“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on this earth?” – Luke 18:8
Jesus concludes the parable of the persistent widow with this rather peculiar rhetorical question. It is odd for our faith tells us the Church will endure until the end of time, even in the face of persecution. At the same time, the question hints at a reality that seems all too evident in our present age. Mass attendance is falling and Catholic schools are closing for lack of enrollment. Society is moving further and further away from Christian principles.
None of these trends are desirable. Rather than fall into despair over the direction of our world, perhaps God permits this cultural darkness to help us see more clearly His grace at work in sustaining the faith.
The Cultural Darkness
Our culture now holds up as its standard the notions that whatever you feel, you should do and whatever you do must be accepted by everyone else.
Individual perceptions, no matter how incorrect or off the wall, should be manifested in reality. For example, a British man, who fancied himself to be a parrot, got hundreds of tattoos, including on his face and eyelids, and fifty piercings over his body. He even had a six-hour surgery to remove the lobes of his ears to look more like a parrot. He has stated that he hopes to have surgery on his nose to make it look more like a beak.
Self-expression has also become crasser. There are public demonstrations where representations of the female anatomy are now events to which one ought to proudly bring your children. My town sadly plays host annually to a naked bike ride, apparently as a form of delight and pride. Television and the other forms of media bombard us with images of scantily clad men and women on shows and commercials so much so that individuals wearing only their underwear no longer shock us.
While we bathe in an atmosphere focused on the notion that “I must express myself,” we also see a greater insecurity in one’s own ideas. College students need “safe spaces” to be shielded from words that offend them. Professors must avoid topics or stealthy navigate around presenting materials lest students become provoked. These words offend not because they are an attack on the student but because they run contrary to their own ideas or perceptions. Outlandish outrage happens when opposing ideas are expressed, which seems to be symptomatic of a great insecurity.
When we look around in our cities and our country, we see insane things being considered perfectly normal, even laudable. These are, unfortunately, just a few examples of the cultural darkness that pervades.
The Greater the Darkness, The Brighter the Light
All is certainly not well with our society. With many others, I sometimes have to shake my head and ponder why God puts up with the destruction we seem to be ravaging upon ourselves. Perhaps, however, God permits all of this craziness to allow us to see His grace at work more clearly.
For example, if I look at my own life and faith journey, there are a hundred reasons why, as a young adult, I should have fallen away from the practice of the faith. I did not grow up in an especially devout home. I went to a secular university where professors were openly opposed to the Catholic Church.
I am not alone. Despite being the generation following the “lost generation” after Vatican II, there are other young adults who are active in the faith. Many of my friends could likely raise examples of how, somewhat inexplicably apart from God’s grace, they remained actively practicing the faith, reverted to the faith, or converted.
I see Catholic young adult groups that are active in my diocese. Hundreds show up for monthly Theology on Tap events to hear talks on matters touching upon the faith. Not only there young adults willing to identify as Catholic, but they willingly choose to go to events centered around the Blessed Sacrament. These same events find lines for the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the whole hour despite having multiple priests hearing confessions. On Thursday or Friday nights, when they could be out partying or even frivoling away their time watching cat videos on YouTube, young adults choose to spend time in prayer. Somehow, in the craziness of the world, the Holy Spirit has led young people to find the friendships needed to build up their faith.
The Seeds of Faith
If our culture were truly Christianized, none of these happenings would seem strange. It would be expected that everyone would be at church on Sunday and everyone would be striving to live moral lives. Obviously, God is the ultimate source of grace and the One who allows us to do anything that is good. Because our culture is the opposite, however, it appears to us all the more miraculous that there are people trying to follow the example of Christ. Put another way, the darkness of our culture helps us more readily see God at work in the world.
By the grace of God, the seeds of faith have been planted and thrive, despite a seemingly hostile environment. And maybe that is how we can hold on to hope that the faith is still found in a world that seems to be pursuing everything but holiness.