By Michael D. O'Brien
A longish post-script to my newsletter sent out a few days ago. I address this especially to my fellow fathers of families.
This morning I re-read an old Zenit news report that quoted from a talk given in the year 2000 by then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. It's about fatherhood and the radical assault against fatherhood in societies dominated by materialism. Cardinal Ratzinger refers to both overt tyrannies and to the subtler, potentially more dangerous new totalitarianism of the Western world, and identifies them with the realm of the "Beast of the Apocalypse."
He says that God himself "willed to manifest and describe himself as Father ... Human fatherhood gives us an anticipation of what He is. But when this fatherhood does not exist, when it is experienced only as a biological phenomenon, without its human and spiritual dimension, all statements about God the Father are empty. The crisis of fatherhood we are living today is an element, perhaps the most important, threatening man in his humanity. The dissolution of fatherhood and motherhood is linked to the dissolution of our being sons and daughters."
See the Zenit news report of this talk:
Cardinal Ratzinger-Fatherhood and Apocalypse
I receive much mail from Catholic fathers of families, and over the years have had many conversations with other fathers closer to home and farther afield, all of whom speak about our common struggle in these times: how to bring our families through a complex, confused, and increasingly corrosive "culture of death" as John Paul II called it; the "dictatorship of moral relativism" as Benedict XVI calls it. We work hard, at enormous cost, to give life and then to nurture life as it grows toward eternity. Yet we live in an anti-life society that penalizes traditional families at every turn, and assaults the value and the innocence of our children on numerous levels well known to us all.
In the province where I live, more than 40,000 children are killed in the womb through abortion every year. Each death is funded by our provincial government's universal health care system. This same government has passed laws that demand complicated and expensive seating arrangements in motor vehicles, for the safety of children. I don't mean good old seat belts and baby chairs, I mean expensive apparatus. And, if you have more than five children, it gets really risky to go anywhere as a family, unless you purchase an expensive stretch vehicle and all the proper seats. If the police stop you, as they have done to some close friends of ours, it's a thousand dollar fine and points against your driver's license (with repeated points you will have your license confiscated). Of course, the police are protecting the lives of children, and who could fault them for it? Now, if the government would only shift their attention to the 40,000+ who also need protection, nurturing, and a ! personal future. Might I add that in a double-income, no-more-than-two-kids economy, traditional families can be sunk by such measures, which I suspect are a kind of bureaucratic over-compensation for the publicly approved, publicly funded killing of large numbers of its own people. As the blood of countless murdered children runs silently beneath the veneer of our society, we are told by the government, "See, we care about children!"
If you are financially comfortable, you can maneuver in such a society, go places together as a family (church, picnic, concert, dinner at grandma's). But if you live at the level where the greater majority of Catholic families live, below the "poverty line", with one income or less, and several children, then cruising unscathed through the culture of death becomes something of a daunting challenge.
The economy continues to inflate according to the now dominant model of family income: The majority of households in my country are double-wage families with two or less children. The cost of housing, food prices, clothing, in fact the cost of almost everything, rises and rises. Contraception, sterilization, and abortion are the foundation stones of this economy. So, too, is greed-profiteering, avaricious forms of speculation, and that old thing condemned by God... Usury. Yes, unfair interest, the backbone of our economy. I say unfair because more and more families must sink deeper and deeper into debt in order to survive, unless the main provider is a highly paid professional. They've got us coming and going, faster and faster and faster, while all the while genuine independence and a wholesome life seem to be ever more elusive. Unless, of course, you are one of the very small minority who have the financial means to circumnavigate it. Otherwise you either accept tha! t you and your family will experience unfair sufferings or you play by the new rules of the game.
Those who do not play by those deadly rules have many crosses to bear. These extra crosses are due to the sins and blindness of others. Too often, a conscious or subconscious rationalism has infected the thinking of contemporary man, even men of good will, and one could go so far as to say many a churchman as well. In their assessments of what is "reasonable" and possible for marriage in our times they have minimalized, or dismissed altogether, the factors of grace and the transforming power of sacrificial love. It's a temptation to get bitter about it. But we mustn't. The Cross is always unfair. Jesus's cross was the biggest unfairness of all time. But he bore it like a lamb and he turned it into a sign that confounded every device of the enemy.
Let us confound the enemy. Or more precisely, let Jesus living in us confound the enemy! Let us turn to the saving power of the Lord in a way we have not until now. Let's take this year 2008 as a time of daring and surprise. Instead of anger, discouragement, or bitterness, let us begin to do the impossible. Let us indeed do what rationalists cannot understand, that is, let us do the supra-rational thing, the eternal thing incarnated into the present moment.
I mean, begin to praise and thank God for each and every one of the trials he permits in your life. Then watch what He does. He works everything to the good for those who love him. Don't give up, keep on praising and thanking, and locked gates will open, unhealable wounds will heal, the kremlin walls of hopeless situations will crack and let in light. One crack at a time, one brick falling at a time, one victory at a time. One step at a time and only enough manna for one day at a time, just as it was for our forefathers in the desert.
Invoking Christ's aid, nourished by the universal Church, little by little we will see Him working everything to the good. We will see Him untie impossible knots and solve problems one by one, as we unite our small efforts with his grace. Gratitude, humility, patient endurance: in this way we will advance in the Great School of the Soul that is married life and family. For none of us will it be easy. In taking our first tentative steps of radical trust, we will grow stronger, and I think wiser, and then our strides will become longer and more sure. Trust grows the more we practice trusting. And with it love grows, and in the process the unexpected occurs, the "impossible" in the midst of the glorious "ordinary."
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you considers
himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to
become wise. For the wisdom of the world is foolishness
in the eyes of God . . . . (1 Cor 3: 18-19)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And do not rely on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will make straight your paths... (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Christ's holy peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you.
Michael D. O'Brien