There is a story, often attributed to G.K. Chesterton in which he is said to have responded to The Times asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” with:
Yours, G. K. Chesterton”
Whether or not the story is true — according to The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton “the documentary evidence” has not been found to verify the story — the answer provided is the one we ourselves desperately need today.
We are becoming increasingly more divided from one another. This is true within our culture and it is true within the Church. The temptation to separate ourselves off into factions with an us vs. them mentality is growing, especially in this technological age. Social media feeds and a 24-hour news cycle drive this separation by constantly fueling the fire of anger and blame.
There is no doubt that there is great evil in the world today. This has been true since the Fall, but the major difference in our age is that we have the technological means to harm one another on a massive scale as is evidenced by abortion, modern warfare, and the more “civilized” ways we have of getting rid of the weakest and most “useless” within our society.
We are constantly inundated with images and stories of violence around the world. The same is true of social and political issues that demand responses, as well as news about the Church. This constant flow of information may serve to keep us informed, but it is also being used to divide us. It is being used to convince us that some they are the problem. Who they are varies from person-to-person based on their affiliations and beliefs.
This is no less true within the Church. We live in a time when the priesthood is embroiled in never-ending scandal. It reaches into the highest levels of the hierarchy. People are rightly angry and want answers, but our tendency when it comes to the passion of anger is to let it get out-of-hand. It’s an extremely unruly passion, which means we too can fall prey to divisiveness. Soon we begin to blame all priests, all bishops, and all of our brothers and sisters in Christ for their failings. We allow that anger to fester and eat away at us until it rips us apart. That’s the whole point. The Enemy wants us to divide and scatter.
Most of us do not have the ability to bring about massive reforms—spiritual and institutional—within the Church. Instead, we have to look at the problem from a different angle. We have to seek a ground up approach. This is the same approach the saints have taken through the ages during various times of scandal, persecution, and darkness. The saints began confronting the evils of the world at the lowest possible level. They started with themselves and the same is true for all of us.
All of the saints understood that the problem with the world is me. It’s not first-and-foremost someone out there who we can blame for all of the world’s woes. The breakdown begins with you and me. We fail to live up to the high calling of holiness. We fall into sin. We are weak and give into temptation. We fail to love God and others as we ought to. We are selfish, wounded, and broken. If we truly understood this about ourselves, then we would look at our neighbor, families, co-workers, priests, brothers and sisters in Christ, our social media feeds, and the 24-hour news cycle completely differently.
The battle of good and evil rages in each one our hearts. We are in a constant battle against the world, the devil, and ourselves. Our egos are tyrants, the world wants us to follow its ways, and the enemy is a pest who prowls about seeking our ruin. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we are superior to this group or that group.
This often happens when Catholics devote far too much energy in social media fights about the liturgy, NFP, politics, the scandals, modesty, moral teaching, etc. It is just as much of a problem in Catholic circles as it is among those who constantly fight about politics. For Catholics, it impacts our ability to evangelize if all people see of us in social media is fighting and pettiness.
The solution to the problems in the world today is for each one of us to answer the call to holiness and to ardently seek to live as disciples of Christ. Doing so leads us to acknowledge before God and our brothers and sisters in Christ that we fail often. Looking at our own sinfulness helps us to grow in greater compassion towards the weaknesses of others because we know how weak we are and how much we sin each day. This is not to turn a blind eye to evil. We must combat evil, but must always be mindful of our own failings lest we lord it over others.
We often forget that our own conversion is on-going and we sometimes fall even into serious sin on occasion. That is why all Catholics need the Sacrament of Confession on a regular basis. Anyone who has fully embraced the spiritual life and followed Christ into the darkness within their own heart knows just how dark things are within each one of us. If we keep in mind our own failings, it will help us to think twice before posting a judgmental comment in social media or saying something uncharitable to a brother or sister in Christ or our priest. True fraternal correction is born of charity.
The key to avoiding destructive divisions is to hold fast to the virtues of charity and humility. If we truly love, then we will seek to do what we can to avoid ruptures in communion. We will work to move closer to others—even those we disagree with—in order to try to find ways to combat the evils of our day. Loving someone is not agreeing with everything they do or believe. We can make efforts to help those who are living in error on the path to conversion, but this is accomplished most through prayer, since it is grace that ultimately leads to conversion. We plant seeds, but it is the Holy Spirit who brings about conversion in souls. We have an obligation to inform people of the truth, but we cannot do so in a manner that violates the dignity of the other person or vilifies them.
The problem with the world today is not someone out there. The problem in the world today is me. I am a sinner. I choose evil over good. I fail to love. I fail to put God first in my life. I fail to love my family, friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, and strangers as Christ loves them.
The starting place for overcoming the evils of the world is within each one of us. We must choose to love God more. We must choose to love others more. We must beg God for the grace to become the saint he is calling each one of us to be. We must be willing to fight against the temptation to division and the vilification of others, whether it’s our brothers and sisters in Christ, those who disagree with us politically, the guy who flips us off in traffic, or even the people we love the most in the world. There’s nothing that kills anger and division more quickly than the realization that we fall short much of the time.
It is in coming to this understanding about ourselves through humility that we learn to cling to Christ with all of our heart, mind, body, and soul.