppositional, unsettling, provoking: ‘“These men who have turned the world upside down have now come here…They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another king, named Jesus!”’ (Acts 17:6-7). It can confront the evil and injustice of current society with the words of Christ: ‘This is an evil nation’ (Luke 11:29). Not merely to condemn, but to catalyse the sacrament of renewal.
One must strive not to impede the sacramental contact between the Lamb and reality (in terms of person, environment, creature, neighbour, etc.). One must not succumb to the sacrilegious acquisitiveness of greed and self-obsession. We must resist the various forms of ‘filthy lucre’ (1 Peter 5:2) endlessly on offer in this corrupt society. Let us no longer be caught up in malicious excuses ‘for remaining caught up in comfort, laziness, vague dissatisfaction and empty selfishness. It is a self-destructive attitude, for “man cannot live without hope: life would become meaningless and unbearable”’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p130).
Let future generations look back on us and say, ‘they went from apostles of crisis, amnesia, and suspicion, to being apostles of peace, giving to us a future resplendent with hope’. Let them rejoice that we had courage enough to recognise the cancers of alienation in our midst; that we beheld the structural sins of our way of living and wept, and the tears broke our hard hearts, dissolving them in the newness of Christ. Even when we thought the doors were locked, ‘Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you”’ (John 20:26). May the hard grain of our sins and corruptions fall into the tender earth of divine mercy and become fruits of the ‘revolution of tenderness’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p48). As children of the resurrection we are children of revolution: ‘Christ’s resurrection everywhere calls forth seeds of that new world; even if they are cut back, they grow again, for the resurrection is already secretly woven into the fabric of this history, for Jesus did not rise in vain. May we never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!’ (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, p132).