Dickens Was Right


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” (opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859)

Charles Dickens could have been describing many things that we experience in the early part of the 21st century. Before you move on, read that paragraph again and ask yourself if it describes any part of  life that you experience.

“It was the best of times…” Almost daily I find myself rejoicing that the Holy Spirit led me into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I anticipate going to 6:45 a.m. Mass and getting my day started with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! I am energized by practices that give life to me in the Church.

“It was the worst of times…” Almost daily, at least since the end of July of this year, I find myself weighed down by the reality of what is going on in the Catholic Church. Everyday, it seems, a new revelation comes forth that keeps this “summer of scandal” moving into the “autumn of atrocity.” What makes things worse for me and many is that we want answers and those seem slow in coming.

“It was the age of wisdom…” There is so much “wisdom” running around. We see it daily on TV, in social media, etc. King Solomon warns us in Proverbs 3:7 NRSV, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” So much of what we call wisdom today is not moored in the Author of all wisdom.

“It was the age of foolishness…” The absence of God’s wisdom leads us to another characteristic of our times, foolishness. We live in a “silly season” to put it euphemistically. Don’t get me started, but when we believe everything that certain folks with a Ph.D. behind their names tell us, it’s hard to look at ourselves in the mirror and see sanity.

“It was the epoch of belief…” Gallop tells us that 90% of Americans believe in God. Pew Research tells us 80% of Americans believe in God. Great! But the truth of the matter is that belief is not enough. In his letter St. James says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19 NRSV). So you could say that believing puts us on par with the demons! Ouch!

“It was the epoch of incredulity…” As I mentioned a few days ago in this blog, church attendance in general, and weekly attendance at the Mass in particular, has dropped dramatically. For all the belief, there is a lot of incredulity. Fewer people believe in the distinct Christian doctrines, even some as key for Catholics as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“It was the season of Light…” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Last night I attended a wonderful event in our parish, the St. Peter Senior Ministry Fundraiser: “The Age of Beauty.” Our parish has the only senior ministry in south Jersey that ministers to beautiful seniors Monday through Friday. Because my wife, Charlotte, volunteers there, by extension I feel I am part of it. For this event artist Linda C. Dennin painted a portrait of each of approximately 60 seniors and staff of the ministry. What joy there was in the hall throughout the whole evening!

I engaged in conversation with many of these dear brothers and sisters, people who have loved Christ and His Church all of their lives, a half dozen of them in their nineties. I thought about how one by one they will leave a gap in our parish, a parish they love, and what will the next and succeeding generations do to take their place? Right now these seniors are confused and hurt that a cardinal they respected has been discovered to be a predator of seminarians and a child sex abuser. They are even more hurt that this was covered up by prelates they trusted to care for the flock. I tried my best to encourage them, to assure them that Christ has not given up on his Church, but the pain is deep!

In these times, good and bad, even very bad, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He will make His Church holy. Let’s hold on tight and pray!

A Snowy Day in New York City

It’s snowing and blowing in New York City. We’re expected to receive up to a foot of snow from winter storm Niko–a day after it was 63 degrees! Up one day, down the next. The weather can be a metaphor for life. There’s always weather, that’s a constant. But the weather conditions vary: hot, cold, warm, chilly, wet, dry, rainy, snowy, windy, you get it! It’s like when we say we have a temperature. We know that we mean that our temperature is elevated or not normal, but we always have a temperature, even when we “assume room temperature” as they say. So the weather (life) is constant, but the conditions of the weather (life) vary from day to day and from experience to experience.

Now I’m about to confess something about myself, my age and the impact that has upon how I view weather and life. I turned 60 on my last birthday. Unfortunately it harder to hide that fact from a physical standpoint, but inside, where it really counts, I don’t feel like I’ve lived six decades. Yet I believe the passing decades gives a perspective on life that I didn’t or couldn’t have when I was of “millennial” age. Just like the weather, life is always present. Sometimes it’s happy, sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s difficult, sometimes it breezes by like a warm summer day as you sit on the front porch drinking lemonade. When was the last time you did that?

So weather comes and weather goes. By next winter we will have forgotten Niko and its impact. Now here comes the “old man” talk. Life comes and goes as well. Back in the 70s, after Watergate, in the middle of the oil crisis and gas prices zooming up to 55 cents a gallon and President Carter’s “malaise” speech, we wondered if it could get any worse. It got better and it got worse and life happened.

Over the past couple months, and especially over the past few weeks I have heard people I know and love express two different opinions that could be taken from the opening words of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. “It is the best of times!” “It is the worst of times.” Without going into all that both opinions are basing their statement on, I want to add what I believe is something that is as certain as weather and life: “It is time to redeem the time.” I am reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.” While that may sound pessimistic to some, and even optimistic to others, these are serious words to consider at all times. If you, as I, have declared allegiance to Jesus Christ, we have a mission. We are 1) to watch carefully how we live, 2) to live wisely not as one who is foolish, 3) to make the most of every opportunity, and 4) to remember that even with the best of efforts we are not going to make “heaven on earth.” Instead we are called to listen and follow the One who gave himself for us and shows us how to live.

This morning in my devotional reading I can across this quote from Blessed Charles de Foucauld who was a French Catholic priest who lived among the Tuareg people in the Algerian Sahara desert. In 1916 he was assassinated outside the door of the fort he built for the protection of the Tuareg, a semi-nomadic Muslim people. This is what Foucauld said: “We must stand up for the rights of our neighbor who is suffering from injustice; we must defend them all the more vigorously because we see Jesus present in them. Sure this is our duty because of our love for others for his sake. We have no right to be ‘sleeping watchmen’ or dumb watch-dogs. Whenever we see evil we must sound the alarm.”

What must I do? I must watch carefully how I live, following Jesus and not the whims and wishes of the day. I must be wise and not believe everything I hear because that would be foolish. I must make every opportunity to love and support those who don’t have a voice or can’t be heard. I must remember that my worst day is infinitesimally better than many people’s best day.