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Increasingly, men of goodwill are realizing and saying out loud that America's decline is owing to losing a deep spiritual war. But even as that reality is coming into focus for many, others are abandoning religion in general, Christianity in particular and Catholicism specifically.
It hasn't quite hit desperation mode yet, but it has reached a level of high alert as various generic Christian groups, as well as some Catholics, take to social media and various public relations campaigns to peddle Christ and the Good News. The problem, however, is — put simply — it is Christ without the Cross that is being peddled: "cool" Jesus, "relevant" Christianity.
What's being presented — and consequently rejected — is a more worldly Christ: easy to relate to, a comfortable Christ, the answer to all your little problems. The world is rejecting this cozy Christ as the elixir to worldly problems precisely because the world provides much more stimulating solutions to the problems it creates.
You name it:
Comfortable Christ can't hold a candle to any of that. I mean, who wants to listen to the personal opinion of some preacher about what a passage from Scripture means when they can be getting high and having sex with whoever wants to hook up with them? In the end, the world and all its intoxications are much more appealing than Christ without His Cross.
Most modern philosophies and all the man-made religions — which is to say, everything other than Catholicism — are ultimately about some form of self-actualization, becoming "a better you" for your own sake. Do this, read that, go here — and you will be richer or better liked or shedding vast amounts of fat or no longer smoking or you name it.
You will be better according to standards you have set, not had imposed on you from outside. In the end, it's all about you and how you define your own happiness. And the only difference between you and the ne'er-do-well hanging out in his parent's basement masturbating and playing video games is you each just define "happiness" differently. But in the end, you are identical in your philosophy; you just have different ideas of happiness.
So consider all that and why a Christ without His Cross has almost no appeal. In fact, for most people, apparently, Christ has less appeal. All these religions and philosophies and belief systems revolve around the person, the individual, and bear no relation to anything outside themselves. The idea of sacrificing for a greater good, for the other, doesn't even register. Just look at the divorce rates and the number of children who have no dad in their lives.
The social consequences of enough members of society looking inward are devastating. And when raised to a national scale, they point to the end of a nation, its demise and ultimate downfall. Is there anyone in America who does not seriously recognize this is where we have arrived as a nation: the end of the road?
The country, of course, can be likened to a train, a very long train, many cars, and even though the engine and immediate cars behind it have jumped the tracks, there are still many cars back that have not yet come to the moment of derailment — but they will. Once the engine has jumped, all the rest are doomed. The great casualty of the religion of self-indulgence has been the family and hence the nation.
The moral life of a nation, and ultimately its health, is measured by how well it corresponds with natural law. That view, of course, has the purple-haired freaks with face piercings and so forth screaming and howling — but their protests prove the very point. Natural law demands — and will enforce on its own — that a nation of the self-absorbed will perish. Consider the shrieks from the anti–natural law gang to the country's funeral dirge.
Nature follows a pattern, and deviation from that pattern of nature brings catastrophe — the greater the deviation, the greater the corresponding catastrophe. It's taken about 60 years — four generations — for the effects of throwing off natural law to be fully felt, but here we are:
Every violation of natural law you can imagine is now sacrosanct and protected and defended and enshrined in positive law. And frankly, what else would any rational person expect when natural law is jettisoned? When the engine jumps the tracks, the remaining cars all derail one after another as well. There is no other way: Man's end is God, period — not himself.
God is the Author of natural law. It is He who established nature and, most importantly, what nature is. Our nature — our human nature, fallen as it is — is directed toward God. But since we are fallen, it is always a struggle, a massive fight to control the engine and keep it from jumping the tracks. We need help from outside ourselves, a power that does not derive from us naturally to fight our fallen natures. We are self-indulgent — without any additional help needed — thank you very much.
Sacrifice does not come naturally to us. In fact, we generally find it repulsive and something to be avoided. This is why people run from the Cross and pretend to embrace a Christ without one. But down deep, they don't embrace Him. They know He is lacking in the essentials. So, ultimately, they reject Him. In fact, they reject Him more without His Cross than they ever have Him with it.
Paradoxically, the Cross makes you stronger even with its sometimes crushing weight. It's like that extra weight forces the engine to stay on the tracks. The absence of the added weight allows the train engine to jump. Like the natural laws of physics operate as laws, so too does the natural moral law, providing the necessary ballast to keep the ship steady, reinforcing its ability to withstand the enormous pressures of ocean waves and tides.
The nation has abandoned natural moral law and, as a result, is in a free fall. The cliff has been gone over and that cannot be reversed. All that awaits is the crash landing below. The Cross, however, can still, even at this late hour, be embraced and mitigate the devastation waiting below. It doesn't have to be as disastrous as it looks to be right now.
If enough can be salvaged, we can resurrect a nation bent on its own destruction. But it's going to mean some very direct conversations — the unearthing of some very unpleasant topics — all to extract the poison. Standing at the center of any victory will have to be the Cross with all its terror and fright. But the world without the Cross is even more terror-inducing.
The world without the Cross, without sacrifice born from love, is nightmarish — a place without hope from which there is no escape. The Cross, however, points beyond itself to something greater, but as St. Paul came to realize, it must be preached. Christ crucified is the only hope: no Cross, no glory. No Good Friday, no Easter Sunday.