Living Lives of Christian Joy in a Discouraging World
The world seems pretty crazy right now. A once-in-a-century pandemic continues to claim thousands of lives per day. Regimes around the world are growing increasingly repressive of their citizens at home and aggressive towards their neighbors abroad. American society is more divided than at almost any other point in history. Our politicians, rather than working to constructively address our serious problems, seem more focused on scoring points with their base through petty name-calling and empty virtue-signaling.
Faced with the seemingly endless stream of negativity, it can be tempting to fall into pessimism, or perhaps to simply resign ourselves to the fact that things aren’t great and will probably get worse. As a friend recently told me, “At the end of the day, God will do what He wants and there’s not much we can do about it, so I’ve just stopped worrying.”
However, I have to question whether we, as faithful Christians, really ought to let pessimism or resignation become a defining aspect of our worldview. A general attitude of pessimism definitely seems out of bounds. Philippians 4:4-6 exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always” and to “Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.” Christ Himself says, “Which of you by worrying can add a moment to his lifespan? If the smallest things are beyond your power, why be anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:25-26)
What about resignation? This is more interesting because choosing to accept that God’s plan will unfold as He wishes and refusing to worry any further can appear pious at first. However, our tradition is not content with simply “not worrying” when faced with suffering. On the contrary, St. Paul exhorts us to “rejoice in our suffering” and to treat it as an opportunity to grow in virtue and in hope (Romans 5:3-5). As Christians, we are not called to passively accept God’s plan when we encounter problems in our lives. We are called to actively participate in His plan by using those problems as opportunities to grow in holiness ourselves. This is the attitude of true faith: not merely resigning oneself to suffering, but staring it in the face and, confident in God’s help, persevering in faith, hope, and love.
With this in mind, I want to share three thoughts that can help us ward off the errors of pessimism and resignation and instead continue to pursue holiness in the face of our world’s problems:
- Remember, this is still the “valley of tears.”
It wasn’t until March of 2020 that these words from the “Hail Holy Queen” had real meaning for me. I suspect this is true for most of us, to some degree. Compared to our ancestors, we have incredibly comfortable lives, and while that is certainly good, we should not let it give us unrealistic expectations. This world is not supposed to be free from suffering. Expecting otherwise will inevitably let us down, and if that happens enough, we are bound to grow pessimistic.
- You are exactly where you need to be.
St. Teresa of Avila once wrote this short prayer: “May you trust God that you are exactly where you need to be.” As we look around at a world full of disheartening things, we must remember that God put each of us in this time and place for a reason. Indeed, the greatest adventure of our life is the quest to discover what that reason is, then to respond to the call that each of us was uniquely created to answer. We all have gifts we can use to bring good to others, and we all have flaws to wrestle with as we seek to become better. Rather than fearing all the ways that something in the news might affect your own life, trust that—should God permit it to come into your life—it will be an opportunity for you to use your unique gifts to bring about a greater good and to grow in holiness yourself.
- Our kingdom is not of this world.
It is important to keep an eternal perspective. We are not made for this world, and should not “fear what this world fears” (1 Peter 4:14). If we act virtuously and strive to grow in our love of God and neighbor, we will have something that nothing in this world can take away. Ultimately, this is the most liberating realization of all. In the words of the poet Richard Lovelace: “If I have freedom in my Love / and in my soul am free, / Angels alone that soar above / enjoy such Liberty.”
At the end of the day, we can only trust God’s providence and strive to participate in it as He wants us to. But as Christians, this is all we should need in order to be happy. Next time something in the news makes you want to abandon civilization and move to a small village in Alaska, remember this: The Creator of the universe made you a part of His plan, so that you can receive His love and share it with others. Get out there and live like it.
Jack McEnery is a sophomore PLS major living in Alumni Hall. He can usually be found reading in the PLS lounge while consuming copious quantities of caffeine, and is quite comfortable collecting questions, concerns, or chocolate chip cookies from anyone. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org (especially if you have chocolate chip cookies).
Featured art: Carlo Innocenzo Carlone (1686-1775), “Glorification of the Cross”