A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
The Hidden Blessing in the Decay of the World System
August 12, 2021
Many I know are concerned about the state of the world. And rightly so. Something significant is happening globally right now, and many ideas once deemed conspiratorial seem to be coming true.
Fear of economic collapse, forced compliance to arbitrary mandates, food shortages, media propaganda, technological surveillance, and growing totalitarian overreach by world governments are greater than they have been in many decades. Neighbor has turned against neighbor, family member against family member as debates about what is really happening tear the last vestiges of social trust and cooperation apart.
In such a milieu, it’s easy to let fear consume us as we desperately seek to cling to any remaining shred of freedom or self-determination that remains. To many, the state of things feels downright apocalyptic.
And yet, I would argue that there is a hidden blessing in all these world changes. For the first time, perhaps in their entire lifetimes, Christians may no longer feel entirely at home in the world. Indeed, many of us may feel like strangers in a strange land. And that is exactly as it should be.
For in truth, we are not ultimately citizens of the decaying paradigm of this world. We are citizens of a higher order that transcends the glittering facade of the temporal order so prone to degeneration and corruption. St. Paul, writing to the Christians in Phillipi, articulates this reality poignantly:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Many places in scripture speak in similar terms, but they can all be summed up by the forceful words of the apostle St. James: “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.”
So it is not wrong that many Christians feel as if the world system is suddenly against them. It always has been. The only difference between times of seeming freedom and now is that the mask, the veneer, is being stripped away and we are seeing things for what they are. It can be tremendously clarifying.
We must keep in mind that the perpetual temptation before us as followers of Christ is growing too comfortable in this world. The three temptations of Christ in the desert are presented to all of us, and they are summed up by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.
Thus has it always been, thus will it be until the last day. For if the world offered us no pleasures, it would hold no attraction for us. But it does, and we feel its dazzling, gravitational pull on our hearts. Thousands of advertisements per day seduce us with the promise of happiness in this life, endless pleasure, and the satisfaction of all our desires—for a small price. It is a Faustian temptation of the highest order.
But when the price of participation in the world system grows higher, and the demands upon us become greater, we feel conflict growing within us. Many for the first time are performing a sort of examination of conscience, asking themselves if the price of participation in the temporal order is worth it. Many are questioning for the first time where the real allegiance lies. For in the words of the Master, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?”
The times when Christianity has decayed most rapidly are the times when it has been most comfortable in this world, when it has made peace with the temporal order and the invisible powers which rule it.
It is true that we must live in the temporal order, and in no way am I advocating a withdrawal or flight from engagement with the practical realities of life. This has never been the Catholic way. Nor am I advocating a shunning of all enjoyment or pleasure, as God has in truth given us many good gifts to enjoy. Nevertheless, we must live in such a way in which the values which order our lives are not dictated by this world or its ruling powers, but rather by Christ. We must be in the world, but not of it.
A collective of examination of conscience is indeed warranted by the times in which we live. We all must ask ourselves: How far will we go to participate in the paradigm of this world? With what will we comply or not comply? What price are we willing to pay?
The Greek word martyr means witness. The martyrs witnessed by their lives and their deaths that they were subject to a higher order—an order ruled by the genuine freedom of love, and not by the petty dictates of the world system. When faced with the ultimatum of the kingdom of this world and its pleasures or Christ, their choice was for Christ, always and everywhere. And they would pay any price for him.
There are many types of martyrdom, and not all of them mean a loss of life. We, too, can bear witness to the reality of a higher order, a moral order of love, the absolute reality of the kingdom of Christ, by the way in which we live our lives. And it is a choice we must make daily. For, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
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