Monday, October 1, 2018

Darken the corner where you are!

(Hannibal Crossing the Alps, J.M.W. Turner)
“[Some] say it is best to dispel the gloom, not make it worse, and stick to the cheery side. I happen to have a small vocation for spreading gloom; my favorite Protestant hymn, slightly emended from the way it is sung even at Catholic Masses today, is ‘Darken the corner where you are!’ because I think, though life is funny, it is not for fun; and we have blurred the distinction between being happy and being blessed.” —John Senior

We ambulate now in the gloomy half-light of a perpetual cloudiness by day, and of a too bright, washed out starlessness by night. Without the sun beating down on us at noon and the stars delighting us at midnight, we lose our way. Everything seems to be a shapeless murk. Light is no longer light, darkness no longer dark. Our celestial signposts are imperceivable. It is the spiritual equivalent of living in one of the urban Sodoms of the American Northwest.

We could look on the cheery side of things—God is still on his throne, the pope is ravaging the last shreds of ultramontanism in his wrath, and Evelyn Waugh was taken from this world before the Novus Ordo could drive him to apostasy—but we look for a more immediate comfort. We want to see evil overthrown. We want to restore the influence of the Church upon the world. We want to have one stupid sermon where the stupid priest says something that isn’t stupid. We want not to worry about whether or not Fr. is going to groom our sons in the confessional and make his advances in the sacristy. We want to not have a sinking feeling every time someone relates that, “Today Pope Francis said…” We want, we want, we want.

God sends us out as sheep in the midst of wolves, and we need to toughen up.

We are not given the Church for our consolation, although it possesses consolations beyond imagining. We are not given our little rare islands of traditionalism and good spiritual fathers so we can simply huddle away from the aerial bombardment of the Enemy.

God sends us out in the midst of wolves. We are not out there solely to save ourselves but to save our brethren. Be as clever as the Devil and as pure as the Virgin.

A city on a hill cannot be hidden, neither from our friends nor from our enemies. In order to be a beacon for the lost and imperiled, it cannot hide itself from the armies of Hell. A hidden stronghold speaks lies to those who hide within; it lies that hiddenness is sufficient for safety, that they can trust on hoarded wealth and unpracticed arms.

Be as gloomy as you please, but do not let that be an excuse for sloth. The ancient Jews were conquered by Rome and fenced in on all sides. By the time of the Incarnation they had ossified and used this oppression as an excuse for an ouroboros-like ethic of scrupulosity. Sloth is sadness at the thought of real spiritual practice, a repulsion against spiritual action that penetrates into the inner man and reaches out for the betterment of others. It is easier to condemn a cardinal than to practice a cardinal virtue.

The early Church faced oppression from without; we are learning what it is means to be oppressed from within. The Roman martyrs could ask, “Why do the nations rage?” We learn to ask, “Do you betray the son of man with a kiss?” We encounter Iscariots everywhere. We are sheep sent out in the midst of wolves. Learn how to survive or be devoured.

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